Guest Post + Review + Giveaway: On Thin Icing

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).


cover - On Thin Icing 8-11-15Title:
 On Thin Icing
Author: Ellie Alexander
Publisher: St. Martin’s Paperbacks
Release Date: December 2015
Length: 304 pages
Series?: A Bakeshop Mystery #3
Genre: Mystery

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.

***** Excerpt*****

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,

~Ellie

***** Review *****

The Skinny

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.

The Players

*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.

The Setting

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.

Quotes

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 Take-Away

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.

Click here to enter the Rafflecopter giveaway! 

This event was organized by CBB Book Promotions.

 

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Review + Giveaway: A Batter of Life and Death

battertour

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.

BATTER-182x300Title: 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
Genre: Mystery

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 *****

The Skinny

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 Players

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.

First Impressions

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!

Second Thoughts

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 *****

BatterOfLifeAndDeath_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!

This event was organized by CBB Book Promotions.