Tour’s Books Blog

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
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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
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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
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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!

December 23, 2014

In Retrospect

Filed under: Editorial,Favorite book,General,Musing on life — toursbooks @ 5:59 pm
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Looking back on this year in books – and life in general – I have to say things were neither as good as I hoped, or as bad as I feared.  I lost two friends – granted, they were people I came to know and like well over the internet, but I still felt their deaths keenly.  But I’m getting to that age where losing people you know is more common, and in many ways, more expected.  But over all, 2014 wasn’t a bad year.

The same can be said for 2014 for books.  There were a few truly awful books, some serious disappointments, a whole bunch of BLAH, a few really good ones, but nothing that reached the level of ‘OMG YOU MUST READ THIS BOOK!’  In a way, I’m spoiled.  I read enough that those rare, truly original and exciting books come along too infrequently these days.  The ‘me-too-ism’ of the movie and TV worlds has always been around books.  Now it’s epidemic.  The worst are the ‘Fifty Shades of Gray’ clones.  While some are far better written, they are still trading on the mad rush of ‘mommie porn’ fans for more of the BDSM genre.

Laine Moriarty was kind of a respite from that, but her ‘chick lit’ books have an alarming sameness to them and after 2, The Husband’s Secret and Big Little Lies, I was done.  Alyssa Maxwell had promise with her Gilded Newport historical ‘high society’ mystery, but ultimately missed the mark.  A success was Mary Miley’s Roaring 20’s mysteries, with her second book being better than the first, a rare occurrence.  I know Gone Girl was the hot book in swaps early this year, but honestly, I could not get into it all and gave up.  It was just a tedious story about people I didn’t really like.

Yes, there was a ‘worst book of 2014′ – and despite some stiff competition, Charlaine Harris’s After Dead: What Came Next in the World of Sookie Stackhouse.  The title was longer than some of the ‘chapters’.  It was an all around money grubbing disgrace of absolute twaddle that would shame any respectable author, but not Ms Harris – who appears to love money more than her fans.  Certainly she doesn’t have any respect for them, but has hubris and arrogance aplenty.  A crap book at an inflated price by an author who obviously disdains her fans.  That’s a trifecta that’s hard to beat.

Some series fizzled, others got killed by publishers, one cozy series was resurrected when another publisher picked it up after a 3 year hiatus.  Welcome back to the Passport to Peril books.  Others moved to self publishing.

Readers were inundated by memoirs from former politicians, ex-spec op military, and various ‘celebrities’ (pardon me while I gag.).  The Monuments Men, which had all kinds of potential for a great read, was an over long, deadly dull book and I gave up on after 100 pages.  Despite the all-star cast, and ‘artistic license’ taken with history, the movie was lackluster too.  An oldie but goody, The Path between the Seas:  Creation of the Panama Canal, 1870-1914 by David McCullough and the newer Lost in Shangri-la The True Story of a Plane Crash into a Hidden World by Michael Zukoff both got thumbs up from my brother, a harsh judge of such things.  1776, also by McCullough, is a favorite of his.  I enjoyed My Planet: Finding Humor in the Oddest Places by Mary Roach, a collection of short articles written for various publications on a wide range of topics over the years.  It had all her usual irreverent, but gentle, humor when looking at the human condition – her own included.  For my brother, he felt none of the books I sent about economics and such measured up to his gold standard, The Forgotten Man: A New History of the Great Depression by Amity Shales.

He and I both enjoyed a number of mysteries and action thrillers and he was especially happy to have Will Thomas once again turn his hand to the Barker and Llewelyn mysteries set in Gaslight London in Fatal Enquiry.  He also loves the Crispin Guest Medieval mysteries by Jeri Westerson, with Cup of Blood published this year.  My sister-in-law began them too and much to her surprise liked them a lot.  (Told her she would, but it took some browbeating on my part to get her to give them a shot.)  Like a few others, this series moved from a traditional publication house to CreatSpace, the self publishing platform.  She also started the Lady Darby mysteries by Anna Lee Huber with A Grave Matter, a book I won in a swap game.  Another swap find that found favor was the Joann Ross series set in 1950’s Scotland by A. D. Scott.  She and I both love the Miss Fortune books by Jana DeLeon and Gator Bait will come up with me for Christmas, but that one I get back.  She also likes the Meg Langslow series by Donna Andrews and I’ll take up Duck the Halls for her as well.  Both are just light reads, and I think the Miss Fortune series is better in some respects.

Neither my brother nor my SIL will go anywhere near anything with vampires, werewolves, dragons or other paranormal/UF/fantasy books get shipped out to PBS members without a stopover at their house.  But Walt Longmire, Joe Pickett, and ‘Mac’ MacKenzie all stop at their house before entering the PBS bookswap world.  Author’s Craig Johnson, C.J. Box, and David Housewright all released really good books this year, Any Other Name, Stone Cold, and The Devil May Care were all quality reads, even though none blew me away.  I also have their 2015 releases on pre-order.  Action thrillers are for my brother, and his favorite this year was Clive Cussler and Justin Scott’s Issac Bell books, all set in the early 1900’s.  He enjoyed The Bootlegger so much, he asked me to order the others in the series through PBS.  My SIL did the same with the A.D. Scott books and also loved Silent Murder by Mary Miley, set in 1920’s Hollywood.

I’m finding cozies are getting on my nerves more often than not and I’m losing any semblance of patience with stupid and illogical lead characters and author’s who skip even the most basic research.  Action thrillers can do the same thing when they get so far afield it’s like watching a cartoon of real life.  Last Year’s The Third Bullet by Stephen Hunter was one of the more thought provoking, and Brad Thor seemed to predict the whole mess with the NSA in his book Black List, so action/spy thrillers can be more than just mindless entertainment, like action movies have become.

In the paranormal/UF/fantasy genres, several series ended and waaaaaaay to many installments of books in series have been delayed, some by a year or more.  The Reap the Wind by Karen Chance, was due out last month and is scheduled for release Nov 2015 – a YEAR LATE!  The follow-up to The Rook by Daniel O’Malley, Stiletto, is now out in June (had been Jan), and Pirate’s Alley by Suzanne Johnson is currently scheduled for April release, even though she finished it in 2013.  And traditional publishers wonder why readers start hating them.

On time and on the mark were Darynda Jones with 2 installments of her Charley Davidson series, Jennifer Estep with 2 installments of her Elemental Assassin series, Jim Butcher with another Harry Dresden book, and a whole lot of books by authors that aren’t in that kind of class.

Keri Arthur’s three Spook Squad novels, Memory Zero, Penumbra, and Generation 18 – pretty good reads, were all published by a small press, Imajinn Books and now Dell republished them as mmpb’s this fall at far more reasonable prices.

Possibly the most original and interesting series that came out between Nov 2013 and this year as a complete trilogy is the Paradox series by Rachel Bach, Fortune’s Pawn, Knight’s Honor, and Heaven’s Queen.  A space opera with fantasy additions that is a worthy read.

The usual reliable authors did decent work, but none stunned.  Author’s seem stuck in a rut.  I think that’s why I’ve read more ebook series this year.  The print authors are all kind of running out of steam, especially the cozy mystery genre.  Still, I am ever optimistic and have hundreds of dollars in pre-orders placed for 2015.  Let’s hope it delivers more memorable books that make it to the special spot reserved for the best of breed – on my bedside reading pile.

Let me wish all of you a Merry Christmas – or just Happy Holiday, if you prefer – and hope that you have enjoyed your reads in 2014 and let me know if you find something you think I need to try.  I do like referrals!

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I tried to get a ride up to my brother’s house, but Santa said insurance did not permit passengers.  Damn insurance companies.

December 17, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lexi Carmichael series

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Merit-Badge-Murder-by-Leslie-Langtry

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

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

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

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

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ElectileDys400x600

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

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

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

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BLACK-SPRING1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Light-My-Fire

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

November 15, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

November 1, 2014

Amazon Raises Prices on MMPB

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

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

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

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

October 31, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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I'm dreaming of an undead christmas

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

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

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

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

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Seventh Grave

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Gator Bait

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

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

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

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

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

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Queen of hearts

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

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

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

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

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

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