Tour’s Books Blog

May 4, 2015

Brace Yourselves

Filed under: Editorial — toursbooks @ 3:42 pm
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There is about to be a groundhog scream heard round the world. SCREAM!   Hatchette Publishing – I spit on their name – SPIT!!!!! – have once again DELAYED THE PUBLICATION OF STILETTO, the second book in Daniel O’Malley’s Rook series till – have a seat people – JANUARY 2016!  Yes, I’m serious.  That’s A YEAR AFTER THE ORIGINAL DATE.  Amazon changed all their dates today.  So did Book Depository.

I hate Hatchette.  I really do.  I’m starting to side more and more with small press and self publishing.  These big publishers just ignore customers and do as they damn well please.

Now excuse me while I go stick pins – really BIG, very dull, pins – in my Hatchette voodoo doll.

Quick Reviews and Comments – Mixed Genre Ebooks and DTB’s

Honest to God, if Spring doesn’t get here soon I’m going to go looking for a human sacrifice and a handy cliff to throw them off of.  Of course it will need to be someone older and more decrepit than I am, and I’m not sure how we’ll get to the edge of that cliff given my fear of heights, but what the hell, I’ll work it out if I have to.

Lord, what a disappointment.  Laura DiSilvero has done some excellent, original mysteries, notably Mall Cop and her Ballroom Dance series, but this is a ho-hum me too book group cozy that could have been written by anyone of a dozen authors.  It has nothing really remarkable to recommend it as a read.  From setting, to characters, to plot it was one big generic yawn.

Readaholics and the Falcon Fiasco gets a C- (2.8*) and barely suggested for cozy lovers only.  Her next installments are off the ‘buy’ list.

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I received an ebook ARC of Spider’s Trap, the latest in the Gin Blanco Elemental Assassin series.  Gin is now reluctant head of Ashland’s underworld.  The reluctance to take charge is causing problems, but Gin isn’t comfortable in the role she neither sought now wanted.  But living in the shadows as the feared assassin Spider is no longer possible.  That’s the secondary plot.  The main plot centers around another of Fletcher Lane’s rescues, one Gin was involved in at age 14 – a rescue that is coming back not to get her, but one of the crime bosses that she’s supposed to lead.

Though an interesting story, it had the feeling of a ‘bridge’ book that is not like the more compelling earlier books, but starts the inevitable change to different paradigm for Gin.  Don’t get me wrong, it’s a good read with a decent, if not very original – or intelligent – villain, and her usual good ending.  The best part was the unexpected twist at the very end that sets the plot for her next book and it should be a gem if she works it right.

Spider’s Trap gets a B- (3.7*) and suggested read for series fans.  One of the better, more consistent series out there.  Publication Date is July 28.  NOTE:  Shorter than her earlier books if the ebook and print book page numbering match.

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oracle's secret

OK, this ebook was not on my radar, but it was one of many suggestions offered when I asked for amusing romance suggestions.  Thing is, this wasn’t funny.  It’s more a cross between fantasy and paranormal romance and first book in a series, so no big finale.  The Oracle’s Secret was a decent, rather predictable read, with a good beginning that kind of slipped into average fantasy style ‘us vs. them’ thing.  The big plot shockers weren’t shocking and I kind of forced myself to finish it because I knew there was only one way to end it.

The Oracle’s Secret gets a C- (2.6*) and suggested pass unless you really like yet another story of a heroine having her ‘abilities’ abused by a scumbag lord.  No real standout characters or plot lines, so, meh.  Move along.  Nothing new here.

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The latest Doc Ford story from Randy Wayne White, Cuba Straits, is one of those books you’ll like or it will drive you nuts.  Not because of the plot, but because White has adopted a writing style that’s half reality and half confusing, often bizarre, dreamlike sequences.  It’s a writing style that hard to do well and very hard on the reader as it’s not conducive to the crisp, fast paced storytelling of an action thriller.  It made following the slight plot even more confusing.  Judging by the customer reviews on Amazon, I’m not the only dissatisfied reader.  And frankly, the plot was as gossamer as a spider web, about ‘human trafficking’ – only we’re talking baseball players, not the real horrible stuff like girls for prostitution.  Kind of hard to red line the old outrage meter on that one.

Despite RWW thinking this is his best work in awhile, I’d disagree.  It was more about writing style than content and more about impressing the reader with technique than telling a compelling story.  I give Cuba Straits a D+ to C- and for die hard Doc Ford fans only – and wait for the mmpb or get it from the library.  It’s not worth the price.

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In book 2 of the Housewife Assassin series, The Housewife Assassin’s Guide to Gracious Killing, Donna is asked to become the new BFF of the ‘former’ arms dealer billionaire who just finished building his tribute to excess house in her town.  With Jack still living with her as Carl, her not so dead husband that betrayed her and his country, as head of the sadistic billionaire’s security detail.  Serving Carl with divorce papers may not be as satisfying as just shooting him, but she needs to move on and that means dumping Carl – the real Carl – who now enjoys Diplomatic Immunity.  Damn, just when shooting him would solve the whole divorce problem!

The story is a blend of deadly serious action thriller with a really awful bad guy and lighthearted suggestions from the supposed Housewife Assassin’s Etiquette Guide as chapter headings.  The plot is good as it weaves Donna’s efforts at divorce with her growing horror at what the billionaire really is, to dealing with soon to be ex husband Carl – who does not take getting served divorce papers well.  It gets more interesting when Jack’s big secret is revealed.

Not as lighthearted as the Miss Fortune books or the Lexi Carmichael series, more serious action and nasty bad guys, but still in the humorous vein.

The Housewife Assassin’s Guide to Gracious Killing is not the best thing out there and certainly not worth the price of the print books, but as ebooks, they are entertaining and a nice break from predictable cozies.  My grade is B- (3.6*) and suggested read for fans of lighter action books.  WARNING:  There is one nasty rape scene that might put some readers off.  The series has 10 books so far but I’ve only bought up to Book 4.  I’ll let you know if Carl final bites it.

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Laura Black is a PI working for a sleazy, but highly successful lawyer Lenny Shapiro.  Scottsdale Sizzle, as you might expect, takes place in Scottsdale – in the summer.  (If you haven’t been there then, it’s hard to imagine.)  Her assignment is to help a guy from Chicago find his grandfather’s treasure chest.  No kidding.  The old guy made a fortune in air conditioner patents and in addition to his huge house in Scottsdale, he collected jewels.  Not just any jewels, but ones with a history, owed by famous and infamous alike.  In his last act, Grandpa’s will divided all his considerable land holding and other property between his two grandchildren, a brother and sister who are at best estranged.  Turns out there’s a damn good reason.  Les Murdock is in trouble with the Chicago mob – big money trouble – and he needs the jewels to pay them off and disappear because the FBI want him as witness in a huge criminal case.  And his sister, who is actually a nice person, not a lying con artist like her brother, wants nothing to do with him.

Written in a lively and entertaining style, with not one but 2 love interests, Reno, a police detective, and Maximilian, an under boss of the local mob.  It has good dialogue, well developed characters and a good plot.  I give Scottsdale Sizzle a B (4*) for a light romantic mystery suspense novel and a suggested read in ebook.  A series I will follow.

May 3, 2015

Even Author’s Have to Have Fun!

Filed under: General,Musing on life,paranormal — toursbooks @ 9:18 pm
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No matter the genre, authors love having fun with their own characters – and what character is better for this than that famous privateer, Jean Lafitte.  And what better foil for the handsome Frenchman than notorious pirate – Captain Jack Sparrow.

Suzanne Johnson wrote a very short tale of Jean Lafitte’s birthday surprise in Storyland, a part of the Beyond belonging to the Fae where imaginary human characters from books, movies and TV can exist.  Read her cute entry into the Dark Fairy Tales blog.  It’s a bit like really well done fan fic, but hey, who can resist the charm of Jean Lafitte and those magnificent cheekbones of Captain Jack Sparrow?  Enjoy!

PS – Even though Pirate’s Alley was just published, her next book, Belle Chase is already finished (as of 4 months ago) and with her publisher.  I wish that damn publisher would shift their butts in gear because the expected publication date in spring 2016.  I AM NOT A PATIENT GROUNDHOG!  I might just give them all hives till they hurry up and get it out!

April 23, 2015

All Genre Reviews – Mostly Ebooks and Some DTB’s

Every time I see my doctor she and I go over my health then end up talking books for an hour or more at the end of her day.  She and I have similar tastes in paranormal, urban fantasy, some romance, romantic suspense – and a very little mystery for her.  It’s fun to talk to someone who reads almost as much as I do – but then she has 3 young boys and a full time job, so I can just barely stay ahead of her.  PHEW!

She also complains I don’t write enough reviews and entertains herself with my old ones.  I’m not sure sure if I’m flattered or frightened by this.  At any rate, I have a whole bunch of reviews for books, e-books, and e-novellas, so let’s get to it!

I got tired of stating where books came from, so unless otherwise noted, I bought them or got the through a book swapping site.

Dakota Cassidy adds to her Accidental series with The Accidental Dragon, a book that’s a lot of fun, in large parts thanks to the ladies of OOPS! who are on hand when a fireman accidentally takes the wrong vial of ‘headache’ powder – and burns down the store owned by his late best friend’s sister.  Mick and Tessa somehow manage to get past the lies they were told and the fact Mick is now part dragon, and in the end Tessa’s bother’s ghost visits them to give his blessing – and ask for forgiveness for the lies her told out of jealousy.

The Accidental Dragon is a classic Cassidy romp with her signature mystery element to add tension.  I’d say a C+ to B- at 3.7* (the whole ‘proving it’ part with OOPS! has been played too many times) and recommended for lovers of humorous paranormal romance.

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So about once a year I have this lemming like urge to jump off a cliff, which in my case is to read a chick-lit book, often by Mary Key Andrews.  Save the Date was classic Andrews – mid-30’s divorced female trying to make it and prove she’s good enough, one or two controlling parents who constantly tell her she’s a failure, sleazy ex-husband, underhanded competitor, handsome man she manages to get crosswise with.  Now if we had a few dead bodies, we could have had a cozy mystery, but Save the Date was just ………..   ordinary.

I had this book on my PBS wish list a long time and saw the ebook on sale for $2.99 and snagged it – and read it that night.    All I can say is thanks God I didn’t pay good money for the damn hard cover.  A scant few hours reading and this unsatisfying bit of fluff was over and I once again wondered why the hell I thought this one would be any different.  GAH!  Girl Scout meeting have more unexpected twists and turns.

Andrews is an excellent writer, but her plots have the excitement of a slowly moving metronome.  The biggest challenge is staying awake.  If you like this stuff, it’s a good example of the type.  If, like me, you don’t, move along.  There’s nothing to see here.  For it’s type, excluding my mind-numbing boredom, it’s a C+ to B- (3.6*), but  for me a D (2.0*) for dull.  Give it a miss unless you’re a real fan, and there are plenty of those.  If there is a God, you should be safe from more of these reviews till 20116.

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Semi Charmed is a book suggested to me as a good entertaining paranormal romance and I have to admit, it was  – as well as one I would never have found without asking for some ideas for my friend.  An indie author using Amazon’s self publishing platform, Isabel Jordan turned out a clever and interesting read with a strong female lead and an intriguing plot.  If it had a short-coming, it was the ‘world’ she created wasn’t fleshed out enough.  Good characters covered that, that it’s not something that stands close scrutiny.  Then again, most romances don’t.

Harper Hall was a seer for Sentry, an organization that slayed vampires that were supposedly abusing and killing unwilling humans.  Then vamps came out and were recognized as a citizen group with rights, Sentry disbanded, and Harper was out of work.  But not free of her ability as a seer.  Not making enough money either since her louse of PI partner ran off to Vegan sticking her with all the bills and customers who don’t want a seer, they want a slayer.

Enter Noah Riddick (and yeah, the whole Vin Diesel thing leaves him plank).  The plot takes off as Harper tries to convince Riddick he and she were meant to be partners.

Part fun, part serious, and a good ending – but she left some loose plot threads.  I give Semi Charmed a C+ to B- (3.6*) and suggested read for those who like humorous paranormal romance.

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OK, I am a huge fan of this series and other than book 1, Royal Street, Suzanne Johnson has consistently exceeded my expectations. You’re expecting snark here, right? Well, yeah, Pirate’s Alley had a few flaws, but the characters, plot, and pacing were so good, I forgave them all. What was noticeably different here was the constantly twisting plot and nearly breakneck speed of the various events. The story spun out so quickly, I felt it could have used a bit of fleshing out in spots.

The story centers on three key plot points:

First – the opening courtroom drama – this is the wrap up of the events that ended Elysian Fields with the attempts on DJ’s life, the alliance between an elf and the vamps, the First Elder’s son’s involvement – and the revenge of Jean Lafitte wants against the vampire who wronged him,

Second – the impact of Eugenie’s pregnancy on the Elves and the whole Prete council. It consumes the plot further along and brings to a head the third major plot element.

Third – The revelations of betrayal and double-crossing of Council members – and the fact the game they play might change players, but none can be trusted.

But DJ isn’t exactly the same DJ from a few years ago, so she isn’t shocked and has become fundamentally suspicious of the politics on the council – especially after an order she finds wrong on every level.

The way each character weighs loyalty and duty against personal feelings, and how these often conflicting demands were balanced by each character seemed to be more defining for DJ and Jean Lafitte than they were for Alex or Jake. A few other major events got short shrift in the headlong race through the ever shifting plot. Quince Randolph remains morally ambivalent character and utterly lacks the pirate’s charm and wit. Major players from earlier books are killed off stage with an astonishing lack of drama, and one changes his allegiance yet again.  Historical undead Truman Capote has a clever walk on.  Plus Ms Johnson added Faeries, the Winter Prince (Christof) – who seems destined for a larger role – and the Summer Prince (Florian), with the elderly queen (Sabine), their great aunt.

A really good read, but not what I was expecting. Better in most respects, except for the fact I felt the author left a lot of story on the cutting room floor, so to speak – like those key character deaths. That bothered me. The small nuances that peppered her earlier books were there at the start, then faded away in favor of the relentless action. It was, regardless, a slam-bang read and the ending had some excellent twists with lots of future plot potential. DJ is maturing much as Harry Potter did, growing into her own potential. She’s a terrifically well done example of character evolution.

A highly recommended series – and yeah, after this installment, still crushing on Jean Lafitte.  Pirate’s Alley is more action and short on humor compared with earlier books.  I give it a B+ to A- (4.3*) and highly recommended read and a MUST for fans of the series.  Due to the price of both the hard cover and ebook, try and get it from the library and buy a used one/remainder for your keeper shelf as the prices come down.

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I suppose it was inevitable that authors would want to cash in on the popularity of Sinful, LA and it’s eccentric citizens.  I just wish the authors had more talent.

Bayou Bubba and Jewel of the Bayou are two completely missable novellas that make use of Fortune, Ida Belle, Miss Gertie and Banana Pudding.  The character names in Bayou Bubba are painfully contrived and wince inducing.  When Fortune almost pulls her gun on the annoying ‘Miss Chance’ (yes, really), I was hoping for gator food.  I never did see any point to the whole mash-up mess, but it was better than Jewel of the Bayou.  Talk about damn with faint praise.  C- (2.7*) and give it a miss.

The plot in Jewel of the Bayou is just pointless and dumb.  And that’s the good part.  There are some good snark examples from Ida Belle and Gertie, but damn, you need plot transplant surgery to make this worth any time – and a better heroine than Gladys.  And a far less improbable ending.  Skip it.  As worthwhile as that stupid missing bloodstone – not exactly a best of breed.  I give Jewel of the Bayou a C- to D+ (2.6*) .

Both novellas are ebook only.  Thank heavens no trees died for these two.

April 7, 2015

A Worthy Read – and Some Reviews

Where are all the worthy reads?  You know, the ‘good books’, the ones that are hard to put down!  Yeah, they are kind of thin on the ground.  Sometimes I feel like a broken record saying ‘same old same old’, ‘average’, ‘not great’, and all those other trite phrases that tag a read that was a classic C student ordinary.

The thing is, what I deem a ‘worthy read’ is only worthy to me.  Like music, art, and even movies, we all want something different.  I’m probably NOT the target audience for many authors, but more and more women cross over into what was formerly ‘male reader’ territory – action thrillers, assassin, and spy novels.  James Bond has many female fans even as every young male dreams of being, “Bond.  James Bond.”  (Preferably in Sean Connery’s lilting voice.)

Barry Eisler recognized the value female readers brought – after all, women buy and read more books than men – and even attended the Romantic Times annual convention.  Women are discovering Craig Johnson, Lee Child, Brad Thor, and many more.  Some, like me, read them from book 1, but I’m a fan of thrillers.  Even I don’t read everything.  Take Dystopian, (I feel a Henny Youngman, “PLEASE!” coming on here.) a genre I just don’t much like, yet I generally like the Sandman Slim books by Richard Kadrey.  I don’t like ‘chick-lit’, women’s lit, 97.9% of historical romance, or almost anything that ever won the Booker prize.  I’m a proud troglodyte and happy reader of what used to be called ‘pulp fiction’.

Yup, I slum with the mystery, thriller, si-fi/fantasy, and paranormal writers.  Bottom of the literature food chain.  So, my idea of a ‘worthy read’ has no redeeming social value for anything other than good entertainment for the length of the book and to hell with all the high moral character and ‘profound social insights’.  I’d rather laugh or get so engrossed I can’t put the book down.   After all, no one ever had wet dreams about Theodor Dreiser’s books.  Ian Flemming ……….. well please.  James is drool worthy and guys get skimpily clad hot chicks.   I don’t know about you, but that works for me.

Thank heavens for a few reliable authors!  Good books might be hard to find, but authors C. J. Box and Craig Johnson have stayed steady and dependable – and not gone off trying to create 5 other series with co-writers to make the ‘great money grab’ that’s become so popular.  Box’s Endangered is reviewed below – and dubbed by me a ‘worthy read’.

But even proven and consistent authors have lemons and one that seems to have slipped into a predictable pattern can suddenly break free and do a very original book.  One of the most reliable mystery writers – a man with limited output and almost every book nominated for some award is Robert Crais.  His Elvis Cole and Joe Pike are great though the last 2 Joe Pike ones were weaker than his Watchman.  Crais’s next book is due out this fall.

Author style differs a lot as well.  The late Tony Hillerman was one of the most atmospheric and evocative mystery writers I’ve read.  He breathed life into modern Navajo society and gave us a chance to see through other eyes.   William Kent Kruger is profoundly lyrical in his prose – sometimes to the detriment of his plots.  Gail Carriger has a unique over the top style that worked very well with her Parasol Protectorate series, but she lost her touch with the two latest books.  (Prudence is reviewed below.)  That’s the problem with stylized writing, an author gets so wrapped up in style, they lose sight of other things.  Her sharp humor is markedly missing of late and without it, the style is just annoying.

Randy Wayne White has been a curious author to watch.    His early Doc Ford books feel so different from his more recent ones on many levels.  He’s always researched heavily and that shows, but his characters and plots suffered after hitting the New York Times Bestseller list.  Doc Ford became everything he didn’t want to be and quit the CIA to avoid.  Tomlinson, his hippy, erratic, headcase friend became almost a caricature of himself.  The writing, often narrated thru Tomlinson’s drugged haze, has that soft focus dream-like quality that’s confusing and irritating by turns.  It makes his books heavy slogging.  I’ve always thought action thrillers needed a clear, crispy style to succeed completely, so I find the combination of angsty hero and soft-focus prose combined just kind of annoys the reader.

Molly Harper is another is another paranormal romance writer who can really hit it home, but again, her most recent didn’t work.  The review is below.  Daniel O’Malley used some pretty unique writing tricks to pull off his first book, The Rook, an extraordinary amalgam of styles.  His second is due out this summer, so let’s see if he can sustain the quality – always a difficult task.  First books carry no expectations, second books do.  Shelly Laurenston has an offbeat sense of humor and a way with strong female lead characters that most paranormal authors couldn’t pull off.  For all that, her books are lightweight reads, but they are amusing and very entertaining.  Her most recent is set in the world she created in The Gathering and is titled Unleashed, due out 3/31.  We’ll see how she does.

And unfortunately, I – and by dint of reading this blog, YOU – will be subjected to more of my, “average”, “OK, but not special”, “not awful” reviews.  SIGH.  Just be glad you aren’t reading all the books too!

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Endangered is the latest installment of the Joe Pickett series by Western mystery writer C. J. Box.  It opens with an interesting look at the slaughter of sage grouse, a small, flightless bird that mates and nests in the spring and ends up being a major plot point.  As Joe documents the slaughter of a lek, he gets a call that a girl resembling Alice, his adopted daughter, was found badly beaten in a ditch by the road.  Alice ran off with bull rider Dallas Cates in a previous installment, and Dallas, with a history of abuse, is suspect #1.  Joe abandons the slaughtered birds and heads for the clinic to arrive as a Flight-for-Life helicopter is about to take his wife Marybeth and daughter to a medical center.

Left behind, Joe gets involved with the sheriff department’s investigation, which takes a strange turn, pointing the finger at not the Cates family, but a survivalist.  The sage grouse twins get short shrift as Joe and his youngest daughter try and manage on their own.  A second story line involving Nate Romanowski gets woven in and eventually the two meet in an unexpected manner.

Tautly written and satisfyingly complex, the plot spins evenly to multiple conclusions that ultimately are very satisfying as they tie together various plot elements.   Endangered is a ‘worthy’ and recommended read for all mystery fans, and particularly western mystery fans.  I give Endangered an A- (4.5*) and a recommended read.

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Molly Harper is a favorite author and I was really looking forward to this book.  Too bad The Dangers of Dating a Rebound Vampire fell flat.  Gigi, the younger sister of Iris, the lead character in The Care and Feeding of Stray Vampires (a really entertaining read) has been hired by the Vampire Council to help develop software to help the undead trace living descendants.  If her job works out, she’ll have employment after graduation the next year.  Iris is against the decision despite her having turned vampire herself.

She no more than starts her job when she’s assaulted by a vampire on her way to her car.  Nikolai Dragomirov is the tall blonde she kept catching glimpses of over Christmas, only now he seems to want to kill her and drain her blood.  She meets him with her brother-in-law Cal and challenges him on their history – of which he remembers nothing.  Way to shatter a girl’s ego.

So the story goes and it could have been great, but Nikolai never becomes a well rounded character.  Gigi carries the story and Nik is little more a love interest cutout.  Curses by a witch and an evil co-worker all figure in, but the book lacked the kind of spirited dueling between the leads that her other books had, in large part hindered by Nik’s condition and Gigi’s youth.  Without that repartee, the whole thing felt flat and the ending was predictable.

The Dangers of Dating a Rebound Vampire gets a C (3.0*) from me and is on OK read.  Get only if you’re desperate for a Molly Harper fix.  It’s not much, but the best you’ll get.

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Slayed on the Slopes is the second installment of the Pacific Northwest series by Kate Dyer-Seeley.  It picks up new journalist Meg Reed as she starts her second assignment for a feature article at Northwest Extreme, the online magazine she works for.  Having spent the summer training with the volunteer Crag Rats rescue team to get over her fear of heights, Meg feels ready to tackle the start up of a new group of extreme winter sports guides called Ridge Rangers being created by a tech millionaire and with several of the Crag Rats she knows looking at working for him.

As you might guess the obnoxious, drunk, rich, sneering, a-hole boss ends up dead.  GASP.  The guy did everything but wear a tee shirt saying “TODAY’S VICTIM”.  Then Meg goes out looking for the knucklehead and finds Henry instead.  There’s plenty of suspicion to go around.  Amazingly (color me stunned – NOT), the good old Sheriff from book one is with her grandmother at the main lodge for the same wedding Meg will attend and as the only available law enforcement, he’s investigating.

Despite all the predictable crap. this is actually a decent read in large part because the author winds in a second plot line about Meg’s dad, a discredited investigative journalist.  That ends up way more interesting than the primary mystery and is not resolved, but turns into an over-arching plot line.  Seems cozy writes are taking their cues from the likes of Darynda Jones and her wildly successful Charlie Davidson series, though none can duplicate that sharp wit.

Slayed on the Slopes gets a B- (3.8*) from me and a suggested read for all cozy fans.  Not as lighthearted as some, but overall, a cut well above average.

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Gail Carriger is back with her next series featuring the daughter of Alexia Tarabotti and Lord Maccon, an alpha werewolf, Prudence (Rue to everyone), is the only metanatural in Empire and the adopted daughter of vampire Lord Akeldama.  Lord Akeldama gifts her with an extravagant dirigible – and an assignment – go to India a secure his tea samples and find land where he can begin cultivating the highly desired plant.

Rue assembles her teams, including the son and daughter, and her best friend Primrose, the children on the Westminster Hive Queen of vampires.  Naturally, the son of Professor Lafoux is here as well.  Despite the cast, the exotic locale, and all the potential of the plot involving weremonkeys, the book is flat and dull.  The spirit and knife like wit in the Parasol Protectorate is missing and Ms Carriger seems rather at loss as to how to give a 20 year old the maturity to carry off a persona similar to that of Alexia.  Answer is, she can’t, or at least she didn’t.

A disappointment, especially after her very average Waistcoats and Weaponry installment in the Finishing School series.  That two mediocre books in a row.  The lack of wit and charm is not unnoticed by her fans, though many seem ready to overlook it.  I assume the ‘bargain price’ has something to do with the weak first book, a critical piece of getting followers for a series.  She needed a home run and got a base hit.

Prudence gets a C+ (3.3*) mostly for 2 characters, Spoo and Miss Sekmet.  It is not a must read, but isn’t an avoid.  I suggest waiting for the mmpb as $7.99 is still more than this is really worth.

March 23, 2015

Cozy Mystery and Misc. Short Reviews

Cozy mysteries are to real mystery what bodice ripper romance is to love stories, or what pablum is to real food – a formula book that gets SO formula, you know the whole plot in 30 pages or less.  Many cozy writers think it’s OK to bore their readers to death reusing old dialogue, recycling plots (theirs and other writers, even straight from TV), and telling basically the same story again and again.  God knows Janet Evanovich has made a fortune doing it and hasn’t had a quality book since Seven Up and she’s about to publish book Twenty-Two.

Then something like the Mall Cop books by Laura DiSilvero comes along and gives me hope for the genre ……….. and it dies after 3 entries.  Honestly, would someone explain why those moronic books get published and quality authors get relegated to oblivion?  And why do authors think anything that works the first time, or two or three times, will work IN EVERY DAMN BOOK THEY WRITE?  Believe it or not, I WANT a different kind of ending.  Something original, not something that is stupid beyond understanding, or so preposterous that I’m rolling my eyes.  Something that is …… well, within REALITY.  I realize the endless parade of shop owners, cooks, chefs, librarians, and little old busybodies have this unique ability to solve crimes that baffle the cops, but PLEASE, give me a least a hope of enjoying the story instead of composing scathing comments about characters in my head till I can no longer read another word with out destroying the book – or trying to set myself on fire.

Yup, it’s been a rough run of cozies.  So here we go, fasten your seatbelt, we’re in for a bumpy ride.

Way to start the new year, with a cozy by a quality author, Lorraine Bartlett, With Baited Breath – a nearly unforgivable play on words that has cause hundreds, if not thousands, of people to think that’s how that phrase is spelled.  This was hands down the single most boring, amateurish book I read in January and might possibly hold that title for all of 2015.  It gets an astonishing 4.5* on Amazon.  WHY?  It was so dull I was half way through and prayed for death – preferably of the entire cast of characters.  And yeah, the ending really was that obvious.  Please, SAVE YOURSELVES and skip this one (and any additional books in this series).  D+ to C- (2.5*) and seriously consider a different book, unless you really NEED a nap.

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The latest installment of the Tara Holloway series by Diane Kelly felt and read like a pastiche of her previous books with the same ending, Tara saving the day with her sharp shooting skills.  It’s getting kind of old.  Death, Taxes, and Cheap Sunglasses takes us back to the drug cartels and puts boyfriend Nick under cover with her best friend Christina from the DEA on possibly the slimmest premise ever suggested.  Naturally, Tara overhears the plans, go nuts in a most unprofessional and girly way and generally behaves like a jerk.  They go undercover anyway and Tara gets busy with her own cases, which tend to go sideways in unpredictable ways.

While the book has the usual dose of humor, the sort of inevitable ending is getting on my nerves, as does her inability to trust others are as competent as she is.  This what, the third time she’s saved Christina?  Is the DEA agent really that bad?  For all these reasons, I give the 8th outing for Tara a C+ to B- (3.5*) and a very tentative suggested read.  This is book 8 in a series, but each book can be read as a stand alone.

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Horse of a Different Killer is book 3 in the Call of the Wilde series by Laura Morrigan and one of the best I read so far this year.  Which isn’t really saying much, but it was a decent read.   Like many cozies these days, she has a paranormal twist – in this case a psychic vet who works as an ‘animal behaviorist’.  At least her involvement in murders is somewhat more plausible than that of your average shopkeeper.  The writing style is good, mature, and reads well.  Characters are well developed, even though most are rather ‘TV series stock characters’.  Horse of a Different Killer gets a B- (3.8*) from me and a suggested read for cozy lovers.

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OK, I REALLY want to say nice things about this book, but …………… damn.  It is well written, sort of.  The lead character is OK, in a lame in 2 dimensional way.  But the premise?  Nope, sooooo does not work for me.  A Wee Murder in My Shop adds not another ghost, but … OK, he IS a ghost of a 600 year old Highlander – who oddly enough speaks modern English, a major shock to me.  Not only is he a ghost, our heroine Peggy Winn is a dead ringer for his late love.  Seems that shawl she found had magic.  (Of course it did!  We’re lucky the cast of Brigadoon didn’t fly home with her and start putting on 2 shows daily in Vermont!)  So now Peggy apparently talks to thin air, has a cousin arrested for murder, and her ex-boyfriend whom she caught cheating just before leaving on her buying trip for her ScotShop, is now dead in her store.  See, another shopkeeper sleuth.  The lesson here is, never be a shop owner!  It causes dead bodies!!!!!!!

A Wee Murder in my Shop was at best an average effort.  Macbeth (yeah real original, huh?) is barely nonplussed by the modern world.  He it totally unbelievable.  Peggy is a cardboard cut out, and none of the characters have any real depth or credibility.  Just shallow, barely sketched in personalities.  It gets a C- (2.7*) and a suggestion to read a different series.

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Here we go again, another first book in a new series that ………… well, can’t quite decide what the hell it wants to be when it grows up.  Georgia Thornton is left at the alter by her commitment-phob police detective boyfriend.  She ends up kicked off the force, unemployed and suddenly starring in a reality TV show – Love or Money.  The catch is half the guys romancing her only want the prize money.  The half are really looking for love – which apparently now requires TV dating services.  Too bad her prospective beaus keep getting killed.

After #1 dies in a bungee jump from the Golden Gate (yeah, really), her detective ex, Paul Sanders, steps in under a fake name with a fake job and tries romancing for real.  A First Date With Death is a clever idea that didn’t quiet gel.  Georgia is by turns whiny and immature, and then insightful and adult.  It was annoying.  Paul needs a swift kick into maturity.  the guy who wins is barely a character at all.

The book has some very funny moments and showed a lot of promise, but just fell short when it came to character development (I got whiplash wondering which Georgia would show up – the adult of the whiny overaged teen) and in its plotting.  To be honest, I barely cared who did it by the end.  No thrills for me.

A First Date with Death gets a C- (2.7*) and read only if you will suspend your logic long enough to get through the book.  I see no clear way this character can become a series, so where it goes from here is anyone’s guess.

March 6, 2015

A Quick Review of Recent Paranormal/UF Reads

OK – I’ve been nursing my shoulder and reading and trying not to type too much or do other things that annoy my joints – which in the winter is pretty much everything. God, I HATE WINTER!  The chaos on Paperback Swap has only gotten worse and that’s proved a distraction as well.  What a complete charlie foxtrot that’s turned into and PBS management is completely, utterly, and aggressively tone deaf to the community. SIGH!

I’ve also been reading till my eyes want to bleed, too bad so much of it is forgettable junk.  Cozies are the pablum of the mystery world and I OD’ed on them.  I’d say 70% are just tripe, 25 % are so boring you want to kill yourself, and last 5% give you false hope that the genre will snap out of it and start writing the good stuff again.   The odds are marginally better with paranormal, but honestly, I swear I could script most book’s entire story after the first 20 pages.

So here we go, the good, the bad, the ugly, and the just plain BORING.

The Dragon Conspiracy

The Dragon Conspiracy is Book 2 in Lisa Shearin’s UF series set in modern, paranormal NYC.  A fun, though predictable read with a finale much too similar to book 1.  Lively dialogue saves it from complete banality. C+ (3.5*) and read if you like paint by numbers UF.

BoundbyFlames-cover

Bound by Flames continues the saga of Vlad (Dracula) and his love, Leila.  Honestly, how does one love a sadist?  No matter how I break this down, Vlad is a violent sociopath.  Yes, a vicious product of his times, but not exactly evolved in the years since.  The writing is blah, the characters 2 dimensional, the plot almost silly, and the ending inevitable.  Trite is a kind description.  Give it a miss despite the good Amazon reviews.  The readers have a much higher tolerance for shallow and unlikable than I do.  D+ (2.7*) and suggested skip.

Casually cursed

Casually Cursed is the seemingly last installment in the Southern Witch series that started years ago as trade paperbacks, changed publishers and is now complete and in mass market paperback.  This series seemed to loop for a bit, but Kimberly Frost put together an excellent ending that makes me wish she’d put as much thought and originality in a few of the earlier installments.  The main story arcs all wrap up in a sprawling cast that crosses more than international borders.  Tammy Jo, Bryn, and the various other characters get their tales completed.  The series is good, if uneven in spots, but the ending was worth waiting for.  B (4*) and a strongly suggested read.

Deadly Spells

It seems to me Jayne Wells goes out of her way to think up at least one gratuitous, sexually gross scene in each book and by golly she has a gem in Deadly Spells.  It’s all so unnecessary to just disturb readers with these mental images.  It adds nothing to the plot and brings a ‘ICK!’ factor in that can detract substantially.  In book 3 of the Prospero’s War series, she does advance the over-arcing plot, but but inches not yards.  Frankly, I find her ‘gross out’ scenes so annoying, the remainder of the book was unsatisfying and dull to what became my hyper-critical eye.  I think this is a series I’ll be skipping over now on.  I want to give this book a D for that stupid ‘Hot Pocket’ thing, but it gets a C- (2.7*) as does have some other value, just not enough to redeem it.  If you enjoy being depressed, this is the series for you.

Foxglove Summer

Foxglove Summer, latest installment in The Rivers of London series by Ben Aaronovich, is kind of a Harry Dresden style UF, though Peter Grant is no wizard like Harry – yet.  He is learning some magical skills and is sent by his mentor to a bucolic town well away from London and his usual beat to investigate two missing children.   So Peter is off his patch, but some of his patch comes calling.  The basis of much of the books is the living, sentient embodiment of rivers and streams that appear as humans, and as such, they travel, to an extent.  Here, the two missing girls are actually complicated by fae, unpleasant and dangerous creatures.  Foxglove Summer is an entertaining read with humor and tension and an engaging lead character.  The series is a bit hard to get into, but improves with age.  Books can be read as stand-alones,  especially this one, which is more accessible than some.  The ending is a bit anti-climatic.  C+ to B- (3.6*) and suggested read.

Waistcoats

Waistcoats and Weaponry is the latest YA book in the Steampunk Finishing School series by the witty Gail Carriger.  She has more to say about certain social factors here than usual, but mostly she sticks to her winning formula of tomboy Sophronia Temminick and her school mates, especially Sidheagh, Dimity, Soap, and Lord Felix Mersey.  Sophronia must go home for her older brother’s wedding ball, but Sidheagh has bigger problems, her pack is complete disarray and without an Alpha.  Her grandfather (who is a lead character in the Parasol Protectorate series) has killed his traitorous Beta and left his pack, arriving in England and fighting to take another pack by killing its mad Alpha.  Sophronie has no intention of allowing Sidheagh to go off alone and she and her friends quickly follow.  The tale is mostly about determined young adults banding together to help each other, with shades of class and race issues and a dash of romance that she Carriger doesn’t quite pull off.  Not up to the quality of others in the series as there is no underlying mystery, just a straight forward YA adventure.   C+ to B- and suggested read for YA fans and those who follow the series.  Carriger plans one last book to finish the series and then she concentrates on her Custard Protocol books, the sequel to the Parasol Protectorate.

February 7, 2015

Big Changes at PaperBack Swap

Filed under: Editorial — toursbooks @ 11:43 pm
Tags: , ,

Well, it was inevitable.  PBS has started charging fees to use their site and it’s not sitting well with many members.  Not because there will be fees, but but because of the cavalier way in which the staff announced it and the VERY SHORT notice (2 weeks and under) to members.  Personal opinion, the way they handled this is text book EPIC FAIL.

Why do I think this move is an EPIC FAIL?  Three reasons (four, really):

First, the notice given was much too short and annoyed even members like me who are unaffected by the changes.  Many members who had a pile of credits were selling them for $2 each, well below the PBS purchase price of $3.75.  Some traded credits to get some other member to buy them an annual membership.  (I did that as a favor for 2 members.)

Second, they introduced tiered membership.  Seriously.  It’s like we’re on the Titanic and they’re rearranging deck chairs and say, “Hey, we keep deck chairs for first class only and lock the third class passengers below decks!”  And the deck chairs for them are the forums.  Their ‘a la carte’ members, those who pay no annual fee but do pay $0.49/book they request, cannot access the formerly open to all forums.  Now make no mistake, they still pay each time they get a book, but that’s not enough.  The forums are for annual members – Limited and Standard – only.

Third, they made no provision for the credits everyone already had.  If you become an a la carte member, then you WILL pay the fee for each book you request.  So let’s say Larry was a good swapper and shipped out so many books he has 100 credits in his account.  Now previously, each credit got him a book, no fees required.  Now, should he USE those credits he earned in good faith thinking he’d get equal treatment, it will cost $0.50 each book – or $50 to use them all.  That is NOT EQUAL to previous transaction.  His credits should have been ‘grandfathered’, at least for a time, like 6 months, for fee free transactions.

Fourth, and maybe the biggest part, PBS acknowledged what we all knew anyway, the increase in ebooks and a serious increase in mail costs for media mail, has impacted the number of books swapped each year which has in turn reduced their income from printable postage fees.  It has also affected the number of titles available – which then causes even FEWER books to be swapped.  Now they make the whole thing pay-to-play and light the fuse to blow the whole thing up.  Sheer genius.

I do not question PBS’s right to do what they did.  I certainly understand how circumstances can change that necessitate fees/membership.  But I will never again trust them, donate to them, suggest a friend join PBS.  I will never again offer 100 WL in the Genre forums.  I will limit transactions to people who sends titles to me – which once again hurts people with hard to find titles who will get screwed.  I feel kind of bad about that, but I have economics to think of too, and the cost of mailing out books with less and less hope of getting one in return is now key.

To those leaving, I understand.  To those staying, I understand.  To PBS, it could have been done so much better and with far less acrimony.

February 5, 2015

Off Track – Listening to Music

Filed under: Editorial,General — toursbooks @ 5:06 pm
Tags: ,

While my entertainment life centers on books, I also love good music.  Unfortunately, when I moved into a condo townhome I gave up my great 3 foot high floor speakers with 12″ woofers, a nice mid-range and a great tweeter.  I could crank those babies up and rattle the windows and get zero distortion.  Well, after moving, I ended up with listening to crappy computer speakers (except my car has a Bose), especially when traveling with a laptop.

Amazon changed all that when offered specials on Bose OE2 on ear headsets for under $80.  It was a world class no brainer.  Do they match my old speakers?  Hell NO!  But for headphones that are light weight and easy to pack for travel, they are amazing.  Well, about 2 months later they offered another kind of headphone from a company I’d never heard of, V-Moda M-80.  Same deal.  An old model on sale for under $80 and with astonishing reviews.  They looked a LOT sturdier than the lightweight Bose, so I bought them.

Back when I was a teen (about 3 years after the dinosaur died), I used over the ear top of the line Bose headphones to listen to my music.  The sound quality was astonishing and talk about noise cancelling – yeesh.  They also had the ability to adjust the internal speaker so you could make it could like you were walking around a concert hall, emphasizing different elements of the music.  That’s no longer an option, but the headphones are also smaller, lighter, and far less expensive.

The thing about headphones is, the apparent quality depends on the kind of music you listen to.  Some are better suited to classical, big band and classic rock, while others are better for hip hop, rap, and tech.  None are great at everything.  So after using both sets awhile, I decided to do a listening comparison.  I used YouTube and Amazon Cloud for digital music.  My first selection was a YouTube video of Itzhak Perlman and John Williams doing a live version of Por Una Cabeza by Gardel, the famous tango from Scent of Woman.  Perlman might have been crippled by polio, by he and his Stradivarius danced that song beautifully and with obvious enjoyment.  The recording, which I also have, is different from the live version and I do prefer the live one on YouTube.  The second choice was pure classical and an old favorite, again with Perlman on the violin and Yo Yo Ma on the cello, Seji Ozawa conducting the Boston Symphony in Dvorak’s Humoresque, No. 7.  Both ran between 3 and 4 minutes, so it was easy to switch headphones and listen to each again before moving to Sinatra, Callas, and Springsteen.

I did it twice to make sure I was right, but Bose won that one.  It was just crisper and cleaner and the sound brighter.  V-Moda handled the kettle drums in the Humoresque better, the original recording on YouTube was not clean there.  Then I tried Callas singing the Habanera from Carmen – again on YouTube, it was a recital video.  Both sets of headphones did fine on this one, but it was an older recording that lacks the nuance of more modern digital and remastered ones.  Still, her voice was pitch perfect.

I also listened to Pavorati doing Mes Amies from Daughter of the Regiment.  Now this one I did two way, the same recording (a live stage performance) is on YouTube and on my Amazon Cloud.  It is the famous 9 high C aria that garnered him a record standing ovation at the Met and recorded in his prime.  Once again I did the swap, and one again the age of the recording seemed to play into what I heard, which was amazing, but not as well done as more modern recording methods.  Both Bose and V-Moda seemed fine on YouTube and off the mp3.

Now I did a change of pace, Springsteen off the Amazon cloud mp3.  I listened to No Surrender, Thunder Road, and Blood Brothers.  I did each one, switched head phones, and repeated it.  Again, I felt the Bose headphones had a crisper sound, while V-Moda seemed to be dulled, or maybe muffled, not as sharp and clean, but more complex.

I moved to Sinatra.  Again I used my Amazon mp3 app and played some downloads, Witchcraft, My Kind of Town (off YouTube and mp3, but different recordings), and Nice ‘n’ Easy.  Once again, I felt the Bose headphones had an edge.

Now remember, at my age, my ears less than perfect and certainly my right ear has issues thanks to a car accident, and your impressions may vary, but I was surprised to find I came down on the side of the Bose headphones for sound quality.  I felt V-Moda’s M-80 had better construction – but there was a catch – the headphones were tight and heavier and certainly not flexible enough for a larger head – say my brother’s.  They were fine for me and my SIL, but didn’t fit him.  The Bose were lighter. sat on the ear with less pressure, less sturdy and durable, and easier to fit a range of head sizes.  Both sets come with carry cases, Bose if soft-sided nylon and the ear pieces pivot to lay flat, the wire to the headphones with the jack is permanently attached.  The V-Moda is a larger, molded hard case, the ear pieces do not pivot, and the wire from the headset set to the jack is removable and replaceable.  It is also able to add a microphone so you can use the headset for video calls and such on the internet.  The microphone would be a separate purchase and well worth it for internet calls.

So there you go.  My suggestion is, if you’re paying anywhere near the original asking price – almost $300 for each set – even at a discount, go and pick the pair that suits you best.  Remember the comfort factor if you listen a lot or watch movies and use them for sound (both beat the built-in laptop speakers my whole orders of magnitude!), they’ll be on your ears for over an hour, so that’s a BIG DEAL.

Now, I apologize for not publishing in January, but I’ve been battling tendinitis in my shoulder and it’s been painful to type for any length of time.  I started this entry over 3 weeks ago.  I’ve also read a bunch of books which I hope to briefly review soon.  There were some good ones – and a couple of stinkers.

January 1, 2015

Happy New Year – 2015

Filed under: General,On Order — toursbooks @ 10:58 pm
Tags:

OMG, I am so not ready for another year.  I think I might be ready for Halloween in a week or two.  What the hell happened to the time?  They whole thing just slipped past way too fast – though everyone under 21 would beg to differ with that statement, I’m sure.

Well, I saw in the new year quietly and was surprised when my sister-in-law called shortly after midnight to say Happy New Year!  But the big shock was my brother yelling it too.  He’s usually fast asleep by 10PM.  Good thing I don’t faint easily.

Naturally I did celebrate the new year by ……………. buying books.  (I can hear hear that collective GASP! of shock.)  Yes, BAM offered 15% off with no minimum order.

A Ghostly Grave

A Grave on Grand Avenue (hummmm …… I’m sensing a pattern here)

Casually Cursed (must be all those graves)

Death, Taxes, and Chocolate Cannoli  (Yup, it’s the graves all right – or the terror of an audit)

Hard as a Rock (Maybe it’s the headstones)

So there we are, the first order of 2015.  A bunch of new stuff is in or due tomorrow, so ……………. off to read so you can get reviews.

Wishing all my readers the very best for 2015!

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