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!
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.
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.
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.
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.