Welcome to my tour stop for On Thin Icing by Ellie Alexander! This is the third book in the Bakeshop Mystery series and released December 29th, 2015. The tour runs from January 4 – 15 with reviews, guest posts, interviews and excerpts. This is an adult cozy mystery from St. Martin’s Press.
I have previously reviewed Meet Your Baker (#1) and A Batter of Life and Death (#2).
Title: On Thin Icing
Author: Ellie Alexander
Publisher: St. Martin’s Paperbacks
Release Date: December 2015
Length: 304 pages
Series?: A Bakeshop Mystery #3
Find the book: Goodreads | Amazon | B&N
It’s the dead of winter in the sleepy town of Ashland, which means no tourists-and fewer customers-for Jules Capshaw and her bakery. But when she’s asked to cater an off-season retreat for the directors of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, business starts heating up…until Jules finds a dead body in the freezer.
Someone at the retreat has apparently iced the bartender, a well-known flirt with a legendary temper-that is, before a killer beat him to the punch. Then, from out of nowhere, Jules’s own ex-husband shows up at the shop-and soon becomes a suspect. With accusations piling up higher than the snow-and thicker than a chocolate mousse cake-Jules has to think outside the (recipe) box to find the real culprit…and make sure he gets his just desserts.
How do you keep ideas and plot lines fresh and new with writing a small-town cozy series?
Great question! Ask me again after a few more books and maybe I’ll change my answer. In all seriousness, one of the things that really appeals to me about writing a small-town cozy series is that I get to develop an entire cast of characters. The series has already become much more than just Jules’s (the heroine) story. Her team at Torte, the family bakeshop that she’s returned home to help run, are all an integral part of the plot. I’ve become attached to them—from her mom, Helen, to Andy the barista, to Lance, the overly dramatic artistic director, and her nemesis Richard Lord. It’s so much fun to chart out each character’s development. Over the course of the series we’re going to get to know them even more. Every time I sit down to work on a new book it feels like coming home. Sometimes I forget that the characters are figments of my imagination because they feel like old friends.
Ashland, Oregon is the perfect setting for the series because it is a small town with a vibrant community of artists, actors, playwrights, college students, retirees, and outdoor adventure lovers. It’s also a very eclectic town themed around the Oregon Shakespeare Festival with charming old world shops and restaurants. You might even think you’ve traveled back in time to Shakespeare’s England when walking around Ashland’s downtown plaza where storefronts are designed in Elizabethan architecture. The theater attracts visitors from all over the world, which is great because there are constantly new people arriving which means an ever-rotating supply murder suspects.
The other way I intend to keep the plot lines fresh is to send Jules out of town every once in a while. In On Thin Icing, the third book in the series, she’s been asked to cater a retreat at Lake of the Woods Resort, a high mountain lodge tucked into the Southern Cascade Mountains. Baking at altitude is going to test her culinary talents and give readers a taste of the gorgeous landscapes of the region and some delicious winter recipes for savory soups and hearty stews.
Since Jules spent ten years working as a pastry chef on a prestigious cruise line I think it will be natural for her to find her way back on the ship in a future book. I’m already dreaming about all the tropical desserts she can whip up while she sails under sunny skies!
Wishing you happy reading,
***** Review *****
Torte has shut down after the tourist season in Ashland, and when the Oregon Shakespeare Festival board of directors schedules a weekend retreat, Jules is asked to cater the getaway. This is just the kind of business Torte needs.
It would be the perfect weekend…except for the dead body in the marina freezer. Jules discovers the body and immediately calls Thomas and The Professor. She learns this is out of their jurisdiction, follows their directions, and spends the remote weekend with a killer.
With a kitchen to run, ovens that won’t heat properly, and the loss of power, Jules has her hands full. Add to it the responsibility of maintaining the integrity of the crime scene, one ex-husband showing up and landing himself as a suspect, her best friend at odds with her, and avoiding a killer and it makes for one long weekend.
*There are many more characters in the book, however, I have cut down to include those most prominent in the book. For a fuller list of characters, visit my review of A Batter of Life and Death.
Jules – Jules is a young woman who has seen the sights of the world thanks to her profession as a cruise-line chef. It is also how she met her husband, Carlos, whom she has separated from. She returned home to take refuge in Ashalnd and Torte, the family owned bakery. whom is still out traversing the seas as she has quietly come to settle and take refuge in Ashland and Torte. She receives an amazing opportunity to cater a weekend getaway for the board of OSF.
Sterling – Torte’s newest employee, charged with manning the cash register and pastry case. He was “adopted” by the Capshaws and Torte earlier that summer. Sterling is working hard to change his life and has been invited to be the sous chef on the trip with Jules.
Carlos – The mysterious husband turns up in Ashland and is sent after Jules and Sterling to the retreat. He is very respectable and compassionate. He also diligently mentors Sterling both as a chef and as man. He does push Jules to face their issues and the reason why she left him and the cruise ship.
Lance – Lance is Ashalnd’s theater director, and has arranged for an OSF board meeting weekend retreat in a remote area. He is the classic man on the run who throws lavish parties. Naturally, he has a flair for the dramatic.
Whitney – Whitney has been hired as Lance’s assistant. She was recommended by Dean Barnes, and she is also his niece. She is a very nervous sort, and constantly running around with her tablet. She fears being fired due to all the mishaps of the trip.
Dean Barnes – The only board member who is singled out as a character. He is Whitney’s uncle and also the first board member to arrive at the retreat. He is the quintessential English chap, and very insistent upon things. He has a love of rifles and hunting, as was common in his English countryside.
Mercury – Mercury owns Lake of the Woods Lodge with her husband, who is not present during the book. She is completely spineless and lets people run all over her. In terms of managing the resort, she acts like she hasn’t got a clue. She’s also trying desperately to keep it afloat and have it making money. The resort has slowly started returning to what it used to be when Jules was a child.
Gavin – Gavin is the marina manager at Lake of the Woods Lodge. Interestingly, this has been his only job his entire life. He’s pretty much lived at Lake of the Woods Lodge since he was a young adult. He is highly trusted by Mercury and has some scuffles with Tony about work-related business. He also keeps to himself a lot.
Tony – Tony is the bartender at Lake of the Woods Lodge. Although he is the server of alcohol, he is also the number one consumer of it as well. He has a nasty temper and makes extremely inappropriate sexual innuendos and comments to any and all women (except Mercury).
The Professor – The Professor’s real name is Doug. He is the Ashland’s chief of police, and the “unofficial Shakespeare aficionado.” It is his norm to quote The Bard and other philosophical individuals. He is a charming, friendly man who has captured Mrs. Capshaw’s attention. He poses a very important question to Jules about his relationship with her mother.
Thomas – Thomas is The Professor’s right hand man, and also Jules’ high school sweetheart. They left things unresolved back then, and Thomas clearly has the highest regard for Jules. He comes running when Jules calls, and seeing Carlos face to face sets off some jealous overtones.
Lake of the Woods sits almost five thousand feet above sea level. The lake was formed from a volcanic eruption thousands of years ago. Getting to the high-altitude lodge was an adventure in itself. The most direct route from Ashland would take us on Dead Indian Road. The road cuts through the Siskiyou National Forest, twisting past sharp corners and down curves without a shoulder. Its name pays homage to the Native Americans who belongs to the land long before white settlers made their way west. I couldn’t help wonder as I navigated the dangerous road if there was more to its meaning.
Lake of the Woods Resort was originally built as a fishing retreat in the 1920s. At just under five thousand feet in elevation, the natural lake is a popular destination all year round. During the summer months vacationers swim off the lake’s shallow banks, fish for rainbow trout, and tool around on party boats. In the winter the lake freezes over, making it a prime location for ice-fishing.
I was home again, but I was an entirely different person.
“That’s cooking. Feel it. I always say to my new student chefs that food is love. You must infuse the food with love. You cook angry – the food, it will know.”
Had I really changed this much since I’d been home? I knew I was different, but having Carlos here made me feel like an entirely different person and the same all at once.
“Whoa. Slow down, Jules. A murder? Why are you calling me? Hang up and call the police.”
“You are the police, Thomas.”
Carlos says that food is love. I say it’s memory.
The Highs and Lows
- + Sterling. The young man who recently has come into the Torte family is fantastic on this catering trip! Before he’s been kind of hit-and-miss as a character, but this is where he shines. He is installed as the sous chef and he rises to the task beautifully. He keeps Jules on level and is her spiritual guide at the retreat.
- – Lance. Readers didn’t get to see a lot of Lance in this installment, which disappointed me because he is one of my favorites. He also was not knocking Jules over to be “in the know” about the murder. He had bigger fish to fry with the OSF board.
- – Whitney. I don’t think the girl has got a clue. At all. She seems like an idiot. I hope Lance does fire her.
- – Thomas. He was a complete jerk to Jules in this installment. Sterling pointed out the hot situation Jules was in between the two men in her life. For the first time in over six months, Thomas acts like he’s more than her friend and putting her in a very awkward position. He was a jerk to Jules over honing in on Carlos as the number one suspect.
- – Carlos. Carlos pushes Jules when she is clearly overrun and busy with this catering gig in the wilds of Oregon. This was the worst and yet perfect time for him to approach Jules. Yet, he pushes Jules for answers when he isn’t ready to give her his own. It felt like he was swooping in to dazzle and charm her, with no real relationship meat behind the heat.
- + The Professor. He is such a wise, thoughtful and kind man. Why can’t Thomas take some lessons from him? The Professor puts Jules en garde over his relationship with her mother, and it gets her pondering some serious things she’s never even asked her mother.
- + Carlos. He is such a help to Jules and Sterling on the catering end. With the less than desirable circumstances, and especially during the loss of power, he helps out where he is needed and services Mercury’s guests well. He also takes Sterling under his wing and mentors him as a master chef, but also as a man.
- + Reflection. Jules has a lot of thinking to do with Carlos at the resort, and pushing her for acceptance. She reflects a lot more in this installment than in previous ones about their life at sea, and their married life. She reminisces about how Carlos proposed, her wedding day, and that fateful day she left the ship. Jules has a lot of adult decisions to make.
- – Blasé. No one really seemed overly concerned that there was a dead body in the marina freezer, they were trapped on this snowed-in mountainside, and the killer was among them. They all continue to go about their business like absolutely nothing has happened (with the exception of Jules). It was very disconcerting.
- + Vivid Details. The descriptions are beautiful. Alexander really sets the scene and keeps it moving throughout the book without being too much or too little. The writing style is superb.
The two things I loved most about this book were the scenery descriptions and Sterling. The descriptions are so beautiful and woven perfectly throughout. They are not overdone, but instead short quick snippets to set the scene. Sterling was an absolute doll in this installment. He kept Jules afloat in the kitchen, and also acted as her conscious when it came to Carlos and Thomas. He kindly pointed out the things she wanted to ignore, and has been for months. As Jules said, he is wise beyond his years.
Recommendation – Buy, Borrow or Skip?
I highly recommend buying this one!
***** About the Author *****
Ellie Alexander is a Pacific Northwest native who spends ample time testing pastry recipes in her home kitchen or at one of the many famed coffeehouses nearby. When she’s not coated in flour, you’ll find her outside exploring hiking trails and trying to burn off calories consumed in the name of research. Follow her on Facebook or Twitter to learn more.
Find the author: Website | Facebook | Twitter | Goodreads
***** Giveaway *****
Triple chocolate cookie mix, Alpine spiced cider, Collection of Stash teas, Collection of gourmet hot chocolates, Oxford tea towel, Signed copy of On Thin Icing. US only. Ends Jan. 20, 2016.
Prizing provided by the author. Must be 13 or older and have parental permission if under 17. Void where prohibited by law. No purchase necessary to win.
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