Pop Culture Princess

Pop Culture Princess
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Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Some page turning tricks and treats to savor on my FrightFall journey

At this point, I'm at the half way mark for the FrightFall readathon and to date, my total of finished books is three, with two in mid-read and a couple of others awaiting their turn on the shelf.

The most Halloween themed of the former group is Kiersten White's The Dark Descent of Elizabeth Frankenstein, which takes the classic Mary Shelley tale of reanimation in a whole new direction.

We begin with Elizabeth, a ward of the Frankenstein family, going in search of eldest son Victor with her good friend Justine, the governess to the younger children of the household. It has been months since Victor has written to them and not even mutual childhood friend Henry has been able to get fresh word about how Victor is or the progress of his unusual studies.

Elizabeth is concerned about her position in the Frankenstein home due to his absence; as a young girl, she was brought into the family as a companion to the troubled Victor in order to keep him calm and collected. Now, that they both have grown up and he is able to make his way in the world, she fears being cast out without anywhere else to go.

She is not just motivated by the need for her own security(although that is a pressing concern) but worries about Victor's state of mind and their mutual affection for one another. For years, Elizabeth has known of his dark obsession with the mysteries of life and death and has been lovingly willing to protect him from any of the consequences that pursuit might place at his doorstep:

When she and Justine,with the help of a new friend Mary, do discover Victor's whereabouts, Elizabeth is both relieved and horrified.

Victor is gravely ill but still alive, What is more serious than that, his isolated location conceals some rather grisly experimentation going on there. Elizabeth is able to get him the medical help he needs while shielding her companions from the worst of the horrors inside his secret lab.

She feels more secure after destroying the lab and Victor's notes yet as it turns out, his tinkering brought a monstrous being to life. A wrathful creature that seeks revenge against his creator. Despite being told not to concern herself with any of that, Elizabeth is bound and determined to find the monster and stop him from ruining her future happiness:

Yet, despite her plans, a string of tragic events unfolds and Elizabeth finds to her true horror that things are not as they appear to be, especially when it comes to Victor and his creation. Finding herself trapped in a situation that leaves her very limited options, she decides to make new allies and find a solution that will reveal who the real monster in their midst is.

Keirsten White weaves a new and imaginative narrative from this classic cloth, echoing the themes of the original Frankenstein yet also evoking the feminist writings of Mary Shelley's mother, Mary Wollstonecraft, as well. At times, her leading lady has the dark complexity of a Gillian Flynn character combined with the Gothic undertones granted to many a heroine of that genre.

It's a compelling read that explores the nature of a destructive co-dependent relationship , the meaning of real love and the role of women during that time period. The Dark Descent of Elizabeth Frankenstein is a well layered chiller with plenty of food for thought served up up with style and I highly recommend it indeed:

On the much lighter side, I caught up with the third title in Rhys Bowen's Her Royal Spyness series, Royal Flush.

 Once again, Lady Georgiana Rannoch is called upon to do a little detective work for Queen and country and that duty calls her home to Scotland, where her brother Binky and sister-in-law Fig are being plagued with American guests. One in particular that is most troubling is also seen as a most unwelcome escort for the future king of England, Wallis Simpson.

What is quite distressing is the increasing number of "accidents" that target members of the royal family and an insider among that crowd  is suspected. Georgiana is eager to find the culprit as well as avoid being matched up with the annoying Prince Siegfried and keeping an eye on Darcy O'Mara, the dashing yet impoverished nobleman who may or may not be on Her Majesty's Secret Service.

Each entry in this series grows more and more entertaining, with a good dash of history and mystery given a twist of old fashioned humor. The romance between Georgiana and Darcy has a lovely screwball comedy vibe to it,adding the right note of fictional flavor here:

Speaking of flavor, I took a second bite of the Bakeshop Mystery series by Ellie Alexander and got a good taste of A Batter of Life and Death.

Our culinary heroine Jules Capshaw is given an unexpected opportunity to get both publicity and funds for the family bakery Torte by being a contender on The Pastry Channel's competition series, Take The Cake. Jules also has to host a couple of the contestants,the glitzy Southern belle Linda and vegan baker Nina,at Torte's kitchen as part of the deal, making the contest a little too close for comfort.

Competing for the top cash prize becomes more challenging when fellow competitor and very drunk chef Marco is found dead on the set, face down in a vat of buttercream, by Jules. Her last brush with murder left Jules a bit wary yet she still can't resist looking into the case. Can she find the killer before another contestant is cut for good?

The book and series so far has a really nice sense of place, making the Shakespeare festival driven town of Ashland feel very real and welcoming to the reader as well as Jules. I also like that Jules is a well developed person in her own right, with a solid love of cooking and family, plus her conflicted feelings about where her troubled marriage with cruise ship chef Carlos is heading(along with the potential for revived romance with high school sweetheart Tommy).

A nice bonus here is the whole baking competition concept; as someone who has watched several seasons of such shows on Food Network, this plot line is sinfully sweet and sassy. While the theme is not Halloween, this story has enough sugary scares to truly take the cake for holiday reading fun:

Right now, my FrightFall status has me diving into Agatha Christie's Ordeal by Innocence and the next Her Royal Spyness book, Royal Blood(which sends Georgiana to Transylvania for a possible vampire encounter!). There's also On Thin Icing and The Silent Corner to explore and with any luck, one of the latter will be finished by All Hallow's Eve.

I do hope that everyone else taking part in FrightFall is having a good time with their TBR piles and getting ready for Halloween as well. In my house, we take part in a community trick or treat table for the neighborhood kids and figuring out our costumes is tricky, to say the least.

 I wouldn't mind a book related one but those can be difficult to explain,especially if there isn't a movie version involved. Oh well,  there's still time before the witching hour to make some dress-up magic!:

Friday, October 12, 2018

A library visit adds literary leaves to my FrightFall pile

Well, fall weather seems to be arriving at long last and the cooler days make diving into my reading for the FrightFall readathon all the more inviting.

I'm doing pretty good on that front yet couldn't resist adding on another book to that TBR pile,thanks to my latest library haul. As luck would have it, a copy of Agatha Christie's Ordeal By Innocence was readily available in the mystery section and I had to have it.

The plot deals with Arthur Calgary, a man who discovers far too late that he could provide an alibi for Jacko Argyle, accused of murdering his own adoptive mother. Jacko died in prison and Athur wants to make amends to the Argyle family not only by clearing Jacko's name but also finding the real killer, a task that some of the family may not thank him for.

There's been some buzz about the book lately, due to a new adaptation being aired on Amazon Prime recently. Even though I won't be able to watch that(there are other versions, including a 1985 feature film and an episode of Christie's Marple in 2007), reading a stand alone story by the amazing Agatha Christie should be suitable for seasonal chills there:

Since I happen to be in a Dean Koontz mood, Ashley Bell was also a must-have. The leading lady of this novel is Bibi Blair, a tough as nails kind of gal who is not even fazed when given the diagnosis of a terminal brain tumor.

She's prepared for the fight of her life but a sudden,rather miraculous cure throws Bibi fully off balance. According to a psychic, Bibi's life was spared in order that she protect the unknown Ashley Bell, who she attempts to find in time to repay her debt to the universe,so to speak.

Bibi feels up to the challenge but forces both seen and unseen conspire against her and she may need the help of Paxton Thorpe, her boyfriend who is away on a mission with his SEAL team. Oddly enough, Pax is growing aware of her plight via telepathic messages and is trying to reach Bibi but can the two of them reconnect in time?

It's been a good while since I've read Koontz and yet his blend of suspenseful storytelling with supernatural elements is quite familiar to me. Not completely sure if Ashley Bell will make the FrightFall cut(I do have The Silent Corner to get to first) but it sounds like it's worth a try:

To balance things out, I did pick up something from the non-fiction section. Educated by Tara Westover chronicles the hard scrabble childhood of the author, who grew up in a rural Idaho home with a strict religious father that held his family under his sway with his paranoid rants and determination to avoid any involvement with the government.

Westover and several of her siblings didn't have birth certificates for many years and no formal education due to the "keep off the Grid" philosophy of her father while her mother was forced into midwifery and home remedies not only to make money but to tend to the various injuries and illnesses that came from assisting their father in his junkyard salvaging work.

Westover details her slowly but surely escape into the wider world and the challenges that she dealt with there as well, experiencing a good deal of culture shock along the way. This memoir has had it's share of praise and censure, with some of her family disputing her version of certain events.

To be fair, Westover does admit to not being completely sure about how some things went down and includes differing accounts from her relatives at times, which is rather honest and gives credence to her side of the story,if you ask me. So far, the book is sadly compelling and beautifully written, a true "hard to put down" tale of an independent life that was hard won, to say the least:

At this point in my FrightFall reading, I have finished one book(Royal Flush) and close to completing two more hopefully by the end of this weekend. Sure, throwing a couple of library books into this mix does amp up the volume but this is a reading challenge after all, emphasis on challenge!

I'm so happy to have library book options and this last visit was extra fun, as my younger sister joined me. There was an interesting reversal of roles, with me being the one waiting for her to finish up browsing for books, something that I've often done to others at any literary location. She did take out two books(one of which was poetry) and it was nice to share this time with her. It was also nice for me not to be the Rory Gilmore for once!:

Monday, October 08, 2018

My Series-ous Reading serves up a Blueberry Muffin Murder as a bookish breakfast treat

In this new batch of Series-ous Reading that I'm doing for the remainder of the year, I get to sample more of Joanne Fluke's Hannah Swensen mystery stories with a culinary twist(and recipes to boot).

In her third go-around, Hannah finds a Blueberry Muffin Murder almost on the doorstep of her small town bakery in Minnesota called The Cookie Jar. Actually, she discovers the victim in the walk-in freezer who was tasting one of the title goodies just before her demise.

That unfortunate soul is Connie Mac, a celebrity chef/homestyle guru who comes to Lake Eden not only to take part in the local Winter Festival,arranged to bolster late winter spirits as well as revenues, but to do a signing for her new cookbook and attend the grand opening of one of her retail boutiques as well.

Connie is also bringing a special cake for the town banquet that gets damaged en route,so Hannah agrees to let her use The Cookie Jar's kitchen to make a new one. Hannah is usually happy to help out in town events but the more she sees of Connie, the less she likes her. Despite her sweet and sunny manner in public, Connie's attitude can turn downright vicious in private,especially towards her staff:

Even though Connie was a living terror, Hannah is still distressed by her murder and eager to solve the case, particularly since The Cookie Jar is shut down due to being an active crime scene.

Plenty of folks already expect her to find the killer and are willing to help Hannah out(not to mention give her some kitchen space to fill the shop orders for the festival). Even her younger sister Andrea turns out to be very useful with her realtor connections and natural charm.

However, one person who doesn't want Hannah on this case is Mike, her police detective would-be suitor. Mike acknowledges that she's good at this yet is concerned for her safety. Granted, a bit of jealousy about his rival in romance, dentist Norman, plays a part here as Mike tells Hannah that Norman may be a serious suspect in Connie Mac's death:

That suggestion about Norman encourages Hannah to look further into the case and by the time another body is found, Norman is no longer on that list of suspects. Yet, that doesn't narrow things down as Connie Mac made too many enemies along her way to fame.

Hannah also uncovers a secret or two during her search but those revelations may not be the answers that she's looking for. Can she find the killer before a fresh slice of death is served?

I do enjoy this series,as it's as comfortably inviting as a warm plate of homemade muffins on a cold winter's night. Hannah's small town world is engaging and authentic plus the relationship with her sister Andrea develops well, growing from more than a half baked sibling rivalry to at times a real meeting of the minds between them as they work together on the case.

A favorite motif of mine in this book is how much detective work gets done at local eateries, with Andrea having the need to take major meal breaks all the time while steadily denying that she's pregnant(spoiler alert; she is). Those food stops do give both ladies a chance to review their findings and make some conclusions while sharing a plate of fries(or in Andrea's case, stealing most of them from her sister):

The books in this series are fun and yes, tasty reads,especially during stressful times such as the one we're all going through right now. To be sure, a foodie mystery may not be your preferred style of mental relaxation but I do recommend finding a thumping good read of any genre as a source of self care in the harrowing days to come.

Meanwhile, my next Series-ous Reading selection is another Hannah Swensen story, Lemon Meringue Pie Murder. Since I'm in the midst of a readathon right now, this sinister sweet slice of pie will have to wait until November(which is more of a pie month, if you ask me).

 No doubt that this book will be as delicious as anything that British Baking Show judge Mary Berry can whip up in a flash with a dash of clever sweetness,just like Hannah herself:

Tuesday, October 02, 2018

Looking for some Halloween thrills at the Movie Trailer Park

One sure sign that Halloween season is upon us is the arrival of suitably scary movies at our local multiplex. Granted, these days truth is scarier than fiction but that's all the more reason to enjoy a cinematic fear fest with some fresh popcorn on hand.

The most iconic movie for this time of year is John Carpenter's Halloween and yes, Virginia, we are getting a new film with that very name. Directing this particular Halloween is David Gordon Green(who co-wrote the script with Danny McBride and Jeff Fradley) and his take on this classic slasher is to recapture the spirit of the original.

In order to achieve that goal, this film ignores all of the prior sequels(including the ones with Jamie Lee Curtis) and sets itself 40 years after the infamous Haddonfield slaughter spree. Reprising the role of Laurie is Jamie Lee Curtis, whose family finds her way too cautious on Halloween night yet as it turns out, her decades long preparations for the return of Michael Myers were not in vain.

Reinvention is nothing new to this series, with the latest attempts by Rob Zombie getting a rather mixed treat bag of reviews from critics and audiences alike. However, the people behind this revamp do seem sincere about their love of old school scares, so it might be worth checking out there:

Already out in theaters is Hell Fest, starring Amy Forsyth as Natalie, one of a group of friends eager to visit a horror theme park that starts up around October. During their tour of the attractions, a death takes place that at first, all of them think is just a part of the show but soon turns out to be all too real.

As they are stalked by the mysterious Other through out the night, no one who officially works there is willing to believe them. One by one, Natalie's companions are hunted down and it becomes clear to her that she is the only one who can stop the Other before the night is truly over for them all.

While this movie hasn't gotten the best reviews(it did manage to make the box office top ten this past weekend), word of mouth has been pretty good and this might be a spooky sleeper in the making:

However, if you're looking for something a bit more kid friendly, then Goosebumps 2: Haunted Halloween should be your best bet in that department.

Jack Black does return as horror writer R.L. Stine but the main focus of the plot appears to be about two young friends, Sonny and Sam(played by Jeremy Ray Taylor and Caleel Harris) who go into Stine's abandoned residence and find a certain book that shouldn't be opened.

Once the boys realized that they have unleashed sinister living dummy Slappy,who plans to create a permanent Halloween on Earth with the help of some of his bad to the bone buddies, they seek out Stine to save the day. They wind up doing battle with those forces of evil as well, with Sonny's sister Sarah(Madison Iseman) tagging along for the fright fight there.

While I haven't seen the first movie, I'm sure that won't be necessary for anyone to enjoy this. This does sound like a Hocus Pocus/Monster Squad type of film where the pre-teen set get to be the heroes in a monster mash realm, so this might be a treat for kids of all ages(for a matinee at the very least):

No doubt, there will be a couple of other fear flicks coming out just in time for Halloween movie going and you can always catch a good scary movie on TV or online as well. True, you don't have to wait until October to chill out with a horror film but it is a fun tradition to uphold.

Speaking of waiting, that new remake of Suspiria is receiving a limited release on Oct.26 with a wider one set for early November. Sounds like a missed opportunity to me yet the original version is still available for true All Hallow's Eve viewing parties,only you might want to eat before the movie starts(you have been warned!):

Friday, September 28, 2018

Stacking up the scares for my FrightFall reading

October is fast becoming my favorite time of the year not only due to Halloween but because it heralds the beginning of FrightFall, the Seasons of Reading month long readathon.

This year, there will be a pre-and a post readathon(48 hours deals that are completely optional) and hostess Michelle Miller is also having a special group read of Ray Bradbury's Something Wicked This Way Comes at her Castle Macabre blog to boot.

My plans are to keep things simple yet I do have a good sized pile of books set aside here, ranging from Gothic chiller to cozy mysteries. If all goes well, I should be able to get through most of them and perhaps add a library loan to the murderous mix:

The Dark Descent of Elizabeth Frankenstein: Kiersten White retells the classic Mary Shelley tale through the eyes of Elizabeth Lavenza, who becomes the ward of the titled Frankenstein family and constant companion of troubled son Victor.

Upon Victor growing up and leaving home to pursue his studies, Elizabeth grows concerned about the security of her position within the household and persuades her good friend Justine to go with her in search of him.

What she discovers about Victor's breaking away from school and the mysterious experiments that he's now working on is shocking to say the least to her. Nevertheless, Elizabeth is determined to assist him in any way that she can, even if that includes creating a monster. Yet, it becomes increasingly difficult to figure out who is the real monster, the being that was brought forcefully to life or the beloved boy that she grew up with who has become a man that she truly doesn't know?

This take on Frankenstein reminds me of another literary reexamination of an iconic Victorian figure of fear-Valerie Martin's Mary Reilly, which saw another side of the Jekyll and Hyde legend(it eventually became a rather underrated film starring Julia Roberts and John Malkovich).

If The Dark Descent of Elizabeth Frankenstein is fortunate enough to be adapted for the big screen, it would make a fine double feature with Mary Reilly,I have no doubt about it:

BAKESHOP MYSTERY: Having enjoyed the taste of Ellie Alexander's first foodie mystery book, Meet Your Baker, recently, I decided to have a second and third helping of her series.

In A Batter of Life and Death, leading lady Jules Capshaw decides to help her family bakery business out by going for a big cash prize on a baking TV show entitled Take the Cake. However, when one of her fellow competitors is most unexpectedly taken out of the running, Jules has to set aside a possible winning recipe in order to create a crime solving solution before someone else takes their last bite out of life.

I then plan to move on to On Thin Icing(the puns are truly delicious here) where Jules is glad of a gig for the directors of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival during the off season in the dead of winter. That tasty opportunity is spoiled by not only the arrival of her ex-husband Carlos but the discovery of a dead body in her walk in freezer as well.

The deceased in question happens to be a rather flirtatious bartender whose fiery temper matches Carlos' own, making him a suspect in the murder. Jules has plenty of reasons to find the killer as it is yet this time, the stakes are higher and personal. I do like the sweet set-up of this engaging series and very pleased as pie to get to know Jules and company all the more:

HER ROYAL SPYNESS: This delightful set of stories by Rhys Bowen follows the adventures of Lady Georgiana,aka Georgie, who due to her low rank in the British royal family(she's 34th in line for the throne) is often recruited to solve a mystery or two.

I've read the first two books and eager to check out the next pair,starting with Royal Flush, where Georgie's summer plans include preventing her princely cousin from carrying on with a certain American divorcee as well as assisting Scotland Yard with a threat on said cousin's life at an upcoming shooting party.

While I will read this series in order, I am most anxious to get to book four which is called Royal Blood. Georgie is sent by royal command to a wedding in Transylvania where a guest is found to be poisoned and someone has perhaps taken a truly bloody nip at the bride-to-be. Yes, I'm a sucker for vampires and while the ones that our heroine may encounter may not be supernatural entities, this particular entry in the series promises to be quite the seasonal treat.

The Silent Corner: Author Dean Koontz introduces us to Jane Hawk, an agent of the FBI whose husband is another victim in a string of suspicious suicides that could be part of a major terrorist plan.

In order to track down the techno mastermind behind this scheme, Jane has to go off the grid and rely on the help of friends to protect her son from being a target. While she makes serious inroads into bringing the bad guys to justice, it's only a matter of time before the main man in charge sets off his ultimate grand plan that could endanger multitudes of unsuspecting souls.

It's been awhile since I've read Koontz and upon hearing great things about his new series of Jane Hawk books(TSC is the first of four titles so far), it does feel like the right time to get reacquainted with his work. From what I fondly recall, Koontz has a great knack for creating smart and strong heroines and Jane Hawk certainly sounds like the kickass lady we need right now:

The official start of FrightFall is October 1 and I hope that everyone who joins in has a fearfully good time with their chosen reads. Of course, one person's idea of a scary book can be very different from another's but with any luck, it's not so scary that you can't finish it there:

Monday, September 24, 2018

My Great American Read: Banned Books Week Edition

Yesterday saw the start of Banned Books Week for 2018, a yearly reminder about how precious our right to read freely is(especially during the trying times that we're going through at the moment).

As it so happens, another literary event is taking place right now that fits well into BBW's themes. The Great American Read series on PBS,which offers folks a chance to vote daily for their favorite novel of all time, has a good number of titles that were banned and/or challenged at one time or another.

Since I do want to catch up on a few of the GAR books and honor Banned Books Week as well, I decided to start reading Zora Neale Hurston's beloved modern classic, Their Eyes Were Watching God.

The novel was first published in 1937 yet not appreciated in it's time. Interest in the book was revived in the 1970s, partly due to the efforts of writer Alice Walker(who cites TEWWG as a major influence) and it's become a cornerstone of African American as well as feminist literature.

The story follows Janie Crawford, a young woman left to the care of her grandmother Nanny and upon turning sixteen, begins to learn about the power of her own beauty.

When Nanny spies Janie receiving her first kiss from a local boy, she pushes her right into a loveless marriage with Logan Hillicks, an older man in need of a help meet on his farm.

 Despite Janie's protests, her grandmother feels that this is the only way to protect Janie from being as used and abused as her daughter was. The notion of marrying for love is truly alien to Nanny, having come from a lifetime of slavery, but it's that desire which urges Janie to resist but in the end, she does give in to oblige the only family she's ever known:

Once Nanny is gone, however, Janie wants more from life than simply being married to someone she doesn't care for. The first chance she gets, she takes off with Joe "Jody" Sparks, an ambitious man looking to make his fortune and having an attractive wife by his side is certainly a bonus.

While Jody works to build up the small community of Eatonville, Janie wants to do more than be his arm candy and that leads to a vicious falling out which then leads to a permanent estrangement. Later on, Janie seems to find true love with Tea Cake, a much younger man, but that relationship has a tragic ending in store for them as well.

The focal points of the book are race, community and the role of women combined with an elegantly straightforward style that at times reads almost like poetry. Yet in 1997, an objection was raised to assigning TEWWG to high school students in Virginia with the reason given being “sexual explicitness and language”. Thankfully, the book was kept within the curriculum and hopefully, those students saw more in this vividly written novel than that narrow minded vision of it suggests:

With Their Eyes Were Watching God being a short book, I hope to revisit another well known tale that shares equal billing on the GAR and BBW lists this week as well.

I was lucky enough to receive an advance copy of a graphic novel adaptation by Fred Fordham of Harper Lee's To Kill A Mockingbird(it'll be available in October). The original novel is a book that I read for the first time recently and found to be a truly amazing achievement. The best writers are able to capture those authentic moments in time for their characters and readers alike, which this heartfelt novel does in abundance and then some.

TKAM is no stranger to controversy, with calls for it to be banned from classrooms arriving even this very year from a school district in Minnesota. The objections to the book are similar to the ones raised in Mississippi and Virginia in 2017, that of race and racial terms with some saying that the book "made people feel uncomfortable".

Well, sometimes you have no choice but to make people feel uncomfortable in order to get them to truly listen to the problem at hand and that's particularly true when it comes to racism. One of the most touching moments in the book is when Scout unwittingly reminds a group of angry men of their alleged sense of decency in a critical situation, a scene that could easily be a part of the current social movements the older and younger generations are dealing with today:

Banned Books Week runs until September 29 and if you're looking for a good book to read in this category, you can find plenty of them at The Great American Read with such titles as The Pillars of the Earth, 1984 and Bless Me, Ultima having been challenged at one time or another.

You can also check out the official BBW website for other reading selections and find out more about the fight to keep our imaginations and our ideas from being censored and silenced. Setting up a free society isn't easy but maintaining one is even harder,so let us all do what we can to keep our sensibilities on a smooth and steady course towards the promise of a better tomorrow:

Monday, September 17, 2018

My Series-ous Reading gets a taste of the Bard from Meet Your Baker

It's no secret that I've developed a taste for foodie themed mysteries of late and one of the advantages of resetting my Series-ous Reading schedule was adding the first book in Ellie Alexander's Bakeshop Mystery titles,Meet Your Baker.

Yes, that is meant as in "meet your maker" and the series does have a suitable dramatic flair to it,along with a nice note of whimsy as well. The culinary heroine of our story is Juliet Montague Capshaw,known as Jules, who returns to her home town of Ashland, which is home to the Oregon Shakespeare Festival.

The whole town is centered around the live productions that keep the tourists coming,with businesses having names like A Rose By Any Other Name,Puck's Pub and The Merry Widow. While Jules is happy to help her widowed mother out at their family owned bakery called Torte, she can't help noticing the tension caused by a new arrival in Ashland.

Nancy Hudson has paid her way to a prominent place on the OSF board and quick to make plenty of enemies with her obnoxious attitude and less than subtle insults. On first encountering Nancy, Jules is happy not to have to host the Midnight Club gathering at Torte later that evening as no doubt the feuds going on between theatrical director Lance and established diva Caroline with Nancy will continue there:

When Jules go in to open up the bakery the next morning, she can't avoid Nancy at all, due to the fact that she's lying dead on the kitchen floor among a batch of broken jars of raspberry jam.

Even with knowing one of the officers on the case,who happens to be her high school sweetheart Timothy, Jules is uneasy about who might be unjustly accused of the crime and winds up getting involved in the investigation.

The suspect list is rather long but Jules does learn a few things that can aid Timothy, who is hoping for a promotion as well as impressing the lead detective known as the Professor,due to his love of quoting Shakespeare on a regular basis:

Before long, Jules uncovers a number of secrets and lies that not only shed light on the murder but stirs up some new troubles for her friends and neighbors,one of whom may be out to do her in to boot.

Ellie Alexander does capture the tone of small town life nicely without getting too cutesy and gives her leading lady a good amount of character development that feels just right. Juliet is a baker in her own right and her return home is also a separation from her chef husband Carlos, who was keeping a major secret from her that will surely break up their marriage.

Jules is also dealing with her mother's business troubles(she's in debt and could lose the bake shop to a local creep) on top of that as well as the murder yet her best stress relief is cooking. I love that amid all of the swirling chaos around, she takes the time to show one of Torte's employees the fine art of appreciating figs and making a sweetly savory dish out of them. It's true culinary comfort which makes the overall story so inviting and delicious:

All in all, I did enjoy this first outing with Juliet Capshaw and company and plan on making a few more. For one, I can't resist the gorgeously punny titles in this series such as A Batter of Life and Death, On Thin Icing, Fudge and Jury, A Crime of Passion Fruit and Caught Bread Handed(that last one I think I like the best!).

 I also want to find out if Jules really does leave Carlos and hooks up with Timothy, not to mention her mom has a budding romance with the Professor as well! Love, cake and murder, not a bad combo here,story wise.

At the moment, my next Series-ous Reading selection is Joanne Fluke's Blueberry Muffin Murder, which is set in the dead of winter and such a relief from the late summer weather in my neck of the woods. However, I do want to head back to Ashland soon because it very hard to resist the Bard: