January 11, 2017

Review: Fudge and Jury

Fudge and Jury The fifth Bakeshop Mystery
By Ellie Alexander
Available now from St. Martin's
Review copy

Ashland, Oregon is a small town that's built up a Shakespearean tourist industry, as well as an annual chocolate festival. As the co-owner of Torte, Ashland's resident bakeshop, Jules is cooking on all burners. She's considering expanding the business, and using the festival as a chance to renovate her current storefront. She's also got a couple of guys vying for her attention, but she's not ready to move on from her estranged husband.

When Evan Rowe, the infamously mean owner of Confections Couture, dies of an allergic reaction during the festival, everyone suspects foul play. The desserts he was served were supposedly nut free. Jules would be interested in the case just to clear her own name, but her friend Lance pushes her to become even more involved in probing for answers. As is the case in many mysteries where the victim is a real jerk, there's a plurality of suspects.

I haven't read the previous four Bakeshop Mysteries, but I was able to dive right into this tale. There is some exposition at the beginning about Jules' business and husband which helped me understand the basics of the setting, although it made me think Jules' husband would actually show up in the story. The series has a fairly standard cozy mystery set up, which made stepping into the series in the middle still feel familiar.

What I found stood out about FUDGE & JURY is the importance of Jules' career. Her professional development often overtook the murder mystery as the most important part of the book. I don't think that's a bad thing, since there's a new murder per book but investment in Jules is what will keep readers coming back. I know I'm thinking about checking out the previous four books from the library. I find that most cozy mysteries are centered around hobbies, or people starting new careers, so it was unusual to read one about a woman who is excelling in her field and finding increasing success.

I thought the cast was likeable. The array of romantic options seemed like a bit much, although Ellie Alexander sold the scene where Jules turns one of her suitors down. I felt for the guy and appreciated how maturely Jules handled the situation, by making her feelings clear but being compassionate. That's always a rough situation.

The details of the various confections are lush and mouth-watering. I know I wanted some chocolate pasta of my own! (And I greatly enjoyed Jules' defense of cocoa-powder based brownies. This Smitten Kitchen recipe proves they don't have to be grainy.) The solution to the mystery surprised me, and will certainly make me more careful about serving one of my favorite sauces to guests. The denouement happened quickly, since FUDGE & JURY does focus on so much more than the mystery, but I found the clever solution satisfying.

I have one copy to give away. US only, 13 and up.

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December 31, 2016

All Romance eBooks Closing - Back Up Your Library Now!

All Romance eBooks (ARe)/OmniLit was one of the bigger ebook stores. It specialized in romance (obviously) and offered buy-10-get-1-free codes as well as a rebate system of eBook Bucks. I bought many a book there over the years (and downloaded more from their extensive collection of free books).

Normally I'd be saddened by another ebook retailer shutting their website down, but ARe is doing it in a particularly scummy way, as detailed over at Smart Bitches, Trashy Books. Thus, I'm angry instead.

This is a notice that if you've ever bought anything there, you need to back up your library now. You have less than 24 hours, because the site shuts down permanently at midnight CST tonight.

I try to diversify from Amazon, but it can be so hard, can't it?

December 24, 2016

Bookish Gifts for Terrible Shoppers

If you don't have your Christmas shopping done, you're in a bit of a pickle. You're mostly stuck with e-gift cards. However, there's a few deals on gift cards of the bookish sort:

Litographics has 15% off their gift cards, today only. Use code GIFT15. These cards are nice because you can give the exact amount for one of their products.

Out of Print gift cards are 30% off through Christmas with the code EGIFT30.

Amazon also has a couple of useful deals. The 12-month Kindle Unlimited subscription is on sale for 25% off. Prime Now has free delivery through midnight tonight. No dealing with the grocery store rush if you forgot eggs!

Have a very Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!

December 19, 2016

Movie Monday: Rogue One

I've been excited about Rogue One coming out, although not as excited as I would be for Episode VIII. However, I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed this side adventure.

Jyn (Felicity Jones) is the daughter of weapons designer for the Empire. He doesn't believe in the cause, but it's build or die. His brief rebellion did manage to get his daughter out of the control of the Empire, so they couldn't use her as a hostage against him. When he convinces a pilot to defect with news of the Death Star, the Rebel Alliance contacts Jyn because she can help them confirm the tale.

What follows is a story that ranges over several planets as a rag-tag team of fighters attempts to prove that the Death Star exists and can be stopped.

While The Force Awakens assembled a cast of mostly unknown actors, Rogue One goes for more familiar faces like Diego Luna, Forest Whitaker, and Donnie Yen. I like those actors, and don't think their higher profile distracted from their story. They faded into their roles quite well. I did enjoy that Rogue One allowed the actors to keep their accents instead of having everyone use an American or English accent.

Rogue One is darker than most Star Wars movies. It shows the side of the Rebel Alliance that veers into terrorist attacks. And the ending is more hopeful than happy. While my dad and I enjoyed the film together, Rogue One is not the best choice for families with smaller children. I don't think it's inappropriate for kids; just be prepared for potential discussion (or calming down upset kiddos) afterward. I think the ending fit the film, but it definitely takes a new tone for the universe. This one is more Empire than Return of the Jedi.

I've seen mixed reviews online, but both my dad and I enjoyed Rogue One. As always, I believe the best way to make a decision is to see something for yourself.

December 15, 2016

Review: The Hidden Oracle

The Hidden Oracle Book one of The Trials of Apollo
By Rick Riordan
Available now from Disney Hyperion
Review copy

Rick Riordan's Percy Jackson novels are great examples of children's books that can be fun for all ages. They're action packed and extra fun for anyone who enjoys spotting classical allusions. I feel like he's been growing as an author through each series, developing more complex plots and keeping his prose accessible but interesting. He's also made an impressive effort to diversify his books. For example, his Apollo is as casually bisexual as the god was in myth.

Apollo has been cast out of Olympus and into a mortal body by his father, Zeus. He must find a demigod to serve until he earns forgiveness. He ends up with Meg, a young homeless girl who is surprisingly capable. While THE HIDDEN ORACLE is best read by those familiar with previous books by Riordan, it is the start of a new series and puts the new characters front and center. Percy shows up a few times and Nico is present at Camp Half-Blood, but neither are that involved in the plot. There's also a stark contrast between Apollo and previous narrators, which gives THE HIDDEN ORACLE its own distinct feel.

I found Apollo's terrifically self-absorbed narration hilarious. Apollo is all about Apollo, and desperately trying to act as if getting knocked down a peg hasn't thrown him for a loop. And his centuries of experience aren't as helpful as they could be since he only has a mortal brain to rely on now (and let's face it, hasn't practiced thinking clearly and quickly in awhile). I found his character development a bit quick, but it is necessary to Apollo being useful. (And as much as he improves in THE HIDDEN ORACLE, he's got a long way to go.)

Meg is not just a sidekick. She's scrappy and clever, two things that are sure to appeal to many readers. And despite the fun, breezy tone of the novel, she's dealing with a rough past. I wasn't surprised by the reveal of her home life with her stepfather, but I'm sure it might be the first time some younger readers discover a story about how someone who seems to love you can hurt you. It's written with great empathy, and in a manner appropriate for the target audience.

This is one of those books where I finished and instantly looked up when the next book is coming out. Unfortunately, the answer is May. I'll have to wait until then to read THE DARK PROPHECY. I'll definitely be there to see what happens to Apollo, Meg, and a couple of surprise returning characters. This is an extremely promising start, and the Trials of Apollo could be the best part of the Percy Jackson universe yet.


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