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Sadie Hoffmiller is looking forward to an entire week cruising the Alaskan wilderness with her two grown children, Shawn and Breanna, and her boyfriend, Pete. Not only will they all have the chance to get to know one another better, but Sadie will finally be able to help Breanna plan her upcoming wedding. They board the ship with high expectations of a well-deserved vacation.
And except for the mysterious woman on the ship that Shawn seems to know but will not discuss, and the fact that Breanna's future mother-in-law has already hijacked the wedding plans, and the unexpected death of a passenger in the middle of the buffet line, Sadie's vacation would have been perfect.
As it is, Sadie will need all her investigative skills to navigate the deep waters of the mystery that is soon swirling around her family. Amid her growing fears for the future, Sadie must also come to terms with the fact that her role in the lives of her children is changing and that even the best laid plans can go awry when a secret gets thrown into the mix.
- Pages: 342
- Published: 2013
- Book on CD: Unabridged, 8 discs
About the Author
Josi S. Kilpack grew up hating to read until she was thirteen and her mother handed her a copy of The Witch of Blackbird Pond. From that day forward, she read everything she could get her hands on and credits her writing “education” to the many novels she has “studied” since then. She began her first novel in 1998 and hasn’t stopped since. Her seventh novel, Sheep’s Clothing, won the 2007 Whitney Award for Mystery/Suspense, and Lemon Tart, her ninth novel, was a 2009 Whitney Award Finalist. Baked Alaska is Josi’s eighteenth novel and the ninth book in the Sadie Hoffmiller Culinary Mystery series.
Josi currently lives in Willard, Utah, with her wonderful husband, four amazing children, one fat dog, and a varying number of very happy chickens.
“Don’t be a snob, Mom.”
Sadie didn’t look up from the gelatinous bread pudding she was poking with the serving spoon. “Bread pudding should not jiggle. If this is any indication of the food I can expect on this cruise, it’s going to be a very long week.”
“It’s the first buffet,” Breanna said as she spooned some berry cobbler onto her plate. “Don’t judge the food so harshly from just one meal.”
The cobbler looked okay, so Sadie took a small amount, then followed her daughter down the buffet line.
“You never get a second chance to make a first impression,” Sadie said, narrowing her eyes at what was supposed to be cheesecake but looked like stiff pudding. She settled for a cherry turnover that looked exactly like the ones Arby’s sold for a dollar. “On that cruise I took with Gayle in January, the food was awful.”
Sadie had always loved cruises, but just over a year ago, she had undergone some traumatic experiences associated with water, so the inexpensive, three-day Baja cruise with Gayle had been a test to see if Sadie could handle being in a floating hotel. The cruise convinced her she was okay on the water, just not in it.
The food on that ship, however, had been very low quality. It was a cheap cruise, though, so perhaps that was to be expected. Now she was on another cruise—a longer, more expensive one—with a different cruise line, and the first foray into the menus had shaken her confidence. Good bread pudding should be dense, flavorful, and topped with a creamy caramel sauce—like her cousin Kara’s recipe which Sadie had made for years and years. It wasn’t difficult to make good bread pudding. If the ship’s cooks couldn’t do right by a basic dessert, what would their beef Wellington be like?
They finished the dessert segment of the buffet and made their way to the salad bar—dessert first whenever possible.
“If you don’t mind my saying so, you seem a little uptight,” Breanna said once they finished dishing up and were winding their way through the dining room in hopes of finding an empty table. “Is everything okay? Have you already found a dead body you’re afraid to tell me about?”
Sadie scowled at her daughter’s back. “I’ll have you know I haven’t seen a dead body for eight months, if you don’t count Brother Harper from church, but he was eighty-seven and properly laid out in his coffin when I saw him at the viewing. It was a lovely service.”
“Eight months—that’s got to be some kind of record, right?”
“Oh, stop it,” Sadie said, wishing she had a free hand so she could playfully slap her daughter’s arm. “I think that phase of my life is over.” She scanned table after table filled with people already eating. “Is there not even one empty table in this entire dining room?”
“There are some back there,” Breanna said, nodding toward the back of the ship. “Just calm down.”
They made their way past their fellow passengers and finally slid into their seats, officially staking their claim at a table for four near a window that looked out over the Seattle pier. The ship wouldn’t sail for another two hours.
“Seriously, though,” Breanna said once they were seated, “are you okay?”
Sadie took a breath and decided to spill it. “I’m worried about this trip.”
Breanna unwrapped her silverware from her napkin, placed the cloth in her lap, then raised her brown eyes to meet Sadie’s blue ones. Both of Sadie’s children were adopted, and not for the first time Sadie thought that Breanna’s birth mother must have been very beautiful.
“You’re worried? This whole trip was your idea.”You’re
“I know, but I guess the worry didn’t hit me until I realized Pete and Shawn would be on the transfer bus together. They were on that bus for half an hour, then in line for another hour. What if they decide they hate each other by the time they get here? Then we’re stuck together for seven really lousy days.”
“Shawn and Pete have spent time together before,” Breanna said. “I’m the one who hardly knows your boyfriend.”
“Oh, don’t call him that,” Sadie said, feeling her cheeks heat up. “It sounds so…young.” Sadie had recently turned fifty-eight years old. Young was feeling further and further away as she tried to wrap her head around her impending AARP membership.
Breanna laughed and stabbed a bite of her salad with one hand while tucking her long, straight, brown hair behind her ear with the other. “I’d call him your fiancé, but he hasn’t made it official yet, though I don’t know what he’s waiting for.”
Sadie took a bite of her own salad to stall before she answered. The truth was that she and Pete had talked about marriage often during the last few months as Pete’s retirement grew closer and the threat Sadie had been running from felt more and more distant—she’d been safely living back in Garrison, Colorado, since December and nothing had happened. But, even so, Sadie had always stopped the wedding discussions when they got to the point of timing and specifics.
Breanna had been engaged for more than a year now, and the happy couple had finally set the date for October nineteenth. Sadie was loath to take any attention away from her daughter’s special celebration of a joined life.
Pete understood Sadie’s reasons to delay their own vows, but two and a half years was a really long courtship. This cruise therefore, had multiple purposes: to celebrate Pete’s retirement from the police department, to allow Sadie’s children to get to know him better, and to allow Sadie to catch up with Breanna’s wedding plans. Seeing as how Breanna lived in London and Sadie lived in Colorado, mother and daughter hadn’t had a lot of time to talk things over.
Sadie looked up, her fork halfway to her mouth. “What?”
“I asked if Pete was going to make an honest woman of you or not?”
“Breanna Lynn!” Sadie said, lowering her fork as her cheeks heated up again. “Are you implying that my relationship with Pete Cunningham is anything less than respectable?”
Breanna’s grin widened, and she pointed her fork across the table. “Bazinga.”
“Bazinga? What does that mean?”
Breanna laughed again and took another bite.
It must be European humor.
“Isn’t this whole cruise about you making an announcement to Shawn and me?”
“No,” Sadie said, shaking her head. Is that what they thought? “It’s a family vacation…with Pete, and my chance to get caught up on your wedding plans.”
“Oh,” Breanna said with a shrug of one shoulder, showing how unconcerned she was about the information. “Shawn and I both like Pete, so I don’t know why you’re worried.”
Sadie considered how best to proceed as she and Breanna took a few more bites of their meals but decided she may as well lay all her concerns on the table. “I’m also a little worried about Shawn.”
Bre kept her eyes on her food, a sure indication that she knew something, and Sadie’s stomach fell. As much as Sadie hated being left out, if Shawn were in serious trouble, he wouldn’t only talk to Breanna about it, right? One thing was for certain, if Sadie hoped to get information from Breanna, she couldn’t push too hard or her daughter would clam up. She wasn’t one to be casual with other people’s confidences. “Does he seem okay to you?” Sadie asked innocently.serious
“Well, you know, he’s finishing up school this summer and…it’s not the best time to get a job and, well…it’s a big transition.”
While Shawn had walked with his graduating class just last month, he still had two online classes he needed to finish up over the summer in order to complete his degree in criminal justice.
But it was obvious to Sadie that school and the inevitable transition that followed wasn’t it. “Why wouldn’t he talk to me about that?”it
Breanna still wouldn’t meet her mother’s eyes. “Um, well, have you asked him what’s wrong?”
“Of course I have. He’s assured me everything is fine, but he only calls me back about half the time these days. I can just feel this…vagueness from him.”
“Maybe don’t worry about it, then,” Breanna said, attempting a smile as she finally made eye contact. “When he’s ready, he’ll tell you.”
“So he is having trouble that he doesn’t want to talk to me about.”is
“Mom,” Bre said, but the roar of a lion cut her off. Breanna rummaged in her bag and pulled out her phone. She’d majored in zoology and currently worked as a docent at the London Zoo, so of course her text message tone was a lion’s roar. Because they were in port, there was still cell service, but once they headed out to sea, cell phones would only be useful to check the time and to take pictures.
“They’re checked in,” she said while typing a response.
“Shawn and Pete?” Sadie asked, sitting up straighter and instantly dropping her concerns in favor of an appropriate welcome for her two favorite men. “Where are they?”
“Shawn says they just had their ‘Welcome Aboard’ photo taken.”
“Together?” Sadie said, a tender lump in her throat at the thought of Pete and Shawn superimposed in front of their boat, the Celebration.Celebration.
Breanna smiled at her and sent the text message. “They’re on their way up. Shawn said to save him some bacon.”
“Even if it’s undercooked?”
When Pete found them, Sadie jumped up for a hello kiss and hug. It had only been a week since he’d dropped her off at the Denver airport so she could fly up to visit some friends in Portland before the cruise, but she’d missed him. Only when she pulled back from the embrace did she realize he was alone. “Where’s Shawn?”
“He said he’d catch up. I think he saw someone he knew.”
“Really?” Sadie asked with heavy skepticism in her voice as all her concerns came rushing back. What were the chances of him knowing someone other than Pete, Breanna, and herself on this cruise?
“He told me to go ahead and he’d be right behind me.” They all looked behind Pete, but there was no 260-pound Polynesian man with an Afro bringing up the rear.
“You go get yourself some food—avoid the bread pudding, though—and I’ll find my boy,” Sadie said to Pete. She hadn’t seen Shawn since Christmas—almost six months—which was far too long to go without one of his signature bear hugs. She knew she’d feel better once she saw him in person.
“Okay. He was one level down, in front of the elevators when I last saw him. Hurry back.” He gave her a wink, and she felt all jiggly inside for a moment.
Sadie made her way out of the dining room and down the set of stairs just outside the entrance to the buffet. Unlike deck twelve, deck eleven was primarily a cabin deck, though a sign indicated that the security office was forward on the starboard side and the bridge was forward on the port side of the ship. Although there were several people waiting for an elevator when Sadie arrived, Shawn was not one of them. If she didn’t find him soon, she’d call his phone, but she liked the idea of finding him on her own.
She headed to the port side and glanced down the long narrow hallway lined with turquoise doors that led to the passenger cabins. There was a younger couple coming out of a room, but no Shawn. She crossed in front of the elevators to the starboard side, glanced right, and then left, relieved when a familiar set of shoulders and six inches of picked-out curls caught her eye. She smiled to herself and headed toward Shawn’s towering form when she realized he was talking to someone. And he didn’t look happy about it.
Sadie slowed her steps and observed the scene with a little more interest. The woman Shawn was talking to was a light-skinned black woman with hundreds of long thin braids pulled back into a bulky ponytail. Some of the braids were dyed hot pink. She wore a black cotton sundress and was very engaged in whatever it was she was explaining to Shawn, who had his arms crossed over his chest and a scowl on his face.
The woman was gesturing with her hands, but the expression on her face was somewhat pleading, as though she was trying to convince Shawn of something. As Sadie got closer, she realized the woman was older than Shawn. She was thickly built and at least six feet tall. The two of them completely blocked the hallway.
Sadie stopped about twenty feet from them, not wanting to be rude and interrupt, but not inclined to back away either. Why was Shawn upset? Who was this woman?
The woman said something, then leaned forward slightly, awaiting his answer. Shawn shook his head and began to speak, then saw Sadie out of the corner of his eye and pinched his lips together. She smiled, but he didn’t smile back and instead turned to the woman with some urgency. Sadie couldn’t hear what he said, but the woman looked at Sadie too. She didn’t smile either, and Sadie found herself taking a step backward. Were they angry with her? What for?her
Shawn said something else, and the woman nodded, turned away from Sadie, and proceeded down the hall. Shawn looked after the woman for a moment, then turned back to Sadie. It took him ten feet before he managed to put a fake smile on his face.
“Who was that?” Sadie asked.
“Don’t worry about it.”
“But it seemed like the two of you—”
“Gosh, Mom,” Shawn snapped, “can you please just not worry about it?”
Sadie lifted her eyebrows in surprise. Shawn never talked to her like that. At least not since he was twelve and she’d grounded him from his GameCube for sassing her.
His expression softened and he took a breath. “Sorry. I’ve got a lot on my mind right now. Where’s the buffet?”
Sadie opened her mouth to ask what he had on his mind, but the way he was holding himself and shifting his weight from one foot to the other kept her quiet. She forced a smile of her own and tucked her wanting-to-know-everything instinct away while putting out her arms, her signal that she wanted a hug from her favorite boy. “It’s great to see you.”
Shawn wrapped his strong arms around her back, but he didn’t squeeze her quite as tight or hold on for quite as long as she’d expected. “Good to see you too, Mom.” He pulled back and headed toward the elevators. “Is the food on deck twelve, then? I’m starving.”
“Yeah,” Sadie said, following him down the hall. “One deck up.”
Just before they left the hallway, Sadie looked over her shoulder. The woman Shawn had been talking to ducked out of sight around a corner.
A heavy feeling settled into Sadie’s stomach as she and Shawn climbed the stairs leading to deck twelve. Over the last few years, Sadie had developed an extreme dislike for secrets. And now, it seemed, her son was keeping one from her.
Kara’s Bread Pudding and Caramel Sauce
1/3 cup white sugar
1/3 cup brown sugar
6 tablespoons butter
2/3 cup corn syrup (maple syrup works well, too)
3/4 cup heavy whipping cream
1 1/2 cups sugar
4 eggs, beaten
1 1/4 cups heavy whipping cream
1 1/2 cups milk
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon (optional)
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 cup butter, melted
1 1/4 pounds white bread, cubed
1/2 cup Caramel Sauce
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
To make sauce, combine sugars,butter, and syrup in a pot. Cook over medium heat until ingredients liquefy and sugar is dissolved. (Caution, this sauce gets very hot, so be careful. Also, this recipe does not thicken like traditional caramel; you should have a thin sauce.)
Remove from heat and add the cream. Set aside.
To make pudding, combine the sugar, eggs, cream, milk, cinnamon (if desired), vanilla, and butter in a bowl or blender and mix together well. Put cubed bread in a very large mixing bowl. Pour milk mixture over the bread, folding ingredients together until bread has absorbed the liquid.
Pour the mixture in a greased 9×13-inch pan. Pour ½ cup of the caramel sauce over the top of the bread mixture. Bake for 30 minutes; rotate pan and bake another 30 minutes until crust is golden brown and the center doesn’t jiggle when you shake the pan. (Depending on your oven, the bread density,and type of pan, it could take up to an additional 30 minutes to cook through the middle.)
Serve bread pudding warm and top with leftover caramel sauce.
Note: Any type of bread works for this recipe—hot dog buns, etc. Just go by weight.
Josi never disappoints!
by Evelyn - reviewed on March 14, 2013
Each book has been better than the last, and this one is my new favorite! Just when I thought I had things figured out, there was a new twist! I loved it from start to finish - I couldn't put it down! It was fun getting more familiar with the members of the family, mixed in with the intrigue of the story.
by Heather - reviewed on March 18, 2013
If you're considering taking a cruise, this probably isn't the book to read. Sadie Hoffmiller is looking forward to bringing her busy family together--her daughter who is making wedding plans, her son who is more busy than ever with school, and her boyfriend, who has just retired. Sadie believes it will be the perfect trip for everyone to spend time with each other. But when her son, Shawn, is unusually late in joining them at the first meal, Sadie goes searching for him, and finds him in a heated discussion with a woman Sadie has never met. This begins a series of strange events that Sadie must unravel. One surprise leads to another until it becomes apparent that a couple of tragic events on the cruise are not so innocent. Plenty of intrigue, many unexpected twists, and signature Sadie... all rolled into one with BAKED ALASKA. If you're not a fan yet, you will be after reading this book.
by Shauna - reviewed on February 28, 2013
I always looks forward to Sadie's next adventure...and just finished Baked Alaska. What a great read! The cruise fun and family time were a great combination. Josi always draws me in and never disappoints....always a page turner - and Sadie's recipes have become family favorites!
love it again!
by Laree - reviewed on February 28, 2013
My thoughts: this book reads different than the others. Usually there’s one big mystery that takes the whole book to figure out. This is set up a bit more like several short stories all about the same people at the same time. I thought I knew what mystery needed to be figured out, but then it’s done by page 50. A few more pages twiddling my thumbs, and then I find a new mystery! But actually, that was great! My least favorite thing about a short story is it’s always just long enough to make me ticked when it ends. This way, it’s like it keeps on going. And the end. Oh be still my twitterpaited heart the end! There are awesome nuggets throughout the book “You breath energy into my world,” he whispered, so close she could feel his breath move over her face. She felt the words down to her toes. He pulled her to her feet and smiled at her. “Come look a the starts with me. There is nothing better we can do right now that be together.” Aww. But that’s not as fun as the end! Anyway, it rocked. Another quick, fun, clean read.
Come sail away with Sadie Hoffmiller, as she cruises along to a new mystery!
by Sheila - reviewed on March 13, 2013
Come sail away with Sadie Hoffmiller, as she cruises along to a new mystery. Sadie is on a cruise with her boyfriend, Pete, and her children, Breanna and Shawn. This "fun" family vacation soon turns into anything but fun. Sadie's son Shawn has been keeping a secret from his Mom. This secret has followed then to Alaska and turns their lives upside down. I was thrilled to read about an Alaskan cruise. This is the cruise that I have wanted to go on for years. How exciting to read about the places and adventures that I have been dreaming about! After reading the whole series now (Books 1-9), this has to be one of my favorites. For one, this is the book where we really get to know Pete, Sadie's boyfriend. Sadie is in her late 50's and has found a great love. Readers will truly see how devoted this couple is to each other. We also spend more time getting to know Sadie's children, Breanna and Shawn. I liked how more personal this book felt. Once again we are bedazzled by all of the great food/recipes that are talked about and eaten in this book. I have been so inspired by all of Sadie books I have been reading, that I made homemade bread and Lasagna tonight for my family. As with all of the books in this series, there are many twists and turns that keep you hanging until the end. Josi's writing keeps you involved in the story, and not wanting to put the book down until the last paragraph. I know that each of these books can be read on their own, but I highly suggest reading them in the order that they were written. My reasoning for this, the more you read about Sadie, the more you feel like you are revisiting an old friend. Each book has drawn me more and more into the character and her life. I can't wait until I can visit once more with Sadie in Rocky Road this Fall.
by Shauna - reviewed on March 04, 2013
This book was the best yet! Just when you think YOU have solved the case, Josi Kilpack throws in a new twist and keeps you guessing....The details are so amazing you feel like you are on the cruise ship right along with the characters... And the recipes are to-die-for :) Make sure to read clear to the end for an even sweeter twist in the story! You will laugh, you will sweat, you will cry, you will cheer! I LOVED, LOVED, LOVED IT!