I am delighted to be sharing a review of the second installment in the Bakeshop Mystery series by Ellie Alexander. The story of Jules continues, and today I also have an interview with the author! There is a sweet giveaway, but don’t forget to check out the other tour stops, too.
Title: A Batter of Life and Death
Author: Ellie Alexander
Publisher: St. Martin’s Paperbacks
Release Date: June 2015
Length: 304 pages
Series?: A Bakeshop Mystery #2
Find the book: Goodreads | Amazon | B&N
Welcome to Torte–a small-town family bakeshop where the coffee is hot, the muffins are fresh, and the cakes are definitely to die for…
It’s autumn in Ashland, Oregon–’tis the season for a spiced hot apple cider with a serving (or two) of Torte’s famous peach cobbler. It’s also the perfect time for Jules Capshaw to promote her family’s beloved bake shop by competing in The Pastry Channel’s reality show, Take the Cake. The prize is $25,000. But as Jules quickly learns, some people would kill for that kind of dough. Literally.
Then, just as Jules dusts off her Bavarian Chocolate Cake recipe and cinches up her apron, the corpse of a fellow contestant is discovered–death by buttercream. What began as a fun, tasteful televised adventure has morphed into something of a true-crime detective show for Jules and everybody else on set. Who could have killed Chef Marco, and why? Can Jules sift out the killer before someone else gets burned?
***** Review *****
This is the second installment in A Bakeshop Mystery series. Jules is still in her hometown of Ashland, where she and her mother operate the family bakeshop, Torte. It is a local hot spot and many secrets and stories are told within the walls of Torte.
Fall has approached Ashland, and Jules (and her mother) are thankful since the events of the summer can be put to rest. With the nip in the air brings Jules and Torte an opportunity to promote the bakeshop that can’t be turned down. Jules agrees to allow Torte to be used for on location filming for a pastry reality show in conjunction with Ashland’s world-famous Oregon Shakespeare Festival, and then gets offered the chance to be a contestant in the competition. The $25,000 prize money would definitely help out Torte, but Jules quickly learns that some would kill for that kind of dough.
For more background on the first book, Meet Your Baker, you can read my review here.
The Torte Crew:
My parents thought naming their only child after one of literature’s greatest heroines would ensure a life of passion. I’m not sure they thought it all the way through, though. My name set me up to be romantic. Really, Juliet Montague Capshaw? I didn’t have a chance. Ill-fated romance us literally my namesake.
Jules Capshaw- 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 is still out traversing the seas as she has quietly come to settle and take refuge in Ashland and Torte. She is a fantastic pastry chef, and an easy person to get along with, but is finding it difficult with many of the show’s contestants. She also winds up unofficially investigating the murder.
Mom’s been serving up a selection of sweet and savory pastries with a side of love for nearly three decades.
Mom/Mrs. Capshaw – Jules’ mom is so incredibly wise and patient. She doesn’t pry or force Jules to share her thoughts as she journeys on this seemingly never-ending emotional roller coaster. She is supportive and loving, kindness itself, but never pushy. She is also dating The Professor.
His boyish good looks and easygoing attitude charmed a customer waiting for her drinks. Andy typically talks sports with customers, and likes to get their input on his latest coffee creations. His signature concoctions have become legendary around town and with tourists.
Andy – The “resident coffee geek and college student” who mans the front day-in and day-out. Andy has been with Torte for a while now, and suffered through the craziness of the summer, surviving unscathed. He is a very responsible young man who has a flair for new coffee creations.
Sterling’s dark hair, tattoos, and startlingly blue eyes tend to captivate customers, especially the female ones. He has just the right balance of an edge with a kind heart. The girls swoon over his sultry looks, but it’s a wasted effort. He only has eyes for Stephanie.
Sterling – Torte’s newest employee, charged with manning the cash register and pastry case. He was “adopted” by the Capshaws and Torte earlier in the summer. Sterling arrived in Ashland the same time as Jules did. Sterling is searching for a home, and has found a great place to thrive in Torte.
She has an innate skill and “the touch,” as Mom likes to say, when it comes to pastry. If I could only soften her up a little, it would make things so much easier.
Stephanie – She is a somewhat sullen girl, taking a different route than college. Stephanie is apprentice to Mrs. Capshaw and Jules. Orgininally stationed at the counter, it was soon clear that Stephanie lacked customer service skills.
Other Key Players:
He looks a lot like a professor with his tweed jackets and wire-framed glasses.
The Professor – The Professor’s real name is Doug. He is the town’s chief of police, and the “unofficial Shakespeare aficionado.” He is a charming, friendly man who has captured Mrs. Capshaw’s attention. They have a sweet, budding romance.
With his boyish face and mischievous smile he could pass for someone much younger. Only his police uniform and sandy stubble gave away the fact that he wasn’t a teenager anymore.
Thomas – Thomas is The Professor’s right hand man as detective-in-training, and also Jules’ high school sweetheart. They left things unresolved back then, and Thomas clearly regards Jules in the highest regard. Perhaps he feels a bit (okay, a lot) guilty about what happened back then, but he is a quiet, hardworking young man…who can still get tongue tied. 🙂 And he attracts the ladies…
Lance was in the know. Lance served as the resident village gossip.
Lance – Such a hoot! Lance is the theater director, and works alongside the pastry channel producer to spotlight the OSF and the theater in the filming. He is the classic man on the run who throws lavish parties. The Black Swan Theater is his baby. Naturally, he has a flair for the dramatic. He also wants to be “in” on investigating with Jules.
Of course there are many other characters, with the arrival of the pastry reality TV show, including: Philip (Pastry Channel producer), Elliot (Take the Cake host), the show contestants who are quite extraordinary, and Torte’s rival and owner of the Merry Windsor Inn, Richard Lord.
I loved Jules in this book. I feel like I got to see much more into her as a person and her life. It’s as if the first book was our meeting her, with her guard still up and protecting herself, and now she’s relaxed a little and letting herself be herself.
I read the first in the series, so I already have a background in the characters, their lives and their relationships. For a short time (before reading the synopsis) I thought she might be going on an adventure to reunite with her husband.
After reading the synopsis, I thought, “How is Ellie going to pull off another murder in small town Ashland?” Well, she found a way!
As I swung open the front door, the familiar smell of rising yeast and espresso made me pause and take in a deep breath. Torte is the kind of place that lifts your mood. The space is inviting, with corrugated metal siding, royal teal and red accent colors, and concrete floors.
The Bakeshop Mysteries are set in Ashland, Oregon, home to the world-famous Oregon Shakespeare Festival (OSF), which is spear-headed by Lance, the theater director. Most of the scenes in the book take place inside of Torte, the Capshaw’s family-owned bakeshop, at the theater, or in Jules’ apartment.
Torte is such a special place for the town. It is where people come to congregate, gossip, indulge, share, and love. It is that one place that you can walk into, no matter who is present, and it feels like home-away-from-home when one of the Torte crew greets you.
The opening paragraph made me realize this book was not quite like the first one. Meet Your Baker barely scratched the surface of Jules, her mother, and Thomas. Now that it is fall, and things seem to be semi-permanent, there is more depth brought out in these characters, especially Jules.
They say that time heals a broken heart. I’ve noticed no one mentions exactly how much time it takes, though. A week? A month? A year? Having a solid number might have made me feel better, since my heart was mending slowly.
I think we can all identify with this sentiment in one way or another, and despite spending all summer in Ashland revitalizing Torte, Jules is still battling her inner demons over separating from her husband.
Once I reached the Black Swan Theater, I peered inside. I was surprised to see that it was plunged in darkness. I must have beaten Philip here, I thought as I fumbled on the wall near the door to try and find a light switch. I found one and flipped on the overhead lights.
Something felt off. I couldn’t exactly describe why, but the hairs on my arm stood and goose bumps started to form.
You’re probably cold, Jules. It’s like a freezer in here, I told myself as I walked toward the kitchen.
As I entered the fake kitchen, I did indeed drop my baking supplies – all over the floor. Flour and sugar exploded in the air. Eggs cracked on the floor. I was about to follow them. My body went limp at the sight.
As the TV show is getting underway, the craziness that accompanies reality TV comes out in full force. Things are all set for the first day of filming – and the first contest – when the body of Chef Marco is discovered. Of course, it is Jules who once again discovers the body…and begins her own investigation into the murder. Was the prize money worth it? Who would have wanted Chef Marco dead? Everyone seems to have a motive.
The relationships between characters are brighter in this book. I found myself liking the locals more and more, and even some of the show contestants. It’s like you’ve known some of them your whole life.
Mom swatted me on the back with the broom. “Listen, young lady, I know that Doug doesn’t want either of us mixed up in this investigation.”
I pretended to be injured from the broom. “Child abuse.”
As the novel progresses, Jules discovers that everyone is keeping a secret they want no one to know. It quickly complicates Jules’ investigation. It seems Chef Marco had mad a lot of enemies in his life as a chef, and it is still catching up with him even in death.
While Jules is secretly sleuthing, competing in the show, helping others with their problems, and assuring her mother and Thomas that she is staying out of it, she is working through her own emotions over Carlos and Thomas. These moments of total nakedness where Jules bares her soul is captivating. She truly has come to a crossroads in her life.
I had so many favorite scenes in the book that it is hard to pick just one, or even two. The book is just too good for that! There were moments that really touched me – those when Jules opens herself up and allows readers insight into her heart. I felt as a person (and perhaps more so as a woman) I could identify with exactly how Jules felt from times in my life. Alexander has put into words what some struggle to figure out and say for years.
As with the first book, there is a collection of recipes in the back of this one. All of the wonderful things that Jules and others made in the book are there for the taking, complete with recipes! I think Amaretto Dream Cookies will be my favorite. 🙂
I’m not sure what the future holds for Jules, Thomas or Torte, but I am definitely on board to continue reading and following Jules on her journey. Plus, who could turn down these yummy recipes? 😉
***** 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 *****
The author will be giving away signed copy of Meet Your Baker and A Batter of Life and Death, 1 pound coffee, Oregon Chai, Gourmet cupcake liners (US) to a winner of the below Rafflecopter. The giveaway ends July 21st.
Click here to enter the Rafflecopter giveaway!