Tour’s Books Blog

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.

November 27, 2013

Thanksgiving Quickies

Thanksgiving-2014 (1)

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

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

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The Mystery Woman

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

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

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Bombshell

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

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

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The Final Cut

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

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

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

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The art of stealing time

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

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

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

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

July 20, 2010

Short Reviews: 4 Mysteries/Thrillers from Paranormal to Historical

I like mysteries in general, and their frequent partner, action thrillers.  I cut my teeth on Nancy Drew and Dame Agatha so it’s  no surprise really.  I admit that I am a bit particular about them, though.  I have little patience with certain tropes and character types.  Here are 4 very different books, and my reactions to them.

  • Title: A Glimpse of Evil
  • Author:  Victoria Laurie
  • Type:  Paranormal mystery
  • Genre: Amateur sleuth; Psychic Eye series; meddling psychic works for FBI
  • Sub-genre:  Meddling profiler violates FBI procedures and gets in trouble
  • My Grade: C  (3.0*)
  • Rating:  PG-13
  • Length and price:  Full length novel; about 90,000+ words for $7.99 discounts available
  • Where Available:  book available at any book store
  • FTC Disclosure:  purchased book from online bookstore (more…)

December 13, 2009

Book Review: SPQR XII: Oracle of the Dead by John Maddox Roberts

  • Title: SPQR XII: Oracle of the Dead
  • Author:John Maddox Roberts
  • Type: Roman Mystery
  • Genre: Decius Caecilius Metellus series; wise cracking sleuth
  • Sub-genre: Roman politics and murder as Cesar rises to power
  • My Grade: C+ to B- (3.5*)
  • Rating: PG-13
  • Length and price:  Full novel, about 90,000 words, for $10.11 on sale, $14.99 cover price
  • Where Available: Anywhere books are sold
  • FTC Disclosure: Purchased from online bookseller

I’m always anxiously awaiting the latest installment in the excellent SPQR series by John Maddox Roberts.  I’ve been a fan since he first started it back in the early ’90′s.  It’s taken all the way to book twelve for me to be disappointed.  In Oracle for the Dead Decius Caecilius Metellus and his wife Julia, Cesar’s niece, are lingering in Campania region where we left them in Under Vesuvius.  Post dinner conversation with the local politicians turns to local temples the Oracle of the Dead that’s nearby.  Julia wants to visit, so off they go.  They come upon a temple of Apollo first as it shares the sacred grounds with the oracle.  Though Apollo is Greek god long established in the region, it is the seen aspect of Apollo as the avenger that is worshiped here.  Behind and beneath Apollo’s temple is the Oracle dedicated to the Greek goddess Hecate, usually associated with ghosts.  First they visit the white robed priests of Apollo and next they go with the black robed priestess of Hecate.  After drinking wine likely spiked with herbs, the party begins the decent into a cave supposedly on the banks of the river Styx.  Wading into the water as directed by the high priestess, Decius asks about Cesar and the Senate.  Insistent, he steps further and something grabs is ankles.  It’s the body of Eugaeon, the high priest of Apollo. (more…)

June 14, 2009

BOOK REVIEW: A Royal Pain by Rhys Bowen

If Rhys Bowen was a dancer, she’d be Fred Astaire. Her writing is effortless grace that makes everything around shine with glamor and class. It’s amazing really, how easily you’re drawn into the world and the characters that populate 1932 London – Britain’s upper crust, especially the ne’er do well ones used to living well and suddenly unable to do so on their own due to the depression. From the first page you’re lost in vaguely decadent pre-war London seen through the eyes of the still innocent, observant, increasingly less naïve Lady Georgiana Rannoch.

A Royal Pain is the second book in Bowen’s new Her Royal Spyness series and it’s even better than the first. Not only is there more of a mystery, but Ms Bowen dances Georgie through a tale filled with Noel Coward characters – not to mention a cameo appearance by Mr Coward himself – mixing fictional with real people easily and with her usual attention to detail. Bits of history, like the relationship between Prince George, later the Duke of Kent, and Noel Coward, the communist and fascist party conflicts, and most importantly, the infatuation of her cousin David – know to the world as Edward the VIII – with a notorious American woman, Wallis Simpson. (more…)

May 29, 2009

BOOK REVIEW: Alexandria by Lindsey Davis

Alexandria is the 19th outing for the intrepid Marcus Didius Falco. Davis writes in the first person and Falco is our amiable and sardonic guide. The wryly witty Falco has grown assured and comfortable with himself over the years. He’s married now and the father of 2 girls with a third child on the way. His wife, Helena Justina, is the daughter of a Roman senator and he greatly respects her and her intelligence. The story of his private life with Helena – she was married when they first met and loathed each other on sight – tells so much of Roman life. I highly recommend reading all the books – just the story of Falco and Helena will make it worth your while. Now, as his personal life has become that of a settled man, a father and a husband, the mysteries have also changed. The last few have seen him and his little family traveling outside Rome to places like Delphi in Greece.

As the book opens, Falco, his little family and his restless brother-in-law Aulus are arriving in Alexandria, still the most valued center of learning in the ancient world. They intend to do some sightseeing and try and get Aulus accepted into the Museion. Rumor says Falco is also here on Vespasian’s errand, (before anyone goes running to check, the year is 77AD, about 100 years after the death of Julius Caesar) and more than one person is worried by his presence. Falco’s very real vacation plans get sidetracked when the Head Librarian of the Great Library, Theon, a dinner guest at his uncle’s house the previous night, is found dead at his desk in a locked office. (more…)

May 4, 2009

BOOK REVIEW: Her Royal Spyness by Rhys Bowen

Rhys Bowen is an Agatha Award winner for her Molly Murphy historical mysteries and also writes the Constable Evans series, both period mystery series.  With Her Royal Spyness she tackles a different time period, the early 1930’s, and very upper class – impoverished royalty.  The story is told in the first person by Lady Victoria Georgiana Charlotte Eugenie, known as Georgie, is the great-granddaughter of Queen Victoria and 34th in line for the throne, making her a very minor royal, but a royal nonetheless.  The Great Depression has hit Europe as hard as the US and bread lines and soup kitchens are a common sight.  Georgie’s older half-brother, Binky, the current Duke of Glen Garry and Rannoch has even more financial troubles having the estate decimated by the combined effects of gambling losses by his father, the stock market crash and the death duties on his inheritance.

While sitting on the loo, Georgie overhears Binky and his wife, Fig, discussing a request from Her Majesty, Queen Mary, to entertain Prince Sigfried.  They haven’t the money and frankly don’t want the visitors.  It’s still snowing in Scotland and there just isn’t any way to entertain them with the usual activities like hunting.  The real reason for the visit is to try and get Georgie married off to someone of the right social station.  Knowing full well what the goal is, Georgie, who has no funds of her own, decides to do a bunk to London under the pretense of helping a friend with their wedding. (more…)

April 24, 2009

BOOK REVIEW: Silent in the Grave by Deanna Raybourn

Every so often I read a book that gets excellent reviews, great word of mouth and is hugely popular and I find myself far less enamored of it than I expected.  Perhaps my expectations are too high, or maybe the style just does not suit me.  Whatever the difference in perception is, I find myself in that position with this review.  I wanted to love this book, be enthralled, swept away, but I was not.  The sharp wit that opens the book only visits off and on thereafter.

Silent in the Grave has a brilliant opening:

To say I met Nicholas Brisbane over my husband’s dead body is not entirely accurate.  Edward, it should be noted, was still twitching on the floor.

Unfortunately, the next 100+ pages were remarkably tedious before the story got interesting again.  As it turns out, that became something of a pattern in the book.   Long breaks of introspective self analysis were followed by a flurry of activity and progress by inches. (more…)

April 19, 2009

BOOK REVIEW: SPQR XI: Under Vesuvius by John Maddox Roberts

John Maddox Roberts writes mysteries featuring Decius Caecilius Metellus that have followed his career serving Rome in various capacities over the years.  The books follow him from his mandatory military duty, where he and Giaus Julius Ceaser get to know each other, back to Rome where he slowly works his way up the ranks of various elected offices.  SPQR (Senatus Populusque Romanus designating the era of Roman history in which the story takes place) XI Under Vesuvius is the eleventh book in the series.  Decius has won the prestigious one year term as preator pereginus, the second highest office in the Imperium along with preator urbanus.  The preator unbanus is required by law to stay in Rome for his term of office.  Luckily, as preator pereginus, magistrate for cases involving non-citizen, Decius is free to travel and leave the stifling heat of the Roman summer.

Since he is kind of a wandering magistrate, Decius takes full advantage of the offer of the use of a villa owned by the famous orator Quintus Hortensius Hortalus in Campania.  The sprawling estate sits just outside the city of Baiae on the Bay of Naples.  Feted all along his route south, he sardonically assumes it is really his wife Julia’s favor they wish to curry.   Julia is Ceaser’s niece and helps – or meddles, depending on your perspective – in Decius’ ‘cases.’  The Metellus family has a long history of service to the Imperium, but they aren’t as important as the Ceaser’s family.   Ceaser is not yet dictator, but he has much of the country nervous and the wise citizens want to take the measure of the great man’s niece.

Finally the entourage makes it to the spectacular villa.  A tour of the grounds leads them to a Temple of Apollo and the daughter of hereditary Greek priest, Gorgo.  A handsome young man, Gelon, mounted on a caparisoned horse arrives with his guards.  The animosity toward him seems all out of proportion even though he is obviously a Numidian (North African, usually Berber).  Gelon is the son of Geato, a shrewd and highly successful slave trader that specialized in skilled workers for household, business or trades.  Though all upper class citizens owned slaves, they looked down on traders on principle, foreign traders even more.  The trade was legal and the fact they all purchased their household and business slaves from him made no difference.  Diocles, the Greek priest at Apollo’s Temple obviously loathed him and wanted him nowhere near his daughter. (more…)

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