Tour’s Books Blog

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.

 

 

 

July 27, 2014

Book Reviews – Mystery Week!

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

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

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

scene of the climb

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

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

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

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Top Secret Twenty one

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

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

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

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

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

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A dangerous talent

 

A Cruise to die for

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

July 17, 2014

Short Reviews – Mixed Genre

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

July 16, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

July 13, 2014

Beach Reads 3 – International Favorites Part 1

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

July 11, 2014

Amazon Sale

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

Ghost Seer

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

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

Paranormal New Releases – Book Reviews

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

vision-in-velvet-200

 

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

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

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

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

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

Purchased from Amazon and it was worth the price.

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Ghost Seer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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BETTER HOMES and hauntings

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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