Wednesday, November 25, 2015

The Chocolate Falcon Fraud - JoAnna Carl

The Chocolate Falcon Fraud

A Chocoholic Mystery

JoAnna Carl





In the lakeside tourist town of Warner Pier, Michigan, there’s always something interesting happening.  At the moment, fans of hardboiled private eyes, gun-toting dames, and Humphrey Bogart are assembling for a noir film festival.  Lee Woodyard, business manager of Ten Huis Chocolade (a gourmet chocolate shop run by Aunt Nettie) is thinking about attending the screening of The Maltese Falcon when she gets a surprise visitor.  Her ex-stepson, Jeff Godfrey, a fan of noir films since she first introduced him to them, has come to town.


Lee hasn’t seen Jeff since he was a naive teenager.  He’s now in his twenties, has a bachelor’s degree, and plans to do graduate studies in history.  The two make plans to meet for dinner that night, but Jeff never shows.  He isn’t at his hotel, either.  Some searching uncovers his empty car, run off a gravel road in a very out-of-the-way spot.  Further searching and a large dose of luck lead to Lee finding Jeff in a bizarre spot.  The hospital says he’s got a concussion, and his memory is gone.  Soon after, Tess, Jeff’s friend, shows up in town.  According to her, the two are involved in a competition to find the best piece of film memorabilia for a cash prize, and she followed him to Warner Pier to try to scoop his find.  It seems thin to Lee, but great noir stories have been based on less.


If you’re not a fan of noir, don’t worry.  Anything you need to know about the genre and The Maltese Falcon in particular, is detailed here.  (Good thing, since I haven’t seen the movie in years.)  This allows non-fans to join in the fun of festival attendees roleplaying specific characters; and appreciate many situations that parallel classic noirs.  The author is great at blending background in the current events.  New readers will have no problems starting this long-running series at this point; and longtime readers (THE CHOCOLATE JEWEL CASE, THE CHOCOLATE BRIDAL BASH, THE CHOCOLATE SNOWMAN MURDERS, THE CHOCOLATE BOOK BANDIT) will have a great time, too.  As always, there are chocolate facts and recipes throughout.  I’ve already tried one of the easy fudge recipes, with great success! Despite the many noir associations, this mystery is light, fun, and cozy: the perfect escape from the holiday stress.


Rating: 6 ½

November 2015

ISBN# 978-0-451-47380-6 (hardcover)

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Prince Of Fools - Mark Lawrence

Prince Of Fools
The Red Queen’ War, Book One
Mark Lawrence
Dark Fantasy

As the grandson of the Red Queen, Prince Jalan Kendeth lives a pretty easy life.  Since he’s tenth in line for the throne, there’s really no danger that he’ll ever have to do anything like rule or make policy.  Instead, he spends his time gambling and making it his job to visit every bedchamber in the city.  To his horror, he was once sent into battle at the Aral Pass.  Somehow, while running away from his scouting party, he ran into the main battle and managed to acquit himself well, earning him the title “Hero Of The Aral Pass.”  He’s well aware of who and what he is, does his almost defiant best to play the fool, is self-deprecating about it, and yet is keenly and uncomfortably aware that his imposing grandmother knows it, too.

On the morning this story begins, the Red Queen summons all of her grandchildren to the audience chamber.  Also present are several captives who have tales to tell about the rise of the Dead King and his armies, both undead and unborn.  One of these, the very picture of a Viking, called Snorri ver Snagason, tells his story in such a way that it forces even Jal believe – until the story is done.  Once free of the audience chamber, Jal tells himself that these stories of far-away events must be the superstitious imaginings of uneducated foreigners.  Obviously nothing to do with him.
Later, at a performance of the capital’s opera, Jal sees the Queen’s seer, painting symbols around the opera house.  She’s clearly trying to cast a spell, and it won’t be pretty.  He manages to escape through a window, breaking through a symbol that has a physical presence to it.  He hits the ground in shock, because of the spell, and because of the soulless eyes he saw on an attendee wearing a mask.  In that moment, he believes in the unborn and the Dead King.  When the spell activates, it splits into light and dark.  The light hits Jal, and the dark hits Snorri.  From that moment, the two are bound by the spell.  They quickly find that, should they venture too far apart, there are very physical consequences.  Since Snorri is set on going back north to find what is left of his family after an attack by the undead, a probable suicide mission, Jal is constrained to follow.
This story takes place in the same Broken Empire that contained PRINCE OF THORNS, KING OF THORNS, and EMPEROR OF THORNS.  While it crosses that narrative once or twice, readers don’t have to have read the first trilogy to enjoy this one.  I would highly recommend reading the first trilogy at some point, however, because it is a sterling example of dark fantasy.  For longtime readers, this novel begins in a very different tone.  Keep reading.  While this first installment seems to set up Jal as a clown prince, it quickly becomes serious.  Jal does his level best to behave like the put-out royal, forced out of his palace and onto the road; but since readers are privy to his thoughts and emotions, we can see that, underneath it, there is more to him.
The story consists mainly of Jal and Snorri, on the road to the far north.  This is ideal for new readers, since Jal has never been outside his home kingdom, and everything beyond its borders is new to him.  On the way, a great many people pass in and out of their lives; some of them will be familiar to longtime readers. In addition, each one is carrying one side of the spell, a passenger that makes itself known, for good or ill, literally, every single day of the journey.  This is a great first book in a new series by a consistently compelling author.

Rating: 8 ½
June 2014
ISBN# 978-0-425-26878-0 (hardcover – also available in pb)

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Voyagers: Project Alpha - D.J. MacHale

Project Alpha (Book One)
D.J. MacHale
Random House Children’s
SciFi/Middle Grade


Earth is running out of energy. Within one hundred years, all fossil fuel resources on Earth will be gone.    Already, there’s eight hours of power blackout every night just to try to conserve energy.  The only solution is to find fuel on another planet.  Project Alpha will send four kids into space to find that fuel.  It has to be kids, because of the stresses this type of space travel places on adult bodies.  The kids’ families get ten million dollars, and the kids get the honor and adventure of saving Earth.
As this first book in the series starts, the eight candidates arrive at a top secret base to begin their training.  At the end, the commander of the mission will choose the final crew.  The training is both physical and mental, and only the best will make it.  Each candidate has a distinct personality, and a different set of strengths and weaknesses.  It’s fun watching the group come together, watching friendships form in such a stressful atmosphere.

This is the first installment in a series of six books.  Each installment deals with a different segment of the mission, and will be written by a different author.  There’s also an online component that allows readers to take tests and see if you could qualify for the mission.  There’s plenty of action, twists, great characters, and some interesting science fiction happening here.  It was complicated enough to hold my interest as an adult, and proved to be great fun for my middle grade reading friend. 
Fall 2015
ISBN# 978-0-385-38658-6  (hardcover)

Hilo: The Boy Who Crashed To Earth - Judd Winnick

The Boy Who Crashed To Earth
Judd Winick
Random House Children’s
SciFi/Graphic Novel


D.J. is just a regular kid, living in a regular town.  Nothing interesting ever happens to him.  His brothers and sisters (he’s right in the middle) all participate in sports and music and dancing and all kinds of things.  D.J. doesn’t.  He’s not good at anything except being friends with Gina.
One day, all of that changes when a boy crashes to Earth.  He knows his name is Hilo.  And that’s about it.  He can’t remember where he came from or why he crashed to Earth.  D.J. befriends him, feeds him, and promises to help him.  Hilo is kind of weird, but kind of really interesting, too.  After Hilo arrives, life gets really weird, but also really interesting.  After all, Hilo fell to Earth from somewhere else for a reason.  How could that not be interesting?
I admit that I am very far from the target audience of this graphic novel; still, I really enjoyed it.  I liked the friendship, the action, and of course, Hilo and his silver underpants.  (Edit to add: I passed this along to a boy in the correct demographic: both he and his mom liked it.)  Parents looking at this should know that there’s nothing objectionable here, no bad language, and any ‘violence’ is of the cartoon variety.  Bottom line is, your middle grade readers are going to love Hilo and D.J. and Gina This is the first in a series.  Clearly, there’s more to come.  Outstanding!


Fall 2015
ISBN# 978-0-385-38617-9-3  (hardcover)