Day: October 26, 2017

Book Review: Seashells, Spells & Caramels by Erin Johnson

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4 out of 5 stars to Seashells, Spells & Caramels, the first in a cozy mystery series set to be published on October 29th, 2017 and written by Erin Johnson.

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Why This Book 
My reading interests are fairly diverse; I often need a balance an intense thriller with a lighthearted cozy mystery, or a direct and clear biography with a lyrical historical fiction book. My head has its limits. When the author reached out to me offering an opportunity to read her novel, I said ‘yes’ for two reasons: (1) I am low on cozy mysteries readily available from my TBR and (2) she’s a new author, like me. The premise, a cross between a Harry Potter wizarding world and Hannah Swensen’s wonderful dessert world, intrigued me. It was time for something new and the story said ‘pick me tonight,’ so I did. And I’m quite glad, so let me get right into the review…

Plot, Characters & Setting 
Imogen’s life is a bit of a mess, mostly because her boss is sarcastic and awful. When she steps up to help cater the woman’s wedding rehearsal dinner, Imogen finally gets a bit of kudos but also realizes something weird is happening around her when she bakes. Her luck improves for just one night when a guest at the dinner convinces Imogen to enter a secret baking contest which will hopefully earn her a chance to get the money to open her own bakery. She submits her entry, falls asleep at the kitchen counter and wakes up to a disaster happening all around her. The only good thing after she loses everything of importance to her is she’s been selected to participate in the final round of the contest. After she finally locates the place in a remote island off the European shores, she learns there really is a world of magic; now she needs to find out where she belongs in it. One by one, she competes against other bakers, learning all about her new world, until another participant in the contest is murdered. There’s foul afoot in her new magic world and she’s desperate to avoid getting caught up in the problem, as she just wants to win the prize or find a way to get home and open her own bakery. But she begins to develop friendships and care about the future of the world she’s come to know.

Approach & Style 
I read the 286 page book on my iPad through Kindle Reader. There are 28 chapters, each one around 10 pages. It’s told in first-person point of view with the perspective always on Imogen, the main character. It’s the first in a series with at least three already written and coming available soon. I read it over three nights in about four hours in total. The writing style is simple and clean, offering good imagery and world-building.

Key Thoughts 
I really enjoyed the concept of the story; it has been done before on some levels, but it’s also handled in a different manner in this book. Imogen accepts she’s a witch, doesn’t try to complain or research so she learns everything at once. A lot is still a mystery at the end of the book, e.g. who were her parents, what magic does she possess, how do people not know witches exist, where is the line between good and evil, etc. When you combine a passion for cooking desserts and a contest, it’s a win for me. I kept picturing “The Great British Baking Show” meets “The Witches” while reading the story.

For a debut, it’s strong; there are several open questions, good characters, lots of opportunity for growth without repetition and subtle humor. I felt transported to a different world for a few hours, which is always a positive reaction to a book like this one. On the flip side, I am curious to see how the author addresses many of the open items. It can’t go on for too long, or we’ll worry that we have to suspend our disbelief and just accept we don’t know the rules to this magical world. But for now, I’m excited and look forward to more action.

Author & Other Similar Books 
There are a bunch of cozy mysteries in the market either about witches or cooks and bakers. It’s hard to choose one, but it falls right within that niche. What’s special about this first book, and we’ll see where the others go, is the main character discovering who she is while also trying to re-build her new life. Imogen isn’t trying to be a detective or solve the case; she’s merely living her life and thinking about everything happening around her. The mystery is two-fold here: who is she in the magic world and what is happening to her fellow contestants. It reads like a fun story about someone re-inventing herself rather than someone with a penchant for trying to find killers.

Summary
If you’ve read my reviews before, you know I’ve only given 5-star ratings to less than 5% of my reads, which are currently over 500 books. A 4-star rating in my world means ‘it’s pretty darn good,’ and this one certainly qualifies in that category. There’s some room for improvement and growth, but it’s a very engaging and style. I recommend it to cozy mystery fans and those who enjoy reading light / creative stories about witches and magic. I am looking forward to book #2 in this series, but I might pace myself so I don’t read them all in one sitting… then I’d have to the author to conjure one up quickly… but as the magic in her books tell us, you can’t conjure something from nothing. To know what that means, you’ll just have to read the book!

About Me 
For those new to me or my reviews… here’s the scoop: I’m Jay, an author who lives in NYC. My debut novel, Watching Glass Shatter, can be purchased on Amazon @ http://mybook.to/WGS. I write A LOT. I read A LOT. And now I blog A LOT. First the book review goes on Goodreads, and then I send it on over to my WordPress blog at https://thisismytruthnow.com, where you’ll also find TV & Film reviews, the revealing and introspective 365 Daily Challenge and lots of blogging about places I’ve visited all over the world. And you can find all my social media profiles to get the details on the who/what/when/where and my pictures. Leave a comment and let me know what you think. Vote in the poll and ratings. Thanks for stopping by. Note: All written content is my original creation and copyrighted to me, but the graphics and images were linked from other sites and belong to them. Many thanks to their original creators.

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365 Challenge: Day 228 – Manipulate

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Manipulate: (a) control or influence (a person or situation) cleverly, unfairly, or unscrupulously, or (b) handle or control (a tool, mechanism, etc.), typically in a skillful manner

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“Ira stifled a laugh, considering Olivia appeared to view the reading of the will as her marionette show despite knowing he maneuvered the strings for the rest of the afternoon.”

*Quote from ‘Watching Glass Shatter’ covering 365 Daily Challenge word ‘manipulate’

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A wise friend made a statement last week, which I’m probably paraphrasing: “Manipulation is not a bad thing; it doesn’t always have a negative connotation.” The words resonated with me that afternoon, ultimately leading me to agree with her. When I looked up the definition in our trusty online dictionary, it apparently did not agree: While ‘cleverly’ may not imply something bad, ‘unfairly’ and ‘unscrupulously’ certainly do. Perhaps I need to find a new dictionary as in the end, I disagree… as did my wise friend from the very beginning.

Manipulation is often the tool used to force someone or something, but there are times when a palpable push or solid shove is necessary to achieve a goal. The purpose may not be to hurt someone, especially when you may only be trying to help the other person see more clearly. If the intention behind the manipulation is good, does that still make it a negative tool in the kit we use to achieve the end results we desire?

I have manipulated situations before. I admit it. But I didn’t do it for purely selfish reasons or to harm someone else. I did it to help get to the finish line more quickly. If you have an indecisive friend who when presented with multiple options will take hours to choose, is it really wrong to drive the conversation or direction down a path where only 1 or 2 lunch places may appear? If you know two people are fighting over something stupid, but you place them together in a situation where they have to resolve their differences, have you done something bad? Manipulation in any form, where the intent is to harm someone, or to force a result that benefits you without them knowing, clearly fits the above definition. But I feel this word has been ‘bastardized’ in a negative way rather than an artful or skillful way of achieving positive results.

How does everyone else feel about the word? If you love it, the idea of doing this post was all mine and I’m wonderful. If you don’t love it, then today’s 365 Daily Challenge word is brought to you by the wonderful Waking up on the Wrong Side of 50 who suggested many great words to choose from. I chose this one based on our conversation over coffee the other day, as well as her recent post about success. Click the blog name to see the fantastic article & the responses on what success is really all about. I daresay she manipulated me to write this post, but that would be wrong. Wouldn’t it?

P.S. I hope you laughed at my manipulation in that paragraph about who owns the idea.

P.P.S. I hope you laughed at the line from Watching Glass Shatter; that was the intention.

 

About Me & the “365 Daily Challenge”

I’m Jay, an author who lives in NYC. My debut novel, Watching Glass Shatter, can be purchased on Amazon @ http://mybook.to/WGS. I’ve always been a reader. And now I’m a daily blogger. I decided to start my own version of the “365 Daily Challenge” where since March 13, 2017, I’ve posted a characteristic either I currently embody or one I’d like to embody in the future. 365 days of reflection to discover who I am and what I want out of life.

The goal: Knowledge. Acceptance. Understanding. Optimization. Happiness. Help. For myself. For others. And if all else fails, humor. When I’m finished in one year, I hope to have more answers about the future and what I will do with the remainder of my life. All aspects to be considered. It’s not just about a career, hobbies, residence, activities, efforts, et al. It’s meant to be a comprehensive study and reflection from an ordinary man. Not a doctor. Not a therapist. Not a friend. Not an encyclopedia full of prior research. Just pure thought, a blogged journal with true honesty.

Join the fun and read a new post each day, or check out my book reviews, TV/Film reviews or favorite vacation spots. And feel free to like, rate, comment or take the poll for each post. Note: All written content is my original creation and copyrighted to me, but the graphics and images were linked from other sites and belong to them. Many thanks to their original creators.

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