Tour’s Books Blog

December 17, 2014

E-Book Special …… and a few UF/Fantasy MMPB’s

Groundhog Xmas closeup4Season’s Greetings from the Groundhog Den!  You’re all ready for Christmas, right?  Yeah, me too.  (As if!)  SIGH!

There are many authors who for one reason or another choose to go the route of self-publishing, mostly e-books and sometimes with print editions available.  The most popular platform is CreateSpace owned by Amazon.  They didn’t develop it, they bought it out and it was a damn good bet.

While some authors using CreateSpace and other platforms are already famous and have a strong following, others are good authors that can’t find print publishers or can’t make a living going the traditional publication route.  Another use is for well know authors to try new concepts and series ideas on fans to see if their new ideas have good audience appeal.  Ilona Andrews did Clean Sweep this way (loved the book), Seanan McGuire did Indexing (didn’t like it), and Lynn Viehl’s Disenchanted & Co (another winner).  All ended up getting published through traditional imprints.  Then there are ‘Renegades’, the popular authors who abandon traditional publication for the more lucrative ebook/print combo of CreateSpace.  Barry Eisler with his John Rain series is now ALL back in his hands and all being published in ebook and print (new titles on the older books).  Brett Battles and other action thriller writers as well.

For the lovers of lighter fare, Jana Deleon, Christine Craig, and Leslie Langtry lost their publisher (and their past due royalties) either built their own publishing mini-empires, and/or just use CreateSpace for their books.  Regardless, there are a whole lot of good humorous mysteries showing up as ebooks.  So I’ve been enjoying a major wallow in a favorite genre, with a few print books of the UF/fantasy persuasion thrown in.

So, on the better later than never rule, here are some short and sweet reviews.

Lexi Carmichael series

The cover art varies, but the titles stay the same for this fun series featuring a social inept computer guru that works for NSA in InfoSec (information security).  Julie Moffett is an author who has been around awile doing a lot of traditional historical romance, modern romance, and now humorous mystery/suspense.  The novella titled No Money Down is listed as book 2.5, but is actually the prequel to the series and introduces the 4 main characters, Lexi Carmichael, girl computer wiz and her best friend Basia Kowalski, speaker of a number of European languages, owner of her own translation business, and Lexi’s social behavior tutor for the terminally nerdy.  It tells of how Lexi meets the famed Zimmerman twins, Elvis and Xavier, the rock gods of the NSA and hackers everywhere.

Longer than a novella, but shorter than a novel, it’s a good setup story with enough plot to keep things interesting as well as create a solid foundation for the key characters.  It also establishes the pattern of Lexi literally stumbling into things that just seem to explode into dangerous and wild adventures, in this one, it’s stolen illegal medical technology.  A C+ to B- (3.4*) for this entry and it can be skipped with no loss to the full length books.

Book 1 is technically No One Lives Twice, and Lexi is at the NSA trying to catch a hacker in a ‘dark’ chat room, but looses him.  On her way home she’s accosted twice about a document she simply doesn’t have, but somehow involves her friend Basia.  The apartment is torn apart and ANOTHER thug threatens her and also demands the documents.

Unable to reach Basia, Lexi heads to safety at the Zimmerman’s.  Having left the NSA, the Zimmerman’s now work from home for a ton of money in the private sector – and the company is so thrilled to have them, they can work wherever they want.  Elvis and Xavier come through for her, but when they hit a wall and want help, they suggest contacting Slash, short for backslash, the security expert/hacker that came in when the Zimmermans left NSA and the government panicked about the possibility of them getting into the very security systems they built.  Slash is more legend than real, and some believe, not a person at all, but a group of experts the NSA uses.  They leave a message someplace only Slash would find it and only he would understand it.  And he does, and he also realizes the ONLY reason the twins would approach him would be to help their best friend, Lexi Carmichael.

Instead of going to the Zimmerman’s, Slash lands in Lexi’s bedroom in her still destroyed apartment.  Slash might be a hot Italian, the handsome Irish lawyer, and Finn Shaughnassy, who sent Basia the documents to translate is a handsome Irishman, but nothing gets between Lexi and helping her best friend – with the Zimmerman’s help.

Like No Money Down, You Only Live Once has lots of laughs, a decent plot, but the ending was better.  The basic premise was not credible as it could be, but not so far off to be annoying.  It get a B-(3.8*) from me and a recommended read for fans for Bombay Assassins by Leslie Langtry or the Miss Fortune books by Jana Deleon.

Book 2 is Trust No One and starts off with Lexi at her new job working for Finn Shaughnassy and NSA legend Ben Steinhouser at X-Corp, a high tech security agency.  The first clients are arriving and Lexi is in her usual mild panic at dealing with humans.  It doesn’t improve when the CEO of their potential client hands he a note in Navajo code from WWII.  Once translated it reads ‘SOS. Need Lexi Carmichael’s help.  GU’  Only problem is, the missing tech genius isn’t anyone she knows, he specializes in nano-technology for fuel replacement, a subject she doesn’t know, and the three guys watching her are giving her the creeps.

So the Scooby Gang once again is piecing together seeming unrelated bits information as unravel a tangled web of corporate deceit, greed, and government involvement – in the form of the all too handsome Slash.  Lexi’s intuition combined with her computer skills gets the essential lead and the race is on.

Trust No One has a better than average plot, the characters find their feet, and the story moves very quickly.  Fun and interesting, I give it a B (4*) rating.

Book 3, No Place Like Rome, brings Slash front and center when he’s called away for his date with Lexi at the opera (his choice, not her’s) when his Uncle Benedetto is accused of embezzling from the Vatican Bank where he works.  He hires X-Corp to prove someone hacked the bank records to implicate his uncle, as his relationship would call anything he did into account.  Soon Lexi and Slash are off to Rome and the Vatican Bank, which Lexi finds a planted program and they both find a dead bank employee.  Tito, a friend of Slash’s from when he worked as a Vatican spy, helps them out.  Soon they find they need help – the kind the Zimmerman’s can supply.  And the Scooby Gang does Italy.

The clues in this plot are reminiscent of a Dan Brown book, but No Place Like Rome see a lot of character development for Lexi and Slash as the focus of the series starts shifting to focus more on fewer characters.  No Place Like Rome is a bit more mature than the earlier books in plot and storytelling.  It gets a B (4*) from me.

Book 4 is No Biz Like Showbiz and it’s pretty much all Lexi dealing with a Hollywood ‘reality’ show about geeks called, crudely, “Geeks Get Some”.   Supposedly these brilliant geeks need help finding a girl and the audience votes someone off the show each week.  The ‘girl geek’ does get some say, but for 2 weeks, her favorite has been voted off and it’s obvious someone has compromised the voting system, a supposedly secure computer system.  And Lexi is off to Hollywood ………. possibly the one place where her being socially inept will cause the most havoc.

Unlike the previous books, this one has a highly predictable plot, but it also has some very funny scenes – one hysterical one at a Comic Con and one during one-on-one chats at the ‘mansion’.  The other characters had bit parts or walk ons.  Even Basia had nothing much to do.  Slash shows up at the end.  The perp is obvious and the ending as predictable as the rest.  The only thing missing was a pie fight.

Despite the fact the story was a fun – and laugh out loud, at times – read, the plot was lame compared with the earlier books.  No Biz Like Showbiz gets a bi-polar C+ to B- (3.6*) from me.  Entertaining fluff.

Book 5, just released this month, is No Test for the Wicked.  Lexi relives her worst nightmare, she goes back to high school, and not as a teacher, as an undercover student to find and stop a group of very smart kids, calling themselves the WOMBATS, who have hacked the system and are playing havoc.

At 25, Lex might still pass for 18, but she is no longer the insecure girl who was the outcast in her high school.  Now she stands up against the school bully when he goes to pick on resident smart kid who has none of the looks or athletic ability of the bully, a senator’s son.  Once again in a tight spot and needing some expert help, she calls her BFF, Elvis Zimmerman.  Oblivious as ever to Elvis’s crush on her and the hard way he’s taking her involvement with Slash, Lexi is a little taken aback by Bonnie’s, the young but very competent school headmistress, obvious interest in her friend.  But the mysterious file on the advanced computer class teacher’s PC that uses code known to the cyber terrorist group, the Veiled Knights.

Just as they start in the secure computer center, they hear gunshots.  True to form, Lexi Carmichael is once again the ultimate trouble magnet.  Terrorists have taken over the school.  She and Elvis have minutes to get a few things done then hide – a truly memorable scene.  Now it’s Lexi, Elvis, and much to their surprise, three students, end up working together to foil the terrorists and the money grubbing Veiled Knight.

The three high school kids were well done and the plot oddly believable, more so than several others.  Moffett mixes in humor and action far more smoothly and believably here than the other books in the series.  At the end, Elvis’s observations about himself and finally, Lexi realizing everything changes, brought some mixed emotions for me – and a melt down for her.  Still, it’s done very well and I think the series might mature nicely if Moffett can stay on this track.

No Test for the Wicked gets a B+ (4.3*) from me and recommended read.

The Lexi Carmichael series is a fun series of reads without a lot of deep meaning, just shallow, occasional perceptive, and comfortably accessible for the techno-challenged.  The one big hurdle is the Slash character who seems to be equal parts computer god and James Bond, plus he’s Italian, supposedly worked for the Vatican spy network, and is now in charge of NSA security?  This simple does not add up, but if you can let credibility take a vacation, and take the character for what it’s worth, you can enjoy the stories.  Aside from No Money Down, which can be easily skipped if you want, the books are fairly short and EBOOK ONLY.  Only book 1 is available in print and the price is absurdly high.

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Merit-Badge-Murder-by-Leslie-Langtry

Another refugee from the defunct Dorchester stable is Leslie Langtry, author of a favorite series, the Bombay Assassins series and is now going out under author Gemma Halliday’s new publishing company.  In Merit Badge Murders, she kicks off a new series starring Fionnaghuala Merrygold Wrath Czrygy – or Merry Wrath as she is now known.  Dear old dad is a senator who the new VP detests, so he carefully – with full deniability – outed his daughter Merry as an undercover CIA operative.  She almost died getting out of the hellhole where she was operating.  Now she’s leading a scout troop Idaho and keeping the lowest possible profile from her many dangerous enemies – well, one less, apparently.  Ahmed Maloof, al-Qaeda’s #2 man, is now dead on the ropes course.

A new neighbor across the street is a handsome hunk – and a police detective.  Inconvenient when dead bodies start showing up.  Even more inconvenient is her unwanted house guest, a Russian double agent, Lana, ex-partner Riley and a Japanese Yakuza, Midori Ito, dead in her kitchen, and best friend Kelly there with tuna noodle casserole.  Some days, life is just weird.

Langtry does her usual good job, but as always, has the WTF moments – like what CIA agent in hiding goes back to their home town using nothing but hair dye and colored contacts for a disguise?  And since when can’t a trained agent tie knots of every type?  And how do you hide when you pal around with your best friend from childhood?  This ain’t Manhattan, folks.  Credibility issues aside, it was a fun read, though I figured it out easily enough.

Merit Badge Murders gets a C+ to B- (3.7*) mostly for the stupid mistakes in logic, though it was entertaining despite the frustration with the flaws.  If you can ignore them, it’s a good read with sharp dialogue and a feisty female lead.  I paid $0.99 for the ebook which is now $3.99 and the print book $10.79.  Forget print.  I think at $3.99 it’s overpriced for an ebook.

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ElectileDys400x600

Electile Dysfunction, a popular bon mot describing our corrupt political system, is book 6 in a series of mysteries by Jamie Lee Scott – and if they were all this bad, I can’t figure out how it got past 2.  Clever title, dumb plot, annoying writing, changing POV every chapter was especially annoying and served NO useful purpose at all.

PI’s get hired to prove a sleazy politician cheated his old rodeo pal and ruined his credit.  Said politician is found dead.  Client is lying.  Wife is lying.  Pretty much every one is lying or experiencing some kind of car envy.  How this tripe got 4.5* on Amazon is beyond me.

At a slight 164 pages, it is at least short, just not short enough.  Electile Dysfunction gets a D+ (2.5*) from me.  Thankfully, I got it on a $0.99 special.  It would be better free.  Even better if forgotten, scratched off Mt TBR and read something good instead.

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BLACK-SPRING1

For six books, author Christina Henry created and sustained a great story of an evolving person with blood ties to Lucifer.  Somewhere Maddy Black became a whiny, PIA, jerk, not just due to pregnancy, but because she seemed to loose her brains and her backbone.  Black Spring concludes Maddy’s story and after 6 really good books building up a strong and intelligent female lead, Ms Henry destroy’s it all with a lame conclusion and an idiotic WTF moment among what are supposedly the oldest and most powerful beings alive.

In the beginning, Maddy was an Agent of Death, escorting souls of the departed to doorways to the beyond.  But she is so much more.  Lucifer’s many times great-granddaughter she becomes a pawn in a much larger game of power being played by 3 of 4 oldest, and most powerful beings in the universe.  Her own powers evolve and grow and she save Chicago from an infestation of sunlight resistant vampires.  Now she’s sulking over the death of her lover/husband, being stalked by a cyber-‘journalist’ into paranormal phenomenon, the loss of so much of life, horror at some of the things she’d been tricked into, and an ungrateful city that wants her GONE.  Basically, she’s wallowing in self pity and annoying the crap out of everyone around her – even this reader.  OK, she was entitled to a small wallow, I admit, but come on, let’s move it along, put on the big girl panties and get on with it!

Movement is slow, kind of boring, and the ‘big finish’ is summed up in one line as the eldest brother, who has escaped the prison Lucifer and his two other brothers built to hold him, says, “Mother’s awake.”  SERIOUSLY????????????  Who the FU&%$*g hell is MOTHER????????????????????  Suddenly big bro can grab all three in his dragon claw and disappear with them?  WHAT THE HELL WAS HE WAITING FOR?  MOMMY?

To say I nearly had an aneurysm over this is putting it mildly.  The book literally sailed across the room, hit a wall and landed on the floor while I yelled something obscene at it.  Now I know it wasn’t the book’s fault and it didn’t deserve such abuse, but NEITHER DID I!  SIX BOOKS AND ALL I GET IS “MOTHER’S AWAKE”????????????????Christina Henry has a lot to answer for.  That ending SUCKED.

Black Spring gets (I know you’re shocked) a D (2*) rating.  No, it is not worth the $6.50 or so sale price.  If you have followed the series and understandably wish to read the last book, buy it used.  Then dig a hole and bury it.

By the way, the archangel Gabriel is an ASSHOLE.  He’s also no longer an archangel.  I would have stabbed the sanctimonious bastard in the eye with a meat fork.  Then again, at that point, I was kind of in a bad mood.

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Light-My-Fire

Shelly Laurenston’s Dragon Kin series written as G.A. Aiken has another really fun entry.  The books can be a bit uneven in quality, but when she hits on all cylinders, she can really pull it off.  Not paranormal romance, like her Pack and Pride series, these books are a cross between epic fantasy and fantasy romance.  The world building is very complex and has many parts and the books are spaced far apart as her more popular and better known Pack and Pride books take priority.  Plus plotting and writing a book with as many characters and sub-plots as she has going here takes time.  I, like other fans, patiently sit and wait for each installment.  NOTE: Keep in mind, if you have NOT been following the series, or do NOT realize each book is basically a kind of romance that also advances a very complex secondary plot, you’ll be lost fast and the book loses all it’s impact.  Read them in order so you know who is who in the VERY large cast of humans, dragons, and gods.

Light My Fire adds Elina Shestakova, a Daughter of the Steepes, to long list of characters and cultures.  Celyn the Charming, one of the very large clan of Cadwaladr dragons, spent several days watching a determined woman climb Devenallt Mountain, home of the queen of the southland dragons.  Her tribal leader ordered to kill the dragon queen, so she was honor bound to try, even though she knew all she would do is try – and die, which is what her leader wanted.  What she didn’t know was dragons were kind of chatty, could shift to human, and found the notion of of sending a lone human to kill their queen …………. hysterically funny.

After months in the jail of the Southland queen, Annwyl the Bloody, the same chatty dragon comes to fetch her, the forgotten prisoner, to meet with the two queens, dragon and human.  Annwyl needs an emissary to the Anne Atili, leader of all the steppes tribes, to start the process of alliance against a joint enemy – the zealots following the one-eyed god.  They send only one companion with her, that damn chatty dragon who left her in jail all these months.

Celyn cannot believe he’s getting stuck with the task of escorting Miss Doom and Gloom (or Lady Misery, as he likes to call her) back to the gods-forsaken Outer Plains.  Curious, handsome, chatty, generally good-natured (for a dragon), Celyn is sorely tested by the fatalistic, mostly silent, morose Daughter of the Steppes.  Their travels (she starts by insulting the horses, calling them ‘travel-cows’ just because they’re bred to take the weight of a dragon in human form and not run away from them in terror) are filled with lively bickering, and Celyn gathering intelligence in various areas.

The tale is complex, brings the children, now adults, of Annwyl and Talaith back into the story and adds yet another character, Brighda the Foul, a dragoness so old, she’s an ancestor, and should have been dead for eons.  The action goes right to end, and despite the nearly 500 pages, it managed to read as tightly as a much shorter book.

Ms Laurenston will never challenge Robert Jordan, Tolkien, or even Scott Lynch, but she’s created an interesting, fun, deadly, complex ‘world’ and managed to tell some very non-traditional ‘romances’ within the larger story.  As I said earlier, the series is a bit uneven.  Holding that balance of biting, often black humor, action, rough and tumble romance, high body counts, and a sprawling multi-level plot is not easy to pull off.  This time she kept it balanced AND she managed to move the over-arcing plot forward quite a bit while doing so.

Light My Fire is not deathless prose, filled with moving, unforgettable characters, tell a story for the ages.  It’s more a beer and brawl bloodfest, suitable for those who enjoy off-beat, bizarre, funny, interesting, and fast paced story.  It certainly is not everyone’s idea of a good read, but it is mine, and I totally enjoyed it.  As I said above, the cast of characters is HUGE, so you really do need to read all the books to follow the many plot elements, or you’ll be lost in the wilderness and bored to tears.  I give Light My Fire a B+ (4.3*) for being EXACTLY what a book in this series should be – original, funny, entertaining, and filled with strong, deadly women and the males who love then just as the are.  AT $7.99 on Amazon and $7.19 on BAM it’s worth the price.  And “May Death find you well this day!”

November 15, 2014

One Day Sale at Books-a-Million for Members Only + New Amazon Shipping Policy

Filed under: Editorial — toursbooks @ 3:10 pm
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Books-A-Million (BAM) has a one day – November 15 – sale of 20% your entire purchase, except BAM Millionaire’s Club Member ship for $25 that gives free shipping plus random in store and online discounts all year.  If you’re not a member and pre-order lots of dead tree books like me, it’s worth going, joining and placing a big order.

Now BAM ships the day a book is released, not so the book arrives at your house on the release date.  But guess what?  Amazon is changing their shipping policy to ship when ‘Books are in stock’.  Is this new?  Yup.  Go to a ‘to be released book’ that you HAVEN’T ordered and a little drop down will appear at the top of the listing with the new policy!  It’s easy to miss, but take time and read it.  One of my pre-orders is already going to be 4 days later.  I thought it was the publisher till today.

So for anyone who finds they don’t make enough use of their Prime Membership and just wants free shipping, take a look at BAM.  The website is nowhere near a match for Amazon, and certainly can’t compete in the ebook area with Amazon’s CreateSpace platform, but for dead-tree-books, they’re fine.  And you can easily do what I do, use Amazon to find what you want, put it on a wish list, then buy from BAM.  In fact, I just moved a bunch of pre-ordered books over as well!  Now I have to go cancel the Amazon orders.  Hey, it’s my money.  I paid for the $25 BAM Millionaire’s Club with what I saved today, so the rest of the year is a gift.

$7.99 mmpb’s are $5.75 (BAM automatically prices them at $7.19, so it’s 20% off that existing discount)

Trade size varied depending on list, but averaged around $9.30

Hard cover also varied, but one dropped all the way to $16.63 from $20+

If you join BAM’s Millionaire Club today, the 20% whole order discount will apply.  Good way to get calendars as such too!  Happy shopping!  BUT HURRY!

PS – I just cancelled over $200 in pre-orders from Amazon and moved them to BAM and saved enough to order 4 more books + the pay for the BAM Millionaire’s Club Membership!

November 1, 2014

Amazon Raises Prices on MMPB

Filed under: Editorial,General,Observations and Comments — toursbooks @ 11:48 pm
Tags: , ,

Since eliminating their 4-for-3 deal, Amazon used an across the board 10% discount on all Trade and mass market paperbacks.  Well, no more.  Books-A-Million still has the 10% off, but not Amazon.  Add in the sales tax and suddenly books that were $7.69 with tax are now a whopping $8.55.  (Actual totals would differ depending on sales tax.  I used 7%.)  So, from just early 2013 to now, the price per mass market paperback has gone from the 4-for-3 with no tax, per book cost of $5.99 to current per book cost of $8.55.  An astonishing $2.56 MORE per book!!!!!!!!!!!  No wonder sales are falling.

Yes, they are still offering some books with good discounts, but now not even to-be-released are getting a break.  When did this happen?  This week.  Apparently those big losses on their Firephone are to be paid by us.

And we’re back to Books-a-Million looking like the paperback source of choice.  As much as I like Amazon, I think raising Prime and playing with mmpb prices has just about reached its limit.  With $20 more for prime and nearly a dollar more per book since just last year, $2.56 more if you go back 2 years, that’s nearly $200/year for since 2012.  That’s insane.  Amazon is making itself non-competitive in that market segment, but maybe that’s what they want.  High volume, low profit books out the door in favor of higher profit books, media and internet services.  This war on mmpb readers is getting old fast.

October 31, 2014

Potpourri – Mix of Paranormal/UF/Fantasy and Mystery, or Something

I read a fair amount of paranormal.  Some are just great, like the shifter romances by Shelly Laurenston or Molly Harper’s Half-Moon Hollow series.  And UF is is a favorite, especially Charley Davidson books by Darynda Jones, as are several others.  Steampunk is a much abused sub-genre still in need of a really great, defining series beyond Gail Carriger’s uniquely stylized books.  Fantasy tends to get blended with UF and often starts UF and moves more heavily into fantasy.  The defining attribute of UF is, of course, a city setting.  This clashes a bit with the looser interpretation most readers put on it by defining things that are more of a mystery or romance/romantic suspense as UF, even when the setting is either fantasy or suburban.  Two series that tend to be treated that way are Kevin Hearne’s Iron Druid series and Seanan McGuire’s October Daye.  Even Jim Butcher’s Harry Dresden, the archetype for UF, makes that transition.  And that series is list on the major mystery reference site as well!  It gets very difficult to tuck books into convenient genre niches.

Fantasy is something we all tend to think of in terms of Hobbits and dragons and Middle Earth.  Certainly epic fantasy is whole worlds imagined, yet the characters are understandable in human terms.  But equally often fantasy has its roots in legends.  Myth based fantasy is popular – just ask former mystery writer Rick Riordan.  Some authors like Patrick Rothfuss and Robert Jordan have made their mark in pure epic fantasy while Lois McMaster Bujold wrote her wonderful Vorkosigan saga as a space epic.  Frank Herbert’s Dune series can be read on several levels, but honestly, I lost interest.  All these are honest fantasy.  And where the hell do I put Harry Potter?  An argument could be made that Bujold is Science Fiction, but she is less about technology or theory and more about saga.  Yet again, she could fit both descriptions, where Larry Niven is solidly Si-Fi, as was most of Arthur C Clarke.  True Si-Fi is not as common today as Science Fantasy/Epic Fantasy.

It’s not just paranormal/UF/Fantasy that has niche problems, even mystery has issues.  I am as guilty as the next one in classifying an historical by a modern reference.  That’s how “Falco is like Spenser in a toga,” became how I explained Lindsey Davis’ books.  The writing has the cheeky, irreverent  ‘Spenser’ vibe going, while Davis takes meticulous care with historical bits.  How else could I explain it?  We try and give things less well know a common reference.  Mystery readers have almost all read something of the Spenser series, so it’s relatable.  Like calling a book, “Perry Mason in periwigs.”  The reader immediately puts it in context as a legal mystery set in the UK.  Assuming they know what a periwig is, which these days is assuming a lot.  LOL  You want to really bend your mind?  Go to the Mystery Writers of America website and you’ll find authors like Sherrilyn Kenyon, Katie MacAllister, and Lorilei James in the same listing as Rhys Bowen, J.A. Jance, and Brian Freeman.  Dear God, what is happening out there!  heheheheheheheheheh

So, identity of genre is tough these days.  We have ghosts and skeletons and wizards and suicidal shop keepers ……………. well, pretty much everyone hanging out their shingle in the mystery area.  You know what?  If it’s good, who cares?  Certainly Darynda Jones doesn’t and neither does James Patterson.  So sit back and read what-ever-you-want-to-call-it.
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The Winter Long

I might not have liked McGuire’s Sparrow Hill Road, but The Winter Long was a very good entry in her October Daye series.  The world of October Daye was not easy to get into.  I struggled with book 1, started getting into book 2 (Rosemary and Rue, A Local Habitation) and by book 3 (An Artificial Night), I was hooked.  It isn’t often I’ll put up with a series that doesn’t grab me immediately, but I’m glad I did.

October is now a very different character from book one.  In part because her blood has changed, and in part because she’s physically evolving into more of her Fae self.  She looks less human now, and in a fit of self-realization, knows she THINKS less human as well.  But Simon Torquill, twin of her liege and the man who turned her into a fish 14 years ago and stood laughing as she almost died before getting to water …….. and lost her husband and daughter who thought she’d deserted them ………… is back – and at first she’s scared witless.  But that Toby is not the Toby who stands today, as Simon soon finds out.  And no one from those earlier books is what they seemed.

The Winter Long is a story about revelations, betrayal, growth and change – and self assurance making all the difference.  It takes Toby’s world and turns it upside down.  Fundamental truths were lies and the lies were not what they seemed.  It’s a tour de force for McGuire and she does it very well indeed, making all the changes believable.  And that is the beauty of this series, you can never quite tell what’s real.

The Winter Long scored a B+ to A- (4.5*) for the quality of the characters, plot, and writing.  It did not answer everything, so whether it is the start of new story arc, I can’t say, but it may well be.  The book is long, and the story satisfying.  The October Daye series is excellent and I don’t know why it isn’t more widely read.  Perhaps it’s the sheer complexity of the world building.  Like Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time, this series is more demanding than the typical easy overlay of supernatural on the human world.  That takes effort from readers.  Also, it lacks the brisk humor of say, Charlie Davidson, a character that at her core, more understandable than Toby, and who uses humor to relieve the sometimes terrible things she experiences.

The Winter Long is highly recommended but the series needs to be read in order to understand the world and the characters.  With this book, it’s essential to have read the early ones.  Purchased from Amazon and worth every penny.

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I'm dreaming of an undead christmas

A holiday novella by Molly Harper picks up the story of the younger sister from The Care and Feeding of Stray Vampires.  I’m Dreaming of an Undead Christmas takes place several years later, with Gigi now well into her college years and her sister Iris fairly newly converted to a vampire by her hunky husband “Cal” Calix.  As Iris tends to do, she going overboard trying to give Gigi a perfect Christmas, not like what they had, but what all the movies show.  Gigi just wants to be home and enjoy, but Iris is determined.

Keeping in mind this is a novella, so by definition a lightweight story, it was really very good.  At first.  Gigi also does something unexpected, she applies for a job with the Vampire Council.  Thing is, once a human goes to work for the Council, they can never leave.  So Gigi would essentially become an indentured servant.  Iris was NOT going to like that.  Plus Gigi has another problem, breaking up with her high school boyfriend who has slipped firmly into ‘friend’ territory.

The candy making scene was a complete howl and had me in tears.  Unfortunately, the story didn’t end so much as run out of gas shortly there after.  I literally looked for the rest of it, wondering what the Hell, that couldn’t be the end?  It was.  I was very frustrated.  I felt like I didn’t get a novella so much as the discarded opening chapters of a book that will be done later.  Man is that annoying.

I’m Dreaming of an Undead Christmas gets a C- (2.7*) because of that frustrating non-ending.  Right up through the candy scene she had me.  Then she blew it big time.  I got I’m Dreaming of an Undead Christmas as a free ARC.  I believe ebook will be released in Nov this year for $1.99.  Consider what I said about the ending before buying.

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Seventh Grave

YEAH!  Rejoice you Charley Davidson fans,  Darynda Jones and Seventh Grave and No Body does not disappoint!  Charley is pregnant and still out doing her thing – just with Reyes standing there watching like a hawk.  For good reason, the 12 hellhounds are after her.  Seriously after her.  Even Charley is nervous, just not nervous enough as far as Reyes is concerned.

As usual, Charley has multiple deaths to deal with.  First FBI Agent Carson (first name Kit) wants her help on a cold case – a multiple murder at a summer camp in the mountains outside Albuquerque.  But even the ultra-professional SAC, as Charley calls her, has trouble keeping her eyes on the road and off the hunk in her backseat.  Charley understands.  She has trouble herself.  The problem will be the spirits at the campground.  Ghosts often talk to Charley and Carson knows nothing of what she really is.  That all goes south when they get there and it becomes apparent the campground was used as a body dump and the ‘slaughter’ of the folks opening the camp happened because the killer was seen.  But then Charley is seen as well, by the Hellhounds.

They get back to the bar that Reyes bought from her dad and he shuts her out of a conversation with a TV reporter.  In a fit of pique, she takes her lunch to her office to find a priest waiting for her.  Seems the Vatican has been watching her and now he wants Charley to investigate apparent suicides that leave notes, but seem …….. wrong.  First Charley has to check with Rocket to see if they’re dead.  Talking to the dead savant who records each death means getting into an asylum she owns, but Reyes has padlocked it without her knowledge – or permission.

In addition to this, she has a dead man who needs his insurance to get to his family, the TV reporter with the crush on Reyes, and her dad has gone missing and her evil step-mother won’t help her do anything and her teenage BFF’s ghost is giving her endless crap.  Oh yeah, and she’s pregnant by Reyes and hasn’t clue about raising a child, so she starts small …………. with a goldfish.  It does not go well.

As usual, the book mixes humor, tension, violence and death all in liberal measure in that bizarre combination is has become the hallmark of this series.  I am endlessly amazed at how well and effortlessly Ms Jones pulls it off.  Seventh Grave and No Body has Charley growing as a character and evolving into what she will become.  The print copy carries a short bonus chapter from Reyes POV on the changes in Charley as she grows into her power.  He drops some hints about where she’s going, but if you bought an ebook, borrow a print copy to read it or just read the few pages in the book store.

Seventh Grave and No Body gets a rare A (4.7*).  It made a lot of evolutionary progress, which the overarching plot needed at this point.   Highly recommended, but it will appeal more to women than male readers given the style and humor.  Seventh Grave and No Body was purchased from Amazon for just over $16.  Like all her books, it’s not very long, but is a great ride.  Chapter 15 has a GREAT heading.  ENJOY!

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Gator Bait

Currently just available as an ebook, Gator Bait is book 5 in the Miss Fortune series of humorous mystery/romance books set in Sinful, LA.  Shorter than her previous entries, it still satisfies, although the plot is simpler than most, especially books one and two.  Her ‘Banana Pudding Dash Redux’ scene was a hoot as was Gertie in her red prom dress and cammo undies.

It’s almost election day in Sinful and Celia Arceneaux just announced she’s running for mayor …… in tomorrow’s emergency election.   While Ida Belle, Gertie, and Fortune were all prepared, they weren’t prepared to find Celia CHEATING on the Banana Pudding Dash!  But Fortune is a quick witted as she is with her feet and grabs two hot dogs, tossing them so the two big dogs loose down the street see – and block Celia.  But her next toss lands in Celia’s oversized bag and the dogs are worked up.  She won’t drop the bag and they won’t let go.  And with a couple of hot dogs, Fortune earns the enmity of the possible future mayor!!!!!!

Then Deputy Breaux grabs Fortune and drags her into the police station for some very odd questions.  Carter just called in.  He was being shot at, but Breaux had no boat and had to wait on one.  Fortune didn’t have that problem.  She, Gertie, and Ida Belle just ‘borrowed’ one (Walter’s of course) and sped out to the island where she and Carter had dinner the night before.  His boat is sunk and no sign of a body, but Fortune dives into the water to save him, if he’s there.  She does and Carter, who has been shot, lands in the hospital with short term amnesia about what happened between their date Saturday night and being shot.

The story then is two prong, about Celia and the election, which takes a back seat to Carter’s problem … especially when someone sneaks in wearing a ski mask trying to reach his room with a needle full of a deadly drug.  One only used in hospitals.  But Fortune has more HUGE problems.  She knows one of the ATF agents, but luckily he didn’t recognize her as the CIA assassin he’d met years ago.  Second, any check on her ID by a government agency will completely blow her cover.  Finally, Director Morrow has been injured in a suspicious accident.  Her time in Sinful might end with, but she couldn’t let Carter die, so at least it’s on her terms.

With her usual verve and style, sharp dialogue, and fun characters, Jana DeLeon creates another frothy bit of fun that doesn’t take itself too seriously.  Gator Bait is fast, funny, and a good read it gets a B- (3.8*) from me..  It’s currently $5.99 for the Kindle and Nook editions and will likely be in print soon, but given it’s short length, and the fact the Kindle price will drop in a few weeks, I’d go with the ebook here.

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Queen of hearts

In Queen of Hearts, Lady Georgina Rannoch sets sail with her mother, a famous, and oft married, stage actress, Claire Daniels, former Duchess of Rannoch, so ‘Mummy’ can get a divorce in Reno to keep German industrialist Max happy and her money flowing.  Now I must say, by page 60, I was ready to scream over ‘Mummy’ and ‘Golly’.  How many times can one character use those two words before they’re like fingernails down a blackboard?  GAH!  I soldiered on and was treated to a mediocre mystery that wasn’t mysterious and a ‘fly by’ overview of Hollywood during the early 30’s when ‘talkies’ were still new.  Obviously Darcy was there, along with incompetent maid Queenie, and a cast of characters that includes Charlie Chaplin and a loud, brash, over-bearing Hollywood producer – a Sam Goldwyn stand-in – with a ‘girlfriend’ who Claire knew when they were coming up through vaudeville, Stella.

On broad the Berengaria, a priceless ruby is stolen from an Indian princess.  Georgie helps none other than Darcy, for whom she was pining, to try and find the culprit.  While at dinner at the Captain’s table, Sam convinces Claire to let a stand-in wait the mandatory 6 weeks in Reno for the divorce while she goes to Hollywood and makes a film with him.  Naturally, the flattered Claire agrees, even though the film, the story of Phillip of Spain, Queen Mary, and Queen Elizabeth has nothing at all to do with history. They land in New York and quickly head to Nevada, and beat a hasty retreat from dusty, small town Reno to glamorous Hollywood and the Beverly Hills Hotel where Goldman has put them up in a 2 bedroom bungalow.

The scene moves to ‘Alhambra II’, the over-the-top mansion Sam is building in the foothills.  It huge, tacky, tasteless and typical of the era.  In addition to Charlie Chaplin (he has a walk on, not a real part) and a few other ‘names’, mostly she borrows real characters, changes their names, and then moves the smaller group to Alhambra for the murder.  Since Sam had ‘victim’ all but tattooed on his forehead, it’s no big shock who dies.  Actually, the whole book was shock free and kind of ordinary.  It was just barely enough to keep me reading – though ‘Mummy’ and ‘Golly’ did cause moments of wanting to inflict great violence on a harmless book.

Claire has a one night stand with Charlie Chaplin, of course.  Georgie and Darcy don’t consummate their ‘love’ – again.  Queenie is inept, quits, and comes back at the end.  The sheriff is out of central casting.  In fact, the whole  thing was a B movie in print.  Shallow, superficial, and ultimately, unsatisfying.  And I LIKE a lot of B movies!  Stuck in neutral with largely 2 dimensional characters and plot, the charm of her earlier work was notably absent, as was the ‘mystery’ part, as ‘Who Done It?” (a 1942 Abbott and Costello film, and one I LIKE!) was far to obvious.

Queen of Hearts gets a C- (2.7*) from me.  Rhys Bowen usually writes well, but this effort was lazy and lackluster at best, even for fans of the series.  Wait for a cheap paperback or get it at your library.  I bought mine from Amazon when it is now $2 cheaper than when it shipped.  Sales and ratings reflect the blah quality of the book.  My copy has moved on through Paperback Swap.

October 22, 2014

October Reviews – Mystery Week!

I love fall, but it came much to early thanks to a drought.  After several years of wicked fall storms and epic floods, this year we haven’t had anywhere near enough rain.  The trees behind my place turned in September and peaked just as October arrived.  Usually it’s the 3rd week of October before peak color on those trees. Now it’s not even mid-month and they’re nearly bare.  Too many months with nothing green except the pines now lay ahead.  God, I hate winter!  I hate the cold, the snow, the cold, the ice, the cold, the short days, the cold………  I HATE COLD!  I’m not sure how my parents managed it, but they had a son who is apparently part polar bear and a daughter who is part hot house plant.  My poor brother sweats (Really, like beads running down his face when he does any work at all.) when I’m up at Christmas and keep the thermostat up even while bundled in layers of sweaters and fleece.  That’s the price of being family.  He’s learned to live with it a few days a year.

It’s already dark so early, the nights seem endless.  The light was noticeably  different in July and now, the sun is in a very different part of the sky, light slanting and a different color.  It is nice to live in the country with hills.  Nice color, and very scenic drives everywhere.  Unfortunately, that means folks taking day trips in the area to ‘see the color’.  It’s much worse up by my brother in the Berkshires.  This weekend the roads will be packed with ‘leaf peepers’.  The historic main street of Deerfield with it’s beautiful houses dating back to early 1700’s is over run with tour buses.  He’ll drive down on a beautiful day during the week, often taking his 1912 Buick roadster, and should be park, even for a few minutes, crowds will gather around his brass age car as it it were another museum attraction.  Soon, he’ll be draining the radiator and crankcase and putting the car up for the winter.  He’s already been bringing in wood for the stove.

October new releases have mostly arrived and still nothing amazing.  SIGH!  Where is that gem of book by a new author?  Apparently very well hidden.  But, let’s see what’s been passing through my hot little hands.

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The Impersonator

New author with a new series and award winner from the Mystery Writers of America, The Impersonator by Mary Miley made it’s debut last year in hardcover and I got it this year in trade paperback shortly after its release.  I bought the next book in the series, Silent Murder.  The Impersonator has a fascinating historical setting in the 1920’s with its lead character part of a vaudeville act.  Throughout the book, the author slips in tidbits about many acts that later became famous on the screen and much later on TV.

She calls herself Leah Randell, but for this act she is known as Carrie Darling.  She was raised in vaudeville and made her own since her mother died years ago when she was 12.  Small and youthful looking, she can still pass as a teen despite her 24 years.  She sees a fat man in her show several nites running. Luckily, the other older members of the ‘Seven Little Darlings’ stick together, even though they’re not related, so when the fat, old man calls her Jessie, she isn’t alone.  But ‘Uncle Oliver’ is insistent she and her two friends dine with him at the best hotel in town.  That’s where he makes his pitch.

Jessie Carr was his niece and would now be 20 years old.  She ran away from the family estate in Oregon after her parents died and her aunt came to live there with her 4 children to raise her.  Her own family had been disinherited because of the wayward nature of her husband, so despite the fact her sons were Carr’s, they stood to inherit nothing if she appeared by the age of 21.  That birthday is fast approaching and her ‘Uncle Oliver’ needs to gain access to the Carr fortune – or at least some of it  Then along came Leah, a dead ringer for her cousin.  So he’ll train her to be Jessie and she can get rich, then he can get a small share of the family fortune his sister married into.

Initially, Leah refuses.  The act breaks up and finding work is hard.  Eventually, she agrees to impersonate Jessie Carr.  Oliver trains her in everything from correct fork and spoon to who is who in the family, where she lived as a child, the lawyers managing the estate, etc.  Then the accidents start.  The boarding house she lived in burns down.  She feels like she’s being watched and switches trains and hotels – and the hotel she was booked in has another ‘accident’.  Oliver feels she’s being sensitive.   Then she passes the first test, Oliver’s mother, Jessie’s grandmother, and the family lawyers.  Arriving at the ‘cottage’ in Oregon, the real fear starts.  Her two male cousins had spent the last nearly 7 years expecting to inherit, now Jessie is back and they want her gone.  As in dead and gone.

And suddenly, the book stalls.  It loops between a small town and the isolated ‘cottage’ with her creepy cousins and their sweet mother.  A ‘cowboy’ shows up and becomes part of the gang, but he’s not creepy, he’s cute.  Unfortunately, I knew what happened by page 120.

The Impersonator has very strong beginning, a stalled middle that was meant to build tension, but basically just looped because physically, it could go nowhere, and then it had a good ending that seemed a bit rushed with revelations about family all coming at once.  It was a good read, but not great.  Had the middle of the book paced as well as the first 100 pages, it would have been great, but the isolation, though authentic, had limited opportunities for characters and plot twists.  You can only do so much with running a car into and out of a small coastal town.

The Impersonator gets a C+ to B- (3.6*) from me mostly due to middle of the book and the rushed pacing at the end with one surprise after another.  The killer is anticlimactic, but the rest is good.  As an historical, Mary Miley does a great job of capturing the period and the character of Leah/Jessie.  The book is certainly well above the usual crop of new authors.  Ms Miley is a former history professor at the U of V, and worked at Williamsburg, so she has a sound background for the kind of research into vaudeville and period settings here and it shows to great advantage.  Enjoyable and you can speed read the middle.  I bought the second book in the series set in early Hollywood.  Looking forward to it.

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One Potion in the grave

Heather Blake writes two paranormal cozy series, the Wishcraft series that I’m not fond of and Magic Potion series that I like.   One Potion in the Grave is book two of the Potion series and as enjoyable as book 1.  Hitching Post, Alabama is one busy small town with Senator Calhoun’s son getting married this weekend at Carly Hartwell’s mother’s chapel.   But there’s another surprise for Carly, her old friend, Katie Sue Perriwinkle has come back to town after leaving to get away from her greedy relatives.  Katie Sue cared for grandfather and younger sister when her Momma moved out and her sister married and left.  Turns out, granddad was a shrewd investor and his estate was several million dollars.  After fighting her mother in court and winning, Katie Sue took off and got her MD, living in the big city in a gated community.  She was known as Kathryn Perry now and at a B&B operated by one of Carly’s aunts.  She’s here for the wedding ……………. and to make trouble for the Calhoun’s, a dangerous family to cross.  Carly’s ‘spidey sense’ is screaming danger all around her old friend.

As if that wasn’t surprise enough, the bride to be, beauty queen Gabi Greenleigh, comes in looking for a love potion for her groom.  And her cousin, with whom she has the beginnings of a relationship, Delia, stops in.  Just a day for surprises – including her cranky aunt having coffee with her mom’s arch competitor and looking mighty friendly ………. and conniving.  Kathryn has her room ransacked at the B&B, then she’s found dead and the groom is a prime suspect.

With verve and lively characters, Ms Blake keeps the story rolling and Carly involved in investigating her death.  When the younger sister she tried to gain custody of lands in the hospital on life support, she starts to look at who benefits ……….. and finds two different answers.  The answers were given away to any mystery fan in a scene well before the big denouement.

One Potion in the Grave is a good paranormal cozy read.  Ms Blake writes well, but I like this setting and group of characters more than her Wishcraft books set in Massachusetts.  I give One Potion a B- (3.8*) and suggested read for any cozy lover.  The series deserves more fans than it has garnered so far.  I got it for just over $7 at Amazon and I’m passing it along to a PBS cozy fan.  Like most cozies, an easy, fast read, but with much better than average plot and characters.

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the skeleton takes a bow

The Skeleton Takes a Bow by Leigh Perry, book two in the Family Skeleton series, is another amusing story featuring Sid the skeleton, one of the livelier skeletons out there, and often a hoot.  Playing Yorick in Madison’s high school production of Hamlet (which, according to Richard Armour is Twisted Tales from Shakespeare, means ‘little ham’), and Sid is ready and willing to play his part.  Sitting in Madison’s locker during the day is like Nirvana for the busybody skeleton.  Dr. Georgia Thackery, adjunct professor at the local college reluctantly agrees.  Then Madison does what too many teens do.  She got busy, left school and forgot Sid’s skull in the prop room.  Mother and daughter go back, but no answers their banging and they leave Sid for the night.  And what a night it was.  Sid overheard a murder.

The fun begins when Georgia gives in and allows Sid to investigate.  Then it seems an unrelated natural death from pancreatic cancer of fellow college adjunct seems to somehow be related.  Despite two anonymous calls to the cops, there’s no evidence of a crime or a body.  At least only her very practical sister thinks she’s nuts.  Soon, strange letters from a foundation that has to internet presence or apparent records starts cropping up all over.  Then the two start tying back to a powerful local politician.

The book moves along quickly and Sid is by turns funny and occasionally a drama queen.  He certainly has a personality.  It will be interesting to see where the author goes with this when Georgia’s parents, both tenured faculty at the college, come home from their sabbatical.  I give The Skeleton Takes a Bow a B- (3.7*) for a good cozy read.  Funny and a bit fluffy, but kind of what a cozy should be.  I bought this from Amazon for $7.19, which to be honest is a bit high.  Try and get it cheaper.  Cozies don’t exactly make the keeper shelf.  And for true laughs, try Richard Armour’s Twisted Tales from Shakespeare.  It remains one of my favorite humor books and the more you know his works, the funnier it is.  Available used, but not as an ebook.

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Children of war

In book 7 of the Bruno Chief of Police series, Children of War, Martin Walker once again takes readers on a sad journey into France’s past, this time to Algeria.  Published in the UK, it is not due out in the US till 2015 under the title The Children Return.  I purchased this from The Book Depository in the UK, a company started by a former Amazon employee and now owned by them.  They have free worldwide shipping via media mail, but waiting 10 to 2 weeks beats waiting 10 months for the US publisher.

The book opens with the brutal torture killing of an undercover policeman that Bruno knew well.  The manner of his death takes him back to years he served in the French military in Algeria and later in Sarajevo.  Such brutality seems so out of place in the bucolic French countryside where the grape harvest is starting and people still largely in the old way.  But the world stops for no one, as Bruno well knows, and all he can do for his colleague now is find the killer.

This book introduces a new love interest for Bruno, an American, and like all his love interests, she is badly injured.  As usual, he’s cooking, watching out for his investment in a winery, and training his new hound.  But the mystery is darker and more gruesome than the early books and it deals with a less than stellar bit of French history in North Africa.  Even worse, the bad guy is smart and lives.

This little patch of bucolic French countryside does seem to have the highest violent crime rate outside St Mary Mead where Miss Marple lived.  Unfortunately, this entry in the really good series was a little too dark to be enjoyable.  That level of gruesome torture/murder, while accurate for what it portrayed, is not an easy or entertaining read.  When juxtapositioned with the country village life in St Denis, well, it was hard to understand how anyone could compartmentalize to the extent that Bruno did.  Still, the nature of the crime is what drives everything that comes after, so it was essential to the plot.

By now, Walker has established a pattern to his Bruno books and it’s a formula he follows here.  Mixing ordinary village life with the plague of fighting off the encroachment of the larger world, the simple pleasures of living against the greater backdrop of violence and dark deeds.  As usual, an ongoing character has a secret in her past that gets revealed and dealt with by the truly evil man at the center of all this, as does another issue, again tied to this man, tying up the seeming disparate sub-plots.

Children of War gets a B- (3.8*) because the darkness of the crimes seemed to overwhelm the rest of the story and frankly, I wanted the bad guy D-E-A-D, preferably in some horrible way.  A good mystery, but far more in the noir genre than traditional mystery.  Will I buy his next book?  Yes, but if he continues down this grim path, I might hesitate on future ones.  My copy has moved on to someone in PBS through a swap.  Mostly, Bruno fans are women and this book was not aimed to please those readers.  As a devout action thriller/spy- assassin book reader, I found myself a bit put off.

September 27, 2014

Mixed Genres – and Mixed Reviews

Well, I’ve been lax this month.  It’s not been an AWFUL month for books, but like most of this year, it’s not great either and I’ve found myself rereading old favorites rather than new releases.  This simply has not been a year for outstanding books.  Some good ones, yes, but nothing great.  Now I know the rabid fans of some writers would heartily disagree, but it’s true for me.   In fact, unlike most years, not a single books I’ve read has grabbed me strongly enough to even consider it for the keeper shelf.  Yeah, I’m getting real picky about that keeper shelf thing.  I keep looking for that next Daniel O’Malley, or Kevin Hearne, or Robert Crais, or Barry Eisler to break into the field and bring a refreshing new voice to any one my favorite genres.  SIGH!

OK, I realize that cozy mysteries will never be barn burners.  That isn’t what they are as a genre, but damn, could we just leave food and shoes OUT OF IT?  And thriller writers, where’s the thrill?  Too many plots read like reworked movie plots.  And UF/paranormal writers, give me a break.  Enough with the whole ‘fairy tale’ jag you’ve been on.  It’s just annoying.  Jeeze.  And please, authors, if you’re going to take that book you e-published in chapters and have it printed, you might want to polish the thing up a bit.

Editing is sloppy, proofreading – jeeze, just forget that, and even calling characters by the WRONG NAME!  You do know Word has a Search and Replace function, right?  So if you change a character’s name, DO IT EVERYWHERE.  Nothing like stumbling across a chapter where there’s an apparently new character who appears from nowhere at 2AM.  Took me a few minutes to start mentally substituting the correct name.

So, in desperation, I’ve been buying old books by new to me authors.  The Matt Royal series by H. Terrell Griffin, Joseph Heywoods’  Woods Cop mysteries, the early books in Clive Cussler, Justin Scott Issac Bell series things like that.  All in all, I’ve felt the move away from traditional publishing with it’s overly long lead times and high book prices, to the more streamlined self-publishing embraced by many authors is a two edged sword.  You often have a better, and faster cycle for new books, but you also have less polished prose and frequently less challenging plots.

I’m not saying there are no good books, there have been many good to very good books, but no OMG this is GREAT moments this year from either traditional or ebook authors.  Not yet, anyway.  We have a few months left.  Let’s hope for a breakthrough.

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Fast Track

Once upon a time, Julie Garwood wrote historical, mostly Regency, romance.  Then she moved to ‘romantic suspense’.  Two problems, she can’t write good suspense and somewhere along the way, she lost that bright, caustic wit that made her early work good.  That leaves the reader with a not very suspenseful book filled with cookie cutter characters in various set pieces with no particular spark, verve, or thrilling plot.  The clothes have changed, the characters haven’t.  All in all, slightly less exciting (and interesting) than Scooby-Doo!  Pirates Ahoy!

In Fast Track, Cordelia Kane has had a near life-long crush on Aiden Madison, the older brother of Regan Madison, one of her best friends. Then Cordie’s much loved father Andrew dies of a heart attack.  She was raised by him, a single father, who went from being a mechanic to owner of a chain of auto repair shops that he sold and retired as a multi-millionaire.  But he was still a blue collar guy and when Cordie started teaching math in a school for at risk students, and they lost their shop teacher, her dad stepped in and didn’t just teach the kids, he mentored them, taught them values, the same ones he’d instilled in his own daughter.  (The funeral is possible the best part of the book, as it’s very well done.)  Her best friends Regan and Sophie come back to Chicago for the funeral with husbands in tow – as well as 2 of the 3 Madison bothers, including Aiden.

Cordie finds a letter from her dad explaining she isn’t his daughter and her mother isn’t dead.  Her search for her mother triggers an unexpected reaction – someone shoves her into the street and she’s lucky to be alive – and even luckier that 2 of her students saw what happened – and her best friends married FBI agents.  In the end, finding her mother is a bit anti-climatic.  A narcissist and spoiled daughter of privilege, she’s horrified to see Cordie, and even more horrified to find she’s with Aiden Madison.

The plot is shallow as a saucer, so are the plastic people that inhabit it.  The big resolution was flat as a pancake, and the HEA – meh.  It took a maximum of 3 working brain cells to read, so it’s a good book for a day when you can’t concentrate.  Forgettable on every level.  I got the book for free thru a book swap site and I’ll pass it on the same way.  Save your money – and those last few brain cells.

Fast Track gets a  C- (2.7*) and yes I know it gets 4.5* on Amazon, but I’m warning you, it’s a big a waste of money.  And even the ebook is way over priced, so wait and read it for free from your library or for die hard fans, buy is cheaply used.  Really CHEAP.

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nights-honor

OK, here we have another kind of romantic suspense, this one done with vampires and things that go bump in the night and it’s a much better read.  Night’s Honor opens at the Vampire Ball on New Year’s Eve.  Those who wish to become attendants of vampires have a fix amount of time to make their case and any vampire interested can indicated they would like to interview that candidate.  Tess, upset by the utter indifference the vamps show the candidates, simply walks out and says, “I’m smarter than anyone else here,” and leaves the stage.  Unexpectedly, she has an interview with none other than Xavier dell Toro, the infamous enforcer for the Nightkynd King Julian.

I’ve seen this book described as a ‘slow burn romance’, which it is, and the main characters are well drawn.  Tess is no fan of vampires, but with a djinn after her, she looking for safety.  Xavier challenges all she thinks she knows about ‘monsters’, especially vampires.  Xavier is deeply drawn to her, but his personal code of honor does not permit him to take it beyond their current status.  She’s part of his household and has one year to become a donor – if she cannot bring herself to willingly allow him to take her blood, she will have to leave.  And slowly she comes to realize he a man of honor, not a monster as she assumed the Elder Races to be, especially vampires.

That’s the good part, the bad part is the increasing annoying references to Malphas, a banished djinn who runs a casino in Vegas.  Honestly, Ms Harrison danced around this for most of the damn book and it was beyond annoying.  Other than her first book, Dragon Bound, and her fourth book, Oracle’s Moon, I’ve had mixed reactions to her books.  I liked the characters in Night’s Honor, but felt she didn’t do them justice with the way she told their story.  I liked nearly 80%, but that other 20% was like a sore tooth that just kept get getting poked.

It’s the bad part that brought down my rating on Night’s Honor to C+ to B- (3.5*).  If you read this strictly as romance, it’s a bit old fashioned, not steamy.  All of her books have the common element of either or both sides presuming to ‘know’ what the other is, and it’s that slow building fascination that and shifting perspective that makes them interesting.  It takes really good characters to make each one unique enough to feel like a different story rather than variations on a theme.

Purchased from Amazon.  Not worth $7.99, so get it used.

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whiskey youre devil

Whiskey You’re the Devil is the fourth installment in the Addison Holmes series is almost good as the 3 previous stories.  Off-beat, over-the-top, and realistic is equal parts, it’s just what quirky, funny mystery should be – almost.  Well, if you’re looking for a substitute for Janet Evanovich that entertains and manages to tell a story, try Liliana Hart’s Addison Holmes and her J.J. Graves mysteries, a somewhat more serious mystery series.  BUT, this entry is a bit TOO over the top too much of the time.  A little Rosemarie goes a long way and frankly, she got on my last nerve.

Addy and detective boyfriend, Nick, are alternately having sex and fighting.  Both are stressed out and Addy’s friend, Rosemarie, self-appointed side-kick, and sex fiend, is implicated in the murder of the owner of sex shop where she bought her ‘defective’ vibrator.  But the victim is a lot more than just the owner of shop selling things usually delivered in a plain brown wrapper, she’s also the former leading ‘lady’ of porn movies and owner of an extensive studio that is still making them right in Savannah.

Even while trying to keep Rosemarie from a total meltdown – and arrest – she’s also investigating her former neighbor ‘Spock’ over the theft of his Enterprise model worth over $100K, the insurance company thinks he lying and hired the PI company she works for to help.  She’s also trying to get ready for her PI exam.  She HAS to score near the top to get a job offer from her BFF, and current boss, Kate.

While the setup was good, Rosemarie’s constant hysterics wore thin quickly.  The solution came out of nowhere, but the Spock investigation was fun and Agent Savage was back on the scene, so that’s good.

I’m not offended by the obvious Steph Plum copycat cast, or even some of the OTT stuff, but the book was not as well plotted as the earlier ones in the series.  I bought the print book for under $9 on pre-order from Amazon and its Create Space self publishing platform.  While the quality of the book itself was good as always, the content was not.

Whiskey You’re the Devil get a C+ to B- (3.5*) from me.  A good read, if annoying at times, it makes more sense to get the ebook or get this used.  No point in rushing.  I do NOT buy Kindle Unlimited because I can only look at an LCD screen so long and then I need the ease of reading paper books, but should you have it, use it here.  I’ll give the series a few more to she which way the plots go – outrageously silly, or back to reality with only SMALL doses of Rosemarie and her near constant hysterics.

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Murder of a needled knitter

If there is a book character I could vote off the page it would be May Dennison, mother to Skye Dennison, a 30 something school psychologist who just married the town police chief, May’s boss, Wally Boyd.  In Murder of a Needled Knitter, Ms Swanson FINALLY got the series mostly back on track, but even on her honeymoon cruise, May shows up.  There is something disturbing about that – both the fact that May would do it and that Skye would not confront her mother and FINALLY tell her to back off.

The books goes well as Skye and Wally finally get time alone to explore their married life and enjoy being spoiled in their suite with the special perks that come along with it, like special dining areas and reserved show seating.  But dining out brings its own drama when they see an unpleasant exchange between a woman and man.  The woman is definition of rude.  She also the ‘expert’ doing the knitter workshops and activities they got an earful about from the knitters gathered at a lookout.  Skye, whose mother is a dedicated knitter, decides to check out the group and finds Guinevere Sterling dying with a knitting needle stabbed in her jugular.

Murder on a cruise ship is not like murder on land.  The security staff is more concerned about keeping guests happy than doing a true investigation.  They have no CSI’s or procedures to secure a scene.  It’s ‘the show must go on’ to the n-th degree.  May is the leading contender for killer, so Skye and Wally get involved and find her BFF Trixie and her workaholic farmer husband, Owen, are on their deck in another suit thanks to a plumbing catastrophe that destroyed not just their inside room, but most of their belongings along with it.

Unlike most of her recent books, Murder of a Kneedled Knitter was NOT a simple, obvious solution that had me tossing the book away by page 30.  The victim was a no brainer even before she first appeared.  While May Dennison is still my candidate for the fictional character I most want to murder, the book was a decent read, despite the annoying parts.  I’ll give it a C+ to B- (3.5*) for being a decent cozy and a major step up for her usual Scrumble River book, but not nearly as good as her Devereaux Dime series.  Purchased from Amazon and frankly over priced.  Buy it used unless you’re a die hard fan – then read and enjoy.

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House Immortal.indd

The first in a new series by an author that I’ve always felt somewhat ambivalent about, got off to a slow and rather confusing start in her world building.  I had the same problem with the first Allie Beckstrom book and was never a big fan of that series, which just never gelled into an exciting story that I could lose myself in.  That’s the same issue I had here.  By page 120, I was getting tired of Matilda (Tilly) Case, her secrets, her world, and the lying people around her, so House Immortal got off on the wrong foot and never quite got back on.

Adding to the confusion that the world building caused, a second plot line involving her brother, a dying House leader who will not let him go, and a group of ‘Immortals’ who keep the peace, but who aren’t actually immortal.  In the end, though the plot itself is as old as time, driven by greed, the lust for immortality, exploitation of everything to acquire greater power.  Unfortunately, the characters are not strong enough to pull it off.  The second half of the book is better than the first, as it transitions into the blackmail, betrayal, and action.  Tilly is a strong character, but too much in the Allie Bechstrom mold.  I wish she had a different set of vulnerabilities.  Still, her strengths are different and one of the most interesting parts of the book.  But the real hook for me – the Galvanized (read Immortal) Abraham is possibly the most interesting character and his interaction with Tilly is the saving grace of the book.

My real problem here is I just couldn’t get excited about the story or really involved with the characters.  Taken on their own, they were interesting, but the various plots just didn’t get going till too late for me to care.  House Immortal gets a C+ (3.4*) rating from me.  If you liked Devon Monk’s Allie Beckstrom, you’ll like this series, especially for fans of Dystopian and Alternate Future books.  But you will have to deal with her strange jigsaw approach to world building and constant rerunning of the whole House thing.   Purchased from Amazon for $7.19, it wasn’t worth it and was overlong.  It gets a higher rating on Amazon, mostly by fans of her earlier series.

August 26, 2014

Robin Williams Tribute by Billy Crystal

Filed under: opinion — toursbooks @ 5:17 pm
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You know, every generation has someone special in comedy come along and somehow remake the genre.  Robin Williams did that for my generation.  We’ve been blessed with many fine comedians from Bill Murray, to Jay Leno,  to Billy Crystal himself.  My brother never cared for Robin Williams’ frantic, manic style.  But possibly one of the best bits of improv ever was done in his interview with James Lipton on Actor’s Studio.  In a way I felt sorry for Mr Lipton.  He’d managed interviews with some of the finest actors in the world and is a great interviewer, drawing out even the most reticent, yet he met the one he simply could not control, Robin Williams.  You can see the full episode here on YouTube.  This is the one where Robin takes that pink scarf/shawl from a lady in the audience and creates such funny, memorable bits of characters, the few minutes stands alone as a comedy classic.

Like his hero, Jonathan Winters, Robin Williams suffered from depression and like Winters, refused medications for fear it would impede his gift at comic improv.  We forget at times, Williams trained at Julliard for acting, and certainly he turned in some brilliant dramatic performances, but even then he was famous for never saying the same dialogue twice.  When he did the genie, the young actor playing Aladdin was left so befuddled by Williams off script riff, he went, “Huh?”  It’s in the movie.  He did 19 HOURS of recording for that film and the artists actually redid whole scenes to match what Williams had created on the spot because it was so much better than what was planned.  I own that movie just for the pleasure of his genie character.  Mrs Doubtfire was wonderful.  Even La Cage au Folles, where he let Nathan Lane steal the show.

Williams, his good friend Billy Crystal, and Whoppie Goldberg started Comedy Relief.  How do you replace Robin Williams?  I’m not sure you can.  He was unique.  And maybe one of the most unique things about the man is just how much respect he had from his fellow comedians and actors.  He entertained troops in the Mideast without fanfare or publicity.  He did hospitals and more charitable work than 10 other equally famous actors combined, all quietly.  Yet he laid his battles with drugs and alcohol open to the public in hopes to remove some of the stigma and show you can get past it, but never stop fighting it.

But people who are unique can be lonely.  He had many friends he loved and was loved in return.  But in the end, depression, a terrible disease, took its toll and the one person he couldn’t make laugh was himself.  Billy Crystal, his closet friend, did a perfect tribute to Robin Williams last night at the Emmy’s.  It was funny, balanced, and had a brilliant closing that’s all Robin Williams himself.

Emmy Tribute To Robin Williams

August 25, 2014

Pot Luck – Book Reviews and One Rant – New & Old Various Genre Books

Yeah, I don’t always read new releases.  I read older books and books that have been sitting on Mt TBR too long, or just something to break the steady diet of mystery, thrillers, UF, fantasy, and paranormals.  So this is a little bit of everything.

lordgrayslist-270x405

Yup, we have a good old fashioned, humorous bodice ripper here.  Published 2012 and still wish listed on PBS, this Regency style romance feature’s a reprobate Lord, his mother, and a weekly rag that basically is a long gossip column and HE’S the star attraction! Determined to put a stop to being the star of the Ton’s gossips, Ben marches off to confront the owner of the dreadful rag.  He will make him a very generous offer and then he can shut the thing down and have peace.

Simple plans rarely work.  The publisher was none other than an old flame he’d abandoned, Evangeline Ramsey.  Still proud and independent, she makes no apology for how she makes a living as her charming father, a risk all gambler, left her with his debts, this little printing operation, and his deteriorating mind.

Unable to convince Eve to see she should sell to him, Ben manages to find her father on one of his more lucid days.  He gets his sale agreement and thinks he’s done.   But come the following Tuesday, the London List publishes it’s final issues and lays out EXACTLY why and who is responsible.  And he has a mass of people protesting in front of his town house and his mother and staff mad at him.  Yeah, she was THAT clever.

What follows is the odd delayed courtship of two people from very different social and economic backgrounds battling it out over continuing the damn London List.  Both Ben and Evangeline are well done, mature adults and the books has a bit more substance than most Regency romances.  It was fun, but lack the heat and sparkling wit of a top notch romance.  Lord Gray’s List gets a C+ (3.5*) from me.  For Regency fans sick of the whole ballroom thing, a nice change of pace.  Get it used.  Avoid the ebook.  It’s WAY overpriced by the publisher.  Hardly a must read, but a good beach read or lake weekend diversion.  Got the book thru a book swapping site.  Will pass it on the same way.

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Muscle for Hire

Muscle for Hire is a classic Samhain romantic suspense novel heavy on the romance and much better than average on the suspense/mystery side.  A short, interesting read with enough mystery to intrigue the reader and better than average characters.  Lexxie Couper is a well known writer of romantica (AKA smut) from Australia.  She was at it long before E.L. James, and at least her older stuff, like this, is readable.  Simply sexy romance, not some nonsense that just carries the sex scenes.

Aslin Rhodes is ex-SAS and for 16 was head bodyguard for Nick Blackthorne, a famous rock and roll star now in semi retirement.  Nick recommended him to act as bodyguard/teacher/tech help for Chris Huntley, a rock who is turning to action films.  He finds a tall girl in black leather trying to get into Huntley’s trailer and instead of easily taking her down, he lands on his butt.  Turns out, Chris’s sister Rowen is no lightweight, she’s a world class martial arts champion.

What follows is a better than usual, if still shallow as a saucer, bit of romantic suspense complete with bombs and shots fired.  Turns out though, Aslin is protecting the wrong person and works it out just in time.

Muscle for Hire gets a C+ to B- (3.5*) for a good, mindless entertaining read, best read on vacations, during flights, or when sick of all the current crap and best bought used, as an ebook, or gotten free thru the library or book swap site like I did.

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WellRead_2 (1)

First in a new a cozy series that offered EXACTLY what I wanted, Well Read, Then Dead went to the front of the line for reading when my new releases hit.  My favorite location of SW Florida barrier island and a bookstore with food.  My idea of heaven on earth.  Too bad it didn’t work out.  Sassy Cabot and Bridget Mayfield are best friends who found themselves suddenly without jobs or husbands, so they decided to do something they always wanted to, open a book store that also served as a kind of tea room, casual dining spot.  They chose Ft Myers Beach Florida, not exactly the swinging spot for singles in Fl, except maybe those over 50.  The story opens with the book club meeting where most of the main characters make their appearance.  The minister’s wife, an older shop owner, two elderly cousins descended from old Florida families, a faintly terrified newcomer, and Sassy and Bridget.  (Too bad they never got to Bill Crider’s books, a wonderful and underrated mystery author.)

The characters were cozy stock people.  They could be the wiccans in the Magical Bake Shop series by Bailey Cates, or the readers in the Library series by Jenn McKinley.  (By the way, both are far better written and plotted.)  Sassy has a cop boyfriend, like half the other cozy shop owners, who also seem to attract cops.  She also suffers from ‘Shop Owner Sam Spade Delusion’ – a common mental disorder that cause small business owners to believe they are better qualified and informed about a murder than the cops – AND should investigate.   Bridget’s role is ‘The Voice of Reason That Shall be Ignored’.

The victim was not a surprise nor was the killer.  Why was even evident.  About the only parts I liked were the discussions of the early settlers of the area, though shallow, at least it showed some aspects of Florida’s history that are often overlooked.  The writing itself was adequate for a cozy, but if you’ve read Randy Wayne White’s Captiva and Sanibel Flats, or many of his other books, you quickly realize how weakly the whole location and it’s history is portrayed.

One of those ‘WTF’ moments was when Sassy gets up and looks out her 5th story window northward and sees Sanibel, North Captiva, Pine island, and Cayo Costa.  One small problem – other than the curvature of the Earth and at 5 stories the human eye can only see about EIGHT MILES.  There is the whacking big BRIDGE – that despite being the closest thing  to her other than the lovely view of Punta Rassa area of Ft Myers, is invisible!!!!!!!!  (I almost threw the book across the room.)  FMB has many great views, just not the one described.  By the way, the east end of Sanibel where the lighthouse is?  Yeah, that would almost due west of the north end of FMB so you’d be looking out at the Gulf,  and if you were mid-island, you’d see no islands looking north, just the Estero Bay mangrove preservation area, because FMB tilts to the east as you travel south along the long, narrow island.  Another sad case of directional impairment.

Issues with the setting aside (all authors take liberties), Well Read, Then Dead was DOA for me.  The first of the series and likely the last I will buy.  I acknowledge I am in the minority.  Cozy mysteries are like Harlequin romances, not meant to be taken seriously, not well researched, and certainly lacking in logic on the part of the lead characters, but the damn things are getting on my last nerve. Seriously, what sane person chases a man they suspect is a killer into a remote location ALONE – unless you’re well armed and know what you’re doing and your name is James Bond or John Rain or Jack Reacher?  (I have concluded female shopkeepers have a heretofore unidentified suicide gene.)   Well Read, Then Dead gets a D+ to a C- (2.8*) and a suggestion to give it a miss.  It’s a ‘me too’  mystery that lacks originality and has none of those extra redeeming characteristics that you need to pull a cozy onto the ‘good reading’ list.  Purchased from Amazon and I’m unlikely to buy more by of this series.  (I know you’re shocked)

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cursed moon

Book 2 of Prospero’s War by Jayne Wells, Cursed Moon, has some good stuff and some bad stuff.  The plot part was actually good, stolen love potions that are really rape inducing drugs are stolen from the Hierophant, and half male, half female leader of the cult Kate left years ago.  She nearly 10 years ‘sober’ that is no longer cooking (the term used to produce potions) or using magic.  But she’s ridden with guilt because she ‘cooked’ to cure Volos and her brother were they had been infected in Dirty Magic.  Volos is supposedly legit now and magic free, but she knows he’s just better at hiding.

Kate and her partner Morales, another former magic user, having a tough time with brutal rapes happening, a Blue Moon on the way, and Kate’s evil Uncle Abe trying to call her from prison.  Refusing his call didn’t stop him, word comes down from on high that she’s to go see what he wants.  Uncle Abe is still Uncle Abe.  Pulling strings and getting people to dance.

The story of the potions, theft, rise of new leader who feeds off watching the violence he starts happen, risk of huge the violence sex crimes escalating during the Blue Moon when magic’s effects are amplified, has all the cops on edge, especially Magical Crimes Unit.

Those are the good things.  The bad parts are the long segues into Kate’s private life where she’s raising her brother and wallowing in guilt over not admitting in her AA meeting she ‘cooked’.  Meetings she avoided for weeks since saving her brother.  As everyone knows by now, I have VERY limited patience with angst.  Her sanctimonious friend Pen got on my nerves too.

The other issue is the ‘rape’ drug.  I felt this was treated with less seriousness than it deserved and frankly, any book that uses rape drugs as a major plot element is doomed for me.  And be warned, there are some ugly scenes in this book, thankfully brief.  There was an almost gratuitous sense of ‘I want to SHOCK you!’ by the author – instead she made me wonder if that was the most interesting plot twist she could think of.  Either way, all she got was, “Eeewwwwwww.”  And this from a reader of smut, which is NOT RAPE.

Cursed Moon is not a bad book.  The pacing is good, as are the characters, but the whole guilt wallowing is a PIA and the rape scenes – gag – but not as bad as some I’ve read and not a big enough part of the whole to wreck things, just leave a bad taste.  It really was all the guilt crap that pushed me over the edge.  At the end, Kate finally gets up in an AA meeting and says what needs to be said – and she should have realized a whole lot sooner.  If the choice is between magic and death, take magic.  Hopefully, she can move on to a healthy balance without guilt in the next book.  If not, I’m done guilt thing.

Cursed Moon was an OK read, and if you liked Dirty Magic, it was a good second book.  But author’s sometimes take stories places I don’t care to go.  That’s OK, there are other books and other authors.  While Cursed Moon was in some ways better and some ways worse than Dirty Magic, it still gets just a C- (3.2*) from me.  It would have done better had the author come up a more interesting ‘hook’ than rape, the whole guilt crap part been reduced or minimized.  As it was, it kept an annoying, constant, background noise going that actually detracted, rather than added to the plot or the character and the rape part was just ICK factor.  Purchased from Amazon.

 

NOTE:  Due to Amazon’s ongoing battle with Hattchet, owner of many imprints, I’ve cancelled a number of book orders.  Many books I want are not available for pre-order.  This is getting old and as good as Amazon is, they are equally annoying.  I haven’t decided yet what I’ll do about orders I’ve cancelled.  I can go buy at BN or BAM locally or mail order.  We’ll see.  Good reason to go use the library.

August 9, 2014

Book Reviews – UF/Paranormal New Releases

Yup, it’s kind feast of famine with good UF and paranormal.  While no ‘barn burners’ like The Rook or Hounded have hit the shelves this year to blow me away, a few reliable reliable authors have some new releases that are worth the effort.  All the books reviewed below were purchased by me from Amazon.

Poison-Promise

 

For a writer with a paranormal romance background, Estep has proven very reliable and creative in the UF genre with her Elemental Assassin series.  Yes, I am predisposed to enjoy books featuring assassins, but this is one of the few with a strong female lead character I like.  She tough, resilient, and not prone to stupid actions.  There have been a few angsty missteps along the way, but, with Poison Promise, Gin Blanco is B-A-C-K.  And man, did I need a good read.

Gin is going to night school taking yet another course just to keep her brain active, because she finds them interesting.  As always, she walks carefully alert to another attempt on her life since she took down Mab Malone.  But she’s not the one in trouble, one of her waitresses is.  Her ex-boyfriend Troy wants her to use and sell the latest drug and she wants nothing to do with him or the drugs – especially the new drug Burn.  He has two vamps, but suddenly Catalina has her boss, Gin there.  Troy doesn’t know who she is, neither do the vamps, but Catalina does and tries to defuse things before Gin leaves her usual trail of bodies.  Thanks to Catalina, they just get a beat-down and Gin is mystified by Catalina’s attitude and her less than thrilled response to her help.

It’s the events of the following night that start the story.  Gin follows Catalina to the parking garage after work and drags her into hiding as Troy and the vamps appear, bent on revenge.  Their argument about how to handle Troy gets cut off when drug lord Beauregard Benson show up.  They can do nothing but watch as he slowly pulls the very life-force from Troy till he’s nothing but a husk.  Catalina insists they call the cops.  Gin knows all too well how corrupt the force is, but finally agrees to call her sister Bria, a homicide detective.

And this is where Estep shines.  She gets the strain between the cop sister on a crusade to avenge the brutal killing of her young informant Max, who got a little to close to Beau Benson, and Gin – the assassin, who solves these problems more ……permanently.  Bria lashes out at Gin because of her own guilt over Max’s death.  Catalina, is idealist enough to believe Bria can keep her safe if she acts as a witness to his killing of Troy, a childhood friend and former boyfriend, and is anxious to make the formal report.   But with the police report Catalina will sign her own death warrant – and possibly Bria’s too.  Gin might be hurt by Bria’s disdain and harsh words, but NO ONE will harm her family if she can stop it.

Like all action type stories, there is a certain rhythm to the events.   Like Rocky must almost lose his epic bout before drawing on his inner strength to beat the odds.  Estep’s books follow the same pattern of win-lose roller-coaster events, especially her big finale fight scenes.  It does not make the story any less interesting because it’s not just about Gin and Benson, but Gin and Bria and family as well.

Poison Promise is one of the best books Estep has done in the series since she killed Mab Malone.  While Heart of Venom was the next best, telling Sophia’s story at last, she been kind of cruising for a bit, but with this one set the stage for the next few books.  No, it’s not deathless prose, nor as complex and layered as Harry Dresden or The Rook, but it’s damn entertaining and has more nuance than many action series out there.  With a fast paced plot and very 3 dimensional characters,  Poison Promise earns a B+ (4.3*) and highly recommended read.

Purchased from Amazon and well worth the money.  This is one of the few series that seems to be holding up well over time.  Good work Jennifer Estep!

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Book of life

Oh just kill me now, please.  Why did I buy this?  Book one, A Discovery of Witches was decent enough, a bit too ‘literary’ for paranormal, which is entertainment.  Book two, Shadow of All Night was pointlessly long and annoying and, well, POINTLESS.  Now The Book of Life, the huge ‘BIG REVEAL’ is ……………… a predictable dud.  If you did not see this coming in book one, you were blind as a bat and should go back to reading Nancy Drew or something.

I lamented buying Breaking Danger by Lisa Marie Rice, but that was just ordinary tripe.  The Book of Life is pretentious tripe, which is wayyyyyyyy worse.   Overloaded with too many characters and side plots, with two increasing annoying lead characters, Matthew in a near constant state of bloodlust, and Diana serenely pregnant with twins, then behaving like a teen over her aunt’s death, and the Covenant chasing them, the whole thing becomes a bad melodramatic farce at times.  And once again, characters keep not being true to character.

Changing POV is a literary trick many authors use to good effect, but Harkness went overboard having almost half a dozen different first person POV’s, then throwing in third person here and there for luck.  Bits of plot were left dangling, the whole ‘Big Reveal’ was so obvious is was just DUMB, the HEA was a given, and the action …………… hummm.  No one died of excitement reading this book, it was not and ‘edge of your seat’ type story.  It was Dallas or Dynasty without shoulder pads, but with fangs and spells.

Yes, I am an action, thriller reader.  Yes, I am a die hard mystery fan.  Yes, I realize this book is neither genre.  I love well written UF/paranormal/high fantasy.  My favorite new authors since 2010 have all been UF/Fantasy authors, Daniel O’Malley, Kevin Hearne, Suzanne Johnson, and Chloe Neill (technically since 2009).  I have zero patience for authors who get so lost in crafting words they forget the point of the books is to move along a thrilling plot, unwinding a core mystery that will answer questions that are the very foundation of the Covenant that governs witches, demons, and vampires, not their precious prose.

In some ways, Ms Harkness reminded me a bit of Robert Jordan when he became so involved in his vastly complicated telling of the Wheel of Time, it became a chore to read and I quit.  Harkness was mercifully more brief, but she was far less dynamic, talented, and interesting, and she switched from telling the story of Ashmole 782 and Diana taking on her powers, to a ‘forbidden romance’ trope.  And therein lies my big complaint – the way the story was written, the most tension came in Book 1 and by Book 3, it becomes about Matthew and Diana.  I respect the creativity, her erudition, and the level of detail she used in creating secondary characters, but that doesn’t make me like it or find it less tedious and boring.

Those who got fed up are in the distinct minority, possibly because her audience was more female and enjoyed the whole ‘forbidden love’ trope more than I did.  Those who were disappointed, were looking for true UF.  Certainly Harkness did not skimp on the last book, if anything she got carried away pulling in past characters for a final curtain call.  I’m giving the The Book of Life a C- (2.7*) and accept I am in a distinct minority by doing so.  Fans will love it and get their money’s worth.  Personally, I just found it annoying.

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Some enchanted eclair

I know Some Enchanted Eclair is technically a cozy, but with ghosts, psychics, druids, and witches, it is also firmly paranormal.  Set in Savannah, the fourth book in the series has a lot going for it, but a couple of real flaws.  The core characters, Katie Lightfoot, her Aunt Lucy, Uncle Ben, boyfriend Declan, and the ladies of the coven are now firmly established.  Katie is still trying to work out why she is different from the other witches.  Author Bailey Cates has her settings down and well established so she tries to have Katie search for more information about what it means to be a Lightwitch.

Katie and her Aunt Lucy get entangled with a film crew doing a ‘rom com’ in Revolutionary War dress and filming in town on location.  The caterer got fired after 3 days of being late and production director asks Katie to step in and handle the food – THAT DAY.  But the money is too good to resist and she does as asked.  Too bad she’s barely started when she the man’s body under the table.  Too bad it’s the guy who hired her.  The leading lady seems strangely involved with the whole catering thing, the helper for the dead man is a weasel, Uncle Ben is pissed a murder happened on his watch, and the psychic that travels with the erratic leading lady gives Katie messages like, “You’ll solve this’.

Though a cozy, the book is a cut above with a good supporting players, that unfortunately got short shrift here, but filled their role.  Katie is still trying to figure out what a Lightwitch is.  The psychic turns out to be not just a nice person, but a very real psychic.  The solution to the killing ……. well, that came out of the blue.  God I hate that.

Bailey Cates failed the ‘fairness’ test for ‘who did it’.  Now I did figure out who, but the why was completely out of left field.  The other issue is a common one, the author uses a setting conducive to the ‘atmosphere’ they want, then writes the book so generically is could be anywhere, so she fails to make good use of the city itself.  A minor, but annoying thing.

Some Enchanted Eclair gets a B- (3.7*) from me, slightly lower than the current Amazon rating.  Clearly focused on Katie and the witchcraft angle, Cates needs to move that element along far more quickly than she’s doing.  It’s dragging at her plots.  A better than average cozy, but I do hate those bizarre, convoluted ‘why’s’ coming from left field at the very end.  Bought from Amazon.  If you like a good paranormal cozy, it’s worth the price.  Barely.

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Blood_Games

You have to give Chloe Neill credit, she kept up the pace and the interest in this series for 10 books and that is NOT easy to do.  No, it’s not as lush or complex as Jim Butcher’s Harry Dresden, also set in Chicago, but along with Kevin Hearne and Suzanne Johnson, she’s one of the best of the newer UF authors out there.

Blood Games picks up the story of Cadogan House challenging the Greenwich Presidium for rule of the vampires, but two things happen, first is a series of murders that somehow tie back to a Comic Con going on in Chicago.  (By the way, the whole Comic Com thing was a howl, esp the scene were a ‘Merit’ impersonator tells Merit how to look like a ‘vampire sex warrior’ was just great.)  Second, is Darius not acting like Darius at all.  As Holmes would say, “The games afoot!”

The plot is layered here as Darius West, head of GP was in NYC, yet barely said hello to his old friend there.  He’d been in Boston too.  And the RG (Red Guard) has it’s own “Jeff” (or McGee for NCIS fans) and they found in each city he visited, money has gone missing from the House General Fund, and withdrawing it requires someone do so in person.  He also has some serious body guards.  When Darius fails to react to Ethan as he should, given the fact he’s been challenged by him for his position in the GP, they start digging deeper and end up staging a rescue.  The find an obelisk that is actually controlling Darius.  Now they need to find who made it, why, and get that 7 million back.

Meanwhile, bodies are piling up.  CPD and Merit’s Grandfather are trying to find the connection – which is actually found by Mallory, Merit’s best friend and recovering sorceress.  Then the GP finally shows up for the challenge, and Ethan isn’t the only challenger.  The challenges are interesting, and through all this, one of the challengers is trying to blackmail Ethan into withdrawing and the fact he won’t discuss it with Merit is causing a rift.

I really have to give Ms Neill credit for producing a book that is part mystery, part slice of life about friendship and family, part romance, and overall, an action book.  It’s good.  Amazingly, the story did not get away from her.  All in all, it’s one of the better entries in this series, which says a LOT for a book 10 in any series.

My score for Blood Games is B+(4.2*) and highly recommended read.  The whole series for UF fans and this one is a MUST!!!!!!!!!!!!!

 

My next entry will be a few quick reviews and then I’ll get to work reading August releases.

 

July 31, 2014

Beach Reads 5 – International Part 2

Filed under: espionage/intrigue,General,opinion,Reading list — toursbooks @ 3:59 pm
Tags: , ,

OK, we’re talking books set outside the US, preferably ones that provide a lot of atmosphere and capture the feel of the locations.  Certainly some are better at that than others, and places and times change things.  But Europe has always been a local used in mysteries for authors from all countries.  Even Edgar Alan Poe used Paris for her Murders in the Rue Morgue.  It’s also a favorite spot from paranormal and horror, especially with the resurgence in vampire books.  The United Kingdom accounts for a HUGE number of mysteries, paranormals, and Steampunk.  This will be a challenge, but again, I’ll try and stick to authors I know and like.

France – If you’re a devout foodie, read some of the fine books by noted French chefs or Americans who studied in France, including Julia Child.  For me it’s mysteries and thrillers.  Naturally The DaVinci Code takes center stage since it starts and ends in Paris, though in all honestly, I find Dan Brown a boring – maybe tedious is a better word – writer.  My current favorite series in France is Martin Walker’s Bruno Chief of Police books.  He does a great job of folding together a ‘slice of life’ in the French countryside, with their love of food and wine, and twining in history and grudges and how the past impacts the present.  There is always an historical element in his plots, but it’s his gift for capturing French country life, something rapidly disappearing, and creating characters that seem real that make the books a cut above.  But France has been home to many famous detectives from George Simenon’s Inspector Maigret to Daniel O’Brian’s Inspector Jacquot to Cara Black’s Amie Leduc.  Frederick Forsyth’s brilliant thriller based on a real assassin, The Day of the Jackal, is set in France, as well as David Dodge’s To Catch a Thief.  Both books were made into movies, but the remake of Jackal was a butcher job while Hitchcock’s To Catch a Thief was a gem.  Jean Auel’s series, Earth’s Children, covers pre-historic man, based all over Europe including France.  It’s a speculative kind of ‘historical fiction’ in that there is nothing to support or deny her assumptions about the evolution of pre-historic society.  You name it in historical fiction and France and Great Britain will be there.  From The Templars to the Terror, to WWI and WWII, you have thousands to pick from.

England,Great Britain – Now we have a problem, because there just so MANY to choose from!  Start with Agatha Christie and go to Martha Grimes, adding Ngaio Marsh, John Dickson Carr, Josephine Tey for classic mysteries. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle may have come to loathe Sherlock Holmes, he lives on even with other authors.  Historical mysteries – well, Will Thomas with his Barker and Llewellyn series, Susanna Gregory has two early historical series going, Rosemary Rowe covers Roman Britain, Rhys Bowen has the 1930’s with Her Royal Spyness books, Charles Finch, C. S. Harris, and the immortal Ellis Peters with her Brother Cadfael books.  Rhys Bowen’s Evan Evans series is set in Wales, while M.C. Beaton sets her Hamish Macbeth books in Scotland.  It’s also home to the most famous spy series ever written, Ian Flemming’s James Bond.  No where near as famous but a brilliant book and equally brilliant movie is The Ipcress Files by Len Deighton, a fine author.  Graham Green and John LeCarre are certainly worthy reads as well.  Might I suggest Our Man in Havana (book and movie), a classic not to be missed.  Actor Hugh Laurie penned The Gun Seller, a rather brilliant and off-beat caper novel that is funny, deadly, and just really well done.

As for historical fiction, heavens, the list is as long a Broadway.  The Black Rose by Costain, Within the Hollow Crown by Barnes, just about everything by Phillipa Gregory, and wonderful Katherine by Ana Seaton.  That’s the book that tells the story of how the War of the Roses came to be and is possibly one of the great love stories ever in the Royal family.  The fact it’s still in print 60 years after it was first published says a lot.

Dorothy Dunnett does the Lymond Chronicles and Nigel Tranter has done numerous historical fiction books set in Scotland, including a personal favorite that I bought while there, Black Douglas.

England also plays home to almost too many paranormal/fantasy/ UF/Steampunk series to name.  A few notable ones – The Parasol Protectorate by Gail Carriger, Bec McMasters’ London Steampunk romance adventure series, Alex Verus UF series by Benedict Jacka, The Rivers of London series by Ben Aaronovich, Mindspace Investigation series by Alex Hughes, and pretty much everything written by Simon R. Green.  Riffs on classic and real historical characters are also fodder for mystery and horror writers, like Pride, Prejudice and Zombies by Steve Hockensmith to Queen Victoria, Demon Hunter.  Personally, I stick with UF and Steampunk mystery books.  Of all of them, Benedict Jacka, Simon R. Green, and Gail Carriger are the best for me.

Over the years, I’ve likely read a thousand books set in whole or part in the UK, so go nuts and just read what you like.

Ireland – Well there is one really well done 6 book series (now complete) by Karen Marie Moning, the Fever series.  Although a spin-off featuring a character from the series, Dani O’Malley, is underway, the initial series with MacKayla Lane is done – after a fashion, meaning the author will write short shories and novellas for epubs and anthology, but they will be ancillary to the series.  This series is one of the best out there for fantasy/UF readers.

Ireland is also home of some great mystery writers, though they tend to be grim and dark.  Ken Bruen is a favorite of mine with his anti-hero Jack Taylor.  Benjamin Black has the Quirk series set in the 1950’s, but he’s now writing Phillip Marlowe stories set in California.  (His latest is The Black-Eyed Blond)  Though Jack Higgins used two Irish lead characters, Liam Devlin and Sean Dillion, Dillion spends his time in the UK and only goes in and out of Ireland.  Liam’s stories were all much earlier – the most famous being The Eagle Has Landed.  All fast easy reads and good for spy novels.  Adrian McGinty does the Sean Duffy series set in 1950 Northern Ireland.  Peter Tremayne writes the long running, popular, historical mysteries featuring Sister Fidelma, a Celtic sister in 7th century Ireland.

Italy – I covered Rome separately for a reason, it’s like you have two countries in one.  Donna Leon and Andrea Camilleri are the two most prolific and best known for the modern Italian mysteries, police procedural types.  And author’s from Daniel Silva to Dan Brown have used Italy’s abundance of art and antiquities as main drivers in their plots in spy, assassin, and suspense novels.  There is a lot to work with.  Even Maddy Hunter’s Passport to Peril series stopped in Italy with Pasta Imperfect and she would later marry the handsome police inspector she met there.

With families like the Borgia’s, there’s lots of fodder for historical fiction as well, and much of it is centered around Venice.  Kate Quinn does a Borgia based series.  Even C.W. Gortner wrote The Confessions of Catherine de Medici  – another favorite historical family.  You even find some paranormal historical novels set back then – Jon Courtney Gimwood’s Assassini – Vampire Assassin series.  (I didn’t like it)

Spain and Portugal – The first name that springs to mind is Arturo Perez-Reverte with his Captain Diego Alariste historical swashbuckling mysteries.   His more modern The Club Dumas features hunts for rare books.  Spain may not be a hot bed for mysteries popular in the US, but is certainly plays host to plenty of historical fiction, much of it based on Isabella and Ferdinand and Columbus.  And the ever popular subject of the lovely Inquisition, just the happy time we all want to read about on vacation.  For genuine buckle and swash, go back to the original, Rafael Sabatini, an Italian who wrote everything from Captain Blood to Scaramouche to The Sea Hawk – and yeah Errol Flynn got the lead in 2 of those 3 made into films, but Stewart Granger was a memorable Scaramouche.  All worthy beach reads, but none set in Spain proper, though 2 of the 3 are about battles between Spain and England – and The Sea Hawk throws in Barbary coast pirates for luck.  His prolific output is scattered all over Europe and through many time periods.  From The Mapmaker’s Daughter to The Inquisitor’s Wife, historicals take us to many place and many perspectives on the complicated history that is Spain.  Portugal remains more of cipher, not often used even in spy novels except in passing, and it’s empire building taking place mostly in the New World and Africa.

Aztec is one of the best historical fiction novels written in the last 30 years.  Though set in Mexico, is as much about the Spanish and what they did in the name God, King, and Country as it is about the Aztecs themselves. Highly recommended.

Everywhere Else – Well, naturally we have the Dragon Tattoo series by Stieg Larson – which you’ll love or hate.  I kind of had enough after book 1. Too much social commentary for me.  Jo Nesbø has the very popular Harry Hole mysteries set in Norway.  Kjell Eriksson does the Ann Lindell and Ola Haver series in Sweden.  Russia gets tapped by Stuart Kaminsky and Martin Cruz Smith of Gorky Park fame for their mysteries.  And every spy from 007 to Gabriel Allon have tramped through Red Square.

All of these places have plenty of historical fiction, especially Russia, but you pick up The Brothers Karamazov for a beach read and don’t blame me if you get whacked by an irate student forced to read the damn thing.  You might get away with reading Dr Zhivago.  Catherine the Great, Ivan the Terrible, Peter the Great – all prime historical fiction characters.

Pick you poison – or gun – or knife, or romance if you prefer, or a little buckle and swash, and settle in under that beach umbrella or on a lounge on you lanai looking out at the water, and have some long and cold ones while reading for the sheer pleasure of the story.

 

 

 

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