Tour’s Books Blog

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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