Tour’s Books Blog

April 20, 2014

Observations on ARC’s and Reviews – MYSTERY WEEK!

Filed under: Book review,Cozy,Mystery review,Tough Guy PI — toursbooks @ 4:00 pm
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I enjoy getting ARC’s of various books, but I can’t say I’m thrilled when I get one with so many type-setting errors it’s nearly unreadable.  One of the ARC’s I recently received was so damn annoying I came close to tossing it several times before I finally had to quit in frustration.  Probably 95% of all words, including contractions, that had a double ‘ll’ in the spelling read like …… ‘usual y the Wel ington’s were kept in a hal  closet’.  It went past distracting and reached serious annoyance when I had to go back and work out what the words really were.  Why would any publisher risk a new author or series with such shoddy work?  An ARC is not for Beta readers, it’s meant for reviewers, many authors in their own right.  Publishers want something good to promote the book, not, “Incomprehensible junk!”

Typos in ARC’s exist.  Hell, they exist in print even in the best hardcover bestseller.  But when every page is so littered with them it’s like trying to read code, that’s not excusable.  After 48 pages it improved, but it was false hope.  Within two pages ‘down the hal ‘ was back.

The author and reader both deserve better.  I simply couldn’t finish reading it with so many errors, mostly because the odd spacing kept disrupting the rhythm of my eyes going across the page.  Authors, please tell you publishers that ARC’s readers are not Beta lab rats.  I know ARC’s have errors and I deal with that.  Heaven knows hardcovers go to print with errors that would have been unheard of 10 years ago, but the material still has to flow smoothly enough that it’s not an endurance contest for the reader to get through it.

That’s a book I’m not naming.  It wouldn’t be fair to the author, but the publisher is Hatchette, owners of Grand Central and Little  Brown and Co, not exactly small houses, and they should know better.

On to the reviews!  And it’s MYSTERY WEEK!

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Sugar_and_Iced-210

Sugar and Iced is the latest in the Cupcake Bakery series, which is kind of a mixed bag.  I liked the mystery part, but all the teenage drama in 30 year olds over their respective love lives drove me nuts.

Mel and Angie find themselves supplying cupcakes to a beauty pageant thanks to Mel’s mom and her best friend Ginny.  Seems to me cupcakes and beauty pageants are sort of mutually exclusive, but the decision to have each contestant create a cupcake that Mel and Angie will then bake and the judges evaluate as part of their score give their presence a little credibility.  Oz, their Goth skateboarding part time help and his girl Goth pal, Lupe, get dragged into this when the two ladies decide that Lupe should enter the contest which has substantial scholarship money as a prize.  Lupe might put magenta streaks in her hair and wear the whole Goth black and piercing thing, but she’s smart as a whip and accepted at Stanford, if she can find the money to go.

Now a word of warning, once again a judge dies.  Yes, it’s happened before in her books, but this time, the shrewish judge, an original ‘mean girl’ is under the cupcake display table in the hotel lobby.  Enter the handsome cop, Manny, ex-fiancee waiting patiently for Mel to come around ‘Dear Joe’, and slightly sleazy but handsome lawyer, and Angie’s lifelong love, Tate is back at the bakery doing business plans for expansion – something Mel is opposed to.

Naturally Lupe, who rec’d outrageously low scores from the now dead judge, becomes the leading suspect, so Mel and Angie one again meddle in police business.

The mystery plot was good, though it stretched credibility at times.  Mel’s personal issues are more of a distraction than asset to the story, at least for me, though other readers seem to like it.  The big denouement isn’t a shock, but what happens afterwards has a personal shock for Mel.

Sugar and Iced is a good, but not great, cozy mystery.  It gets a C+ to B- (3.5*) from me which is lower than most reviews on Amazon.  If this is your favorite genre, then this series is above average, even though I had a sense of déjà vu with over half the plot.  I got this book for $7.19 from Amazon.  I sent it on to a PBS (Paperback Swap) friend.  Free is the best, but try for a used copy.  This is not a keeper.

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Death_on_Eat_Street

J.J. Cook hit the ground running with the Sweet Pepper Fire Brigade mysteries and with Death on Eat Street, the latest in the crowded field of foodie mysteries.  J.J. Cook is a pseudonym for Jim and Joyce Laverne, the prolific husband and wife team that does  the popular Missing Pieces mysteries among many others.

Zoe Chase has a dream and she quits her boring job, gives up her expensive condo and buys a run down diner and a food truck to fulfill her dream of owning her own restaurant like her eccentric Uncle Saul.  Her mother, a lawyer with political ambitions, and her dad, the head of the investment bank where her supposed fiancee works, don’t agree with her choice, but her dad is quietly more supportive.  Even worse, she dumps fiancee Tommy Lee – who has been cheating on her anyway.   Times are tough for Zoe and she’s living in the diner with an overweight cat and soon a woman who needs a job and is a natural at selling her deep fried biscuit bowls.  With the help of an strange, but nice guy from the shelter, Ollie, she starts getting her food truck business on track.  It means less food for the men’s homeless shelter, but on bad weather days, they still do well.

That’s when things deteriorate.  Someone tries to rob her.  Her brake lines are cut on the food truck, there’s a public fight with the owner of another food truck – who is then found dead – and now everyone seems to think she has something valuable that the dead food truck owner had.  She hasn’t clue what that something is, but someone if willing to kill for it.  Her defense lawyer is handsome, but a bit shabby and seems a little beaten down.  But life has not treated him well either and he fits right in Zoe’s band of misfits.

Death on Eat Street had more pluses than minuses.  The plot revolving around some missing valuable is old as time and who did was obvious to any mystery reader, but the characters were interesting, from pushy divorced parents to the ragtag group of friends that Zoe acquires.  Like a lot of first books, establishing the backstory of characters takes up time and detracts somewhat from the flow.  Overall though, it was above average.  I’d give Death on Eat Street a low B- (3.7*) and a suggested read for cozy lovers.  Not as original as I’d hoped, but there’s not much new ground to cover in the foodie mystery field.

I bought this book from Amazon for $7.19 and will pass it on thru PBS.

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Second Helping for Murder

 

 

A Second Helping on Murder is the second book in the Comfort Food series by author Christine Wegner.  Wegner has published numerous Harlequin romances, so this is a departure, but her Harlequin roots show through.  The first book in this series, Do or Diner, I have not read, so I wasn’t quite prepared for this simplistic mystery.  I don’t hold cozies in high esteem, but many are enjoyable and a choice handful rise above the generic formula and become fine additions to any mystery read’s ‘Books I Read’ list. A Second Helping is down at the other end, Books I Could Have Missed.

The story takes place in a realistic town of Sandy Harbor, NY on the southern shore of Lake Ontario.  All the states bordering the Great Lakes, or any other large lake away from major cities, have similar small towns with summer homes and rental cabins where people go to enjoy the country air, cool evenings, lake sports, and the slower pace of small town life.  Come winter snow season, they head south.  That’s what Trixie Matkowski’s Aunt Stella did when her husband died, and Trixie, who was fresh off a divorce from her cheating husband bought the place and started life over as a 30 something diner chef and owner of about a dozen well maintained rustic cabins used for summer rentals and one 24 hour diner where managed the night shift cooking.

The town is in something of an uproar over the discovery of the remains of a 16 year old girl who went missing one summer back when Trixie was an awkward child.  She had nothing but good memories of the older girl who befriended her when she needed it.  But with the diner and her first guest arriving insisting on Cabin 8, the cabin where the ill fated Jacobson family was in when Claire went missing.

As usual, Trixie, who apparently does not have enough to do running both a 24 hour diner and a dozen rental cabins, decides she owes Claire enough to investigate the 20+ year old murder.  Deputy Ty Brisco might be a handsome, slow talking cowboy relocated up north, but her was also a sheriff’s deputy, so she’s wary ……. and he isn’t a local.  Then there’s another death, the strange man renting Cabin 8 is shot and killed in the cabin – and cancellations come in on the cabin rentals.  Naturally, Trixie gets involved.

If you don’t figure it out in the first 50 pages, you’re losing your Nancy Drew badge.  The book is short, the plot simplistic and predictable, the characters unoriginal.  A Second Helping is essentially a dull read.  At the $7.19 I paid at Amazon, it was also a waste of money.  Typeface is large, so word count per page is short and the whole thing can be read in a couple of hours – if you last that long.

A Second Helping gets a C- (2.7*) from me.  It’s a Harlequin romance with bodies.  The score is that high because Ms Wenger captures the atmosphere and character of those small summer lake towns really well, even if her characters and plot are lame.  You can safely miss this one.

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bone deep

Randy Wayne White is the author of over 20 Doc Ford novels.  His books have made the tiny islands on Sanibel and Captiva famous.  A former local reporter, former fishing guide, and current resident of the islands in Pine Island Sound, White sets his books in area and in countries he’s come to know well over the years, including much of the lesser known Southwest Gulf Coast of Florida.  And now he’s an investor (NOT OWNER) in three restaurants (one on Sanibel, and newer one on Ft Myers beach, and the most recent one up on Captiva (2013) named for his iconic character, ex-CIA agent, marine biologist, and Sanibel resident, Marion ‘Doc’ Ford.  The above photo is him in front of the Original Doc Ford’s on Sanibel holding his latest book, Bone Deep.  I confess that Doc Ford’s has been a favorite of mine since the restaurant opened years after the books started hitting the NYT Times Bestseller list – and more years after I had to hunt them down in on-island book stores that White had to deliver to himself.  By 1990 I’d been a frequent visitor to Sanibel and Captiva for a few years and was delighted to discover a local writer who did good mystery/thrillers.  Sanibel Flats, The Heat Island, The Man Who Invented Florida, and Captiva are not to be missed by any lover of John D MacDonald.  After that, things get dicey.

By the time The Mangrove Coast hit the shelves in hardcover, thanks to a new publisher and some badly needed promotion, I was able to buy his books easily up here in the Northeast.  Doc Ford and his hippy, pot smoking, peace loving genius side-kick, Tomlinson (the name of the Sanibel Police Chief and friend of White’s) are once again enmeshed in problem that seems simple, but never is.  Some of the locations on Sanibel, like Dinkin’s Bayou, are made up (though it’s located in Tarpon Bay according to the map in the books, the location of the marina where White used to work as a guide.), but he loves researching Florida and folds in the history this with the eye of a newsman he once was.

In Bone Deep, the mining of phosphorous in Florida, a controversial business like everything these days, and the illegal fossil hunting and dangerous trespassing that thieves do to recover fossils in the mining areas, is really interesting – and one of the things I like about White.  The story opens with Doc getting pulled into the hunt for two Native American carvings by a Crow Indian friend of Tomlinson’s.   He agrees to take them to a private island for some touchy feely sweat lodge drum ceremony, and he goes off to talk to the aging scion of a once rich family that owns mining concessions in the state.  In the end, he’s dragged into the dangerous underground trade in rare fossils.  Who knew???  The story is one of family and betrayal, and greed, old sins, and new.  Is the carving taken from the dead collector’s house and the taken from the thief by the Doc what the crazy killer is after, or something  else he has – or the psycho THINKS he has – that was stolen from the home of the illegal collector.  And what’s going on with the stepson and his buddies at the phosphorus mine?  The two separate yet co-joined mysteries make for strange bedfellows.

As always, White excels at capturing the atmosphere of Florida, especially the islands, but Bone Deep is a choppy read and frankly, the plot just didn’t work for me.  Disjointed when it needed to spool out seamlessly.  It seemed to be confused and jumbled rather than clean and sharp.  Was this about the fossil thieves, the psycho killer, or the missing Indian artifacts?  And throwing in confusion about his relationship with Hannah was more a distraction than addition to the plot.  Instead of a tasty fusion, we had a messy mashup.  A book that starts strongly then seems to just spin like a dervish.

Despite the fact that I love the character Doc Ford, I simply cannot overlook the short-comings of Bone Deep.  Plus the ending was too Twilight Zone.  Bone Deep gets a D+ to C- (2.5*) from me, but do NOT let that deter you from reading his excellent early books.  I got Bone Deep through Paperback Swap and I will pass it along to another reader.  In truth, White is at his best when he does clean, direct, fast paced stories with few side tales, and gets messy when he goes for the multi-thread stories that need to be cohesively woven together.  His clean, spare writing style just seems to work best with equally clean, spare, tricky plots rather than sprawling story lines.

And should you ever find yourself on Sanibel Island with the best shelling beach in North America, go have lunch at Doc Ford’s.  Try the Yucatan Shrimp, fish tacos (very mild salsa typical of Central America) with black beans and rice, and carrot cake brushed with 151 rum.  And if you have a driver, try a flight of rums to discover a world of tastes as complex and varied as any good Scotch.

 

April 1, 2014

Not so April Fool!

Filed under: Caper,Mystery review,Western Mystery — toursbooks @ 4:20 pm
Tags: , , ,

april-fool-22v

 

OMG, it’s April already and not single sign of buds on the trees or even the forsythia.  Damn.  While the winter has been long and cold here, it’s still active in places like Minnesota where they’re still dealing with new snow.  I’d be ready to kill the weatherman or myself at this point.  At least this past weekend was just torrential rain for us.

Yeah, it’s April Fools Day.  While I do enjoy some of the elaborate and clever tricks people play, I was never one for April Fool jokes.  So relax, they won’t start here.  No, April 1 was always my personal start date for Spring.  Some years it would come early and some years, like this year, it seems very, very late.

Spring is when every day we look out and the world looks different.  Flowers peek out of the ground, trees bud, shrubs seem to erupt into bright colors almost overnight.  Daffodils that just sprung up a few days ago all seem to suddenly pop open.  Every day my SIL gives me the ‘crocus report’!  Spring is colorful, cheerful, and much needed after a long winter of dreary days.  We start getting restless to get outside and do things.  Where I used to live, I’d take a week’s vacation from work to get the gardens ready – clean out all the leaves, fertilize, correct the pH, dig in soil modifiers and lots of dried manure.  We had a lot of garden space and it took a lot of time between spring when we’d get ready and fall when we prepped it for winter.

I’m no longer able to do that kind of heavy work and I miss it, and I miss my gardens, but life changes and we move on.  I still enjoy looking at all the beautiful gardens folks create – and relax knowing I won’t have to do the digging and the weeding and ………… well, the million other things all gardeners do.  I do love watching the annual parade of colors as one after the other ornamental trees and shrubs do their once a year beautification show.  The are a welcome sight.

Another welcome sight is the brightly color mysteries that arrived today.  But before I settle in for the latest Cupcake Bakery mystery by Jenn McKinley, I need to review a a couple books, mysteries that are as alike as chalk and cheese.

Stone Cold

C.J. Box writes both the Joe Pickett mysteries and stand alone thriller/suspense type books.  Here in Stone Cold we have Joe, the ultimate straight arrow, chasing his friend Nate Romanowski, a man with a past.  Nate, a complex man, a good friend, and a lethal killer, finds himself questioning a path he chose and now doubts.

At the end of Breaking Point, the previous Joe Picket book, Joe quit thanks to the new Director who is a ‘bambi hugger’ and willing to lay down for political gain and throw Joe under the bus while doing it.  But Joe has a friend in high places, namely the governor, who gives him a special job and now that marker has come due.  Of course the governor threw him under the bus years back too, so it’s not like they’re close friends.  Much to Joe’s everlasting disgust, he’s to fly to Cheyenne in the morning for a ‘special assignment’, one that will have him helping the FBI with what looks like an elaborate murder for higher scheme, and it also looks like Nate may be involved.

Woven into the action packed story of a rich, successful man who disappears into near anonymity, and is rumored to run an assassination business, is the more basic tales of Joe’s adopted daughter wanting to run off with a rodeo star with a history of abusing women,  his eldest daughter worrying about a student on her dorm floor displaying all the signs of being a potential ‘lone gunman’, including obsessively playing first person shooter games, and Joe again trying to save Nate, not just the man, but his soul as well.

Box writes a layered, complex, interesting story that moves at a breakneck pace from the opening scenes with Nate hunting and killing a parasite of a businessman to a literally explosive ending with creepy results, and a tragic, but seemingly inevitable conclusion to the isolated college student who in the end, was not what they thought.  The various plot elements weave in and out at always at the nexus is Joe Pickett, a Game Warden with a gift for finding trouble and the tenacity and strong moral code of an old time lawman.

Stone Cold is a really good read.  Maybe not his best, but his most nuanced.  The one drawback is the really bad guy escapes and likely will not be made to answer for his crimes.  The more obvious theme is is all about things never being quite what they seem, but they are in mysteries.  They rarely are in the best mysteries.  Stone Cold remains a very satisfying, engaging read in one of the most solid series currently in print.  It is highly recommended to hardcore mystery fans, especially followers of Craig Johnson’s Longmire books, Steve Hamilton’s Alex McKnight books, or Willim Kent Krueger’s books.

Stone Cold gets a B+ (4.3*) and recommended read.  I got this book thru an online book swap site and I will pass it on.  It is currently just under$20 on Amazon, so try and get this through your library.

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The Chase

It’s hard to even put a book like The Chase into the same set of reviews as a C.J. Box book.  It’s like reviewing McDonald’s after discussing haute cuisine.  The Chase could not be more different, and other than sharing the same general genre of Mystery and Thriller, they have exactly ZILCH in common.

Book 2 in the Fox and O’Hare series is, if possible, even lighter and less substantial than The Heist, which is saying something given the fluff level of The Heist.  One thing you have to remember is Goldberg is a scriptwriter and Evanovich has reverted to her ‘humorous romance’ roots, so substance is in short supply.  It’s fun, fluffy, superficial, the plot is on the level of a ‘made for TV’ movie, or maybe just a one hour episode in a series.  So is the dialogue and the cast of characters.  The Chase is another caper style mystery in the same vein as ‘White Collar’, which it shamelessly copies.  Not one of the great caper books that has more twists and turns than hedge maze, nor is it Dortmunder, or Bernie Rhodenbarr, or one of Ross Thomas’ many wonderful books, no this is just some harmless fun caper story.  A bagatelle.  Short, fast, and don’t look too closely or you’ll see the flaws book.

Fox and O’Hare are after really big game this time, a corrupt former White House chief of staff who runs a virtual private army mostly on government contracts.  And buys stolen art with his less than clean money.  He’s also like all massive egoists, anxious to be feted as hugely successful and noteworthy.  The entree is making his elaborate Florida mansion the feature of a TV show.  A show that gives Nick the cover he needs to grab the bronze the Chinese government is demanding be returned by the Smithsonian.  You’d think stealing an art treasure from a paranoid man who has his own army would be enough, but no, that’s too easy.  Finding out the one on display is a fake was a bummer.  Even worse, some well meaning museum official gave it to the Chinese billionaire before Fox and O’Hare could switch it out for the real one, and it’s locked up in a nearly uncrackable safe in the secure belly of the Chinese billionaire’s A380 that’s hard.

It’s shallow, devoid of deeper meaning, character growth, or any over-arcing qualities.  It reads at a grade school level and has as much substance as cotton candy.  But it is amusing, largely harmless, and is over with in record time.   The Chase gets a C- (2.8*) and a strong recommendation you get it FOR FREE SOMEHOW, because seriously, it’s not worth more than $2-$3.  I got The Chase thru a book swap site and it will move on the same way.  If you miss it, your life will still be complete.

 

March 30, 2014

Life Gets in the Way – and Book Reviews

You know really, you’d think at my age life would not keep getting in the way.  That’s for the young.  Well, apparently, the problem is more universal than I thought.  Nothing dramatic, just everyday living seems to fill up the day.  I have no idea how people have time to get bored.  I always seem to have something to do – and plenty of stuff I push off till the last minute – mostly because I hate doing those things.  I am a master of procrastination!!!!!!  It’s an art form.

The one thing I get impatient for is the next book in a series.  Yes, I know I already have too many books, thank-you for reminding me.  I DO NOT CARE!  I want certain series and I want them NOW!  Unfortunately even authors are at the mercy of the publishers.  Now Jana Deleon solved that problem by becoming a publisher and her latest Miss Fortune book hit Kindle and Nook this past week.  You guessed it, I bought it the day it was released.  I’ll buy a print copy when one becomes available.  I also checked with Suzanne Johnson, author of the Sentinels if New Orleans series, which was less than thrilling news, the publisher is delaying the release till first quarter next year.  ARGH!  Look, I know the fall is when the coffee table books sell, not fiction, but come on.  It will be almost 18 months between releases.  That is so damn frustrating.  Then Daniel O’Malley, author of the fabulous UF book The Rook, has his follow up written and going thru rewrite now.  Again, maybe next year.  Yes, I did yell at my computer when I read that.

In the mean time, cozy authors are churning 2 to 3 series every year with new books in one or the other every few months.  The stories are so formula that they seem to become the equivalent of those trashy series romances that get churned out every month.  Too many cozy mysteries are just landfill waiting to happen.  Unfortunately that’s become true in a lot of UF as well.  Still, there are bright spots and I found a few this month, so here we go!

Indexing

Indexing takes its title from the ATI (Aarne-Thompson Index) used to codify fairy tale manifestations.  No seriously, that’s the core premise of the book.  Too bad I found it boring as hell.  Seanan is one of my favorite authors.  Fresh, original, clever, and complex, she does first rate urban fantasy.  I was expecting something just as good here as her October Daye series, but I got a weird story that I simply could NOT get into with characters that were more irritating than fascinating.  I will say this, it was original, just not remotely believable and kind of seriously annoying.  Now that said, I do feel I must add I am in the minority here.

The reviews are overwhelmingly favorable on Amazon.  I am surprised. The basic premise is some people are born who are capable of fulfilling the role of a character in a fairy tale – like Sleeping Beauty or the Pied Piper – or the evil witch.  There is this whole organization, ATI Management Bureau, that exists to disrupt any fairy tale manifestation that begins unfolding.  Not sure how you hide all this from Homeland Security, NSA, the CIA (yes, not in the US, HA!), FBI and the NYPD, but OK, let’s give that a pass, even though this is supposedly a government agency and therefore not entirely SECRET.  Still, how many Sleeping Beauties and Prince Charmings are there?  Apparently too many. Now understand, I did not read the serial installments of this story, so I started the book with zero knowledge of what to expect.  As a result, the whole thing came over as episodic and choppy, rather than a smooth, continuous story.  In addition, I simply didn’t care about the characters.  I found the plot annoying rather than interesting and by the end I just wanted it OVER.

If you’re a fairy tale fan, perhaps you’ll like this more than I did.  If you aren’t, be advised to give it a PASS!  Indexing is about one of the characters trying to take over the plotline because she feels she’s been marginalized.   At that point I would have said, “Go for it!  Anything to end this!!!!”  It took longer than that.  Too long. Indexing gets a C- (2.7*) and in fairness, no I do not recommend it.  Again, if you like fairy tales, this may just the book you’re looking for, so go and enjoy.  It’s currently selling for under $9 on Amazon for print and $4 for Kindle.  If you really want it, buy the Kindle version.  Otherwise, just wait for remainders.

******************************************************* Disenchanted

Lynn Viehl has earned a rep in the UF and fantasy field, not one of my usual authors, but this Steampunk book looked more up my alley than her others so I grabbed the print version.  Like Indexing, Disenchanted & Co originally sold as an installment ebook.  There the similarity ends.

Charmain “Kit” Kitteredge is a debunker of all things magical in the city of Rumsen in Toriana (sort for Victoriana, the name of the US in this alternate history where we lost the Revolution and remained a colony of England).  Orphaned as a young teen, she’s had to make her own way, and polite Society was less than kind to her, so she is disinclined to take any commission from their members.  They are both fickle and dangerous.  But a second wife prevails upon her to investigate her husband whom she is convinced is cursed or possessed. Lucian Dredmore, a Deathmage, becomes involved in her investigation as does police Chief Inspector Thomas Doyle, an old childhood friend whom she meets again after many years.  Both Lucian and Tommy have more than professional interest in Kit!  Kit is also very friendly with an eccentric inventor (is there any other kind?) who lives in the sub-basement of her office building and treats her like a favorite niece.  And in the midst of all this, Kit begins believing in magic herself, because it’s the only way to explain what’s happening.  But when a spirit appears to her, she isn’t sure if she’s going mad, or it’s real …… but she trusts the spirit enough to hand over a cursed stone that spirit then destroys.

Soon Kit is held captive by Dredmore and she’s appalled to find herself very attracted to the man.  She knows he’s just trying to keep her safe, but Kit is an independent woman and has no intention of allowing him to control her, even if her client’s husband is doing his best to destroy her and her fledgling business. The story weaves in various plots, creates different races, and ends with a not quite believable sequence where Kit steps thru time to thwart an invasion with Dredmore. Overall, Disenchanted & Co worked, though I found the denouement a bit like that idiot ‘dream sequence’ in Dallas many years ago.  That was the weakest part of the book, along with developing the characters of Kit’s two closest friends, a madame who runs a house of ill repute, and the leading modiste in Rumsen.  Rumsen itself seems to be San Francisco.

I bought Disenchanted & Co and the second book in the series, The Clockwork Wolf, from Amazon for $7.19 each.  I felt I got my money’s worth.  It’s is recommended for fans of the Parasol Protectorate, with the caveat that Carriger’s books are better.  Still, Viehl did a good job with Disenchanted & Co and it gets a B- (3.7*) from me and higher marks on Amazon.

********************************************************** Study-in-silks-lo-res

And here we have another Steampunk style mystery, this time featuring the niece of Sherlock Holmes.  A Study in Silks is the story of a not quite Society girl who is too shrewd and observant living in her best friend’s house with a wealthy family that is several levels above her own place in society.  In this version of Victorian England, it is not the titled aristocrats who rule, but the ruthless ‘Steam Barons’ who control everything, including who does and does not get power to their homes and businesses.  Cross one and you will ‘go dark’ and be shunned, no matter your title. Evelina Cooper is well aware she lives with Imogene’s family on sufferance.  A connection to Sherlock Holmes is hardly enough to lift her into society.  But when a murder occurs in the family home, Imogene gets involved.  And here’s the rub, this book is a ‘new adult’ level read, not a mature adult read.  Romance and plot stay pretty much PG-13 and lose some potential.  But even within the confines of the ‘new adult’ format, it works fairly well.  Not as dark or detailed as a standard adult story, but satisfying enough for most mystery fans.

Evelina also has to hide the fact she has magic.  People with magic are quickly put to death, as the Steam Barons fear and hate them. Magic can have no place in their society ruled by invention.  This places a further strain on the plot as Sherlock Holmes is the most rational man to ever walk thru mystery stories and he fits rather poorly into this world.  Then again, they had Sherlock defeating the Nazis in WWII in the movies and people bought into that so …… eh, deal with it Holmes fans. Given her magical gifts, her less elevated place in society, and rather precarious position in the household as Imogene’s friend, her relationship with Tobias, the son of the steam baron, is doomed from the start.  Involving her Uncle Sherlock and Dr Watson was likely ill advised, especially when someone tries to kill him.  The ending is not really an ending, it merely points to a man we knew to be the bad guy from the start.  (Shades of Moriarty.)

A Study in Silks was ok.  I will say my fellow mystery readers seemed to like it far better than I did, possibly because I get impatient with young adult/new adult stories that seem to have angst.  I don’t like the whole angst thing no matter how it’s done.  I give the book a C+ to B- (3.5*) rating and say it was good, but not as good as many others out there.  Purchased from Amazon for $7.19 it’s a long book, so I suppose it’s worth it, just not to me.

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Swamp Team 3

I broke my own rule on what I’ll pay for an ebook and bought this one for $5.99 the day it was released.  Swamp Team 3 is the fourth book in the Miss Fortune series by Jana Deleon.  Fortune Redding is a CIA assassin with a huge price on her head and an informer in the CIA who set her up with an insane arms dealer in the mid-east.  Now she’s in hiding in wacky Sinful, Louisiana posing as her boss’s niece, Sandy-Sue Morrow, a librarian and former beauty queen.  She immediately became friends with two elderly women, Ida Belle and Gertie, who run the Sinful Ladies Society and turn out to have been Counterintelligence in Viet Nam.

In three weeks in Sinful, Fortune has had more than her fair share of excitement – and interaction with hunky Deputy Carter LeBlanc.  Tonight, however, is a first.  He asked her out to dinner and she said yes.  So Gertie and Ida Belle show up early telling Fortune she needs a ‘day of beauty’ to ‘girlie up’, which is really odd given these two know next to nothing about it.  And so the farce begins.  After many false starts and nearly having her house burned down by Gertie (who refuses to wear her glasses), Fortune and Carter finally get off to dinner………. in New Orleans. Dear God, what will she talk about for 2 hours?  How to kill someone with a Q-tip?  Just as panic is setting in, Carter gets a call that sends them both back to town.  Someone set fire to Ally’s house.  Ally is the first and only female friend her own age that Fortune has.  Naturally, Carter’s admonition she let him handle this falls on deaf ears.

The plot is interesting and more of a mystery than than usual, but with plenty of laugh out loud moments.  Ally is staying with Fortune until its safe for her to go back to her own house.  Her neighbor, a nut case, sics a bobcat on Fortune, Gertie, and Ida Belle when they sneak in his yard.  There are mob guys from New Orleans, a stalker, and always Cater catching them doing things they shouldn’t.  The end is cute.

Swamp Team 3 is a fast and furious romp, not to be taken too seriously.  It’s as frothy as a romantic comedy movie, and about as deep.  The characters are good, and the plot was better than average, pacing is good, and the ending good as well.  I like the Ally character and she doesn’t get quite a co-star role, but at least a bigger part than in the earlier books.  If you enjoy a good humorous mystery, get the book.  My grade is B- (3.8*) and hope that Ms DeLeon picks up some of the assassin elements from the start of the story in Louisiana Longshot in the next installment.

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Dead_Between_the_Lines

Denise Swanson writes the Scrumble River mysteries, that tend to annoy me, and the Devereaux Dime series, which is turning into a better than average cozy series.  Dead Between the Lines is the third book and has a plot that folds in an element of pop culture. A man who is the real author of a book like ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ under a female pen name and made a fortune, even though he hates it and does not just wish to dominate women, but abuse them as well, is speaking to the book club about a volume of poems he published that takes shots at women and small town life in a bitter and denigrating way.

Dev left her high powered life and moved back to her hometown to look after her grandmother who is in the early stages of Alzheimer’s.  Now she’s trying to make ends meet running the dime store, playing hostess to various clubs and serving them refreshment (for a fee, of course), and making gift baskets, each uniquely themed.  This is the first time she’s had the book club in and the guest speaker is an obnoxious, misogynistic poet who thinks all women should be ‘taught their place’.  The book club all but runs him out – but he’s sure to collect his fee – and Dev says good riddance.   Only it wasn’t.  His body is found out back the next day.

Once again, Dev lands squarely in the middle of a murder.  And just as squarely between her high school boyfriend, Dr. Noah Underwood and US Marshall Jake Del Vecchio.  The plot is above average, the pacing and action better than usual, and the ending satisfying as few cozies are.

Dead Between the Lines is well written, the characters are well developed. and the pacing never lags.  Dev is used to taking charge and making decisions, but doesn’t get absurd.  Both Noah and Jake are well done and Dev’s relationship with the men works at the moment, but can’t go on that way indefinitely.  Dead Between the Lines gets a B(4*) rating and $7.19 is at the high end of what it’s worth.

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Resistance Man

Martin Walker writes on of the better foreign mystery series with his Bruno, Chief of Police books.  The Resistance Man is the 6th book in the series and like the others, this one folds together current crimes with those of the past.  In this case, it’s the story of a massive theft of gold and currency from a German train as the Occupation is ending and Germans are leaving and the Resistance strikes one of its most effect blows.  What happened to all that money and gold has been speculated for decades, but the French have always taken a worldly approach to life and chose not to look to closely as suddenly rich Resistance fighters after the war.

The natural death of an elderly man, a missing women, a gay couple beaten and robbed, a crime at a foreigner’s house where antiques and art were stolen, and some questionable dealings in a company all seem unrelated.  The theft gets top billing because the Brit is very politically connected – and a ‘former’ spymaster – who might not be all that former.  And an academic writing a book about France’s nuclear arms program finds her source documents missing.

Woven into this series of seemingly unrelated events is Bruno’s final acceptance of the vast gulf between himself and Isabelle, the ambitious woman he cares for, and as always, all the little details of life in the quiet French countryside that is changing slowly into the modern times.

One of the things I like about Martin Walker’s books is the way he makes them work on several levels at once.  He effortlessly weaves in history, slice of life atmosphere of the Perigord region of France, the life of Bruno and his fellow villagers, and the over-arcing mystery of the crime that has been committed – crime that always sees its roots in the past.  The Resistance Man does that very well indeed.  He does it with respect for history, the characters, and the plot.

The Resistance Man gets a solid B (4*) from me and a recommended read for mystery fans or those who enjoy their mysteries with more substance than fluff and with a decidedly foreign flair.  I bought the hardcover from Amazon for about $20, which is steep for a relatively short book.  Wait for the paperback – likely tradesize, or borrow it from the library, but do give this excellent series a try.  Walker has made a few minor missteps in his books, but taken as a whole, he’s done excellent work that’s well worth reading.

February 25, 2014

A Simple Dish

Filed under: Editorial,General,Musing on life — toursbooks @ 4:51 pm
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There’s one place a cook can never hide anything, from skill to freshness of ingredients – in a simple dish.  There is nowhere to go if its wrong.  Everything hinges on a good ingredient, and quick simple preparation.  No sauce, no spices, no heaping pile of herbs, to bury it under.  Just the food.  Unfortunately, somewhere we, as a country, lost our way and only in recent years discovered the joy of being a ‘locavore’.

One of the reasons food tastes better in season is because it’s local and allowed to get riper on the plant, tree, or vine.  Peaches, raspberries, strawberries, tomatoes, melons, green beans, corn, you name it and fresh picked is amazing.  My mom taught American history and I can remember her telling us early settlers would have huge pots of boiling water at the edge of the fields to immediately cook the corn, because the sugars turned to starch so quickly and changed the flavor.  Yeah, it really does matter.  Who knew we were ‘locavores’ before there was such a thing?  At the time, everyone was a ‘locavore’.  The very fact it’s named speaks volumes about how much our food supplies have changed over the years.

Millions of people today don’t have the chance to get fresh picked fruits and vegetables, especially home grown.  It’s not like city high rises come with big gardens.  I was lucky, my dad loved to grow food.  I was always more of a flower person, but even I grew tomatoes, bush beans, zucchini, and spinach.  There is simply nothing like picking tomatoes and just standing in the garden with fruit still warm from the sun in your hand, and biting into it.  You immediately start picking up the differences in flavors of each variety and the huge gap between ‘store bought’ and ‘grow your own’.  Best apple pie I ever made was from these smallish apples of unknown variety from the tree in our yard and every year I put up 32 quarts of spiced pears from our over productive Bosc pear tree.

Not all veggies are easy to grow.  Corn needs multiple rows, or circle planting, to get the pollen spread.  You can’t plant members of the extensive cabbage family in the same place each year.  Tomatoes also need rotation or extensive soil amendments.  Spinach, lettuce, cabbage (including broccoli and cauliflower) do best in cooler areas.  Corn, tomatoes, green beans, sweet and hot peppers, eggplant all need lots of sun and water.  Blueberries and raspberries need pruning and proper support – and often netting to keep birds from eating everything.  No, gardening isn’t just toss the plant in the ground and water when you think of it.  It takes a lot of work and is anything but cheap.

Many of us have neither the time nor the space for our own gardens, or the skill sets and patience to keep them properly.  Local farmer’s markets are a treasure trove of locally grown food, and all you have to do is drive there.  Commercial farms must grow produce that can withstand the rigors of transport and storage, not to mention a fairly long shelf life.  Engineers customer design seed to produce durable, stable produce – and they sacrifice the single most important factor – taste and very often texture to improve durability and maintain an appearance.  Local farmers grow tastier foods and pick them close to their peak flavor.

As we all too slowly move into spring (ASPARAGUS!), get local stuff whenever you can.  Farmer’s markets often don’t open till late June, so try and find a farm stand for early stuff like asparagus, broccoli, spinach and other cool weather veggies.  The taste is just so much better.  Vegetables should be firm, crisp, and juicy.  Fruits should SMELL like fruit.  The beautiful box of strawberries – big, perfect, and red, that have no smell, will have the taste and texture of cardboard.  Raspberries, blueberries, same thing.  Just sniff the package.  No strong fruit scent, no sale.  Even melons, sniff them – well, not watermelon, the rind is too thick, but cantaloupe and others should SMELL SWEET and smell like the fruit.  You’re better off with frozen berries than fresh ones that look great and have no flavor.

Vegetables should be firm, not flexible.  Green beans are meant to SNAP when broken, not bend.  Corn – the best eating corn IMHO being Silver Queen – a sweet white corn with a fairly short season – or, butter and sugar corn – a yellow and white hybrid with a much longer season, should have very firm kernels tight to the cob and the crowns rounded with moisture that spits when you break the skin.  The lack of a full ear of kernels usually indicates lack of water in the growing season.  It’s not awful, but make sure what’s there is in really good shape. Cook and eat it fast, and always cook with sugared water, not salted.  Same for peas, even if you buy frozen (the one veggie that’s usually a far better choice frozen than fresh), use sugar.  Why?  Corn, peas, carrots, and onions, especially pearl onions, have high sugar content.  In short, they are SWEET.  They can get tough if cooked with salt, so add a couple of tablespoons of sugar to the vat of water you boil to cook your corn in and use unsalted butter then salt as you eat.  Amazing flavor.  Remember, these are starchy vegetables because their natural sugars covert to starch after they’re picked – and it happens fast, so try and get the freshest you can.

Tomatoes are the quintessential summer food.  For many years feared poisonous because it’s related to belladonna, tomatoes are a native American favorite.  Italian food as we know it today owes a lot to Mesoamericans, along with potatoes, corn (maize), and such diverse things as cashews, pecans, wild rice (a seed), peanuts, other goodies.  Columbus may not have found the gold. silver, and spices he sought, but the food alone would end up feeding millions.

I can make a meal of good bread, fresh tomatoes sliced and salted, maybe with fresh cucumber, and some cheese.  What a great meal on a hot day with fresh lemonade.  When I’d go up and see my dad during summer and early fall, we ‘d go pick our meal from his garden – corn, tomatoes, green beans, and walk in the house where I cook it while he grilled steaks.  As often as not, we’d pig out on all the fresh vegetables and forget the steaks, using them for sandwiches the next day.  Since I often stopped at a neighbor who sold fresh raspberries by the pint from an old card table with an honor jar for paying, we’d have just fruit and ice cream for dessert.  It was incredible.  I never had better in a five star restaurant.

One of the early vegetables, along with spinach, is asparagus.  Now asparagus requires a LOT of work to establish, but once set, beds yield for 20 years or more.  It’s inexpensive and plentiful.  Good, fresh asparagus does not need sauce, and it shouldn’t have shades of grey going on, or be so hard it’s like wood.  To keep bitterness away, get out the vegetable peeler and peel the skin.  Yup, sounds silly, but tastes great.  Learned that trick over 40 years ago watching one of the early cooking shows on PBS and never stopped using it!  I never use some custom asparagus pot to cook it either – who has room for all that crap?  Get out the 12 inch skillet with a glass lid, arrange the spears no more than two deep, add a LITTLE water (quarter inch max), a dash of Kosher salt, and steam quickly – shaking the pans to move the spears around.  Another trick learned from PBS – The Galloping Gourmet, I think. Cooked asparagus should be bright green and barely fork tender when done – depending on thickness, 5 minutes or less.  No hollandaise, it’s unnecessary, and personally, I think it ruins good asparagus.  Use  a little squeeze of lemon or some lemon zest if you like.

Now spring and Easter always meant a ham dinner for us.  I had an aunt born in April who requested the same dinner every year, ham, homemade scalloped potatoes, baby peas, and for dessert, rice pudding with apricot or raspberry sauce, brown sugar shortbread, and cranberry orange nut quickbread.  With drinks, I usually made spanakopita turnovers with phyllo dough, fried zucchini with a honey mustard dip, and usually one or two other special requests.

Fourth of July was grilling time, usually game hens or chicken, cold tri-color macaroni and shrimp salad with a yogurt and mayo dressing studded with pieces of green and red sweet peppers and bits of sweet onion and sprinkled with slivered green onion, a big plate of garden tomatoes, early corn if it could be found, and for dessert a huge deep dish blueberry cream tart made with fresh Jersey berries.

August was steaks, tomatoes, steamed (on the grill, wrapped in foil) new potatoes with sweet onions, corn on the cob, and whole green beans.  Dessert was ice cream and fresh fruit, usually peaches.

Come early September another aunt chose her birthday menu and she liked pork loin.  We’d have corn on the cob and tomatoes again because we wanted all we could get before they stopped being available.  Pan roast new potatoes with onions with rosemary, carrots, and steamed broccoli.

Later in fall I’d cook the meat outside as long as I could before putting the Webber Kettle and hardwood charcoal away for the winter, but all the rest would be done inside.  Apples wrapped in pastry would show up, or a big pan of apple crisp.  Through all those months, the meat was enjoyed, but sometimes forgotten while we wallowed in the seasonal fruits and vegetables we’d be doing without in winter.  Yes, imports keep fresh food in our markets year round, but its no match for locally grown in flavor or texture and you pat dearly for lower quality.

OK, how did I learn all this?  Well, gardening I learned from Dad and extensive gardening books.  Cooking from books.  Yes, Mom was a brilliant teacher and thought Kraft Macaroni and Cheese was a gift from God.  All her cakes were born in a box.  No, I did not learn to cook from Mom.

In learning to cook, I read many books about food, the ones that were most helpful were ones that explained HOW food cooks and WHY you do things a certain way.  When I was really young, A&P offered the Woman’s Day Encyclopedia of Cooking.  Tall, slim hardcover books that were filled with photos, instructions, great reference materials on everything from varieties of apples (and what they are best used for) to basic how to cooking techniques.  It was a surprisingly well done series that I own to this day.  Naturally, I had The Joy of Cooking, but it was Vincent and Mary Price’s A Treasury of Great Recipes that really got me going.  Their own recipe for Chicken Sweet and Hot, modified by me (as most are), became a family favorite.  For learning how to make all kinds of desserts, no one does a better job with detailed instructions than Madia Heatter.  Her Book of Great Desserts proves that easy can be amazing, though her Black Velvet Cake was amazing – and took considerable time, patience, and skill.  I’ve been collecting and using regional cookbooks for years.  The Romagnolis Table is just excellent for Italian and their rolled, stuffed veal breast recipe is amazing, one of my all time favorites.

Cookbooks focus on fresh ingredients.  In simple dishes, like scalloped potatoes, you have little room for error.  No, scalloped potatoes are NOT born in a box.  You use thin skinned new potatoes, waxy and very firm, peal them, slice them, DRY EACH SLICE, and the hard part is done.  Butter a large shallow baking dish, finely mince some shallot, place potato slices overlapping slightly in the dish, sprinkle with shallot and bits of butter, salt, and a few grinds of pepper, if desired.  Repeat for no more than 4 layers.  Heat 2 parts heavy cream and 1 part whole milk with sliced garlic.  Strain over the potato layers and bake at 400F till brown, bubbly and the potatoes are fork tender.  The trick?  THINLY SLICING AND DRYING THE POTATOES!  Yup.  Simple as that and using heavy cream with higher solids than milk.  You need to get rid of all that water, so you need to peel and slice quickly, never put them in cold water, have the warm cream mix ready and – BAM – scalloped potatoes.  Some like to layer grated Gruyere in the middle and on top and finish with a touch of nutmeg (technically Potatoes Dauphinoise).  I prefer not to, but go with your choice.  It needs no starch to thicken it, and the waters cook off and natural potato starch with thicken what’s left.  There’s not a lot of ‘sauce’, nor is there supposed to be.

Is there any dish easier than baked potato?  Apparently, we’ve had a whole generation grow up thinking baked potatoes get wrapped in foil.  NEVER, EVER WRAP A POTATO IN FOIL TO BAKE IT!  Baked potatoes should be light and fluffy, the skins crispy and tasty, it should not be hard inside!  Wrapping potatoes in foil leaves the insides, hard, wet, and blah.  They need to release steam as they cook to have the right texture and flavor.  A good baked potato doesn’t need piles of sour cream, cheese, chives, bacon or anything else.  When the potato comes out of the oven, split it open while piping hot and release any additional steam.  Here are simple directions for the perfect baked potato.  Get long Idaho russet potatoes that are heavy and firm and free of eyes.  Scrub them well under cold water and dry completely using paper towels.  Now use a very thin, sharp knife or meat fork and pierce the potatoes through on both sides multiple times so all the steam (natural water content) can escape.  Rub the skin with a little olive oil and set the potatoes on the rack in a HOT oven, about 375-400F for an hour to 90 minutes depending on size.  Immediately split open and let additional steam escape.  Fluff up the filling with a fork and add butter, salt and pepper to taste.  My parents would cut the potato in half, scrape out the soft inside, let us add the butter and salt or gravy we wanted and put pats of butter in the crispy skins.  We weren’t allowed to eat the skins till after we ate our vegetables.  Would we eat fast!  The skin is the best part!

Other tricks?  How about tomatoes?  NEVER REFRIGERATE TOMATOES!  It causes irreversible chemical changes that dramatically lowers and changes the flavor profile.  Never buy tomatoes offered for sale from a refrigerator case.  You’re better off with quality canned tomatoes to make sauce than crappy fresh one.  Peaches – ok, here’s news, fresh peaches, once picked, don’t ripen, they rot.  That’s why they get soft.  Buy ripe local ones and do the sniff test.  It they don’t have a strong peach scent, they’ll be tasteless.  Never use sweet onions in long cooking dishes like soups and stews.  Sweet onions have a very high water content, which is why the spoil, unlike long keeping Spanish and yellow onions.  They literally disappear in long cooking dishes and the their very mild flavor just won’t stand up.  They are perfect for salads, quick saute’s, even for doing foil wrapped steamed veggies on your grill – a place I use them all the time.  But you need to use different ones for cooked foods.  Corn on the cob – you need a big pan of water that you sugar as it boils, drop in the ears of corn, time maximum 5 minutes, remove the corn and eat immediately with butter and salt.  No, you don’t wait for the corn to boil again, it’s cooking in the near boiling water and fresh corn stays sweet and crunchy, never mushy.  The longer you cook it, the mushier and strong the flavor.  Overcooked corn is the most common bad food served in restaurants – along with undercooked veggies that frankly would taste better if cooked a bit longer.

Fresh food, plain and simple.  It will be the best you have all year and is worth the effort to find.  It will be the food experience of your life.  Try and find a good source for crusty bread with a dense, moist interior, a formerly common product now scarce as hens teeth.  There is just no substitute for good bread, the perfect foil for summer tomatoes.  Maybe salt, pepper, butter (I only use unsalted, but my brother thinks it ‘tastes funny’.  Actually, it tastes like BUTTER!), or sugar, a squeeze of lemon juice, that’s about all fresh fruit or veggies need.  The flavors are intense – and amazing.  And unforgiving of over-cooking or mishandling.  That’s it.  No elaborate sauce, no complicated preparations needed, no fancy pans or advanced cooking skills.  Now go out and learn how to be a ‘locavore’ and enjoy the simple pleasure of plain, delicious food.

February 21, 2014

Short reviews: eBooks and ARC’s of Humorous Mysteries and Paranormals

I HATE SNOW!  OK, let me modify that, I HATE WINTER!  There, that’s better.  I hate snow, ice, wind, cold, and short days.  And with snow almost up to my windowsills, I’ve had it with the white stuff.  I keep reminding myself that winter is almost over.  It could be worse.  We could have had all this crap since December. …………….. It’s not working.  Anyone foolish enough to send me a postcard with a beach and palm trees is getting wiped off the face of the Earth.  Not that I’m in a bad mood or or anything, but I HATE WINTER!

Maybe I am kind of in a bad mood, but jeeze, this has been one long, cold winter.  Now I know parts of the country have had it far worse than we have, but when the snow on your lawn is piled about 9 feet high, and your front walk is a sheet of ice, that’s not a lot of consolation.  That thaw scheduled for later this week better happen, because getting rid of all this crap will take a LONG time and it needs to hurry up and START NOW!

It has been good weather for reading, it being kind of the perfect indoor activity that requires no effort at all.  I’ve done a lot of it in the last 6 weeks.  Print and a surprising number of ebooks.  While I don’t much care for reading books on my old Kindle, the Kindle app for my laptop works well for me.  Plus I can get a lot of ‘throw away’ mysteries for low prices and most ARC’s (advance reading copies) are ebooks.  Frankly, I wouldn’t spend a lot on an ebook due to the sharing restrictions, but it is convenient.

So, one of my favorite ‘entertainment’ genres is humorous mystery, and I’ve reviewed the Diner series by Terri L. Austin, the Dirty series by Liliana Hart, and the Deadwood series by Ann Charles before.  This time its the Cueball series by Cindy Blackburn.  While not quite as good as Austin’s Diner books, there were a lot fun.

In addition to the Cue Ball mysteries, I also received 3 ARC’s of soon to be released paranormals and mysteries.  So this post will be all ebooks.  The new releases I bought will wait for a later post.  Now ARC’s have not been proofed, so I hope all the grammatical errors are fixed, but for once, no complaints about the books themselves.  Certainly, many of the self-published books have errors, but then I’m a bit more forgiving on them.  When I’m paying $10-$12 for a trade paperback, I get bit more critical.  SO here we go, new series, new installments, and and ending for one of favorite series.

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  Cue Ball 1  Cue ball 2  Cue Ball Mysteries  Cue Ball 4

In Playing with Poison, Ms Blackburn introduces the core set of characters for the series.  Police Captain Wilson Rye, has seen a lot in his years as a cop, but Jessica Hewitt is something else.  Well, really something else.  Divorced, a romance author of ‘near pornographic’ romances under pen name Adelé (pronounced Add-a-lay, homage to her writing style) Nightingale, and a pool shark taught by one of the best in the game, her late father Leon “Cue It” Hewitt.  Jessie is also briefly a murder suspect when her neighbor Candy’s fiance Stanley staggers into her apartment and dies on her sofa.  Candy is a slightly ditsy lingerie saleswoman, and very sweet girl.  Now Jessie involvement causes lots of unwanted publicity, thanks to obnoxious reporter Jimmy Beak, but that does nothing but cause her book sales to go thru the roof, making Geez Louise her agent very happy.  It also has Jessie playing amateur detective, much to the annoyance of Captain Rye, who is quite taken with Jessie, despite her being 5 years older.  Also in the small circle of friends of the recently divorced Jessie made is Karen, brilliant at woodworking and building custom furniture, and downstairs neighbor in the home turned condo she bought after her divorce.  The original owner of the building, an aged music teacher and cranky old man, Mr Henderson, has the first floor, and finally, bartender Bryce, perennial student and their good buddy from the local watering hole just across the street.

The plot of Playing with Poison is decent, the characters enjoyable and prose light and breezy in the Steph Plum mold, but with the OTT animal nonsense.  I’d give a C+ to B- (3.7*) and say it was worth $2.99 it cost.

Book 2 is Double Shot and it has Jessie going ‘undercover’ for Rye at a bar cum pool dive to investigate a murder.  Despite the far fetched premise, it was a decent read and Mr Henderson becomes is normal cheerful self now that his medications are straightened out.  Again, about a C+ (3.5*) and worth the $2.99 for entertainment.

Three Odd Balls finds everyone except Mr Henderson in Hawaii for a sudden Christmas trip – that Jessie planned for her and Rye, but ended up with not only the whole gang, but her 80-something mother and Rye’s teen son from his first marriage as well.  Strangely, they’re alone at a beautiful, if badly managed resort run by two brothers, one surly and unpleasant, the other cheerful, but none too bright or organized.  Of the four books, I thought this one the best plotted and with the best extra characters.  My score is B- (3.8*) and a suggested read.  At $2.99, it was the best buy.

While Three Odd Balls was the best, Four Play was the most annoying.  The plot was decent enough, but the dialogue was lame with way too many “She’s scary, isn’t she?”  Centered around the death of a much loved high school teacher, who’s body was found on Jessie’s car that she loaned to her former neighbor, now a high school junior.  Jessie also becomes the target of demonstrators who want to ‘ban’ her smutty books – too bad Jessie can’t seem to dredge up a single sex scene for her current novel set in the old West.  This one gets a C (3*) from me.  While all the books have diversions into what are supposedly Adelé’s lurid novels, this one kind of drove me nuts because it’s so focused on her ‘plot plight’ and Jimmy Beak.  The best part is the ending where she catches the killer on stage on camera.

Overall, the series was pretty good and well worth the $2.99 per ebook. I will follow this one.

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Bite Me Laurenston

Bite Me is due out March 25 and I got an advance ebook to read.  Shelly Laurenston writes a really funny apology for the cover art that’s a must read.  The story is one I looked forward to, the one of Livy, the honey badger friend of Toni Jean-Lousie Parker, and Victor Barinov, a bear-tiger hybrid that occasionally works with Dee Ann.  Both were introduced in Wolf With Benefits and, frankly, were the best part of that otherwise tedious story.

Bite Me sees Laurenston back in her usual off-beat form with strong characters, a really good plot (something she usually wings), hot sex, a unique set of supporting characters, and plot twists to keep things interesting.  It’s almost impossible to give a plot synopsis without giving too much away, so I’ll just say a giant panda is added to the cast along a group of honey badgers that are memorable.

Now Livy and Vic Barinov are characters that many people won’t like.  I loved them.  They aren’t the usual type for Laurenston and she really seemed to enjoy writing this one.  Livy is more like one of her female leads in her GA Aiken Dragon Kin books – reminding me of Annwyl the Bloody.  If you like Dragon, Actually, then you’ll like Bite Me.  It worth reading for the visit to Honeyville and jousting alone.  It gets a solid B (4*) from me, in large part do to the well above average plot and unique characters.

I have the print book on order and I left it on order after reading the ARC.  Print is currently $9 on Amazon and I’d say it was a suggested buy for fans of Laurenston’s G. A. Aiken Dragon Kin books as they come closer to characters here than the bulk of her Pride series books do.

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White Magic five and dime

Steve Hockensmith is well known for his Holmes on the Range series of mysteries set in the 1890′s out West featuring Big Red and Old Red Amlingmeyer.  This contemporary series he co-authors with Lisa Falco, a new author, and apparently the reason the lead characters here are female.

Alanis McLaughlin made a new life for herself, free of her grifter con-artist mother, but her past comes back when a lawyer contacts her to let her know her mother died and she is named sole heir in her will.  It not an inheritance she wants, but she leaves her job the best the best loan seller in a Chicago boiler room operation that’s legit, and heads to a small town north of Sedona where tarot readers and general con-artists fleece willing tourists and locals alike.  Much to her surprise, her mom managed to settle down and actually OWNED The White Magic Five and Dime, a shop full of mystic junk with a room tarot readings where her mom made her real money.  But it’s apartment upstairs that holds the real shock, a young woman who live with

Weaving current events surrounding her mother’s less than legal activities and flashbacks to her unconventional childhood, the story unfolds.   While interesting, I never really connected completely with the characters.  The solution was very well done and unlike far too many mysteries, it was a surprise.  The setting, a small version of new age Sedona, was fairly well drawn and the many side stories had interesting characters.

The White Magic Five and Dime gets a C+ to B- (3.5*) from me.  While interesting and well paced, I never connected with Alanis the way I did with, say, Jonathan Gnash’s Lovejoy or other rather seedy lead characters.  Currently selling at $12-13.50 in pre-order, I can’t rate it a buy, but for lover’s of the Holmes books, it might be worth the price of a used copy or make sure the local library gets it in.  Due for release in July this year.

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Banishing the dar

Banishing the Dark is the final installment of the Arcadia Bell series, one of better and more original urban fantasy series out there, and at just 4 books, one of the shorter ones.  Due for publication late May, I had an ebook ARC.

When we left Cady in Binding the Shadows, she’d killed the head of the Hellfire Club and been dealing with her becoming scaly – complete with tail – and her mom planning on taking over her body, her baby, and ruling Earth.  Seriously, the woman is the biggest egomaniac ever!  She also had to tell her partner in the bar the truth about who she was.  Frightened of what she’s becoming, afraid of hurting Lon or his son Jupe, not to mention the coming confrontation with evil, and very powerful, mother, Cady plans to go it alone, but nether Lon or Jupe are going to let that happen.

Cady is thwarted at every turn.  The one leader who knew the truth of her existence and might offer clues on how to defeat her mother is dead.  Having killed the head of the Hellfire Club, she’s in deep trouble with the locals.  And somehow, she must unravel the complex spell her mother created when conceiving her, it’s the only way to stop the changes and to stop her mother from taking over the world.

The story is not just about events, but how you perceive them, the interpretation of what it means.  And to some extent, it is also about the power of love.  Banishing the Dark was a satisfying, if slightly predictable, ending to a really well written series.  I give it a B- (3.8*) and a must read for anyone who has enjoyed the earlier books, and the whole series is a recommended read for fans of urban fantasy.  I give Ms Bennett credit for a solid, well written, and original series with an equally solid wrap-up.  Too many times these things string past the point where they should end.  This one did not. Kudos.

February 1, 2014

Starting 2014 with a …………. THUD and Some Modest Applause

The year got off to a busy start with a raft of ebook humorous mysteries that I enjoyed and will review separately.  It also started with a bunch of dead tree books that honestly could have been skipped.

OK, I know not every book is good, but seriously, some authors just phone it in these days.  Janet Evanovich is famous for it, cozy writers have formulas that are so predictable, 30 pages in, you’re done.  Now Julie Garwood is doing it.  Yeah, yeah, I know she was hardly a great romantic suspense writer to start with, her early historicals being the best and most polished work she’s done, but seriously, she is plumbing new lows.

Hotshot

In Hotshot, we have a classic Garwood set up of an insanely handsome FBI agent/lawyer/former Olympic gold medalist/champion triathlete (who is likely also an organ donor and loves animals), and woman in jeopardy (who is also a trained chef) – of course it follows they were childhood neighbors and he saved her from drowning when he was a teen and she was a small child.  And naturally they meet at a wedding, Finn MacBain being the older brother of the groom and Peyton Lockhart being the little girl who is now all grown up – and naturally beautiful.  She’s also the woman with a serious problem.  Her dream job of food critic at a well known publication came with more strings than she knew of – namely a boss who is a sexual predator.  But she records him and runs, leaving him thinking he’s erased the recording, not realizing she had a back-up.  So we now have the kind of lame villain of the piece – who is friends with a psycho not averse to killing and married to an equally skanky and amoral woman who is the magazine owner’s daughter.

Enter wealthy Uncle Len who offers Peyton and her two sisters a shot at owning one of his resorts if they can pull off the renovations and increase profit 20% – it’s theirs.  Or they can each have $500,000.  They take the resort on an island off the coast of Florida and Peyton thinks she’s free of the sleazeball former boss.  Soon Finn is back in the picture and the story, which was about a lifelike as cutout dolls manages to go downhill.  Finn is a alpha moron wallowing in angst of ‘I am a loner’ crap.  Peyton is ……….. jeeze, not much.  A quip?  A bit of snark?  Sadly 2 dimensional and the whole magazine thing is just ludicrous.

No real tension, flat characters, only occasionally intelligent, spritely dialogue, and so BORING it was just stupid.  Honestly, there was not one memorable character in the book and the really unbelievable final scene that had me rolling my eyes.  Hotshot was a waste of time, money, and paper.  Only ardent Garwood fans will think this good.  Save your money and buy something else.  A comic book would be an improvement.

My grade is D+ (2.7*) and that’s mostly for a couple of supporting characters.  Skip it.  Purchased used from Amazon for $6 – which is $5.99 more than it was worth.

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takedown twenty

And the current Queen of Phone It In strikes again.  In Takedown Twenty Janet Evanovich does another feather light, plotless piece of fluff.  I honestly would love to give you story highlights, but a giraffe running through the streets of Trenton and being ignored by the area residents is beyond even my wild imagination.  Steph needs to bring in Morelli’s godfather and Uncle, a mob hit man, who jumped bail.  His feared Gramdma Bella keeps giving Steph ‘the eye’ and even Morelli, still recovering from the gunshot wound, won’t help.  He and his cohorts are busy looking for a serial killer of elderly ladies.

The elusive Uncle Lou and the giraffe are the only plot in the book – meringue has more substance.  Plus it’s short.  Maybe 3 hours if you read at a modest pace.  Given the fact book is selling for over $15 new, and it has little to offer, you have a “Give this one a miss” recommendation.  Borrow it from the library – or just sit and read it there, because it won’t take long.  You’ll laugh in a couple of places, just like you would at the Three Stooges, but when it’s over it will disappear in a puff of smoke.

Takedown Twenty gets a D+ (2.7*).  I got the book for free from an online book swap site.  If you MUST read this, buy it super cheap used or borrow it.  Even the mmpb will be over priced at $7.99.  Not worth the money.

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Grendel affair

Lisa Shearin is well known to fantasy readers for her Raine Benares series, but in The Grendel Affair, first in her new SPI series, she enters the wide world of Urban Fantasy.  Combining her fantasy skills with an action/mystery element set in today’s NYC, Ms Shearin has another winner.  Told in the first person by her female lead character, seer Makenna ‘Mac’ Fraser, this fast paced story weaves together a set of characters in a plot that is interesting and a bit different.

Makeena has her degree in journalism, but the only job she can get is with a sleazy tabloid that runs stories about space invaders and leprechauns.  Thing is, as a seer, Makeena does see all manner of paranormal beings for what they really are, not the human illusions they use to mask their true selves, so her stories are actually true – even though no one believes it and she can’t tell them how she knows without running the risk of getting locked up for being nuts.  Many are just ordinary creatures working like anyone else, but some are not.  Some are predators.  Mac gets a job offer for a private security company run by a female dragon lady – that is a real dragon who looks like a very classy lady.  She’s partnered with a former cop, the human Ian Byrne, who shows up just as she’s about to try and capture a nachtgnome at the slightly illegal ‘antiques’ business her sort of friend and snitch Ollie runs.  The night went south when she was almost mugged then attacked by a vampire who knew her name – and chased off by the mysterious would be mugger.

A murder in the office above the shop – a gruesome murder that they should have heard – lands them in jail and then on the trial of what the creatures were after.  The complex plot spins out with action and interest.  A relative short book at just under 300 pages, it’s both entertaining and well written.  Parts of the plot are a bit predictable, but it’s big short-coming the world building.  The reader must buy into the premise that a huge paranormal security business could run in New York City, interfere in police cases, and get very publicly involved in accidents and such, and go undetected by the police and FBI.  Now you either ignore this and enjoy The Grendel Affair, or it will nag at you and you won’t.

The other issue is Mac herself.  Supposedly from down south, she’s a bit ‘girly’ for the role she plays.  Granted, part of the book is about her getting respect for abilities beyond being a seer, a rare gift that few humans have, but part of it is the credibility gap this creates.  The quality of Ms Shearin’s writing mostly covers this and allows the reader to just enjoy the book, but in retrospect, you see the holes.  The dialogue is sharp and witty, the plot fast moving – which helps to hide things – and the ending rather predictable.

The Grendel Affair gets a C+ to B- (3.5*) from with a tentative suggested read.  It’s not top quality, but is a fast, enjoyable read.  We’ll see how she does with characters and world building issues in subsequent books.  At $7.19 + tax, it’s kind of borderline, so buy it used if you can.  Got it free thru a book swap site.  I’ll pass it along.

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Something About Harry

The latest in Dakota Cassidy’s Accidental series of paranormal romance set at Pack Cosmetics.  Harry Ralph Emmerson calls OOPS (Out in the Open Paranormal Support) hotline and gets the anything but supportive, razor tongued vampire, Nina.  The opening scene with the two of them on the phone is a highlight of the whole book.  Harry took an online test that seems to indicate he’s turning into a werewolf, which is very freaky given he thinks he got it from drinking vitamin water.

Only thing is, it wasn’t vitamin water, is was a formulation created by the pack alpha’s sister and research scientist, Mara Flaherty.  Mara has a crush on Harry, a human employee of the pack’s cosmetic business and she made an awkward pass at him at a company party, something that still makes her squirm in embarrassment, so she decides heck with finding a mate, she’ invent a formulation to get herself pregnant (which is without doubt the dumbest plot device ever invented) and puts it in a vitamin water bottle – the one Harry drank right before he started getting furry.  And that is where I kind of lost it.  Mara is a scientist who thinks she needs to drink an elixir to get pregnant?  Did she miss basic biology for mammals??????  OK, it’s fantasy, but still, you don’t get to rewrite something as basic as that for the sake of a plot device.

Anyway, if you can get past that bonehead issue, the book is actually pretty decent, but that’s a BIG issue to get past.  Then you have the tension created by the fact Harry is a widower with a young daughter who needs care as he very unwillingly becomes a werewolf, and the fact that Mara violated pack law by turning a human without permission, something even her pack alpha brother can’t fix.  So the ladies of OOPS step up and try and help – though Nina’s idea of ‘helping’ is a half bubble off plum – and usually pretty funny.

The accidental series is basically lighthearted fun paranormal romance.  The plots often stretch credulity to the break point, but they have good time doing it and they usually have a serious side, as this one does.  If you can check you common sense at the door, they are fun reads, but the plot devices are outrageous, and this one a bit harder because the Mara is a scientist.

Something About Harry gets a C- (2.8*) from me, but gets 4.5* on Amazon.  Obviously romance fans can buy into the premise more easily than I did.  Dakota Cassidy writes well, and has quite a sense of humor.  If you can get past the ‘pregnancy elixir’ thing, this will be a fun read with a surprising twist at the end.  For hardcore fans of Cassidy and paranormal romance this is a good choice, but at $11-$12, I suggest buying it used.  My copy came thru a online book swap site.

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Bitter-Spirits-final-high-res

I’m a big fan of Jenn Bennett’s Arcadia Bell series, so I didn’t hesitate to pre-order this first book in her new Roaring Twenties series.  I have to admit, it is NOT what I expected, but it was still good.   I honestly thought this would a 1920′s Steampunk book, but instead, I got a paranormal romance.

Aida Palmer makes her way in the world with the precarious living of a medium act in speakeasies around the country.  It’s a hard living, but she’s slowly built a reputation and hopes someday she can settle down and eventually have enough private customers to stop traveling and make a home for herself.  For now, a tiny apartment in San Francisco’s Chinatown new where she works is home while she performs at the Gris-Gris speakeasy in Chinatown for SF’s elite.  Winter Magnusson is a bootlegger who is attracted to her.  A widower with a lot of emotional baggage and someone trying to destroy his business.

The book capture’s the atmosphere, setting, and time period well enough.  The bad guy was obvious to me, but then I’m a mystery reader.  The characters are well drawn and like Aida’s spirit and her independence.  She reminded me of two great aunts who actually WERE flappers in their youth.  Well written and supporting characters were good.  BUT …….. this is not anything like her far more complex world of Arcadia Bell.  So, if you’re in the mood for a romance with some woo woo spiritual stuff, this will fit the bill just fine.

Bitter Spirits gets a C+ to B- (3.5*) from me, but 4.5* on Amazon.  At $7.19 is is typical, so try and buy a used copy.  Recommended for paranormal romance fans and those who enjoy Amanda Quick’s Ladies of Lantern Street series.

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Cursed by Destiny

This third book in the Weird Girls series kept up with the strong first two entries – except for dwelling on romantic angst.  Cursed by Destiny finds Celia Weird in the care of Misha, the master vampire she accidentally gave a soul back to.  Alpha werewolf Aric has been ordered to take a werewolf mate for the sake of the species.  Celia is not just a cat, she’s a shifter and has other powers, but she isn’t part of the pack.  Her gifts are a curse placed on her family and each sister is different.  Two of her sisters mated to weres in Aric’s pack, but Aric is like werewolf royalty, and his line must continue – or so the elders insist.  Despite refusing her entry to the pack, the elders have no trouble calling on her and her powers to help put down a demon uprising.

There is a huge problem, it seems someone is trying to kill Celia – blowing up Misha’s car, having the ‘Cathloic school girl’s’ her nickname for a group of female vamps that dislike her, and others want her dead.  And there’s this collective outbreak of demons coming after her like she’s a huge threat to them.  It makes no sense …………. until the very end of the book, which sends the plot down a whole new path.

Cursed by Destiny gets a B- (3.8*) rating from me and recommended reading for fans of the series and the series is suggested for fans of paranormal, like the Arcadia Bell series and the Persephone Alcmedi series.  If it had been more angst free with the whole forbidden love thing it might have scored higher, but that’s one part that’s wearing on my nerves.  I bought Cursed by Destiny from an online book seller for $7.19 and that’s slightly more than it’s worth, but the series is an overall good read.

December 31, 2013

New Year’s Quickies

Well, another year has passed and a few hundred more books have been read.  I figure I’ll just take this last chance to do a few quickie reviews and wish everyone a happy, healthy, safe 2014.

This is the 6th book in the King and Maxwell series, and the one that the TV series was loosely based on.  You can tell it was written with an eye to TV or movie conversion, much like many of Michael Crichton’s later books, but it’s still a good read and better plotted than a lot of his books lately featuring a teenage client who seems trapped in a web of lies that his father initially helped build, and his father, trying to get back to his son and find out who set him up to die and what the hell was going on.  And naturally, there’s no better way to get Maxwell involved than to tell her to back off.

Baldacci blows hot and cold on his books, but this one hits the mark.  I give it a B- (3.8*) and recommended read for thriller fans – but try and buy the ebook.  At $15-16 for the hardcover, it’s a bit steep.

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This being the 50th anniversary of JFK’s assassination, who better than Bob Lee Swagger to look into conspiracy theories about The Third Bullet.  An unwilling Swagger is waited out by the window of a writer who had been investigating the assassination, she asks him to look into his murder and see if it’s possible it was related to his research on the assassination.  Swagger refuses her again and again, but the one thing the widow has in abundance is patience – and a clue that probably only Swagger would understand – a bicycle like tire track on a rain coat found at a different building.  So the man who said no, suddenly changes his mind and gets involved.

Followers of the series will like the way the ending of this books ties in with Point of Impact.  In a series that has ranged from excellent to awful, The Third Bullet comes in at the high end with a solid B- (3.7*).  To his credit, Hunter did not twist the facts of the actual shooting, which makes the plot more interesting.  The usual unlikely death defying events for Swagger stresses the reader’s credulity, but otherwise a solid outing.  A must for Swagger fans.  I got the book free thru an online book swapping site in hardcover.  Borrow it, buy the ebook, or wait for the mmpb.

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A new entry in the paranormal romance genre, Dragon Awakened is book 1 The Hidden series.  Like other paranormal series, this one is set in the ‘normal’ world, but must remain ‘Hidden’ to survive humans.  This is the story of of an assassin dragon who gets an assignment he ends up questioning and in the end pays for his act of compassion.  Fun, fast paced, the two protagonists, Ruby Salazaar and Cyntag Valeron are likable and entertaining.

Dragon Awakened is a fast, easy read with enough meat to be entertaining, but devoid of any innovation or surprising plot twists.  My score is C+ (3.2*) and a pleasant way to pass your time for a few hours, but only if cheap or free.  I paid $5.40+tax from an online book store.  I certainly wouldn’t pay more than that.

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In The Art Forger, Barbara Shapiro wrote an interesting study in human nature enmeshed in the closed and clannish art world weaving in the theft of the paintings from the Isabella Stanley Gardner Museum, art forgery as its own art form, historical looks at the artists ‘Bella’ collected and her disdain for ‘impressionist’ art, and how a struggling artist copes with moral quandaries and ‘Faustian’ bargains – and rationalizes her choices.  It’s stories within stories within stories, like Russian nesting dolls, taking semi-disgraced artist Claire Roth on a path she never expected to walk – and finds her inadvertently discovering a well hidden secret of the art world.

The changing time frames and POV’s are mostly smooth, and I found the ‘letters’ by Mrs Gardner lively and interesting – and my favorite part of the book in many ways.  The mystery was more predictable than I expected.  The art world is neatly skewered and pretty accurate.  The details on the whole painting process will bore some interest others.  Me, I wavered between the two, but leaned toward bored.  The brief cover synopsis pretty much covers the whole plot.  Characters are flat and two dimensional and dialogue uninspired, which seriously detracted from an interesting plot.

My score for The Art Forger is C+ (3.2*) because the writing itself was largely tedious and saturated with the type of pretensions that annoy the crap out of me.  I bought The Art Forger from Book Outlet, a site that sells remainders, for under $3.00 on sale.  It’s current price for the same trade size on Amazon is $11-12.  It was interesting enough for a fast read and as intro to the art world few see, but buy a remainder or used copy.

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December 22, 2013

Happy Holiday Special!

Yup, it’s that time of the year again when we all over eat, over spend and do nice things we somehow neglect to do year round – even though we should.  We donate to charities, leave big tips to harried waitresses, drop $20 in red kettles, donate to animal shelters, and treat others better then normal, – unless they make the mistake of getting between us and the bargain electronics/toy/game/apparel we want.  Thank heavens I can do my shopping on line!  I’m even having the ham delivered directly to my brother’s house so it’s one less thing to carry.

We’ve reached the age where we need nothing – except a winning lottery ticket – so we just exchange small stuff, a few books, a board game, a DVD and stocking stuffers.  Since my SIL retired this fall, I’m adding a Happy retirement/Happy birthday/ Merry Christmas gift – a beautiful silver necklace with square solid silver stations that are hand worked on both sides.  I bought it years ago on a trip, but I can’t wear silver – a metal she loves.  It’s simple yet with those stations, a work of art.  It has simple matching earring too.  The price at the time was high since it was all handmade and one of a kind.  I don’t want to think about what they charge these days.  But it’s an item that deserves a good home with someone who will appreciate the craftsmanship and effort it took to make it.  As an artist and collector of nomadic style jewelry, this will be very much her ‘thing’.  Beats waiting till I die for her to get it.  She can even remake it to something she prefers as the necklace is 60 inches long.  That and a bag of Starbucks Hazelnut Cream coffee and she’ll be in 7th heaven.

My brother is easy.  Books, cookies and a game – one I know nothing about, but is a maze game.  I kind of ran out of DVD’s go get him, since he likes the old black and white B mysteries.  And I bring up all the action movies I got this year.  Luckily, a bunch were on sale, everything from RED2 to Olympus is Down.  And of course, I cart up cases of books.  I’ve been buried in action thrillers and mysteries for weeks to get them all read and ready to go.  I also went on an ebook binge with humorous mysteries, which are better than the cozies that have hit the stands recently.

By the way, no fear of the family reading this, they don’t have internet yet – which means both my brother AND SIL called me to order things on line for them!  Good thing one member of this family is wired up!  SO on with the short reviews!

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Dirty Little Secrets                                     A Dirty Shame  Dirty Rotten Scoundrel

 Liliana Hart has been moving away from her steamy romantic suspense style and going for humorous mystery, a genre that has seen a burst of new series in the past couple of years.  With J.J. Graves, an MD turned coroner and now operator of the family funeral home after the suspicious deaths of her parents, she’s hit another winner.  Unlike the screwball Addison Holmes ‘Whiskey’ series I reviewed in an earlier post, the J.J. Graves are first and foremost mysteries.  There are no zany, over the top moments, yet there is a lot of genuine interest and humor – the plots are at times grim and sometimes funny, but always interesting.

In Dirty Little Secrets, J.J., called Jaye by everyone, comes home after her parents car runs off the road and over a cliff, leaving her with a run down funeral home, a more run down house, and a whole lot of questions about what her parents had really been doing all those years.   As an MD, she can serve as a coroner and since Bloody Mary, Virginia isn’t exactly a hotbed of crime, she wasn’t expecting to be called on so soon.  Not only is she the coroner, her best friend, Jack, is sheriff, a former SWAT team member that barely survived a gun battle in DC.

Dirty Little Secrets is a short book for a mystery, but tightly plotted, good characters, witty dialogue, believable people and a very creepy ending.   From cheating spouses to people who love BDSM, to blackmail, to a killer who is much more dangerous than anyone ever realized.  I honestly can’t fault this one for anything except the fact it could have used a bit more background on JJ and her family.  Dirty Little Secrets gets a B+ (4.2*) and is highly recommended and currently free for Kindle, which is how I got my copy!

A Dirty Shame picks up with a torture murder.  As JJ is pulling into her driveway in a remote area, her headlights flash off a naked body chained up on a playground across from her house.  A twisted tale of murder – and more romance for JJ.  There is also quite a bit more about the death of her parts in the non-accident and about their running from the FBI over some swindle they pulled off.  The missing money was never found.  And handsome sheriff and best friend Jack finally makes his move.

Once again, Ms hart serves up a good solid mystery rich in local characters, tightly plotted, and with a completely unexpected twist at the end.  My one complain is some inconsistencies, minor ones, between book 1 and 2 with regard to her parents.  Other than that, it was really well done.  Now a word, she keeps her sex scenes to the PG-13 level, not steamy like most of her other books.  That’s fine with me, but some like it hotter.  A Dirty Shame gets a B- (3.8*) and a suggested read for mystery lovers.  I bought the ebook from Amazon for $2.99 + tax.

Having finished the first two books, I hunted down Dirty Rotten Scoundrel, which at $4.99 for the ebook was pretty much at the limit of what I’d pay.  I dithered a bit, but in the end, I bought it.  It’s about Jack’s past as commander of a SWAT team that suffered a terrible fate and now someone is hunting them and the FBI wants Jack to be a staked goat to capture the killer.  He’ll do, in large part because he’s haunted by the guilt that he missed something that got his men caught in a trap.

With the FBI team comes Jack’s old sweetheart who wants to be his CURRENT sweetheart, even though Jack and JJ are due to be married in a few weeks.  Along with Jack’s past, an unexpected part of JJ’s past is hovering in and out of her life too.  And the fact her parents were con artists, something even she never knew till their death, just makes everything more difficult.

Once again, Ms Hart weaves an engrossing story and one that isn’t trite and formula driven as cozies are these days.  I love the twists and turns in the plot, which is quite original, though the who and why is just a bit glib at the end.  Still, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels is a good read and gets a B- (3.8*) from me.

This is a series I’ll keep up with.

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Diners Dives

                              Last Diner                           Diner Impossible

Now here is a trio of books that define humorous mystery.  The characters are great, the plots solid, yet more in the cozy vein, and books have wit and charm and are told with a good deal of brio.

Diners, Dives and Dead Ends introduces Rose Strickland, waitress and part-time student who works the breakfast place with no name but lots of loyal customers.  Her fellow waitress and BFF Roxy, and Ma, the elderly, still spy owner of the diner are all willing to help Rose find Axton, whom she knew since childhood, and became close friends with at the Community College.  His call for help has her searching for him most of the night.  Ax has been kidnapped.

Axton lives with Joe, a dedicated pothead who is largely oblivious to his surroundings and little or no help.  But Ax holds down a job working with computer systems, something he does well.  His two work buddies can only cover so long and Ax will get fired – which is nothing compared with Ax getting dead.  In the midst of all this enters tall, dark, and handsome – oh, and threatening Thomas Sullivan, local crime lord.  Kind of.  Mostly stuff like gambling and strip clubs.  He wants the same thing Ax’s captor want, a thumb drive with a LOT of incriminating information – much of which concerns Sullivan’s businesses.

Crooked cops, stuffy, country club parents who radiate disappointment and have virtually disowned her for not conforming, a sexy crime boss, and bombshell info on everyone, especially gambling cheating spouses, that someone will kill for, makes a heady and fun mix as Rose bumbles her way thru saving Ax.  Diners, Dives, and Dead Ends gets a B (4*) rating and recommended read for anyone who enjoys a good laugh with a well plotted mystery and some fun, is slightly stock, characters.  I paid $2.99 for the ebook and got more than my money’s worth.

Last Diner Standing has Roxy and Rose caught up in Ma’s virtual caged death match with her competitor, the lunch diner that decides to start serving breakfast.  And Rose’s school friend, Janelle, is in jail for supposedly killing her ex-husband.  Roxy and Rose are on the case because the police sure don’t care.  But to get the money for her friend’s bail, Rose ends up approaching hunky crime boss, Sullivan.

Rose and Roxy are fighting a war on two fronts – Ma’s lunch war and Janelle’s charge of murder.  Ax is doing all he can to help them in their snooping to find the real murderer.  Straight arrow cop, Andre Thomas is always reminding her to leave things to the cops, but this is Rose’s friend and she knows too much about corruption in the department.  Sullivan is also helping, but only because he’s really attracted to Rose.  Exhaustion with work hours and lousy tips mean Roxy and Rose have to solve Ma’s stubborn determination about lunch and find enough energy to keep investigating – though Roxy is more interested in investigating Janelle’s cousin than anything else.

Another well done humorous mystery with sharp dialogue, well drawn characters, and better than average plot.  Frankly, they put the formula driven cozies to shame.  Last Diner Standing gets a B- (3.8*) and recommended read.  At $2.99 it’s a bargain.

Diner Impossible finds Roxy in the dumps, mentally and emotionally.  Dumped by her boyfriend, she can’t quite snap out of her funk.  And Rose needs her, because Rose’s mother has asked to investigate the murder of woman who was the personal secretary of the husband a friend of hers.  The husband is none other than corrupt Police Chief Mathers with the big gambling debts.  And straight arrow cop, Andre Thomas, asks for her help in the murder Delia Cummings as well.  Mathers railroaded a captain now dying of cancer and Thomas wants him cleared.  Suddenly, Rose is an investigator as well as a college student and waitress.

Just to make matters worse, Ax drags her into an argument about the prize in a game between the Romulans and the Trekkies where the prize – a signed Captain Kirk uniform, is gone missing.  Dragging Roxy out of a funk, figuring out whole stole the uniform, keeping up her relationship with Sullivan, and awkwardly re-entering the country club life she left behind makes for a unique study in human nature, relationships, values, and Roses intuitive understanding of what makes people tick.  Despite obvious similarities between the Steph Plum books and this series, the characters here are their own.  And this book had greater depth and complexity than the earlier ones.  Dinner Impossible, did not disappoint and gets a B (4*) rating.  I paid $4.99, but had I been a bit more patient, I would have paid the current price of $2.99.  Either way, money well spent.

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Now, I must wrap this up and wish all of you a ……………………..

November 27, 2013

Thanksgiving Quickies

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OK, this is a tough time of year to keep up with everything.  Football, Thanksgiving, football, Christmas, football …….. oh, yeah, making dinner.  My days of massive Thanksgiving and Christmas meals are behind me (thanks heavens) and things are more relaxed, but relaxed is still not ‘nothing to do.  On top of that, DAYS ARE TOO DAMN SHORT!  By 7:30 at night it feels like 10 PM.  But it’s getting cold enough that cuddling under blankets with a good book and a good game are the way to pass the time.  Of course Thanksgiving weekend is a football orgy as is New Year and the weeks the follow as bowl games kick in and play-offs start for the pros.

I was asked by a non-cooking friend for a simple appetizer and I suggested stuffed endive.  You can use almost anything and those leaves look great as ‘boats’ holding various goodies.  Since she had a vegetarian in the family (who does not consider eating shrimp wrong??!!!!!) I said use chopped pear (ripe Anjou are best for this) and crumpled goat cheese with or without shredded prosciutto and a light drizzle of aged balsamic.  Goat cheese is very versatile with foods like fruit and salty meats.  Endive can be stuffed with anything from egg salad to elaborate honeyed nuts, cheese and diced apples or homemade Waldorf salad.  The other veggie that works well is English cucumber – those long skinny ones in plastic.  You can peel strips, cut 1.5″ chunks and use a melon baller to scoop out the inside and stuff with shrimp salad, a puree of salmon and cream cheese topped with some diced hard boiled eggs or for fancy, black caviar.  Hey, you don’t need to do much any more.  Lots of good stuff is ready to use at your local market or gourmet store.  Skip the cheese and crackers and try something new and simple this year.

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The Mystery Woman

Amanda Quick (Jayne Ann Krentz) is about as predictable as a metronome, and about as exciting.  I won The Mystery Woman in a swap and figured I’d at least try her so-called paranormal historical romance series based on a female detection agency.  I would love to say it was great, or even good.  It wasn’t.  The plot is the same one she’s used time and again with a few new riffs to freshen the stale and well used key elements.  A real snooze fest for anyone not a die hard Quick fan – and they are legion.

My grade is C- (2.7*) and it only gets that because despite the stale plot, she still writes well and paces her action.  The Mystery Woman is not worth the price of a hardcover, so borrow it or get it really cheap.  Better still, buy something more original.  Got it free in a book swap and it will move along.

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Bombshell

Now if Amanda Quick is plowing the same field again and again, Catherine Coulter is not far behind, but she does get points for getting back in some kind of romantic suspense groove with Bombshell after wandering far afield in her FBI series.  Still, it is very predictable, but with some original story elements.  This time we have an FBI agent’s sister at an elite music school in Virginia to study composition when she’s assaulted after finding a dead body in her bathtub.  Turns out the body is an undercover DEA agent and given the deep denial of them to confirm it, the FBI assumes the undercover operation is till ongoing.  The partner is so obvious it’s painful.  You have repeated attacks by a violent drug gang that is imitating Dumb and Dumber, two egomaniacal  brothers who are – maybe – tied up with the Gang That Couldn’t Shoot Straight.

Bombshell is slightly better than average for a romantic suspense novel at C+ (3.2*), but is not worth the hardcover price.  Borrow it, or wait for a super cheap remainder.  Won in a book swap.  Going out to another person.

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The Final Cut

With the able assistance of mystery author, J. T. Ellison, Catherine Coulter introduces a new central character, Nicholas Drummond.  Descended from lower level aristocracy with an American mother mother, Nicholas has always made his way.  After a career with MI5 he went to Scotland Yard.  His former lover and sill friend Elaine Scott is killed while on assignment in NYC as special security for the display of the Crown Jewels at the Met (Metropolitan Museum of Art, not the opera house).  Sherlock and Savage get called in and their good friend and Nicholas’ uncle, the former SAC in NYC and now the Met’s special security consultant, Bo Horsely, is Drummond’s uncle – so we have now neatly tied up a relationship with the main background characters.

At the heart of The Final Cut is the legend that the Koh-i-Noor diamond is one of 3 from huge diamond held by a Mogul leader in India as their empire there fades and they return to the mid-east homelands.  By uniting the three stones, separated for hundreds of years, the family will once again reign supreme.  Having kept the largest part of the diamond in the family, the heir commissions the theft of the other two parts of the original stone – one held by a Russian mobster, the other – the Koh-i-Noor.

The plot is improbable, but no more so than many action thrillers, and the mystery is above the usual romantic suspense level.  The Final Cut gets an unlikely B- (3.7*) from me.  One of the downsides is Ellison’s style is sufficiently different from Coulter’s I could almost pick out where one was driving a scene, especially Coulter.  Not that unusual for collaborations.  Is The Final Cut worth $16-$17 asking price?  No.  Get it at the library or wait for the mmpb or a CHEAP used copy.  I bought mine online for $9 with shipping used.

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The art of stealing time

Book 2 of Katie MacAlister’s Time Thief series, The Art of Stealing Time picks up the story of Gregory Faa starts his career as member of the Watch, the supernatural police.  And he starts it by breaking ALL the rules, stealing time from an immortal to save the beautiful witch he’s trying to arrest from death at the hands of a crazy lawyer.

Gwenhwyfar ‘Gwen’ Byron Owens is visiting her two moms and planning on getting some rare ingredients she needs for a quintessence she’s been working on for years.  Unlike her mother and Mom 2, Gwen is not a witch, she’s an alchemist.  And unlike her moms, she isn’t always getting in trouble with the Watch – or worse.  But she is always protecting them, which is how she ended up getting tossed off a cliff by an evil lawyer only to have Gregory steal time and manage to save her the second time.

Gregory Faa might be cover model handsome with blond good looks to die for, but Gwen needs to get away from him and get her moms to safety.  Unfortunately, they kidnapped a very elderly lady, Mrs Vanilla, who draws a map and insists on going to a Dunkin’ Donuts despite having the police and the Watch after them.  She runs thru the store, the Moms and Gwen racing after her and the run into a store room and out into Anwyn, the Welsh Underworld.

Written in her usual screwball, headlong, breezy style, The Art of Stealing Time is an amusing and painless way to spend a few hours.  I found it more entertaining than Time Thief, and the setting of Anwyn was a good part of that enjoyment.  For paranormal romance, it’s blessedly angst free.  Ms MacAlister plays her books with a balance of plot and laughs, this series is for those who like comedy.  My rating is C+ to B- (3.5*), and suggested for those who like their laughs with a just a dash of romance.  My copy of The Art of Stealing Time came from a book swapping site, and will move along the same way.  It’s selling at $7.19 for the print book and $5.99 for the ebook.  Go for the ebook, or wait for a used copy.  She’s popular and her books usually land in used book store fairly fast.

November 12, 2013

Genre Sampler – Reviews and Comments

Thanksgiving and Christmas are rapidly approaching and, as usual, I’m completely unprepared.  Oh well, we always manage somehow.  The family is small now, and it’s not like adults beyond a certain age actually NEED anything.  Well, other than a winning Lottery ticket.

November and December are both big release months as well, but I have to say, the new releases this month have proved disappointing to me.  As usual, books will be gifted, but that’s been true most of out lives.  In addition, I always haul up a bunch of books by authors my brother and SIL enjoy and let the read away. For many years, my brother an I built a Lincoln Log village on Christmas – starting with an old set his wife picked up at a flea market.  Well, the set grew, and grew, and grew.  A few years ago was our last ‘build’ and it was quite a grand finale.

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We built that whole complex, mostly free form buildings, in about a day and half, working off and on and watching Charlie Chan movies and eating.  But standing for hours was getting hard on my knees and back.  Plus getting out and cleaning up and sorting the thousands of logs to be stored away again was a major project by itself.   Now we work jigsaw puzzles and play cards or Yatzee – and watch Charlie Chan, the old Sherlock Holmes, or other favorite 40′s movies that we saw on TV as kids – and eat.  It’s just more about spending some time together.  It also helps us remember why we live 200 miles apart, it prevents bloodshed and the need to hide bodies.  But before the holidays disrupt my life, I better get on with some reviews.

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Read It and Weep

This latest installment of the Library Lover’s mystery series was disappointing – at least for me.  Read it and Weep was the first book I read from the mass of Nov 5th releases I bought.  Problem is, by page 40 I knew the whole plot and who did it and why.  I know cozy mysteries aren’t exactly the early Ellery Queen books that would lay out all the clues and challenge the reader to solve the mystery, but come on, this was as obvious as a slap to the head.

The local community theater group is putting on A Midsummer’s Night Dream, using as a star a well known actor, Robbie Vine, and friend of the resident semi-retired actress turned director, Violet LaRue.  Everyone is in a dither of anticipation over getting parts, even Ms Cole, the always critical older librarian that thinks Lindsey isn’t up to the level of the former head librarian in Briar Creek.  Robbie is more than a bit interested in Lindsey.  It isn’t helped by Sully having broken things off with her for months to ‘give her time’ without even talking with her about it.  They’re on the outs and Robbie is inspired to chase her, and she’s interested – until he gets poisoned.

In addition to the easy to see plot, the other problem is yet another budding love triangle.  Ms McKinlay did this in her Cupcake series as well.  IS THERE AN EPIDEMIC?  It’s easy to blame Janet Evanovich and her Morelli-Plum-Ranger ploy and Steph Plum’s extended adolescent emotional immaturity, but why is it contagious?  Or just ‘monkey see, monkey do’ writer syndrome?  Are authors so lost in copycat land they are incapable of original thought?  Whatever is causing this blight on cozies needs to be stamped out.  SOON!

Read it and Weep gets a C- (2.8*) rating for predictable plot and even more predictable love triangle.  I am apparently in the minority in this as Amazon reviews are much kinder.  Bought this from BAM for $5.39, but Amazon had it discounted to $4.79.  Its current price is $7.19.  Read if you’re an uncritical fan of generic cozies, but try and get it cheap.

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It’s been awhile since I reviewed a single author anthology of steamy romance novellas.  In the now well entrenched tradition of using Spec Ops military as the the heroes, Cat Johnson offered her rather generic romances using the usual group of male buddies.  If the love triangle infestation in cozies if the fault of Janet Evanovich, then Suzanne Brockman takes the hit for the current inundation of Spec Ops romance in mainstream and smut – even some paranormal.  Everyone from Lora Leigh to Lisa Marie Rice has used them.  Hands down, the most popular heroes in romance.

Red Blooded has 3 novellas originally published as ebooks by Samhain, a high quality smut and mainstream publisher who carries many of the better steamy writers.  Cat Johnson also writes mainstream romance and romantic suspense.  Like all romance novellas, there is no time for complex plots or character development.  More ‘slam bam, thank-you ma’am’ type of sex with the usual ‘struck by lightning’ emotions.  Harmless fantasy that’s well written and highly readable with better than average plots and characters.  Good lunch break or single sitting length stories for romance fans.

Red Blooded gets a C+ (3.5*), which is again well below Amazon.  For novellas, they are cut above.  Still, when Suzanne Brockman hits on all cylinders, as she did in Over on the Edge and Out of Control, she is better than anyone, but those are full length novels, so the comparison isn’t equal.  For pure steamy ex-military, no one beats Lisa Marie Rice’s Midnight Man.  I bought Red Blooded from Amazon for $12.93 and no, it wasn’t worth the price.  If you want to read these, go ebook directly from the Samhain site and think twice about the price – ebook or print – and maybe buy it used.

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Wild Darkness

Lauren Dane is one of my favorite paranormal romance writer’s.  Whether it’s steamy or more mainstream, she is a pretty reliable storyteller.  I’m not that fond of her popular contemporary romances, which I find trite, even if well written.

Wild Darkness is the fourth and final book in her Bound by Magick series that ties in with her Cascadia Wolves and De La Veaga Cat series.  It started off really well with Heart of Darkness, which laid the groundwork for the revealing of Others beyond just the already ‘out’ werewolves.  As a romance involved in a really good plot, it worked well on both levels and it gave the series a strong start.  The focus shifted away from the Magister to the birth of virulent hate groups that wants all Others in the equivalent of concentration camps in Book 2.  By book three, the central plot revolved around DC politics and a weak female president that refused to step into the debate.

Unfortunately, by the time we hit Wild Darkness, the whole over arcing plot kind of fizzles.  Going Under was less than stellar, but laid good groundwork, ending literally with a bang – a bomb in the Senate hearing chamber.  Wild Darkness opens with attacks by hate groups on an Other community, but the focus shifts from action to mostly romance and the whole thing is disappointingly weak.  The ‘big finale’ confrontation is all of 2 pages.  I read through 4 books for THAT?  Unfortunately, while Lauren Dane can start a complex paranormal series, she just does not have the skills needed to bring it to a strong conclusion.  Instead, she writes a romance that pushes the series main plot in the background and fails to give the reader a really satisfying conclusion.  A short fight scene does not work, especially when the main bad guys aren’t even there.  And penetrating their HQ was easy.  Honestly, the whole thing was just lame.

And for the third time, I will deviate from Amazon’s glowing reviews and give Wild Darkness a C- (2.8*).  Bound by Magic deserved better.  I am beginning to understand why she left so many of her series unfinished, like the Charvez Witches and the Cher Chez wolves.  She just can’t write a slam bang ending to her over-arcing plots, she can just end the individual romance parts.  It’s a shame really, because it weakened the whole series and took it off my recommended list.  I bought Wild Darkness from BAM for $5.39 and it wasn’t worth the price.  If you followed the series, read it.  If you haven’t started, give it a miss.

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Mr Penumbra's

Some title’s are irresistible and when this book was in a swap, I took the chance and bought a used copy.  Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore was selected as one of the best books of 2012 – and I’m rather baffled by that.  Yes it was quirky and somewhat interesting, in a nerdy kind of way, but great?  Eh, not so much.  It was, however, original, unique, and mostly enjoyable, if a bit tedious at times.  A ‘Best Book of 2012′?  Lord, I hope not.  In a strange way, it worked, but lacked strong characters.  That kind of left me with ambiguous feelings toward the book.

Clay Jannon is a less than ambitious guy laid off from his job as a web designer and coffee shop clerk and just sort of cruising along, sharing a 3 bedroom place with an uptight corporate landlady and his buddy Neel who works special effects for movies and builds bizarre things in the living room they all share.  He’s job hunting, but the economy sucks and skills aren’t up to Silicon Valley level, so he’s in that uncomfortable in between place.  Then he land’s a job in a very strange bookstore, Mr Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore.  As he works there, keeping detailed records of each person who comes in to borrow a book, Clay gets increasingly bored.

One night a young woman walks in and sees the 3-D model Clay is building on his computer that tracks each customer and every book they’ve checked out in order over time.  He’s certain there is meaning and pattern to their actions and they are really code breakers.  Kat admires his work and offers him a chance to put Google’s data analysis engines to work on a scanned copy of one of the logs that details more of the same data.  Neel makes a replica of one of the log books and Kat and Clay get it scanned and analyzed in minutes.  After he enters all the new data, he still can’t quite see the pattern and in frustration sends his 3-D model spinning – and the many colored lines suddenly form an image.  Mr Penumbra sees it and claims he’s broken the code!  A code he didn’t even realize existed.

Like an onion, layers get peeled away until the final code is discovered.  This quasi-adventure, puzzle, code-breaker, technology meld made a curious story, but not a great one.  Perhaps because, for me, great fiction books requires great characters, not just a layered plot.  No question, the plot was original and on several levels, fascinating.  But ultimately, is was kind of dull without strong, likable characters filled with personality.  Oddly, it reminded me of a nerdy Robert Ludlum book.  Ludlum was always a brilliant plotter, but aside from Jason Borne, never wrote a memorable character.  The action here is more cerebral and other than the quirky Penumbra, none of the players were really memorable, just lightly sketched in enough to do the job.

Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookshop gets a C+ to B- (3.6*) from me.  I can see why critics loved it, since they had a field day with the computer technology vs print book thing, but who really cares?  It was interesting without being engrossing.  It’s in that strange grey area where I neither love nor hate the book, found it oddly appealing, but never compelling.  I can’t really recommend it for anyone other than a person who enjoys offbeat books.  I got my copy used (in perfect condition) from a third party re-seller on Amazon and it’s leaving here this week to a person who won it in a PBS swap.  I’d suggest you borrow it or get it cheap because reactions vary.  The nerd in the family might like it best and it is suitable for teens.

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wicked Autumn

G.M. Malliet hit the mystery scene a few years back with her first cozy in the Ngaio Marsh/Josephine Tey tradition, just not was well done.  Nonetheless, she garnered heaps of praise for bringing back the English cozy in Death of a Cozy Writer – a classic manor house mystery.  She followed that with Death of a Chick Lit wherein she completely emasculated her Detective Inspector St Just.  That put paid to my reading her books until I got Wicked Autumn, the first book in her Max Tudor series, in a book swap.  Really, you’d think I’d learn.

What is it with cozies these days?  The authors talk you to death, drag you through a garden of a character’s personal guilt, beat certain things into the ground, and toss out clues so obvious you want to whack them over the head.  Wicked Autumn opens with the Women’s League planning the Harvest Fayre.  The usual officious and unpleasant woman, Wanda Bratton-Smythe manages to make more enemies, but sees herself as ‘saving’ these poor incompetents from themselves.  Her snide, cutting remarks and generally superior and patronizing attitude have not endeared her to her neighbors.  She may as well be wearing a sign, “Hi!  I’m the victim!  I’m rich, controlling, and obnoxious!  I have a deadly peanut allergy!  Guess how I die!!!!!”

Max Tudor is the local Vicar now, but used to be MI5.  He sought peace and refuge from his former profession and memories of the death of a friend and co-worker.  He refuses to be drawn into the fray in the Women’s League, but knows the complaints are valid.  The day of the Fayre everything s running smoothly.  An oddly excited Wanda disappears and Max goes hunting for her joined by another poor soul Wanda badgered into ‘volunteering’, chef Guy Nicholls.  They do find her, dead on the floor of the village Hall.  Guy starts mouth to mouth to revive her, but Max knows dead when he sees it and pulls him away.  Not just because it’s too late, but because it looks like murder to Max.

Turns out, people had more reason to want Wanda dead than just her personality.  She was also a very rich woman.  Her only child, a son and up and coming artist, was estranged from his parents.  Suzanna Winship, the doctor’s shapely much younger sister was Wanda’s rival and self appointed protector of those Wanda went after the most, like sweet Lily Iverson.  Actually, pretty much every member of the Women’s League hated her.  But the whole plot is twisted around long periods of the backstory on Max and how he came to be a vicar.  By page 124 I was loosing interest.  I finished it, barely.  The killer was OBVIOUS, the why a bit more subtle, but not surprising.

Wicked Autumn gets a C- (2.7*) because the story is told in a choppy and muddled way and lacks exciting characters or any shed or originality.  It’s just dull.  If you’re a hardcore cozy reader, try it if its free, but don’t blame me if it’s just boring.  My copy, thankfully, free from a book swapping site.

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