This is one I had sort of forgotten about until I dug it out of a pile of my old books. But, once I remembered its existence, I can remember the basic plot. The one thing that stands out in my mind is how Claudia figures out some girl is 16 because she sees her driving…then later uses this to solve the case. Or something.
I also remember there is this whole thing about Mary Anne’s mom’s chocolate-cherry-cake. The reason that sticks in my head, is that I love chocolate, but hate cherries, so I could never imagine the cake was that good.
It is summer vacation (yes, again), and Stoneybrook is hosting a baking contest sponsored by some baking company. Claudia has been bored, so she decides to enter and ends up being on a team with Mary Anne and Shea Rodowsky. Other important teams are Logan with his little sister and Austin Bentley, and Grace Blume and a friend who’s father is a dessert chef. Cokie Mason was supposed to be on their team as well, but got bronchitis.
On the first day of competition, Claud’s cake gets messed up because someone switched the flour and baking soda on her. Someone also changes the temperature of Logan’s oven and screws up their recipe. Of course, the BSC suspect Grace, especially since her team wins that day. But then the next day, Grace’s oven catches on fire. Several other things like this happen, so the BSC decides there is a sabotage and want to “investigate.”
Claudia and Grace start talking and end up actually getting along. Grace is also a big Nancy Drew fan, so she helps out with the case. They finally work out a system to trap the sabotager. The culprit turns out to be the college student who is running the contest (as an intern for the baking company), who is doing it to help his girlfriend, a contestant in the contest. Apparently her parents were really pressuring her to win. It also turns out she was 16, and too old for the junior division she is competing in. Once everyone finds out, no one really seems to care. Everyone is all, “oh, they were just misguided, but they’re nice people.”
Meanwhile, there are two sorta-subplots. First: Claudia keeps making up recipes then putting fancy decorations on them. Unfortunately, they kind of suck (the flavor, not the decorations). Mary Anne wants to switch to a chocolate cake recipe her mother used to make, but can’t find the recipe. Mary Anne tries calling her grandmother for it, but she is on vacation. But luckily, the grandmother gets home and calls with the recipe. Which then helps Claud/Mary Anne/Shea win. It also makes Mary Anne’s dad all nostalgic.
Second: The BSC is asked to run a day care center during the contest (because there is an adult competition too. They do, and of course in a 4-day period (over two weekends) help out two kids who are suffering due to their parents divorce. They also help the kids set up a “restaurant” where they serve peanut butter sandwiches on the last day of the contest.
- This book takes place after Stacey quits and rejoins, which Claudia refers to as her being “temporarily kicked out of the club.”
- One of the reasons the cooking contest needs a day care? So that the out-of-towners coming in for the contest can tour Stoneybrook without their kids. I could buy that people the next town over might come for a contest, but in this book, there are even people coming from NYC to Stoneybrook for the contest. Which, really?
- Kristy ends up working as “cake cop” during the contest – meaning she helps to keep parents out during the junior level of the contest and just generally makes sure the rules are followed. And as part of her role…she makes notes on all the other contestants to give to the BSC contestants. That seems like a bit of an abuse of power to me.
- The book has a really poor explanation of how Shea ends up on the team with Claudia and Mary Anne. Apparently, Mrs. Rodowsky called the BSC to see if Shea could be on a team with them. But, it seems odd. Is she paying them to do it? Are they volunteering? Or what?
- Jackie keeps disappearing from the day care center, so the BSC suspects him of sabotaging everything. Do they really think a seven-year-old would be able to switch ingredients around? Or change settings on an oven?
- Claudia gets really excited because her dad bought a “cool new cordless phone.” She calls Mary Anne from her backyard all, “can you hear me now?” But she couldn’t get very far before it was too static-y.
- There are a couple of weird places in this book where the chapters start out at the end of an event, then Claudia says something like, “it all started when…”
- When Claud and Mary Anne are searching Mary Anne’s attic for the recipe, they find a box of Mary Anne’s “old clothes,” as in clothes she wore in seventh grade before her dad let her dress herself. Claudia jokes that the plaid jumpers are back in style now…which is really just a sign that the BSC was in the eighth grade so long that fashions changed several times.
- There is another weird moment when they are in the attic…I guess they are setting up the grandmother calling with the recipe. But they have a conversation where they restate the entire plot of the mystery where Mary Anne found out about her grandmother. It just comes across really awkward.
- How do people watch a cooking contest? Do they watch the cooking part? Just the judging part? Maybe it is just me, but that seems really boring.
- Claudia says they put the cake in the oven, go wash dishes, and come back just in time to take the cake out of the oven. Don’t most cakes take a good 30-40 minutes? I can’t imagine it took them that long to wash dishes.
- I don’t understand why they keep using Claud’s recipes. Or why they are surprised when they don’t come out well. Don’t they taste them first? They finally decide to switch to something plainer until they can find Mary Anne’s mom’s recipe.
- When the kids at the day-care set up their restaurant, they let the kids be split between “chefs,” “managers,” and “waiters.” The poor kids who get to be waiters seem to do all the grunt work.
- So, this little boy in the day-care keeps telling the BSC about accidents his sister caused. He also tells them she is a problem child. But when the BSC confronts the girl, she admits to it in sort of a “whatever.” It seems obvious that she is actually taking the fall for him, but the BSC spends the whole book figuring it out.
- I kind of like this one as a mystery, because they didn’t really do anything a normal teenage girl wouldn’t do. They weren’t exchanging information with the police or anything. It was really more like gossip and spying on the other contestants.
- Claudia is the one to figure out about the girl being over 16. She ends up blurting it out in front of a crowd and everyone actually gasps. I kind of like this, just because Claud acknowledges how it is cool because it feels like she is in a movie.
- It seems odd that a girl’s parents would be so cool with her defrauding the contest by entering the junior division.
- Wouldn’t a contest require proof of age if there was an age limit?
- I hate how the BSC is always solving problems the parents are clueless about, but in this one it is even worse, because they literally just met the kids they are helping.
- So after the contest, Grace calls Claudia to tell her how mad Cokie is about the Grace/BSC alliance. Cokie even swears “the feud isn’t over,” which seems a little over the top to me.
- The ending of this mystery is kind of anti-climactic. As soon as the catch who did it, they act like they don’t care and talk about how they feel bad about the guy who did it.
- As winners, the recipe gets to go in a new cookbook. Claudia keeps fantasizing about using her name, then feels bad when Mary Anne wants to use her mother’s. (They end up doing the later).