Baking Spirits Bright
A True Confections Mystery #2
By Sarah Fox
Author’s website: authorsarahfox.com
Brought to you by OBS reviewer Jeanie
In a cute new culinary cozy from USA Today bestselling author Sarah Fox, budding chocolatier Becca Ransom must solve a murder before she meets a sticky end.
Winter has arrived in Larch Haven, Vermont, bringing with it holiday cheer, lots of snow, and freezing temperatures. Becca Ransom is squeezing in time to skate on the frozen canals and drink hot chocolate by a roaring fire while also whipping up new creations for her family’s chocolate shop and experimenting with holiday flavors like eggnog, gingerbread, and peppermint. At the same time, Becca is preparing for the Baking Spirits Bright holiday baking competition, a popular annual event. She’s planning to enter an edible model of Larch Haven, with a mountain backdrop made of cake, gingerbread cottages, and chocolate gondolas on sugar-glass canals.
Professional bakers and a local food blogger are also participating in the event and they aren’t about to go down without a fight. The competition quickly heats to a boiling point, with flaring tempers and mysterious happenings. When one of the entrants is found dead, stabbed with Becca’s chocolate chipper, Becca tries to salvage the season by finding the killer. But the heat is on, and Becca is in danger of getting burned. (From Goodreads)
I am extremely impressed with the talent, skill, and heart in this mystery! I felt that the setting and characters were at least as developed as a fourth or fifth in the series rather than the second. I was able to know the characters better and truly enjoy this unique town of Larch Haven, Vermont. The characters are very likeable and well-depicted and the setting is amazing. The mystery itself kept me guessing throughout, with a red herring that looked almost like the real bad guy.
Christmas is a couple weeks away, so I was surprised to see a baking competition so close to the big day. An actress, Becca had moved back to Larch Haven when her grandparents planned to retire from the family candy store, True Confections. Becca learned how to make chocolate from her grandmother as a child, and she just went to school to become the new chocolatier for the business. Her cousin Angie focused on the business aspects and the store itself.
Dizzy, Becca’s best friend, brought her a flyer for the third annual Baking Spirits Bright competition. As a chocolatier, Becca’s baking skills are not as extensive as her talent with chocolate, so she didn’t intend to compete. Finally, Dizzy and Angie wore her down, and she entered. If she makes it as far as the finals, True Confections will be written up in a magazine published for the New England area and hopefully gain new in person and on-line customers.
Encouragement from Angie, their beloved grandparents Lolly and Pops, Dizzy, and Becca’s high school crush, Sawyer, helped Becca begin the first round of competing with confidence. All snarky comments and rude behavior of a couple contestants aside, the first round went extremely well, and Becca was chosen as one of the four finalists. The night before the final, Becca took the supplies she needed to set up her cooking station at the town hall and heard a loud disagreement between Irma, a finalist who is an excellent baker, and her daughter Juniper. She also witnessed Irma’s long-time assistant shuffling through her boss’s handbag while she was out of the competition room.
The next morning when Becca arrived for the final, she went in with Stephanie, a top-notch cake baker and decorator. Becca thought she saw spots of blood both outside and inside the building. Irma was lying on the floor dead, with an injury she could not have made herself. There would be no final competition that day, or maybe ever. Especially when it is discovered that one of Becca’s specialized chocolate-making tools was the murder weapon.
Most people in town did not like Irma, but most would not kill her for being a grump, either. This was not a high-stakes competition, so other contestants had no real motive. Days later, when the final competition is rescheduled and another contestant has replaced Irma, a warning letter is left for one of the four, then Becca is pushed down a flight of stairs. This is not the normal contest.
Larch Haven, Vermont, would be the country’s leading tourist attraction if it were real! The word pictures are amazing! Instead of streets, there are canals with limits to watercraft used. Ice skates and snowshoes are perfect when canals are solid ice. Cobblestone walking areas, business, homes, and gardens have an old-world charm.
The town, its shops, and offices are so well-planned that I would anticipate seeing a print of street elevations. The characters are depicted as if known by the author for a long time. Conversations, attire, background, and behaviors bring them to life. I really enjoy almost everyone I’ve “met” so far.
This complex mystery was constructed with so many layers! The author does an excellent job of taking all the seemingly unrelated components and put everything together for a cohesive whole, like Becca making her detailed, edible “slice” of Larch Haven scene for her entry. For as much as I was wrapped up in this little town and its people, I not only did not come up with the real bad guy(s), I also didn’t have a motive that made one person different from any other. I love everything about this very surprising cozy mystery, and highly recommend it!