Tour’s Books Blog

July 27, 2014

Book Reviews – Mystery Week!

It’s been hot, well, not dreadfully hot, but hot enough to be uncomfortable and make us remember its summer.  And living where I do, we get a lot of weekend traffic as folks come into their lake houses or just up for the day to use the largest lake in the area.  We are home to many lakes, a state park or two, vast acres of watershed, a reservoir, and hiking trails all over.  That means every Friday the supermarkets are full of folks buying stuff for the weekend and all weekend the roads are full of SUV’s and trucks hauling campers, boats, and jet skis.  Oh, and motorcycles.  They like riding the winding country roads.  Mostly middle age guys with touring bikes or rebuilt classic motorcycles.  And bikes with all the Lance Armstrong wannabe’s peddling away.  This potent combination of country roads, no shoulders, narrow lanes, virtually no sidewalks, heavy trees, and the weird idea that you can take your half of the road in the middle – or worse, drink and drive – and BOOM!

We have a much larger than normal police force and much of what they do beyond routine stuff is traffic accidents.  And every year, some are fatal.  It’s the ‘country effect’ on people used to stop signs and traffic lights and wall to wall cars.  They forget, a car is still our deadly weapon of choice.  We just kind of not notice because mostly we kill just a few at a time, so it’s barely newsworthy.  So when you’re vacationing and still behind the wheel of a car, please remember to fasten your seat belts, don’t drink and drive, and WATCH THE ROAD.  Vacation is not a good time for an accident on the water or on the road.  And all of you who live year round at the Jersey shore and other vacation venues, yes, you have it worse than me, but there are those who would say you also have it better, because you get to live by the sea, or up in the Rockies, or on that lake all year.

So now we do book reviews, where killing people is no ‘accident’.  Ah, the joy of a good mystery.  Would you like some cream sauce with that red herring?

scene of the climb

The first book in a new series by a new writer – well new to mysteries anyway.  Say HI! to Kate Dyer-Seeley and her faking it extreme outdoors sports writer Meg Reed in Scene of the Climb.  Meg is a recent journalism grad with no job and a formerly famous now infamous investigative reporter dad who died, or committed suicide, when he became addicted to the very drugs whose trade he’d been exposing.  Meg is crashing on the couch of her best friend and trying to come to terms with her dad’s death, a college degree in journalism – a dying profession, and no job in sight when she gets a break.  A break she lies her couch potato ass off to get at Northwest Extreme, a magazine that specializes in covering extreme outdoors sports.

Everything starts off fine ………… until she gets asked to cover the last leg of Race the States, a TV ‘reality’ show where contestants participate in various extreme sports races in different states, culminating in a race to the finish in Oregon’s mountains just outside Portland.  Not only is Northwest Extreme the sole sponsor on the race, this final leg will be in their backyard, so Meg gets the call to cover it. …………… ummmmmm …………… oh yeah, in addition to NOT being any kind of a jock, she has an irrational fear of heights. It’s her faked stumble below a peak that sends her skidding far too close to the edge just as the most obnoxious contestant goes screaming off the top edge to his death.  Only Meg saw it and it took a bit and the sight of Lance’s vivid top just visible between boulders to get everyone to realize someone died.  Or as Meg was convinced, was murdered – pushed off the cliff.

As Meg investigates the contestants, things start happening to her and pretty soon even her too handsome boss Greg agrees something is fishy.  But Northwest Extreme has a lot riding on this, so Meg needs to be careful she doesn’t end up like Lance.  Her friend Matt, Jill, and Jill’s stuffy and condescending ‘boyfriend’ Will, are the core ‘Scooby’ gang and handsome Greg, the boss on whom Meg is crushing, all start believing Meg is right.  This was no accident, and neither is what’s happening to Meg.

I have give Kate Dyer-Seeley credit, she did something original by way of ‘not really cozy’, developed good supporting roles, though best friend Jill needed more ‘screen time’, has a believably flawed lead with Meg Reed.  Yes, there were sections that could have used some fleshing out, and yeah, the ending was a bit glib, but the overall book worked.  I give Scene of the Climb a B- (3.7*) and a recommended read for cozy, light mystery readers.  The book was purchased from Amazon.  I give Ms Dyer-Seeley a thumbs up for her description of the fear of heights.  Having passed out twice in high places, yes, it really is that bad.

*********************************************************************** A Chili Death

Another ho-hum cozy from the pen of Tim Myers this time writing as Jessica Beck, the name he uses for his uneven Donut Shop mysteries as well.  A Chili Death is book 1 in his Classic Diner series.  You won’t be finding reviews for book 2 or 3 here because one was enough, it was that boring. Husband and wife are running a dinner.

An obnoxious man enters demanding to talk to Moose.  The woman points to the carved moose by the register.  Man gets mad and eventually serves the ‘moose’ papers claiming the land the diner is built on is his.  Hysterical phone calls to mom and gran.  Cue the rain.  It was a dark and stormy night ………………..  ummmmmmm ………… do nights come in any color but dark?  I’d like light blue, please.  With a touch of pink.

Evil, obnoxious man has served papers all over town, but Grandpa Moose is the prime suspect when he’s murdered.  Must prove beloved Grandpa Moose innocent by meddling in police investigation.

zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

Oh, sorry about that.  Where was I?  Oh yeah, diner owner has delusions about being a better investigator than a trained cop.  OK, the logic there is a bit tricky.  Does it have to do with the meatloaf recipe or because of the chili that she knows how to investigate?  I think it was the chili.  It’s known for leading to delusions of adequacy.  Especially in writers.

Before I fall over in a fit of catatonia, let me just say you can MISS THIS BOOK!  Yes, it’s boring and dull and pointless and a retread and just plain dumb.  A Chili Death gets a D (2.0*) and a strong suggestion you give it a miss.  I am delighted to say I got this in a book swap and I will pass it along to the poor, dumb, soul foolish enough to wish for it.

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Top Secret Twenty one

I’m at kind of a loss here.  Top Secret Twenty-One is not the nonsensical, pointless farce of Takedown Twenty, but neither is a  good book.  Thing is, I think Evanovich actually TRIED here, but the plot had zero credibility and almost no tension.  Now usually, I find the mystery nonexistent in her last 12 books, she hasn’t written a really good one since Hard Eight, yet I still find the books modestly amusing.  Somehow, sleeping with Ranger wrecked everything else and Evanovich lost her mojo, but she did manage to stay funny for awhile.  The thing is, despite her trying for a better book, she kept going back to her stock phrases and characters – even her description of Lulu and her outfit was a retread from an earlier book.  I’d say 30%, possibly more, was all lines for earlier books.  Sad.  Very sad.

Something happens at Ranger’s HQ, possibly the most secure building in Trenton.  It brings down not just all the local cops, but DHS, and a NEST team.  Hazmat suits are the uniform of the day.  Something really bad went down.  You want to know how credibility can be lost in seconds?  Polonium.  Yup.  She really did go there.  Janet Evanovich did a Russian terrorist for hire who hates Ranger.  And more shoulder launched rockets, which apparently are a common commodity in Trenton given one was also used to blow up one of her cars many books back.

As you might imagine, Russian terrorist for hire did not work out well.  The most unbelievable part, Steph sneaks into the hospital where the FTA who set of the aerosolized polonium in Ranger’s HQ proceeds to tell her everything she asks.  OK, first of all, it’s LULU she sneaks in with and leaves in the hall as she ostensibly gathers soiled linens for destruction, then she WILLINGLY GOES INTO A HOT ZONE.   Yeah, she suits up, but come on, does she even know what a dosimeter is?  And why do the guards not check the ID’s?  And why the hell does this guy tell everything to a complete stranger for no good reason?

And Randy Briggs, the obnoxious dwarf from earlier books is back because his former employer is trying to kill him and someone shot a rocket into his apartment and he has no where to live and no income.  Why doe she let him in?  How can Rex the hamster still be alive after all these years?  Does Morelli EVER get a haircut?  Does Ranger ever say much beyond, “Babe”?  Is Lulu favorite color ‘poison green spandex’?  Does Bob the dog ever not throw up what he eats?

Thank heavens I once again stuck to my vow and did NOT buy this book.  I got it from a friend in an online book swapping site.  Top Secret Twenty-One is drivel and gets a D+ (2.6*) rating because it did feel like she at least put a LITTLE effort into creating a plot, but apparently she could only fall back on her shlock ‘been there, done that’ routines we all know by rote.  Janet Evanovich has been coasting on her reputation for more than half of this series.  What a shame when you think of how clever she was with her early books.  If you MUST read it, save your money and get it free at the library.

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A dangerous talent

 

A Cruise to die for

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

OK, I read both these books in print, but could only find A Dangerous Talent image for the kindle version.  Aaron Elkins is famous for his Gideon Oliver series about a forensic anthropologist based in Washington.  He and his wife Charlotte teamed up for a good golf mystery series that I enjoyed.  I’d waited on A Dangerous Talent on PBS, but when it went one sale for $5 on Amazon, I grabbed it.  Half way through, I went back and bought a copy for my artist sister-in-law -it would cost close to that to mail it to her!  The price is now back up to $11.66, so I caught a great, but short lived bargain.  I bought A Cruise to Die For for $7.48 and that price is still in effect for now.

A Dangerous Talent introduces Alix London the only child of an old New England family and a man who was a highly respected art expert and curator at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC.  Revered that is until his secret life as a brilliant forger caught up with him.  Alix has, at best, a complicated relationship with her now free father who has moved to Seattle to be near her and opened a kind of repro business that sells in bulk to hotels and other chains for lost cost decorative objects.   His arrest and trial blew her world apart and a bit to much of the book focuses on that rather than the story.

Now a struggling art restorer, Alix has a gift – a dangerous talent.  She has an eye for impressionist and modern art, the kind of eye that senses forgeries.  She doesn’t always know WHY, but she always knows a fake.  (Reminds me of Jonathon Gash’s Lovejoy series, where shameless scoundrel and con man Lovejoy is a ‘divvie’ – a person who can feel the real from the fake antique.)

As she’s working on a Utrillio in a fancy condo in Belltown – hers to use for the year she’s resorting the art, she gets a call from  tech millionaire turned wine bar owner, Christine Lemay.  A three million dollar Georgia O’Keefe.  In a day she’s in a private jet heading to New Mexico to she vet the painting and act as a consultant for Chris.

After an uncomfortable meeting between the charter jet captain and Christine, they get to the hotel and Chris is shocked to find they placed Alix in a casita rather than the adjoining suite she requested.  The hotel insisted she changed her instructions and wanting to just lay down a bit, Alix took the casita.  Luckily her intuition isn’t limited to paintings.  She stops the bellman from entering and …….. BOOM, it blows up.  Was it an accident?  Didn’t seem like it to her.  And once she meets Chris’s ‘friend’, Liz, and realizes she’s pushing a fake O’Keefe – and pushing it hard – that exploding room seems less an accident by the minute.  Then Liz is murdered and Chris and Alix feel like suspects.  They start investigating the painting – and get a LOT more than they bargained for, including a smarmy art ‘collector’ who turns out to be Ted Ellesworth, part of the FBI’s Art Crime unit.

Played out largely in O’Keefe country in Northern New Mexico, the book is an interesting blend of mystery and an introduction to the art world, one most of us never see.  My SIL loved it.  I’d been to many of the places mentioned in the book and they did a good job capturing the atmosphere – and the often  silly arsty-fartsy crap you hear in galleries.  The ending, with Alix sort of reconciling with Geoff, was also well handled, but the whole ting with her dad is distracting at times.

A Dangerous Talent got a B- (3.8*) from me.  I’d say my SIL ranked it a shade higher, but then, it rang all her art bells.  A decent mystery wrapped up in a short education on the art trade, with good pacing, but could have done with a lot less angsty crap about dear old dad.  AT $5 I got my money’s worth and my SIL was really happy!  Suggested read, especially for any art fans out there.

Unfortunately A Cruise to Die For was not a worthy follow up.  The premise was good, get Alix to act as a consultant to the FBI while on the private yacht of billionaire investor Panos Papadakis, where she was act as an independent consultant and give lectures on Impressionists to the handful of cherry picked potential bidders on the art collection on display on his yacht.  She barely has time to unpack and walk into the salon where the collection prize, a Monet, hangs, a Monet she instantly thinks is a fake, when someone hits her over the head and the Monet is slashed.

You have smarmy crew members, a calm security chief who knows his stuff and does not back down from the raving Panos, a apparently neglected wife, former opera star, Gabriela (Gaby) Candelas, heading to middle age spread and doing the inevitable ‘young lover’ routine while said lover is playing her.  A dirty art dealer playing both sides, Albanian thugs threatening Alix, a fake Manet that could blow the whole scheme apart, and who lot of people with money and few scruples.  The Greek islands are lovely and yes, they really do look like that.  But other than the head of security for the yacht, I found few characters likable.   Even worse, I found the final solution slightly unsatisfying, though probably realistic.  Still, it lacked the camaraderie of A Dangerous Talent and much of the spark that it gave the story.

A Cruise to Die For gets a C+ (3.5*) from me.  The third book in the series will be the ‘make of break’ for me.  The authors needs to get some kind of collaborative chemistry going with another character or this series could all fall flat for everyone except art fans.  Missing it will not be a great loss unless you have an interest in the art and art investment world.

July 17, 2014

Short Reviews – Mixed Genre

Plowing through a bunch of books so here are some quick reviews. basil-instinct Sorry, that’s the best image I could find.  Originally this book 2 in the Italian Restaurant series was to be called The Ziti That Never Sleeps, but it had a name changed to Basil Instinct before publication.  Regardless, it’s the second installment of the Miracolo Restaurant series.

Eve Angelotta has her hands full when her nonna gets an invitation to join a super secret chef society, Belfiere.  Nonna is over the moon and the restaurant will host a private dinner for 50 the following Friday.  How serious is she?  Nonna gets a tattoo.  Eve does not need this on top of her new teaching gig at vocational school – where she gets a bunch of delinquents and 2 potential hires with decent knife skills.  Her cousin Landon also discovers some very disconcerting things about Belfiere.  Then the day of the BIG EVENT, Eve finds her new student. sous chef dead in the foyer.  Choosing between the wrath on Maria Pia and possibly disturbing a crime scene, Eve and Landon move the body ………. and the farce starts.

The best thing about the Miracolo books is they don’t take themselves too seriously.  Shelly Costa makes it a character story and it’s a very quick read.  Entertaining, fast paced, not deep, or detailed, or meaningful – and violating laws right, left, and sideways.  Just a quick fun read.  The characters are a bit stereotyped, but that doesn’t stop them from being engaging and the prose itself is well done.  The best part, trying to scare the two would be gangsters in her cooking class.  The series is not old enough to be tiresome, but I can already see certain quirks will wear thin quickly, so lets hope the author can move on to other settings and away from the predictable and potentially tiresome.

Basil Instinct get a B- (3.7*) from me.  Purchased from Amazon and at $7.19 it’s more than it’s worth.  Wait for a free or used copy or get it at the library.  Good beach read material.

*********************************************** vampire trouble OK, there’s always one predictable vampire romance to be found and lucky me, I found it in Vampire Trouble.  Unfortunately, it had little to redeem it from the banal.  Maya Robertson is a vampire thanks to a rape that nearly lead to her death where she was saved by Olivia, her maker.  Now she works in the bar Olivia owns and follows her rules, but hates that she can’t just have the ‘live feeds’ she wants.  She chafes at the restrictions and wants to break away. Angsty, fearsome, brooding vampire enforcer Shane Quesada has more than a passing interest in Maya, but he can’t figure out what she is, but she’s more than just a vampire.  Thing is, even Maya doesn’t know.  Blah, blah, blah.  He decides to take the fledgling and train her to be an enforcer like him.

They go to New Orleans, an open city where many supernaturals are allowed to mingle.  Maya learns she’s Gypsy and her special gift is a dark magic that kills werewolves.  That’s why the king of the werewolves wants her necklace.  She and Shane are Bloodmates, but he decides she’s better of without him. (Of course he does, because alpha males run around with their heads up their butts all the time!)  Maya runs back to NYC to confront the wolves. (Naturally, she’s been rejected.  Let’s make another stupid decision.)  Blah, blah, blah.

Evil son of werewolf king attacks Maya thinking since the necklace is destroyed she’s helpless and Shane is injured and dying due to the werewolf bite ………… and we still manage a trite and predictable HEA. God this was so boring I barely managed to skim read it.  Not only were Maya and Shane plastic characters, the whole plot was dull and obvious.  It could have been a Regency with a change of costume.  That’s the thing with romances, they are just so predictable that without a clever plot twist and truly original characters, it just slides right down the ramp to ‘Toss this book” territory.

Vampire Trouble bets a C- (2.8*) and a suggested ‘Give it a miss’ rating.  I am in a minority here.  Apparently, vamp romance lovers really like this drivel and give it 4.5* on Amazon.  To each their own.

********************************************************   Resurrection in Mudbug

Resurrection in Mudbug is Book 4 in the Ghost-in-law series.  Just when you thought you were FINALLY rid of the ghost of Helena Henry and her unsuitable wardrobe, she’s back.  Apparently, she argued with God.  Not quite sure how THAT happens, but there you go.  Since she married Luc and started full time research, Maryse’s job as Game Warden opens up and her cousin Jayden takes it thinking she’s finally escaped her mother’s disapproving clutches.  And she did, except she now she see’s and hears this weird ghost woman well past middle age but wearing – or not wearing – clothes that would make a hooker blush.  Then Maryse explains that being able to see Helena is not a good thing.  It means her life is in danger.  After her day with the idiots on the bayou jumping into gator infested water to grab bags of cash, anything was possible.

So now Jayden has an unwanted sidekick, a handsome sheriff who talks down to her (even if was an ex-detective in New Orleans, she wasn’t stupid!), a gruesome murder scene, and someone shooting at her. The plot is a bit thin, but it moves quickly, Helena remains the same self-adsorbed person she always was, even when wearing pasties and hot pants that should never be on someone her age.  The bodies piles up along with the questions about what the hell is really going on.

Unlike her Miss Fortune series set Sinful, LA,  a town near Mudbug, this series is more paranormal romantic suspense as each book features a couple who get together along with a mystery, often with some gruesome bits.   The resolution to the mystery is usually a surprise and this is not the best in the series, but it a good, entertaining, fast read with characters old and new.  The only real ‘screwball’ element is Helena and her outrageous outfits.

Resurrection in Mudbug gets a B- (3.8*) from and a suggested read in ebook form for those who enjoy fun romantic suspense.   Purchased in print from Amazon

************************************************* Breaking Danger

You know, every so often have I wonder what possesses me to buy yet another installment in a series I just don’t like.  I wish I knew, because this was as big a waste of money as her earlier two books.  Now I kind of liked Lisa Marie Rice’s early work, especially Midnight Man, the best thing she ever wrote, but her Ghost Ops Dystopian, paranormal, claptrap is just off the map melodrama.  On the upside, Breaking Danger is the last book.  On the downside, I just wasted almost $10 and nearly 3 hours of my life I’ll never get back. OK, what do we have …… Brave, beautiful, delicate, smart woman in jeopardy, CHECK.  Hulking, brave, Alpha male warrior type risking everything to get her out alive, CHECK.  Sex in the first 30 pages between two strangers, CHECK.  Alpha male keeps erection after climax,  CHECK.  Female is sore because he’s so big and she doesn’t have much sexual experience, especially lately, CHECK. Desperate situation that only brave warrior can rescue damsel from, CHECK.  Witty dialogue …………………. hummmmmm, no, can’t find that.  Angsty finish with each trying to die for the other – CHECK.  OK, we have your classic Lisa Marie Rice book where the story arc is completely predictable.

The virus that was developed by Arka Pharmaceuticals has gotten loose and turned San Francisco into a city of mindless killers.  It’s side effects, aside from destroying whole sections of the human brain, are high body temperatures and rapid heart rates, so the older adults and sick die quickly, and the young are left.  But they too are dead men walking, even though they no longer have anything left brain functions left to realize it, but they do have a primitive instinct to swarm and attack things that smell human.  But never fear Jon Ryan is on his way to say Sophie Daniels and get the vaccine she stole from the CEO’s office to Haven where there are facilities to mass produce it.  Now it’s a race against the infected, the military that has deployed to try and confine the contagion (oh yeah, that works ……. NOT), and our two dauntless protagonists fighting to save the world – and each other.

I’d love to say Breaking Danger was a good read, but I just can’t.  If you can overlook the many holes in the plot, and care more about Jon and Sophie regardless of the silliness, then it will be OK.  If you’re looking for a tight plot that includes a love story, look elsewhere.  Rice does not have the chops for Dystopian and leaving the ‘fate of the world’ in the hands of just 2 people, one untrained in combat, yeah, so not working for me.  My grade D+ to C- (2.5*) and if you MUST read this, buy the ebook at under $6.  Better still, borrow it for free from the library.

July 16, 2014

Beach Reads 4 – International Part 1A – Historical Fiction/Non-Fiction

Filed under: Favorite book,General,Historical fiction,non-fiction — toursbooks @ 2:33 pm
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Historical fiction is not what it used to be.  There were a lot of truly excellent authors writing in this genre when I grew up, now, not so much at all.  Many historicals are romance or mystery, and some are really well researched and written, but most aren’t.  But really well done true historical fiction is a glorious treat.  Well written non-fiction is just as good.  These take place in the same regions as I just covered for mystery and romantic suspense.

Asia/Southeast Asia – You cannot even think about historical fiction or even modern fiction in Asia without thinking of James Clavell.  Sho-gun is his most famous, but Tai Pan and Nobel House are just as good, though completely different.  By the way, his first book was also made into a movie …………… King Rat, a WWII prisoner of war camp drama.  Another gem is Mika Waltari’s The Wanderer, one of 2 books on Marco Polo worth a read.  The other one Gary Jennings’, The Journeyer.  And for those who love non-fiction, Jon Krakauer’s Into Thin Air about the tragic assault on My Everest.  It’s short, but great.  And who can forget M.M. Kaye’s The Far Pavilions set in India, and for non-fiction, The Peacock Throne: The Drama of Mogul India.  (By the way, M.M. Kaye wrote a number of mysteries set in India, Asia, and Africa as well.)  And for those who love the period, The Raj Quartet by Paul Scott.

Australia/New Zealand- You MUST read The Thorn Birds if you’re heading this way.

Mid-East – Naturally for anyone traveling to Greece/Turkey, Mary Renault’s books are a must, especially her 3 book series on the legend of Theseus (The King Must Die, The Bull from the Sea, The Last of the Wine) and her 4 books following the short, but dramatic life of Alexander the Great.  Non-fiction is C.W. Ceram’s Gods, Grave, and Scholars.   Separated into easy to read, discrete sections, you can learn about the excavations of Troy by amateur Heinrich Schliemann or Howard Carter’s vindicating success in the Valley of the Kings in Egypt.  Each tale is told almost like an adventure, and each is separate.  Great for beginners or people with limited, specific interests to certain periods or locations.   Ben Hur was a book by General Lew Wallace long before Charleton Heston’s great abs and legs made it an award winning movie.  (That raft scene where he rescues Jack Hawkins wearing just a loin cloth is burned my memory banks.)

Africa/North Africa – The first book I think of is The Egyptian by Mika Waltari.  It was banned in Boston (Who knows why.  They were all nuts.), but it’s a great read.  For non-fiction that’s short and painless, in addition to C.W. Ceram’s book above, read a reprint of The Discovery of the Tomb of Tutankhamen by Howard Carter himself.  (Yes, a copy sits on my keep shelf along with the Ceram book.)  Also, an easy intro to all of Egyptian historical sites is Leonard Cottrell’ s The Lost Pharaoh’s.  The Assyrian by Nicholas Guild is also recommended.  For Africa in general, Wilbur Smith’s excellent family epics and stand alone historicals  are good fiction choices.  And if you’re looking for a fun, fluffy romance, try Loretta Chase’s Mr Impossible set in 1800’s Egypt.  And for a mystery that combines historical sites and dead bodies, Janice Hamerick’s Death on Tour, or the classic Christie book, Death on the Nile.  

Ancient Greece and Rome – This overlaps heavily with the Mid-East thanks to Alexander in Greece and Julius Caesar in Rome.  The Bull Of Minos by Cottrell weaves the story of the excavations of Heraklion with the legend of Theseus that Mary Renault spun into such a brilliant book.  (Her Mask of Apollo is another book that captures a different facet of Greek life many years after the legendary Theseus.)  Once again author Leonard Cottrell tells an easy to ready story behind the non-fiction account of the Minoan civilization and what is thought to be their capital city on Crete.  A larger Minoan city has since been unearthed on Santorini, but is not nearly as well known.  C.W. Ceram does a more professional job, but Cottrell is more accessible for those with only a passing interest.  For fiction, well, there’s a HUGE number of books to choose from.  Robert Harris wrote Pompeii to great acclaim, but I found it so-so.  I’m pretty harsh on judging historical fiction.  Mika Waltari again comes through with a brilliant book of the people who settled what is now Italy long before the Romans, The Estruscan.  He also wrote The Roman.  The downside is his books are VERY hard to find and so far have NOT made it to ebook.  See if your library has a copy of any of his works.  Actual print books are very valuable.  I, Claudius by Robert Graves became one of the first BBC series that garnered a strong US following on PBS, thanks to the sex and nudity.  Ah, those Romans were a randy bunch!  Seriously, any good book on ancient Rome, from Thomas Costain’s The Silver Chalice to Kate Quinn, to Ursula K LeGuin, to Conn Iggulden, give it a shot.

I would also highly recommend Edith Hamilton’s books on Greek and Roman Mythology: Timeless Tales of Gods and Heroes, and her non-fiction The Roman Way and The Greek Way.  If you are touring any of the ancient sites in either country, this helps a lot to understand and enjoy what you’re seeing.  Looking at the excavated graves of Mycenae that Schliemann thought to be those of Agamemnon and Clytemnestra, is a lot more meaningful having read Ceram’s and Hamilton’s books.

July 13, 2014

Beach Reads 3 – International Favorites Part 1

Filed under: Favorite book,General — toursbooks @ 3:47 pm
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Time to cruise the world looking for some fun, well written books set outside the US.  Now try and keep in mind, I’m only selecting books/authors that I’ve read, and hopefully still available, but there are many more out there.  You know, I started this thinking I could do the world in a single sweep, and I was doing pretty well …………….. until I hit Europe.  I’m breaking this into two parts, maybe 3, because Europe will have that many books and in far more genres than what’s here.

Asia/Southeast Asia – Number one on this list is ex-pat British author Colin Cotterill with his surprising Dr Siri series set in Laos in the 1970.  Just trust me on this one.  It sounds like a bummer, but his characters are so well developed you want to meet them for drinks at Raffles in the Long Bar.  You cannot talk Asia/Southeast Asia without talking about the best assassin series, Barry Eisler’s John Rain books based initially in Japan.  Not the OTT stuff of James Bond, but so rich in detail it’s like being there.  To be honest, it’s almost impossible for any author to measure up to the these two, despite the fact they could not be more different in their style or characters.  John Burdett and Timothy Halliman do very different series set in Thailand.  Shamini Flint sets her Inspector Singh books all over SE Asia, but the good inspector is based in Singapore.  Laura Joh Rowland does the well researched historical Sano Ichiro books set in the Edo period of Japan.  James Melville wrote the wonderful Inspector Otani series set in modern Japan, and naturally, there is the classic mysteries written before WWII featuring Mr Moto by John P. Marquand.  Judge Dee books, read long ago by me, are also historical and written Robert van Gulik based on a real historical character.  Written in the ’40’s to 60’s when books were a lot shorter than today.  For Romantic suspense, try Anne Stuart’s Ice Blue and her Fire and Ice.  Both have deep Japanese connections and are excellent romantic suspense type reads.

Australia/New Zealand- There are quite a few Australian mystery authors, mostly ones I’ve never read, but the Inspector ‘Boney’ (also ‘Bony’) Bonaparte books by Arthur Upfield remain in print featuring the half aboriginal detective.  Given the deep prejudice that existed against aboriginals at the time he was writing, they are remarkable books and he wrote them for nearly 40 years, starting back in the late 20’s and ending in the 60’s.  For fans of classic mysteries, this series, like Judge Dee, are a MUST READ.  Republished now and then.  Another book set largely in Australia is romantic suspense author Ann Maxwell’s (AKA Elizabeth Lowell) The Diamond Tiger.  One of her best books and it features a LOT of research on how the diamond market worked before the huge Canadian find broke the stranglehold of the cartel that stood for over a hundred years and still controls the majority of the diamond market today.

Mid-East – Well, more a hot bed of spies, intrigue, and assassins rather than mystery, there are still a surprising number to choose from.  John Land’s Ben Kamal, Johnathan Kellerman’s Daniel Sharavi, Batya Gur’s Michael Ohayon, and Matt Beynon Rees’ Omar Yussef Sihran.  The most famous author is obviously spy novelist Daniel Silva with his Mossad assassin Gabriel Allon series, but they actually take place all over the world, though largely in Europe.  In Turkey you have Jason Goodwin’s Yashim Togalu series that started with the best selling book, The Janissary Tree.   For classic mystery readers, Eric Ambler’s The Mask of Dimitrios (also sold as A Coffin for Dimitrios).  This was the book, written way back in 1939, that hooked me on foreign mysteries.  Like his more lighthearted caper book, Topkapi (The Light of Day in print), it too became a movie.

Africa/North Africa – Well, this is a lot of territory to cover, so I’ll just hand pick a few.  In South Africa, newspaperman turned author James McClure wrote the Tromp Kramer police detective books that accurately depicts the racist environment of the period.  If you can’t deal with it, skip the series.  Malla Nunn has won awards for her Emmanuel Cooper series.  Botswana is home to Mme Precious Ramotswe, not my favorite at all, but very popular.  Paul Doherty (real name Anna Apostolou) sets a number of series here in ancient Egypt.  Elizabeth Peters (Barbara Mertz) has her popular archaeology, amateur sleuth Amelia Peabody books set in the Egypt of the 1880’s to early 20th century.  The early ones are the best, especially when precocious son Ramses is young.  Peters is a trained archaeologist, so her details are both accurate and enhance her stories.

Ancient Greece and Rome – There are three or 4 key authors here that need to be separated from all the modern authors.  First is Gary Corby, fairly new to the mystery scene, he sets his books in the Golden Age of Pericles in Greece.  Steven Saylor hits best seller lists with what I consider a somewhat uneven series featuring Gordianus the Finder.  Again, Paul Doherty does several series and stand alone Roman mysteries.  But of all the writers in various periods of Ancient Rome and Greece, two stand out for mysteries, Lindsey Davis with her Falco books and John Maddox Roberts with his SPRQ series.  They are just the best of breed and highly recommended.  Both authors are very historically accurate.

 

 

July 11, 2014

Amazon Sale

Filed under: General — toursbooks @ 7:57 pm
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Amazon is running one of their random sales on a lot of paranormal/UF/fantasy titles. Just search for ‘Ghost Seer’ by Robin Owens or click on the link below and scroll through the associated titles. You’ll find lots of new releases and check the pre-order titles you see and well and their associated lists. You find some excellent buys right now.

Ghost Seer

At the moment, those discounts are not showing up to any extent in mystery/cozy/thrillers, but maybe later.

Amazon usually runs a large mmpb discount program in the fall. Maybe it’s early or maybe this is to try and offset losses thanks to their quarrel with Hachette. Who knows? Get the discounts while you can!

Paranormal New Releases – Book Reviews

This being prime release months for all kinds of books, a bunch of various paranormal types have hit the shelves.  Now these are not the heavy hitters like May and early June, these are all mmpb type books.  They range from romance to mystery to …….. hard to say.  It’s hot out, so sunning on a beach, by a pool, or staying cool in the shade or a/c, here are few choices for less weighty reads.

vision-in-velvet-200

 

Juliet Blackwell (Julie Goodson-Lawes) writes two series under the Blackwell name, the Lily Ivory Witchcraft series of books about a witch running a vintage clothing store in San Francisco and the Haunted Home Renovation series set in Maine featuring Melanie Turner.  The Witchcraft series start in 2009 and each installment has been good.  This series is a bit harder to slip into an easy category.  The themes are darker and more complex than a typical cozy, yet cozy readers are the target audience.  With A Vision in Velvet, the plot goes very close to UF territory, but manages to just stay inside the lines enough to keep her largely female audience happy.  Perhaps that’s why it appeals to me – the series has less fluff, a strong lead character, good supporting cast, and better writing than the usual lightweight cozy.

Lily is negotiating with a local ‘antiques’ shop owner Sebastian Crowley in her hunt to see the contents of a trunk he’s just bought.  He spins the usual yarn about it making the westward trek back in 1850, so it’s really old.  Lily can ‘read’ clothing and there’s something in that trunk.  Finally, he let’s her look and yes, it’s full of very old clothes, but like a LOT of very old material, it almost crumbles when you touch it.  Nothing here is salable and it all should be handed to a museum with the skills to preserve natural fiber clothing.  But there is a golden velvet cloak with a shattered silk liming that all but vibrates power.  In the end, she buys the trunk – and ends up getting more than she bargained for.

When she gets back to Aunt Cora’s Closet, she finds Conrad, the homeless man who often acts as her store guardian, getting petition signatures to save an old oak from being cut down.  But Con looks worse than usual and complains of bad dreams, even though he and others sleep in the park under that dying oak.  Then a bus load of tourists show up and all Lily’s plans go out the window.  That evening she gets another surprise, Sailor is back.  Her sort of enigmatic boyfriend disappeared after a falling out with Aiden, the most powerful warlock in the Bay area.  Now he’s back, his powers still dampened, but still as sexy as ever.  After a good night enjoying their reunion, Lily heads to Golden Gate Park to see this oak tree ……….. and finds a dying Sebastian Crowley instead.  This brings another man into her life again, Inspector Carlos Romero.

With a cloak that gives her vision of a woman burned at the stake, a dead ‘antiques’ dealer, and Con gone missing, Lily is off investigating the trunk, the family it came from, a supposed curse laid on them, and the abduction of her familiar, Oscar, a globgoyle who appears as potbelly pig in public, by what seems to be a malevolent oak tree.

The plot was rich and complex with the kind of attention to detail on various topics usually missing in cozy mysteries.  A Vision in Velvet gets a B (4*) rating from and the series as a whole comes with a recommended read, this being one of her best entries.  The series need not be read in order, or even all books read.  This can be read as a stand alone without confusing a reader.

Purchased from Amazon and it was worth the price.

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Ghost Seer

One morning Robin Owens woke up and said, “Oh, what the hell, let’s do a paranormal mystery,” without developing any original, colorful, characters, or a clever plot, she then wrote Book 1 of a new series, Ghost Seer.  It was promoted as paranormal/UF, but read far more like a straight forward paranormal mystery, only duller.  The paranormal mystery world would have been a better place if she’d just gone back to bed with a headache and forgotten all about it.

Don’t be mislead by the cover, Claire Cermak, the lead character, is a conservative former CPA that inherited more from her eccentric Aunt Sandra than a whole LOT of money and huge house full of antiques, she inherited the ability to see ghosts and the obligation to help then pass over.  Her sane and sensible mind rejects the fact she has a ghost dog, Enzo, who actually TALKS to her.  And it’s not just apparitions at night.  Driving into downtown Denver becomes impossible as she sees ghosts everywhere.  Unfortunately, Claire herself is as bland as white toast.

Convinced she’s losing her mind (that would have been so much more interesting!), she sees a psychiatrist.  She’s freezing cold all the time, can’t eat, and see ghosts everywhere.  Then she meets Zach.   Jackson Zachary Slade is a deputy sheriff wounded in the line of duty by a drunken former police detective who wanted to shoot his way out of a DUI from a probationary cop under Zach’s training.  He’s left with a permanent limp, the offer of a desk job, and a chip on his broad shoulder.  But the sheriff has another job offer him, down in Denver, with a highly respected private security company.  Since they hire mostly ex-spec ops, what would they want with an ex-cop that needs a cane to walk?  (OK, pity party at 5PM in the bakery.  Bring your own beverage.)

The first ghost to appear to Claire is a famous gunman/outlaw, Jack Slade.  She has to find the ears he cut off the man trying to kill him and return them to where that man died, not by Slade’s hand, but at his men’s hands, by a certain time for him to pass over.  One of the things she must get is a wooden box up for auction in Denver.  As she researches Slade while in a diner, she says his name out loud and a tall, handsome man with a cane walks over – he’s Jack Slade, though he prefers Zach.  There’s no questioning the attraction, but Zack is called back by the head of the security company he visited earlier.  They need him for a job that night.

At the auction, Claire and Zach meet again with his elderly client who is delighted to meet Claire AND Enzo, who she also sees.  Turns out Zach has a ‘touch of the sight’ too, something he’s in denial about as well.  But not in denial about the con man trying to palm off faked ‘antiques’ on Mrs. Flinton, his very nice client.  One look at Zach and his ‘cop eyes’. and the con man disappears. (YAWN!) Claire gets invited to tea.  She finally accepts her gift when a cowboy ghost warns her and Zach about a robbery at a check cashing place just a few doors up.  Despite his cane, Zach gets all three robbers, Claire accepts she sees ghosts and voila – the world is righted.  There’s a sleazy a guy looking for Jack Slade’s treasure and the search for the second ear, but basically, it’s blah.

Taken as a whole, the story lacked zest – oh hell, it was lifeless – SOMEONE CALL THE CRASH CART!  I CAN’T FIND A PULSE!  It wasn’t really original, nor did it have a creative spin on a traditional cozy trope.  (That’s a polite way of calling it BORING!)  Substitute a witch or psychic and POOF, reuse the plot with just a few modifications.  Unimpressive.  It was written well enough, but held not a single surprise in character or plot.  It could have done with a livelier, more spirited (no pun intended ….. OK, that’s a lie) style, witty dialogue, a more observant and acerbic lead character, but Claire was so bland she all but blended with the scenery.  Zach too was kind of straight from central casting.  I never even formed a mental picture of either character.

Ghost Seer gets a C- (2.8*).  It was ok, without actually being particularly entertaining or enthralling or offensive in any way.  I’m certainly not yearning for more, so her next two are NOT on pre-order.  There are better series out there.  Give this a pass.  Purchased from Amazon and not worth the money.

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BETTER HOMES and hauntings

 

Molly Harper takes a break from her vampires and witches in Half Moon Hollow and tries her hand at a paranormal mystery, or maybe paranormal romantic suspense is a better classification, set on a private island just off the coast of Rhode Island.  This is another ghost story, but the difference between Better Homes and Hauntings and Ghost Seer are significant.  Ms Harper builds an interesting and lively cast of characters living on the island to renovate and rehabilitate a family estate now owned by the tech billionaire heir, the only member of the family that went out and made the money prior generations lost.

Here’s the setup, Nina Linden is at desperate for work due to cascading bad luck and identity theft.  Somehow, she wins the contract to redo the Whitney grounds on the private island with the run down mansion that social media billionaire Deacon Whitney is restoring.  His best friend and GQ cover model material, Jake Rumsen, is the architect in charge at the Crane’s Nest restoration, as well as the yacht operator.  The blonde bombshell is Cindy Ellis, a business woman like Nina, except very successful, running a cleaning agency and professional organizer service with the efficiency of drill sergeant.  Now Jake is eyeing Cindy like a kid in a pastry shop looking at his dream cake.  She’s giving him the cold shoulder.  Deacon, as befitting his billionaire status, and the fact he was late, arrived by helicopter.  While Nina was grateful for the job, one she hoped would pull her company out of looming bankruptcy, the catch was having to STAY on the island.  And oh yeah, seeing that woman’s ghost on the window’s walk as the boat approached the private dock.  That wasn’t a Hallmark moment she expected.

Turns out not much was.  Deacon is a geeky guy, but really just a nice super smart man with a deep attachment to Star Wars and what might be a crush on Nina.  Cindy turns out to be smart, funny, self-assured, and planning to get even with Jake for forgetting he dated her twice and ditched her.  Jake is a funny, fairly down to Earth son of privilege who became the best fried of Deacon many years ago and a good architect to boot.  That big catch, they would all live on the property while doing the renovation so Deacon could be sure to have their undivided attention – in the renovated servants quarters they’ll share has another little problem ……. ghosts. Yeah, and the whole ghost thing ……… there was a possible suicide or, ahem, murder that was the cause of the fall of the family fortune and, you know, maybe the ghosts haunting the place.

Where Ghost Seer was all formula, Better Homes and Hauntings did a nice job of folding together multiple story lines with some real creepy bits, enough clever dialogue and smart characters that it was entertaining, though not the same level of amusement as her Half Moon Hollow series.  This is Ms Harper’s first shot at something that could be considered a paranormal mystery with some romance, as opposed to paranormal romance.  There are none of the hysterically funny made-up quotes at the beginning of each chapter, but she keeps things moving and the story unfolding at a good pace.  The characters are likable and entertaining and the plotting solid.

Better Homes and Hauntings isn’t the best paranormal mystery/paranormal romantic suspense out there, but it was very good.  I’m just not sure how her Jane Jameson and Half Moon Hollow folks will react as this is not ‘paranormal’ except for the ghosts, and lacks much of her trademark humor, being a bit more on the serious side while staying light and spritely, rather than laugh out loud funny.  No vamps or shifters or witches.  If someone bought it expecting another ‘Hollow’ story, they are due for a disappointment.  I was a bit surprised when I checked and saw it WASN’T in that series, but I let the order stand.  I’m glad I did.  Ms Harper pulled it off with verve, if not the rollicking style of her other books, and it was still a better than average paranormal mystery/paranormal romantic suspense.  I don’t say this often, but I think she might have been better served to publish this book under a pen name.  Too many readers will be looking for the signature Molly Harper writing style, rathen than what was delivered here, and that will disappoint them.

I’m giving Better Homes and Hauntings a B- (3.8*) and a suggested read, with the clear understanding this NOT one of her paranormal romances, so it should not be compared to them, but to other paranormal mysteries.  The book was purchased from Amazon and is currently selling for $6.29 making it a bargain for prime members.

July 3, 2014

The Evil Aunt – Coda

Filed under: Observations and Comments,opinion — toursbooks @ 7:38 pm
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Yes, it seems the death of the last Evil Aunt, the one I considered staking in her coffin (just to be sure), had one final, unexpected scene – and it was a gem.

I get my mail Tuesday (expecting 3 books that arrived) and there’s this orange slip saying I had to go get a certified return receipt letter at the PO. Well by the time I see it, the PO is closed, so all Tuesday nite I’m wondering, “Am I getting sued?”  “Am I getting audited by the IRS?” (blind panic ensues)

Yesterday, I ran up just before the t-storms hit and the damn thing is from a lawyer a few towns over and I’m mentally going, “Oh s%$t, what kind of trouble am I in.” As I reach the car, I get pelted with giant rain drops and even the letter gets slightly damp before I can climb in. With some trepidation, I open it and ………………. it’s about this aunt’s will.  I’m thinking, “She didn’t leave me anything.  As far as she was concerned, I didn’t exist.”

Nope, she did NOT leave ANYTHING to either my brother or me, BUT state law requires we be notified in case we wish to challenge the will, because she left whatever remained of her estate (not much since the house had a reverse mortgage) to every niece and nephew EXCEPT US.

Sitting in the car, I became hysterical with laughter and thought, “Perfect, this is such a perfect example of what a petty, bitter b*&#%h she was.”  I call my brother, ready to yell at him for not warning me about a certified letter so I wouldn’t freak out thinking I was being sued, only to learn his had not arrived.  So he told him what it was and read the will.  He said, “Good! I wouldn’t have accepted a damn thing from her.”  Which was exactly MY reaction.  I would have refused.  The woman was toxic.  I do NOT need bad karma from her.

Now I have one cousin who is a real softie and a truly GOOD person, and I knew this would bother her, so I called her last night and said, “I got this letter from the lawyers ………” I’m laughing while I say this and she starts crying!!!!!!!!!!!!! She feels so bad about what our aunt did and I kept saying, “Don’t be upset. If she’d gone completely out of character and included my brother and me, we would simply have surrendered our share back to the estate.” She just kept saying, “It’s so wrong!” Finally I said, “That woman was a hateful, nasty, spiteful person. Why would I want anything from her? It would be tainted!”

Turns out, even her daughter refused to take something from the house because, “Grandma said they were mean to her.”  Mean is polite.  The two sisters were just vile people.  Hell, they didn’t even like each other!  It’s why I wouldn’t go to the funerals. (Well that, and my brother was afraid of what I’d say or do, but honestly, I did NOT have a wooden stake with me!  OK, yeah, I was humming, but SOFTLY!)  The other aunt died years ago, so this was the last bitter sister.

As I said to my brother, “Well damn, there goes my dream of finally owning the family candy dish I always wanted.”

So now you know that I had good reason to carry garlic cloves that day.  Yes, she really was that bad and obviously damn proud of it.  I’m just sorry my cousin is so upset by it.  She shouldn’t be.  We have no control over how our relatives behave.  We can only control how we react to it.  She meant the fact she mentioned every “beloved’ niece and nephew except the two of us to hurt.  Instead, we found it funny, sort of sad and pathetic, and kind of the ultimate  example of just what kind of petty person she always was.

Unfortunately, I may have to stop my cousin from trying to split her share with me.  I hope I made it really clear how much neither my brother nor I wanted ANYTHING from that woman.  I’d know she means well, but no.  I have zero interest in her money – what little is left, her belongings, or anything else, except maybe photos.  If my cousin can find photos of dad, that would be great.

Some people are just ………… well let’s just say, the my world is a decent place and I’ll manage my life is just fine without any of her very bad karma around – even in the form of a candy dish.

July 1, 2014

Quick Review – Short Shots – Assorted Genre New Releases

I’ve been busy compiling lists for people and writing reviews for the PBS Book Blog, I haven’t really had time to do my own damn reviews.  JEEZE.  So here are some short ones on books I read this past month.

Sixth Grave

 

The sixth book in the Charley Davidson UF/mystery series was not up to Jones’s usual high standards.  It seemed to spin quickly, yet advanced the over-arching plot not much all.  It did add a few questions about Charley’s actions at the end when she altered Reyes’ fate, but otherwise, it was not her best stuff.  The usual dual mystery, half of which is a naked ghost who doesn’t talk, and the other half a man who sold his soul to a demon and needs it back before he dies.   A typical day in the life of Charley Davidson.

There is a kind of funny, but predictable, set piece about ‘encouraging Uncle Bob to ask Cookie, Charley’s neighbor, best friend, and business receptionist.  It was the kind of this that was probably drafted as a skit and just placed in a book otherwise short on diversions. All that said, average Darynda Jones is better than 90% of the rest of the UF writers, especially for more female based readers.

Sixth Grave on the Edge earned a B- (3.8*) from me and it remains a recommended series.  I just hope she has a slam bang ending to this series and it doesn’t go the route of never ending.  Love stories, for better or worse, must END, and Jones better be up to the job after all this build up.

Purchased from Amazon for just over $16.

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shattered

This is one of the series that can cast even Jones’ work in the shade, though not like the master, Jim Butcher when he hits all 8 cylinders.  Shattered by Kevin Hearne is his first hardcover release and I expected great things.  I was disappointed.  As is often the case, we have too many cooks – or in this case, too many druids – spoiling what should have been a tightly plotted book.  Instead, Hearne moved his POV from Atticus, to Granuaile, to the Archdruid Owen in rotation.  Unfortunately, he simply he could not establish and maintain a really distinctive ‘voice’ for each character, so the reader had to work out the who and the where each chapter was.  Owen came closest to being unique, but even he assimilated in the modern world in a really unrealistic speed.  Sorry no one does a move of 2000 years in time and not have profound culture shock.

The plot revolves around Atticus’ trying to uncover who in Tir na nÓg is betraying him.  Granuaile is off in India trying to save her father and stop a demon infestation.  The plots barely meet in the end and frankly Granuaile’s, other than trying to establish her as an independent character, was just a distraction to the main plot.

And there is the problem.  The plot is messy, Atticus loses a lot of his strongest character traits, washed out or assigned to these other characters.  Much of the strength in the story telling goes with this bizarre split.  The resulting story is an interesting, fast moving (helps hide the flaws), rather shallow and messy book, that while entertaining, lacked the depth and substance of his early work.

Once again, my grade is B- (3.7*).  It’s a good read but not at the HC price.  Purchased from Amazon.

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The Devil may care

And three cheers for David Housewright, ‘Mac” McKenzie, and The Devil May Care.  Housewright, like Craig Johnson and C.J. Box just holds to his style and character and even when writing something with a less audacious plot than Jade Lily or Taking Libby, SD, he just comes through for readers.

Like Travis McGee, Rushmore ‘Mac’ McKenzie does ‘favors’ and he’s asked to do a gem for the granddaughter of one of Minnesota’s most powerful movers and shakers – find the young man who was courting her and disappeared.  Other than crossing the Muehlenhaus family, again, what could wrong?  Riley Brodin has some rough edges, but she seems a decent young woman, so he gives it a shot and walks into a hall of mirrors and dangers people, one true psychopath, and a man who isn’t what or who he claims and everyone looking for a lot of stolen money.

The story mixes light and dark in Housewright’s ever readable tale.  Mac is a great narrator, observant, and equal parts dispassionate and deeply affected.  It’s not just about who, but why and plot has plenty of twists and the ending was just ambiguous enough on some things and final on others.

My score for The Devil May Care is B (4.0*) and a recommended read.  his books often are not printed mmpb, so grab a used copy, get the ebook, or borrow it.  At just over $16 for the HC from Amazon, it’s a bit high for a short read, even a really good one like this

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After dead

DING:::::DING::::DING:::::DING – RIP-OFF ALERT!  DO NOT BUY THIS BOOK!

If there is one thing I despise, it’s an author taking shameless advantage of fans with worthless tripe disguised as a book.  Let me detail this paean to greed touted as a series of short stories that tell the tales of the various characters in the Sookie Stackhouse series in After Dead.

As if the boring, self-indulgent, nearly plotless and pointless crap in Dead Ever After wasn’t insult enough, here the author and publisher come with another money grab by – I am NOT exaggerating – turning a few sentences into a claim of ‘stories’ about characters.  Yup, ‘stories’.  This undersized apparent novella length book is 200 pages – but 200 pages of what?  Well, let me break this down:

Page 169 – the letter ‘U’

page 170 – blank

page 171 – 81 words.  the word ‘a’ is used 8 times – 10%  81 words = story

page 172 – blank

page 173 – the letter ‘V’

page 174 – blank

page 175 – 30 words = a story

page 176 – 24 words = a story (I think we’re redefining ‘short story’ here.)

page 177 – 57 words.  the word ‘a’ is only used 5 times.  (She really worked on this one, huh?)

page 178 – blank

page 179 – the letter ‘W’

page 180 – blank (this is the favorite of author an publisher alike.  No wonder they use it so often!)

page 181 – 29 word ‘story’.

GET THE PICTURE??????????????????

My grade for After Dead is F (0*) , two thumbs down and I spit on it for the insult it is.  In a tribute to hubris, the ‘hardcover’ is selling for just over $10, the paperback – some kind of trade size – will discount at $11 and even the stupid ebook sells for just under $10.  Save the money some something important, like toilet paper.  Got it for free from a book swapping site and it’s so awful I’ll just offer it as an add-on for free because I’d feel guilty taking a credit for it.  Obviously, Charlaine Harris does not share my values.

June 28, 2014

Beach Reads – Part 2

Filed under: General,Reading list — toursbooks @ 5:33 pm
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OK, we’ve skipped around the US and are now in the Low Country of the coastal south.

Low Country/South – For screwball, laugh out loud family antics with dead bodies, try the Meg Langslow series by Donna Andrews.  Also David Baldacci sets his Camel Club series here and the King & Maxwell series.  The prolific husband/wife team of Jim and Joyce Laverne write 3 series set in North Carolina, but their Missing Pieces series set in an island beach town makes a good read for those heading that way.  Ellery Adams in the pen name of Jennifer Stanley, another very prolific cozy mystery author.  As Lucy Arlington she and fellow author Sylvia May write the Novel Idea series and as Ellery Adams she writes the popular Charmed Pie Shoppe paranormal mysteries set in Georgia.  Neither are real popular with me, but to each their own.   Savannah plays host to the paranormal Beaufort & Co mysteries by Mary Stanton and Magical Bakery mysteries by Bailey Cates (Cricket MacRea).  Oddly, for standard mysteries, Kay Hooper and Karen Slaughter are your two best bets.  Elle Jasper sets her dark UF series, Dark Ink Chronicles, in Savannah as well.  For romance and chick-lit, tough to beat anything by Mary Kay Andrews.

New England – How can I skip Donald Bain’s Jessica Fletcher books?  Cabot Cove, Maine is nearly as famous as St. Mary’s Mead, England!  Archer Mayor’s Joe Gunther series set in Vermont and Bruce DeSilva’s Liam Mulligan series set in Rhode Island.  Lauren Dane sets her de la Vega Cates shifter romance/smut in the Boston area and it’s pretty entertaining.

Tri-State (NY/NJ/CT) – Well, you’ve come to the right place for selection.  A surprising number of people make NYC part of their vacation plans.  Having been born and raised just outside the city, I kind of find it baffling, but I’m sure Londoners feel the same way.  Hannah Jayne writes the Underworld Detection Agency series set here, it’s average, but has followers.  The fast paced and often humorous new SPI paranormal series by Lisa Shearin and more serious Indexing by Seanan McGuire also use the city.  For mystery you have everything from Lawrence Block’s Bernie Rhodenbar to Stuart Woods’ Stone Barrington, to the slightly creepy Repairman Jack series by F. Paul Wilson.  Too many mystery authors to count here, so I’ll mention a few – Ethan Black police detective series, Walter Mosley’s Leonid McGill PI, Lawrence Block’s Matt Scudder, and Meg Cabot’s lively cozy series Heather Wells books.  As for classic mysteries, well Ellery Queen series, Rex Stout’s Nero Wolf, Clayton Rawson’s Merlini books (locked room style), and S.S. van Dine’s Philo Vance book.  Also Rhys Bowen sets her Molly Murphy books in the ’20’s and ’30’s period in NYC.  Laura Resnick her somewhat uneven, but mostly entertaining Esther Diamond UF series here.  Dopplegangster and Vamaprazzi were especially good and can be read as stand alones.

DC – Yeah, technically it’s Low Country, but DC is an entity onto itself.  For cozy fans, try Julie Hyzy’s White House Chef and White House Gardener books.  Interesting and a little off beat for a cozy is Ellen Byerrum’s Crime of Fashion series, which is actually pretty good.  For UF/horror fans, Christopher Farnsworth has Nathaniel Cade, The President’s Vampire series – which is going for a movie, so only one ebook installment has come out since 2012.  Very original.  Naturally, DC/VA plays home base for many political and police thrillers, Brad Thor’s Scott Hovarth series, the late Vince Flynn’s Mitch Rapp books, Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan, and James Patterson’s Alex Cross books – another series I find rather generic.

Chicagoland and the Great Lakes – It’s CHICAGO people, home of the only Wizard for Hire, Harry Dresden.  The daddy of modern UF, Harry is still going strong thanks to author Jim Butcher’s clever and twisty mind.  Chicago is also home to the really good Chicagoland Vampire UF series by Chloe Neill.  Barbara Annino has her Stacy Justice witchy mysteries set in a fictional town in Illinois and they too are entertaining on a more modest, cozy style level.  Ohio is home to Linda Robertson’s Persephone Alcmedi series, more UF or true paranormal, because they mostly lack the required ‘city setting’ needed for UF.  Connie Laux writes her Pepper Martin under pen name.Casey Daniels.  It’s a paranormal ghost mystery series set in Cleveland.  As Kylie Logan she writes her Button Shop books set in Chicago, and the League of Literary Ladies set in Michigan.  I liked the Casey Daniels books, but the others, not so much.  Jill Churchill’s Jane Jeffery’s books are fair to good, but she’s stopped writing so they can be hard to find.  Classic mystery has Ralph M. McInerny’s Father Dowling books.  Marcus Starkey writes good, though slightly dark, mysteries all set in the Chicago area.  One of my favorites authors, Loren D. Estleman, set his two ‘hard boiled’ series in Michigan, PI Amos Walker and hit man, Peter Macklin.  Minnesota has a wealth of great authors including John Sanford – but stick with his Kipp books for lighter fare.  David Housewright’s ‘Mac’ MacKenzie books make for good summer reads.  Willian Kent Krueger, Steve Hamilton, Brian Freeman, Owen Laukkanen are just a few of the many excellent mystery/suspense authors living and writing in the area.

Heartland and Prairie – JoanHess has her cozy Claire Malloy series set in Arkansas and paranormal author Charlaine has two cozy series set here, Lilly Baird and Harper Connelly.  Steven Hunter bases the Earl Swagger books here and the first of his Bob Lee Swagger sniper thriller books.  Maddy Hunter’s Passport to Peril series got picked up again and is back in action.  While set all over the world, her characters and their home base is in Iowa.

Alaska and Hawaii – Well, yeah, these utterly unrelated areas are not part of the ‘lower 48′ so I’m doing them separately.  Alaska is Dana Stabenow territory with her Kate Shugak mysteries, as well as the less well know Sue Henry Jessie Arnorld dog sled mysteries.  Like the Prairie and Heartland, not a prime paranormal location.   Hawaii – Well Earl Derr Biggers’ Charlie Chan had a lot more movie outings than he ever did books – written back in the 1920’s and early ’30’s, but six he did write are worth reading, providing you can deal with all the ‘politically incorrect’ stuff that was typical of the period.  About the only other notable series was 4 books by Charles Knief featuring John Caine, a sort of Travis McGee character who is a former SEAL back before SEAL’s become ubiquitous in romance and thrillers.  It also shows up as a place visited my everyone from Jack Reacher to cozy authors, but is not the home of any major paranormal series.

I’ll do an international beach reads next, as kind of a sweep of the world.

June 18, 2014

Beach Reads – Part 1

Filed under: Editorial,General — toursbooks @ 10:40 pm
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Summer in the publishing industry sees a rash of lightweight, mostly romantic ‘chick-lit’ type releases, commonly called ‘beach reads’.  Undemanding, usually a bit on the fluff side, sometimes tear-jerkers, but mostly just read once and toss type books.  It kind of gives ‘beach reads’ a bad name.  But there are other beach reads that can make your vacation more fun.  This whole thing became a topic of discussion on a travel forum, because lots of folks love to read on vacation and most wanted mystery – unaware of some of the very good UF out there.

Recently, a thread on the Sanibel forum on Trip Advisor talked about the closing of yet another small, independent book store that sold both new and used books.  For those of us who prefer to read a dead tree book, this is a serious matter.  Buying inexpensive used books while on vacation sure beats hauling them down to an island.  The poster asked for other locations to buy used books and several of us replied.  Obviously, a place like Sanibel does NOT attract the lovers of nightlife, but it does tend to attract readers, so yeah, books get sold even in the supermarkets.  It’s a very popular family spot, but it is also a very popular retirement and seasonal home spot for those who can afford such things.  The forum has a couple of doctors, a veterinarian, professional people of various types, and small business owners, but they all have one common interest beyond the natural environment of Sanibel and it’s most popular past-time, shelling, they like to read.

Years ago, in the early 90’s I was in another now defunct bookstore looking for more reading material and hoping to find a local author.  I found Randy Wayne White and his Doc Ford books.  I had to go back to get them, because the author actually had to stock the shelves himself!  Of course I’d already read every Travis McGee book, Charles Willeford’s books, Florida Straits by Lawrence Shames was fresh off the press that year, and I was reading the Lassiter books by Paul Levine, some of James Hall’s Thorn books,  John Lutz’s Fred Carver books, as well as Hiaasen’s books (loved Native Tongue), and Tim Dorsey’s equally off beat Serge Storms books, but so many other Florida authors had yet to hit the shelves – Tom Corcoran, Carolina Garcia-Aguilera, Jonathon King, James Grippordano, James O Born, were still unpublished.

Turns out, like me, folks like books that are set in the environment where they are.  Tony Hillerman’s wonderfully descriptive and evocative prose weighs heavily in his building of the Southwest as a setting and the Navajo culture as his ‘hook’ for his Jim Chee and Joe Leaphorn series.  He did it with such respect for the Navajo and their traditions, it was a cultural lesson on its own.  I had read quite a lot of Hillerman before my first visit to our Southwest and he captures its essence perfectly.

John D MacDonald set the stage for the many authors that came after him for Florida, much as Hillerman did, though their styles were very different.  Tom Corcoran does it for the Keys.  We may have had different favorites, but we all agreed, reading books set in the area you vacation in does seem to enhance the trip.  I love mystery as a genre, but some authors can be pretty heavy for a vacation.  I tend to enjoy action type books with some snark.  On the other end of the spectrum, you can get authors so quirky, not everyone likes them.  I also enjoy a good romantic suspense book for a beach type read, or cozy mystery – though good cozies are hard to find today and predictable ones are thick on the ground.

I cheerfully reread some books too.  One year, on St John in the USVI’s, the house I rented had a small library and there sat Jack Higgin’s Thunder Point, partly set on St John.  His boat captain and master diver character in the book was based from a real local he’d met while there researching his story locations.  It was such a different experience reading it sitting there, looking at the same amazing views as in the book.

So that brings me to ‘beach reads’, which is just code for “It ain’t War and Peace, thank God!”  Seriously, who wants to be bummed out on vacation?  Jeeze, leave the serial killers, and ‘great literature’ for some long winter night when there’s nothing on TV.  You’re on vacation.  Here are some authors and titles for different locations that make good ‘beach reads’, even if there is no beach in sight!

Jersey Shore/Jersey – Chris Grabenstein’s John Ceepak mystery series set in a fictional Jersey shore town.  Light reading by an author who is also a comedian and names each series book after an amusement park type ride.  Looking for a cozy?  E.J. Cooperman’s Haunted Guesthouse series set in a Cape May like town.  Also, Harlan Coben’s early Myron Bolitar books with North Jersey (where he lives) often used, or David Rosenfelt’s Andy Carpenter books also set in North Jersey, or the most famous one, Janet Evonavich’s Steph plum series set in Trenton – though I’d stick with books 1 to 7.  That said, they actually runs tours of Steph Plum’s Trenton.

Cape Cod/Massachusetts  – There are a bunch of options – Rick Boyer’s Doc Adams books if you can find them, or for a true classic, Phoebe Atwood Taylor’s Asey Mayo mysteries written in the ’30’s and ’40’s.  Or for Massachusetts in general, Spencer books by Robert B Parker. Looking for a cozy?  Try Charlotte MacLeod.  She’s written 4 of them, but try Max Bittersohn or Peter Shandy series first. UF?  The Connor Grey series by Marc Del Franco.

California – Well, it’s tough to beat California for a location with a huge range of settings.  Don Winslow does a 2 books series using a California surfer as his lead character (Dawn Patrol, The Gentleman’s Hour) and many stand alones, including The Winter of Frankie Machine.  Robert Crais has the ultimate wise-cracking PI in his early Elvis Cole/Joe Pike books that get more serious as the series progresses.  Marshall Karp started his Lomax & Briggs buddy cop series with The Rabbit Factory, set in a fictional Disneyland.  You also have Richard Kardey’s horror-UF Sandman Slim books take place there – and in Hell.  Sue Ann Jaffarian has a vampire mystery series, Fang-in-Cheek, set there using the very human Madison Rose as her lead – only 2 books so far.  Her Ghost of Granny Apples and Odelia Grey series are also California based.   And what could be more classic than Raymond Chandler’s Phillip Marlowe books set in LA?  Or for San Francisco, try Krysta Davis’s Sophie Katz books, on the lighter ‘chick-lit mystery’ level.  Jenn Bennett sets both her Arcadia Bell UF series, as well as her new paranormal romance series, Roaring Twenties, in the Bay Area as well.  The October Daye UF/Fantasy series is also set here and in Fairie and is one of the very best around written by Seanan McGuire.  It takes a bit to get into it, but her world building is complex and excellent.

North West – Seattle is the hometown for J. P. Beaumont in J.A. Jance’s fictional police detective books, but some are kind of grim.  Aaron Elkins does his Gideon Oliver series here and the early books include trips to the Olympic Peninsula.  G. M. Ford does two entertaining series here, his Leo Waterman books and his investigative reporter books featuring Frank Corso.  Yasmine Galenorm, a well known paranormal author, writes a cozy mystery series under the pen name, India Ink.  Speaking of paranormal, Kelley Armstrong sets her paranormal Darkness Rising YA triliogy here and Lauren Dane does the 4 book Bound by Magick series here as well as numerous romance and paranormal romance books in the Washington and Oregon areas.  Elizabeth Lowell (also writes as Ann Maxwell) set her Donovan romantic suspense books in the Seattle area.

Southwest – OMG where to start?  Tony Hillerman would top the list and maybe that’s all you’d need.  But cozy lovers rejoice, Old Scottsdale is home to Jenn McKinley’s Cupcake Bakery mysteries.  J.A. Jance has one set here too with female deputy Johanna Brady.  The Phoenix area is home to the start of one of the best new UF  series to come out lately, Kevin Hearne’s Iron Druid.  You’ll find Coyote is featured in a couple of books.  And over in New Mexico is one of my favorite UF/mystery/romance series, the Charley Davidson series by Darynda Jones.  She also wrote the YA Darklight trilogy set there.  For more traditional mystery lovers, there’s Michael McGarrity’s Kevin Kearny books or the late James D. Doss’s Charlie Moon series set in southern Colorado and New Mexico.

Scenic West/Big Sky Country – Welcome to Walt Longmire country, thanks to Craig Johnson and his now iconic sheriff in modern Wyoming.  My personal favorite is Junkyard Dogs.  C. J. Box has based his Joe Pickett series in Wyoming as well.  The amusing historical mystery series featuring Big Red and Old Red Amlingmeyer by Steve Hockensmith is set mostly in Montana in the late 1800’s.  Deadwood, SD is home to Ann Charles’ humorous/scary paranormal mysteries called – obviously – Deadwood Mysteries.  Cheaper in ebook, but all are also in print with illustrations.  Laura DiSilvero sets her ‘Charlie’ Swift mysteries in Colorado Springs – kind of CO’s answer to Steph Plum.  Carrie Vaughn sets her Kitty Norville parnormal/UF series largely here and the best of the series, IMO, is Kitty’s House of Horrors. It can be read as a stand alone.

Texas – Texas is home to many mystery series old and new.  Jeff Abbott set two series here, Jordan Poteet and Whit Mosley.  Bill Crider’s Sheriff Dan Rhodes is a series of short, easyt mystery reads with lots of character. D.R. Merideth is a native Texan and did the really good John Lloyd Branson series and Charles Matthews series.  Before he became famous as the children’s/YA mythological adventure writer, Rick Riordan did the Tres Navarre series.  Diane Kelly writes the Tara Holloway Death and Taxes series that’s not a cozy, but more of a classic old style mystery book.  She also started a similar series featuring a K-9 officer Bridget, and Officer Megan Lutz set in Fort Worth.

Louisiana and Deep South – OK, his books are filled with atmosphere and corruption, not exactly beach reads, but James Lee Burke has to head the class in this location.  Jana DeLeon sits on the opposite end of the spectrum with her light. humorous, Mudbug series.  A little more meaty, but still played for laughs, is her Sinful, Louisiana Miss Fortune series about a CIA assassin hiding with a price on her head, and she has several stand alone books.  Over in Alabama is one of the best of the cozy series, Southern Sisters, by the late Anne George.  In Mississippi, Peggy Webb does her Elvis series that never really appealed to me, but many like.  For paranormal/UF there is, naturally, Sookie Stackhouse books by Charlaine Harris (meh to they suck) and the very good in progress series, The Sentinels of New Orleans by Suzanne Johnson.  For some quality smut, try Lauren Dane’s Charvez Witches series. There are several really good, but rather dark series that I’m not mentioning, but look for authors Ace Atkins and Jack Kerley, if you like darker stuff.

That’s it for part 1.  I’ll begin Part 2 with the Low Country and cover the key major cities.  This should get you started.

 

 

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