Tour’s Books Blog

November 15, 2016

A Publisher’s Game

Filed under: ebooks,Editorial,Price baiting on ebooks — toursbooks @ 3:57 pm
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Remember back in September I posted Belle Chasse was offered as an ebook for $2.99 for those who had already pre-ordered the HC? Well, turns out there was a SECOND catch to that seeming bargain, the publisher will NOT allow the ebook to be loaned. To learn this, you would have had to search in the hidden info that provides the page count, etc., so it was there, just well disguised.

Amazon needs to inform customers an ebook cannot be loaned out at the START of the description, or even in the discount pricing box so we know immediately WHY it’s so cheap, not buried in with page count and other crap most of us ignore.

Since I bought the ebook SPECIFICALLY to loan, they ended up giving me a credit, which was nice of them, but that does not mean I’ll get sucked in by this trick again.

If you want the hard copy for your library and ebook for you portable ereader, it will be fine, so long as you realize lending will NOT happen. Not an Amazon decision, it is the publisher’s decision.

November 11, 2016

A Last Post and Then – A Long Break

I suspect you’ve noticed I’ve been posting less these last few months, in part due to repetitive computer issues and in part due to issues with my eyes.  Like most folks my age with light eyes I’ve had cataracts for years.  These last few months saw a marked changed in my vision and it is difficult for me to work on the computer for any length of time.

Yes, I am getting surgery on both eyes, but I have to wait for openings which put’s it out later than I had hoped.  Still, it will be good to get it done.  Hopefully, it will be drama free and mark the end of a very expensive year of car repairs, extensive dental work, multiple trips to the computer place (where I was mistaken for an employee), and ending with eye surgery.  Could have been better, could have been worse.

I’ve been on a spy/assassin/action thriller binge with multiple authors in various formats.  I belong to Goodreads and I occasionally post (in fits in starts) in two groups, The Orion Team, a group for fans of action thriller/spy/espionage type books and the VERY large Mystery, Crime, Thriller group.  I am almost never around the fantasy and paranormal groups I belong to.  The latest Mitch Rapp book, Order to Kill by Kyle Mills who took over for Vince Flynn and did a really spectacular job of The Survivor, the previous book in the series is reviewed below.  By comparison, I found Order to Kill …… well, average or slightly above.  My comment brought out Ryan – self-styled ‘The Rappologist” – a Mitch Rapp superfan who runs a blog dedicated to Mitch Rapp who took exception to my views.  So I did something I rarely do, I sent an email to the author, Kyle Mills.

Now I email my many political representatives and office holders in DC and tell them off or agree with them (can’t remember the last time that happened) and sent the email expecting ‘Thanks for writing’, canned reply of a similar nature.  But lo and behold, within a few hours Kyle Mills replied himself.  And not some rote response, but a thoughtful look at what books of his I liked and how I loved The Survivor, but not Order to Kill.  A part of his response was:

“My impression of the Rapp books is that he is a bit of a superhero.  Realism is less important than the fact that he be the master of his universe.  Part of that is shown through his actions and part is through the deference others show him.  Further, because The Survivor leaned toward the cerebral (in the context of the series) I wanted to do more of a pure action thriller this time out.”

I thought about his reply awhile and about what books I liked best and those that ended up annoying me and came to the conclusion I do prefer the cerebral thriller.  There’s plenty of action, but the characters are more nuanced, flawed, and human, so more relatable.  See, even a thriller teaches us something about ourselves.  And kudos to Mr Mills.

On to the reviews!

PS – Belle Chasse by Suzanne Johnson, the next in the Sentinels of New Orleans series is due out next week.  If I have a moment, I’ll post a short review before surgery.  Happy Holidays!

NOTE: All books purchased by me unless otherwise noted.

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Order to Kill has Rapp back in Pakistan works with the team of ex-Seals to locate the now mobile nuclear missiles the Pakistani Army is playing dangerous games with.  Then he is pulled away when the wife and son of the Louis Gould, the man who tried to kill him, are in jeopardy.  Apparently, the safe home in South Africa is breached by ISIS rebels led by a low-level Russian thug.  Rapp saves the day (of course) but feels this urgent need to get back to Pakistan.  He sends the mother and son to his house the one he’s he’s finally finishing so many years after the death of his first wife.  The best line in the book is the interior decorator who is increasingly frustrated by his non-responses to texts about things like countertops and threatens him with pink Formica if he doesn’t reply.

Then we go off the rails.  Mills’ Putin clone orders his best assassin to kill Rapp.  And the ‘Rapp is Superhero’ song begins.  It’s annoying beyond belief.  Everything in Pakistan will fall apart if Rapp is there and without him their operations are crippled?  Seriously?  He’s the ONE man who can see this and wreck the ‘big plan?  Maybe he should check with the Johnny Carson estate to see if his Carnac hat is available for sale.  All Rapp was missing was a clingy body suit and big red ‘S’ on his chest.  I just took what came next as shallow, predictable, and kind of tedious in that like a romance novel, the ending was never in doubt, just how he got there.  You couldn’t even hate the competent Russian assassin, who was just doing a job.  We can hate ISIS, but big deal.

What’s missing?  Well, there’s plenty of action and the pacing is excellent.  Mills knows his way around writing a thriller, but in trying to imitate Flynn’s later works where Rapp is less human and more a cartoonish, shallow, always right, he lost the nuance that he brought to The Survivor, what I thought was one of the best books in the series for some time.  That he deliberately changed the style to better match Flynn is precisely why I found myself annoyed with it.  I’d grown tired of Flynn turning Rapp into an almost inhuman superhero.  I did like Grisha Azarov, the Russian assassin and he has some potential for future books as he manages to get away from both Rapp and Russia.

If Mills sticks with this ‘superhero’ approach, I’ll likely quit buying after the next book.  It’s like a good, but unsurprising action movie rather than an intellectual challenge with action an integral part.  Plus Rapp is getting too old to be fully credible in plots that are all about physical challenges without the redeeming factors of human error or character flaws.  To his credit, he did leave Rapp with the widow and child now living in his house and not knowing how to handle things.

Order to Kill gets a C+ (3.4*) rating for me and will be loved by dedicated Rapp fans – 70% of whom gave it 5* on Amazon.  I found it tedious and annoying and actually a step back from the far better book, The Survivor.  There are far too many of the ‘James Bond’ superspy genre out there.  Shallow and to me, ultimately unsatisfying.  Read it if you are a Flynn fan.  I’m sure you’ll at least like it as it is was well written and paced and you like the ‘avenging crusader’ style of thriller.  If you’re NOT a huge fan, borrow it from the library, buy it used, cheap in about 6 months (or less as remainders are already down to $10 including shipping on Amazon) or hit the FOL sale in about 2 months when they start removing extras from their shelves.

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Scot Harvath, like Mich Rapp, is getting a bit long in tooth (this is book 16 to Rapp’s 15th – but Flynn’s death caused a break in time before a new author was selected) to be the only guy to do the job again, and again, and again.  Like Kyle Mills and Vince Flynn, Thor brings a sense of realism to his settings and action, but Foreign Agent lacked the originality of his earlier books and like Rapp, Harvath has become a bit too much – though Thor is giving him more humanity and a strong sense of his mortality.  The series is suffering from character fatigue.

Harvath, like Flynn, chose to go the route where action takes priority over over character and complexity of human nature.  The plot becomes the story and characters are stoically going through the motions of playing out scenes.  I give him credit for slowly developing the self-realization of his and the fact this cannot last.  Still, it’s almost cut a paste in parts from prior work.  Not a patch on Black List, which was excellent, one of his best.  This can be a trap when the protagonist must start confronting in changes age brings and the equally harsh realization that they want a life beyond the endless action, beyond being responsible for the whole world.

And it is that humanity, the flawed person, that makes characters go from good to completely memorable.  And it’s that element of the plot that raises a book from decent read to amazing.  Now you can do that with some other elements like he did with Black List, but that made the PLOT great, not the characters.  Here, the plot cannot push the book from average to amazing.  It’s a decent plot – and like Kyle Mills, he mixes Russians and ISIS are the antagonists against whom Harvath must match wits and killing skills.  But here the Rissian involved with ISIS is not an apolitical professional assassin like Mills’ Grisha Azarov, but a nutcase who hate Americans.

Again, no question Thor knows the area, the techniques, technology, and keeps things moving, but he’s at the ‘fish or cut bait’ point with Harvath.  Made a few books more, but his character is too old and fire that drove him is changing.

Foreign Agent gets a C+ to B- (3.5*) and will be a huge hit with action thriller fans.  It shows less prescience and tension than Black List, the book I now judge his others by.  Like all books in the action Thriller genre, the price on remainders drops like a stone pretty fast and you can get a HC new book delivered from an Amazon reseller cheaper than the paperback.  Or go buy it at the FOL sale or borrow it from the library.  It wasn’t worth the HC price, but I share this series, like the Rapp series with my brother, so off to him it goes.  Print only.  He and amy SIL do NOT do ebooks.

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Victor the assassin is back with another excellent installment.  Unlike characters like Rapp and Scot Harvath, Victor is a true anti-hero.  An assassin for hire with a certain code, the first priority being his own survival.  He trusts no one and leads an existence devoid of human ties.  But he keeps his promises.

A Time to Die finds Victor on a train to fulfill a contract for MI6 as part of deal they made.  But he’s not alone.  There are other assassins out to get him.  Someone has put a price on his head.  But Victor now has his focus divided between Rados, the worst of the many Balkan war criminals and mass murderers, now a crime boss, and those who are hunting for him.

Patience and attention to detail are what have kept Victor alive when most other assassins would have sought retirement and refuge.  But it also means someone sold him out and it can only be one person – the middleman who acts as the go-between Victor and is clients.  No time for that now, now he must find a way to dig deep enough into the criminal underground to find Rados who has evaded all who have sought to bring him to trial for war crimes.

It is a wonderfully twisted knot of a killer seeking to kill a killer while another killer is trying to kill him and the target that Victor ends up close nearly gets to live …….. but he seals his fate by causing Victor to break a promise.

Assassin novels are very different from ones where the protagonist is a hero fighting for a cause or belief and someone who has made his life about the art of killing and going unnoticed.  Victor is gray, he has limits, a personal code, but is morally flexible on some things.  He does not kill unnecessarily nor is he any kind of patriot.  Just a killer.  Complex and fascinating in his own way.

A Time to Die poses some interesting perspectives on the nature of true evil.  One of Tom Wood’s best and most mature from a plot and character perspective, with plenty of action and twists.  It gets a solid B (4*) and a highly recommended read for fans of early John Rain books by Barry Eisler, Solo by Jack Higgins, or Shibumi by Trevanian.  I’m not sure why this series is not more popular.  It’s really well done a Victor makes a wonderful anti-hero.

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I bought the ebook, Tokyo Black by Andrew Warren, the first in the Thomas Caine series, from Amazon through a Book Bub sale and figured I’d give it a try.  Tokyo Black is about an ex-CIA covert operative who got set up and is getting set up again by the same man.  Using an alias, he’s lived a comfortable and quiet life in Thailand’s resort area doing minor smuggling of designer knockoffs.  His partner sets him up with a narcotics rap and he lands in prison.  His was out is an ex-lover who needs him to some work in Japan, part of his old territory before things went sideways in the Mideast.

This setup moves quickly into the story where Caine is in Japan where he uses a favor owed him by a Yakuza boss to try and find out what’s going on.  Unlike most spy novels, this thriller is more tied to organized crime than national secrets or terrorist groups.  Sort of The Godfather meets John Rain – and I hope that didn’t give away the ending, which was well done.

The story is a really good, fast-paced read but not nuanced as I like my thrillers, just a personal preference in style.  Caine is a really good character and it will be interesting to see where this goes as he ends up agreeing to work freelance for the CIA.

Tokyo Black gets a solid B (4*) from me.  For lovers of the John Rain books, Gray Man series, and the Keller books by Lawrence Block.

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From well-crafted thrillers to mystery fluff with as much substance as meringue.  Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing inherently wrong with fluff when it’s well done, which this is not.  In the tradition of Clive Cussler, Tom Clancy, and James Patterson, we add Janet Evanovich, aging doyen (75 years old) of the increasingly awful Steph Plum books (once favorites of mine, 14 books ago), cooking up ways to ‘expand the brand’.  God, the money machine runs on her name.  The books are mostly written by her co-authors, but it is HER name that sells them.

Curious Minds is mildly original, very choppy, meant to have this brilliant and eccentric lead character (a copy of the TV series version of Elementary, except Emerson Knight has none of the flaws and is a LOT richer) and the ever reluctant female in the late 20’s trying to break into the financial world who is assigned to keep him as a customer of the financial house.  Riley Moon is the reluctant sidekick in his plans.

This is supposed to be funny, and apparently, some people found it so.  But a decade’s old scheme to replace the gold in the US Federal Reserve in NYC with gold plated tungsten while moving the actual gold elsewhere is not only improbable, it makes no sense how Knight works it out.

Curious Minds has a few really amusing throw-away lines, but it was so choppy and jittery, it got annoying.  Though it got 3* from me on GoodReads, it’s really a D+ to C- (2.6*) effort.  I know the style was deliberate, but that did not make it less annoying.  Riley is too young for her years and lacks the maturity to make this pairing work, so she comes off a dimwit with multiple degrees from Harvard, an unlikely combination.  I found it frustrating as the concept was good, it was just not well done.  For Evanovich fans, none of this will matter.  For anyone else, give it a miss or get it free or really cheap somewhere.

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Oh dear God, why do I do this to myself?  I hate chick lit and buy the ultimate chick lit ebook because of the reviews.  On the upside, I got it super cheap, on the downside, about half way through I gave up.  It was that or throw up.

OK, a psychologist learns her building is being demolished and the two weird people she shared the practice with both knew and had new jobs.  She’s left holding the bag with even her file lost.  (The improbability of all this boggles the mind.)  So she starts a column called The Breakup Doctor with the help of the friend she was counseling when the demolition started.

She starts getting clients and missing the fact that she also missing all the signals her own romance is about to hit the rocks.  All that was missing was a flashing neon sign.

At a quarter of the way through, I’d had enough.  It’s mildly amusing, annoying, and beyond belief – with amusing being only 20%, 50% annoying and 30% not remotely believable.  The Breakup Doctor gets a DNF since I couldn’t make myself finish it.  The writing was solid but the characters everything I loathe in chick lit.  Unless this is your thing, (please, don’t tell me, I’ll just cringe) give it a miss.  If it is your thing, it gets 4.5* on Amazon, but they tend to overrate these things.

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Image result for belle chasse suzanne johnson

OK folks, it came election day and I read it all that day.  I did vote first.

Belle Chasse picks up soon after DJ and Jake make good their escape from the trial Zarkovi  – with the help of Christof Winter Prince, Jean Lafitte, René, and Adrien – getting Eugenie out at the same time.  The are now in Old Barataria at Jean’s home.  Alex stayed back to get the inside scoop on the Council.

The pace is quick as Faerie descends into civil war with the queen on her deathbed.  Eugenie’s sister is killed by vampires – but who did it?  Rand, the elf father of Eugenie’s son, the or the wizards?  Then a group of vampires attack Lafitte’s home in Old Barataria and end up paying the price as the gang arrives back before they can kill any but the undead.  Then a strange woman arrives who turns out to be her cousin Audrey, Lennox’s daughter.  They a young ally to get holy water and take messages.

Then the war the war in Faerie goes bad as Florian kills their aunt and claims Christof is to blame seeking help from the council, help denied by Zarkovi.  With the holy water and her staff, they get to eavesdrop on the council meetings.

The ending is fast and furious as Zarkovi grows more desperate to prove himself.  Old loyalties die hard, but we also lose one of the characters I really liked, so it kind of sad.

Suzanne Johnson did a really good job in keeping this series fresh and interesting and action packed.  Belle Chasse ends on a very surprising note.  Only downside, the book was pricey for a trade sized hardcover just barely over 300 pages.  I give Belle Chasse an A- (4.8*) but a big negative on cost.  Borrow it from the library or wait for a few months and get a used one.  Even the ebook is overpriced.

September 24, 2016

ON SALE To Be Released EBOOK – Belle Chasse -UPDATE!

Filed under: Sale,To be released — toursbooks @ 5:44 pm
Tags: , ,

Belle Chasse, the latest installment of the Sentinels of New Orleans by Suzanne Johnson is right now on sale on Amazon in ebook for only $2.99 Regular price, $16.99. You’ll never get it cheaper, so grab while you can. Release date 11/6

Apparently, this price is only good for those who bought the HC book, which I did some while ago.  Why it is back (HC and ebook) at full price is now explained – well, the ebook part.  I have no clue why the print book price is not discounted.

September 21, 2016

Binge Reading – again

Yes, it is a bad habit.  I know that.  Maybe as bad as my addiction to dark chocolate – though I see that as therapy that keeps me from killing annoying authors.

The computer caught that damn keylogger again and 4 days later I finally am back up and running.  So there are a lot of books to get through as I try to once again forget that day 15 years ago when our lives changed forever.

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 Lest we forget

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Let’s start with a new author that impressed me – Chelsea Field  – with her first two books.

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Here’s the setup in Eat Pray Die – Isobel (Izzy) Avery is an Aussie hiding from a loan shark her scumbag ex-husband owes money and expects her to pay up.  So she takes a dangerous job.  One person in hundreds of thousands can taste poison and poison has become the weapon of choice for assassins.  So the rich hire tasters – like kings did in the Middle Ages where the condemned often became the King’s taster.  The difference is the odds of survival for these rare people are much higher thanks to their weird genetic anomaly, the same one that lets them taste and identify poisons.  Izzy just finished training and has her first case – or so she thinks, but he’s really her final test, until a client dies and he has to reveal himself as part of the investigative branch   So as he recovers from the poison he deliberately introduced into her food at breakfast, Izzy finds herself caught up in an investigation and trying to avoid the legbreaker, Mr Black, sent the by the Aussie loan shark and dealing with her easy going male apartment mate and the horny older woman across the hall.  Her ‘client’ turned trainer and Taster investigator, too handsome for his own good, Connor, all get introduced while she tags along on the poison investigation of one of the Society’s client’s.

Izzy turns out to have a knack for trouble and her attraction to Connor is sort of like cuddling up to a glacier.  But she also i good at unraveling puzzles, like murders – in her own stumbling fashion.  AT over 300 pages, it stayed a fast paced, amusing read with likable and believable characters.

Book 2 – Hunger Pains – has Izzy on her first real assignment as a taster for a blogger about to blow open a huge tech story – making him a target and keeping him away from heroin – the addiction he gave up 18 months ago, are as much a part of her job as tasting his food for poison and just laying around getting bored – and a tiny big plump.  He was as also agoraphobic and addicted to spicy cheese doodle from Mexico Izzy often went to buy at a local bodega.  Then he sends her home to sleep and he tests his new freedom and walks to the bodega himself – and she finds him the next day, dead from an overdose.  Not her fault, yet she’s treated like a suspect because she didn’t stop it.  But Izzy is convinced nothing is what it seems and she once again finds herself working with Connor.

The mystery here is more complex with more pieces on the board than in Eat Pray Die and a bit better done.  both are done with a light touch, but absent the OTT screwball situations and real mysteries driving the plot with the character stories wrapping around it.

Eat Prey Die gets a solid B (4*) and Hunger Pains gets a B+ (4.2*).  Highly suggested reads for fans of light, but not cozy, humorous mysteries.  Good characters and Izzy is fun.

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Image result for which is when it all beganImage result for which is when it all beganImage result for which is when it all beganImage result for which is when things fell apart adele abbottImage result for which is when things fell apart adele abbottImage result for which is when things fell apart adele abbottImage result for witch is when the floodgates openedImage result for witch is when the hammer fellImage result for witch is when my heart brokeImage result for witch is when i said goodbyeImage result for witch is when stuff got seriousImage result for witch is when all was revealed

The Witch PI books by Adele Abbott, an English author using English setting range from very good to a jumbled, annoying mess.

Witch is When the Penny Dropped was the setup for Jill Gooder, adopted as an infant, she knew her mom was alive.  With her adopted dad, a PI, as her mentor, she learned the business and looked for her birth mother only to be told to never contact her again.  Her adopted parents now dead, she’s running a shoestring PI agency in her dad’s old office with his knitting crazed secretary – who works for free just to get out of the house – and her older sister, Kathy, (a bit bossy) and mellow BIL plus niece and nephew round out the core cast.

Jill gets a message her dying mother needs to see her, but after two rejections, she’s unwilling to go till sis insists it’s the right thing to do and will bring her closure.  At the hospital, her mother wakes just long enough to yell, “You’re a witch” and dies.  Her aunt tries to get her to come to the funeral, but she arrives late and refuses all overtures from family and leaves.  Aunt Lucy comes to town and meets Jill for tea – and it turns out, Jill is a witch, one her mother hid among humans for years to protect her, but now she must fast-track her learning because someone is out to get her.

It all seems like such foolishness till she tries a spell from the book and finds she and her cat can talk.

Not the best in the series, a bit confusing in that it felt like a few key elements were left out, but over all, a C+ (3.3*) effort.

Witch is When life Got Complicated picks up with Jill training with Grandma – not a warm and fuzzy one either and cousins Amber and Pearl, Lucy’s grown twin daughters, are annoying distractions. and spends way too much time with Amber and Pearl and frankly, the signs of the plots holes big enough to drive a truck through appear.  We get and evil witch, and icky guy friend, and cousins more irritating than my own – and trust me, that takes a LOT.

With each book, you get a small mystery Nancy Drew could solve between English Lit and Trig classes.  The humor gets strained and so does the oddly rapid pace of Jill’s powers.  About book 8 I got the, “Kill me now and let this be ober with!” speed read mood.  Subsequent books did not encourage me to slow down.  It wraps with a none to shocking reveal about who is the ‘Big Bad’ and ends with the evil witch assuring her she has yet to meet her real enemy, The Phoenix.

That is it, the whole 12 books that get increasing annoying with talking cats doing semaphore and naked ghosts and such.  What had a decent start became a choppy mess of piecemeal life that frankly, you just stop caring about it all.  Mrs V, the ever knitting secretary is sane.  The rest are suspect.

The books ranged from D+ (2.4*) to B- (3.6*)  All are short – and trust me, that’s a good thing.  Price is too high for what you get.  If you want to read them, borrow them from a friend.  DO NOT WASTE YOUR MONEY.

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Unraveled is the 15th outing for Gin Blanco, the Elemental Assassin and unwilling nominal head of Ashland’s underworld, she, her sister police detective sister Bria, adopted brother Finn (Bria’s boyfriend), and her lover, Owen Grayson.  Finn’s conniving mother left him one thing, the deed to a poor man’s western theme park in Georgia, so off they go, much to Gin’s disgust.

But once there, it gets pretty obvious things aren’t what they seem and it’s a good thing Gin came prepared – she packed all her knives.  The Christmas spirit is lacking when people start trying ti kill Gin.  Now, after being the most feared assassin in Ashland for years and now nominal head of the underworld – while she rather just run the diner, Finn is hellbent on this and she won’t disappoint him after what happened with his mom.  And more importantly, Gim hopes to learn a bit more about her mother’s involvement with The Circle, the real power in Ashland.  She’s not disappointed as a lot comes out here, and not all of it is good.

Estep keeps this series fresh and brings what should be a tired group of people into new and interesting stories.  I like The Circle concept and we’ll see how she handles it.  The book ends with the usual showdown, with Gim once again almost dying.  (She does that a lot)  Overall it was a good read and good addition to one of the more reliable series out there, and less uneven than most – though the story lines need a new ending, not yet another fight from which Gin barely escapes alive.

I give Unraveled a solid B- to B (3.8*) losing just a little ground for her constant use of the fimal ‘big fight’ scene in every-damn-book.

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The Sight is book 2 in the Devil’s Isle post-apocalyptic world where supernatural being broke through The Veil (bk 1) and the main battleground was New Orleans.  Anyone showing any sign of magical power is banished to live in ‘Devil’s Isle’ a community in partial ruins.  Full humans fear magic, all magic, and it can, if the human isn’t trained, turn them into monsters.  Yet it is magic that protects them from what’s on the other side, many of whom are not interested in anything but war.  Not all sups are evil any more than all humans are good and Claire Connelley is just slowly learning the ropes.  She’s a ‘sensitive’ some with signs of magic.  Enough magic that a fallen angel is helping train her so it won’t drive her mad.

After the war, the city, or what’s left of it, is closely monitored by magic detectors that go off with the slightest evidence of magic use or the presence of a sup.  Claire teams up with Liam Quinn whose mother still lives in what is now Devil’s Isle as that where the family home is.  He knows about Clair’s ‘gift’ because she closed the veil through which the Fae and other magical creatures tried to again attack.  Try as she does to just run her old family merchantile store, she keeps getting drawn into problems, this time with an ‘evangelical’ type that wants all sensitives and sups killed to cleanse the world.  As an apprentice bounty hunter with Liam, they discover just a little too much and become targets of the believers.

The Devil’s Isle books are more older young adult than true adult UF and fast easy, rather predictable reads, especially if you’ve read her Chicagoland Vampire series – which is far more complex and original.  The Sight has a predictable end and frankly, while good, it never passed into ‘very god’ or ‘can’t put down’ territory.  It gets a C+ (3.4*) rating from me with a strong suggestion you borrow the book and if you MUST buy it, get the print.  It’s cheaper than the ebook.  (go figure)  This is NOT a series that you should go out of your way to read.

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Well, once again, Leslie Langtry is hitting on most cylinders – BUT – this writer needs a damn good continuity editor.  Movie Night Murder picks up a few months after Riley is declared a ‘rogue agent’ for murdering several Yakuza to protect Merry in the choppy and messy Marshmallow S’more Murder  – where he declares his love for Merry and leaves her confused and torn between Rex and Riley.  Three months later at the baptism of Finn, Merry and Riley’s goddaughter to best friend and co-scout troop leader Kelly’s daughter.  And has to get to know the ‘mommies’ of the girls in the troop thanks to whole Evelyn Trout fiasco in DC.

But it’s movie night with a twist – just as the girls and mommies settle in, Merry opens the door to a banging sound a woman falls dead on the floor.  Not just any woman, Evelyn Trout.  The mommies are horrified, the girls are thrilled and sit discussing poisons that can cause heart attacks.  The new Medical Examiner, a beautiful Asian woman called Dr Body, makes her debut – and arouses Merry insecurity issues with Rex.

Evelyn Trout was no girl scout mom, but a rogue CIA black ops assassin working for whoever paid best.  What she was doing with the troop is anyone’s guess.  But her death brings Riley back to Merry’s door because the CIA wants them to steal her body.  But someone beats them to it.

The positives – it’s amusing even though the author keeps making key plot errors from prior books making continuity beyond annoying.  It has a better ending for who is the bad guy.

The Negatives – it’s like a retread with tweaks.  Kelly is getting annoying, throwing a baby in the mix is weird, and suddenly Philby has 3 kittens who look different from the first two kittens – and one must assume neutering a cat is unheard of in Merry-world.

Movie Night Murder is between a C and C+ (3.3*) Langtry needs to pay more attention to her own plots because there were a LOT of discrepancies from where we left off on the last book.

That’s all for now gang and you might not get review next 2 months as I need my eyes worked on and doing computer works is tough right now.  But I’ll be back as soon as I can.

August 4, 2016

Witness Protection?

No, not hiding and not on vacation and I am not incarcerated for attacking any presidential candidate, though both have provoked me to rages at various times.  (Though I wish I was able to avoid our election coverage, it seems impossible.  It makes me want to move Australia, except they too have a huge problem and turn prime minister over faster than pancakes.)  I have been enjoying the expensive pleasure of a hard drive crash – from which they thankfully were able to save my data, followed by getting a keystroke logger that kept crashing the OS.  So it had to be lobotomized.  And it happened again.  And again.  And finally, I had them reformat the SSD and start from scratch, changed a bunch of settings, passwords, my firewall, and – much to my eternal joy – my bank account.  In all, it took almost 3 weeks and I did buy a rebuilt backup computer JIC.

Now getting a new checking account is more fun than root canals without Novocaine.  The banker was surly and treated me like scum, and despite her pinstripe suit, the young customer service person had attitude to spare and NO understanding of the bank’s rules.  I did discover my driver’s license had expired 5 days earlier and landed at DMV with 5,000 pieces of ID to prove I’m me.  Not a seat in sight (and they have over 100) I point out I’d be happy to wait, but cannot stand that long.  I end up over in an area for mobility impaired and basically get first rate service – after I filled out a form that had been copied to many times the print was pale gray on white and just barely legible if you sort of tilted it the right way.

You know, the day you can say the DMV treats you better than your own bank says so much about how big banks now treat customers.

The upside to so much computerless time, I did a LOT of reading.  The downside, I’m still fixing all the damn EFT autopay accounts.  Technology cuts both ways.  (And that damn snotty bank associate didn’t fall in a ditch.)

Well, here go the books.

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Cash Landing was on my PBS wishlist and came through quickly.  It didn’t take long to understand why.  I was a good 70+ pages into it and kept muttering, “How many times have I read a variation on this trope?”  Too many.  It was at best a pedestrian and uninspired book from a usually decent author.  The story arc was such a familiar tale I know what each character would be before it happened.  It made a tedious and unexciting read.  I mean a robbery staged by a chef, a criminal, and druggie with the IQ of a turnip was a train wreck waiting to happen.  Making them Cuban does NOT make then interesting.  Even worse, he used names that confused characters.

Cash Landing was a crash and burn and certainly not up to Grippando’s usual level.  My grade D+ to C- (2.4*) and with nearly 40% of the Amazon reviews and 3* and down, you’d be better off reading an old Hardy Boys book.  Free through PBS and will depart that way or to the food pantry.

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Stealing the Countess was the second disappoint Housewright delivered in his last 2 books.    When Paul Duclos approaches Mac about helping him ransom his stolen Stradivarius, you can tell immediately what’s wrong.  No insurance company would pay a claim on a violin of that value with offering a reward, no questions asked, for its return.  But the violin belongs to the Foundation his wife runs with her family money.  Like all Strads, it has a name, the Countess Borromeo, or Countess, for short.  Duclos is a local boy who ended up a world class violinist was asked to do a benefit in his hometown.  The violin was stolen from the suite at the B&B where he stayed and someone wisely unloaded the case with the GPS tracker on the property of one of the now richest women in the town, and Paul’s old HS flame.

Mac gets a letter forwarded from his old address that warns him away and learns the insurance investigator he knew from his initial windfall and occasionally shows up in the books, Vincent Donnatucci, sent it.  But why?

You can figure out who has the violin fairly fast, but the rest of the story, including murder and infidelity (that was obvious) and well-drawn characters keep it interesting along the way.  My score, C (3*).  Borrow the book from the library, though I bought the print book and thought it way over priced.  Stealing the Countess is NOT a keeper, just a very a very average read.

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Book 4 in the Laura Black series, Scottsdale Scorcher, is another good outing for Laura and her police and mafia love interests as a major drug gang war starts brewing and she gets caught in the middle.  Billed as a ‘romantic humorous mystery’, it all 3 elements, but the mystery part does take center stage.

Laura gets hired by Mistress McNasty, Scottsdale’s leading Dominitrix and a friend of Laura’s as well a college professor part time, to find her favorite client.  Then Tough Tony DeCenzo her to find is long time friend, former bodyguard, and now driver who has gone missing – the same man she’s already hunting for Suzie.  Hot on her trail is the Mexican drug Carlos.  She and her friends at the law office when Ms McNasty (Suzie Lu, a neighbor to Laura) is officially a client of her sleazy boss and the girls are on the case.  Using the super-secret DEA software left behind, Sophie finds four very hidden accounts that suggest the Mexicans have been paying him to tip them off.

As is often the case, there are plenty of twists and turns and the whole thing ends in a shootout that ruins Maura’s decision between Reno the cob and Max the mobster that kind of had my ‘shallow bitch’ alarm going ding ding ding.  Even with that annoyance, Scottsdale Scorcher gets a solid B (4*) rating.  Read the ebook, like did.  Available on Amazon and the author is NOT prolific.

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Yet another entry in the seemingly bottomless well of paranormal cozy mysteries to hit the market is Tonya Kappes’ Spies and Spells.  She also authors the rather blah and uneven Ghostly Southern mysteries.

Let’s summarize the whole mess this way, Maggie, our ‘heroine’ suddenly can’t make the gravy for the biscuits, sausage and gravy sold at the family restaurant.  That means her ‘witchy hour’ is there whatever her powers are, they won’t include taking over the restaurant.

Then she gets recruited by some secret agency called SKUL (no, I did not make that up, so don’t blame me.) and ends up posing as the top saleswoman for a privately held cosmetics company, a loosely cloned copy of Mary Kay with red as their signature color.  The whole thing is akin to asking a dog groomer to do brain surgery.  Seems her Witchy Hour was this hottie guy in the diner.

Oh yeah, her ‘familiar’ is her car,  Vinnie, who does NOT like the hottie SKUL agent Mick, the guy that triggered Maggie’s Witchy Hour.

Now the Amazon readers LOVED this book.  Damned if I know why.  Even for a fluff read, it was not well done.  A slight, silly, not especially entertaining, except for Vinnie, Spies and Spells gets a C- (2.8*) from me.  If you must read it and like chick lit fluff, you’ll enjoy it more.  Bought the ebook from Amazon for an insanely overpriced $4.99.  It’s now sells for $2.99 and is worth about 99 cents as a beach read.

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J. C. Daniels is one of Shilo Walker’s pen names, so Blade Song carries her usual style, just in UF.  Her lead character, Kit Colbana, a one woman all-purpose crime player, assassin, thief, investigator, whatever work come her half-breed way.  Being half human makes her an outcast, but her sword makes her damn dangerous one.  Except she also has panic attacks that all but paralyze her thanks to her abusive family upbringing.  This is classic Shilo Walker trope, a strong woman with a fatal flaw that keeps interfering with her life.

The other problem is the Walker inability to fully command her world building.  She sketches it in as needed, but never fleshes it out and breaths life into it.  It becomes a 2 character drama, Kit and Damon, her shifter ‘bodyguard’, watcher, and apparently love interest.

But no matter what name she writes under, Shilo Walker goes for the traumatized heroine and the ‘hero’ who tends to infantilize her.  It does not sit well with me.  Neither did the angsty plot.

Blade Song gets a D+ to C- (2.5*) from me because I found Kit just not a very believable character and the romance bit more icky than romantic.

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Another Neurotic Hitwoman book for JB Lynn, Hitwoman Under Pressure.  One again, the whole, ‘white hats’ and black hats’ secret organizations as well as one angry mobster, are all converging on Maggie.  It’s a very convoluted tale that bordered on incomprehensible at times with all its various detours.  In fact, too convoluted for here without a lot of spoilers.

Suffice it to say that Maggie’s sister’ kids, and her whole family are in danger over a code in a book Maggie has.  Her supposedly dead sister’s  kids are kidnapped and Maggie had to get them back while keeping the rest of her family safe – with the help from her lizard, cat, dog and now a bird that talks like he too many Soprano’s episodes.

Unfortunately, there is a sameness to these plot lines that regular readers will like or find tiresome, especially all the family crap she puts up with and unanswered questions about her brother – the one she never knew about and no one will talk about.

Hitwoman Under Pressure was a quick, light read and moderately entertaining, though I hear, One more, “We can’t discuss that,” and I’m DONE.  this overarching plot is an endless loop of non-answers.  My score is C+ (3.5*) and suggested for series fans in ebook, preferably borrowed from the library.

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 The First Hostage is the second outing for news correspondent J.B. Collins.  Covering the President’s secret visit to Jordan he is in the convoy that is returning the president to Air Force One when they are attacked by a well-organized group of ISIS soldiers who take the president hostage.

OK, that part might faintly be possible, but who gives a journalist automatic weapons and trusts his instincts over their own intelligence service?  And Collins immediately falls under suspicion as the leak to ISIS or ISIS i trying to get even for his provocative and incendiary articles about them.  One exception is a Jordanian Captain who tends to believe him that the leak is somewhere in the US chain of command.  Very few people knew the president was there, so the list of suspects is short and very high ranking.

An untrained journalist fighting with battle hardened elite soldiers is a bit of a tough sell.  SO was convincing me saw things no one else saw in his ‘reporter instincts’.

The initial pacing, taking place mostly in various intelligence bunkers in Jordan, is slow, and it doesn’t pick-up speed till the end.

While plot has some credibility issues with me, especially at the end, Rosenberg’s skill as a writer shines and his knowledge of the area and the key people, including the King of Jordan, gives it authenticity most books lack.  He writes fiction and non-fiction, so his style is professional and finely honed.  It’s the plot I found issue with.

The First Hostage gets amazing endorsements from Action/Thriller fans on Amazon with over 1,000 reviews with 85%+ at 5*.  It gets a B- (3.7*) from me because honestly, a newspaper reporter did all that?   I bought it on pre-order for just over $13.00.  Some used copies are less + shipping and Amazon’s current price is just under $18.  The paperback is tentatively set for Sept 6 and is over $9.  My suggestion, buy used or get it from your library to keep cost down.

May 31, 2016

More Books – Playing Catchup with Short Reviews

SAD NEWS:  Jim Laverne, widower of Joyce Laverne, died suddenly on May, just a few months after his wife of 44 years passed away.  Jim and Joyce were prolific authors of cozy mysteries under a variety of names, paranormal mysteries,  and other books.  Alas, many of their series will never wrap up now, but we have a large collection of books to enjoy in their memory.

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Yes, I read too much.  SIGH.  Here are some short reviews for MORE BOOKS.  Gad.  I’ll need a part time job just to support my habit soon.

The latest in the Novel Ideas series by Lucy Arlington, Off the Books, was a ho-hum effort that was too formula and predictable.   I won the book on a PBS game because I’ve stopped buying the series.  I hate being able to write a plot in my head within pages of starting a book.

Writing quality is good and characters and some depth, but nothing special.  No ‘oomph’ factor.  Off the Books gets a dull C (3*).  Not good, not awful, just blah.

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Melissa F Olsen is one of those decent, yet not exceptional, UF writers that live in the area where their books are good, but never reach rave review territory.  Boundary Born, the third and possibly last or the Boundry WItch series, wraps up the primary story arc of ‘Lex’ Luther, one of the adopted twin daughters of the Luther shoe fortune.  Her twin, Sam, died in an accident and Lex should have died in the deserts of the Mideast, but survived, much to the puzzlement of the military doctors.  Back in Boulder trying to get over PTSD and spend time with her niece, she learns she’s a witch.  Not just any witch, a boundary witch that deals in death.  In book 1, Boundary Crossed, she learns what she and her niece are and the plot to kidnap the child ends up in an unexpected place.  In book 2, Boundary Lines, she battles an ancient magical creature eating random hikers and other poor souls and uncovers a plot to break a compact that ended a war between vamps, witches, and shifters.  In book 3, Boundary Born, she battles yet another problem – someone killing vamps with an ancient form of belladonna.  And it all turns back to Lex’s undiscovered parents – until dear old dad shows up on her porch.  What happens from there is part personal discovery and part action thriller.

Basically, the whole series is about Lex’s finding of who and what she is as well as the evolution of her powers.  I read Boundary Born as a free ARC in ebook and it’s a good read, wraps up a whole bunch of questions, but the series felt unfinished.  Judging by the afterword, Olsen is leaving room to revisit these characters in the future despite saying the series is wrapped.

Boundry Born gets B- (3.6*) from me and read only if you’ve been following the series.

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Book 1 and 2 in the Geek Girl mysteries (not to be confused with the Lexi Carmichael books) and feature’s Mia Conner’s Falls, her hippy parents, mini-mogul grannie she helped make rich and her sex-obsessed sister and brother-in-law who basically get grants to do studies on things sex related.  A Geek Girl’s Guide to Murder starts with some kind of hacking issue that has mysterious emails going to residents in an exclusive gated community of mostly retired folks – including her grandmother.  Despite being well to do thanks to her computer skills setting and running an online store for grandma’s homeopathic beauty aids, she lives in kind of a dumpy place in town and drives to work – to find a huge pick-up taking her space and then some.  The truck and obnoxious owner turn out to be the strangely over-qualified new head of security.

The mystery that unfolds ends up centered around Mia herself.  All the emails setting up fake appointments and such are just a prelude to other events involving her off-beat family and grannie’s all natural skin treatment business.  The ending is a mix of obvious and odd – with more obvious than anything.

In A Geek Girl’s Guide to Arsenic, Grannie’s very business is threatened when police and Ren Faire goers all think the death of a arist is linked to their products.  The ex-security head, real FBI agent, now US Marshall (Yeah, I don’t get that either), so once again, with her family involved, Mia gets nosey and does her own investigation – easy to so when you’re Queen Guinevere and someone burned Grannie’s business set-up at the Faire.  With an endless supply of costumes for various community events where she works, and running the online store for grannie and the IT department for the community, you wouldn’t think mia had enough time meddle in an investigation – but you know you’re wrong.  The resolution is once again an odd mix of good and bad as the victim is revealed as a person in Witness Protection as well as a womanizer and a likable scoundrel (possibly cheat) who pretty much screwed everyone – ummmmm – physically and financially.

A Geek Girl’s Guide to Murder and A Geek Girl’s Guide to Arsenic are both quick, decent reads that try to be too complex and too simple at the same time.  It’s like the author isn’t quite sure where she’s going with all this.  Parts are very well dome and then segues into a side road that has nothing to add to the story or characters.  Despite being fairly decent compared to the paint by numbers cozies out there, both get a C+ to B- rating (3.5*) and suggested reads for those tired of the trite cozy books.  I bought and read both as ebooks.

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The latest installment in the Neurotic Hitwoman series has a LOT going on.  The story of her sister Darlene.  The truth about Patrick, Maggie’s nutso mom once again breaking out of the home, thanks to her criminal father, and Katie having a major meltdown over not having a real mommy.  The Hitwoman and the Mother Load was more about family and friends than Maggie’s part time job as a hit woman.

JB Lynn writes a fast paced book that crams a lot of different stories into a fairly short novel and as usual has a neat hook at the end.  This one is kind of hard to discuss without giving the key plot elements away, but I can talk about Katie acting out at school over not having a ‘real’ mommy and the suggestion both maggie and Katie see a psychologist for counseling.  (Which end hysterically.)  Finding out the truth about Patrick was painful, but seemed inevitable for the last few books so not dramatic.  Angel is taking a bigger role, but that leaves Maggie in a quandary given the fact she does work for his gangster uncle.

The Hitwoman and the Mother Load is solidly plotted, has good characters, and breakneck pace.  It gets B (4*) from me and highly suggested for readers of this series or the Housewife Assassin books.  Purchased as a Kindle ebook.

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I have been waiting FOREVER for the latest Addison Holmes book to be released and Whiskey Tango Foxtrot was a little disappointing given the wait.  Like many ebook series, this suffers from what movie makers would call ‘continuity gaps’, that is mixed up details about people, events, and other things, that tend to be distracting.  The last Steph Plum book was riddled with them, so somewhere editors are not doing their jobs.

The story itself isn’t bad, basically, it’s a very clever con game that Addison isn’t aware of.  She and her Great Aunt Scarlett – who is a hoot and the best part of the book – and Rosemarie try balancing a real case and special assignment as half payment for a tricked out van for surveillance.  I like the surprise ending for the bad guy.

Whiskey Tango Foxtrot gets a C+ to B- (3.5*) because it was sloppy in continuity and plot, but entertaining enough that I could forgive most of it.  Purchased as a kindle ebook.  Like the Neurotic Hitwoman series, this id for those who enjoy humorous mystery.

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The paid or mysteries by Kait Carson features a SCUBA diving paralegal who gets mixes up in murders.  In Death by Blue Water  protagonist Hayden Kent is recovering from a sudden break-up with her live-in boyfriend when she goes diving to clear her mind and instead finds a body caught in a wreck she’s dived dozens of times before.

It gets more complicated when the body turnout to the older brother of her ex and she becomes suspect #1.  Many of the supporting characters don’t get fleshed out much here, but the plot has good twists and turns and an unexpected outcome – rare for a near cozy style mystery A little heavy on the whole migraine thing and SCUBA diving, but very decent first book and a nice departure from the all too predictable cozies.

Book 2, Death by Sunken Treasure, the mother of a friend, and her kind of surrogate mother, Dana Kirby, a museum operator, finds her own son’s body floating in the reeds near the ferry dock as she heads to work on Pigeon Key.  She and her son had a recent falling out and becomes a suspect.  More importantly, her son made a major treasure find and was a very, very experienced diver, so she is convinced, despite the police claiming his pain-killer drug addiction and diving lead to an accidental death.

The sheer number of characters involved make following the plot a bit of a challenge at times as she keeps introducing more and more variables with people and lies that are hard to separate from truth, an ex-wife and ex-boss (who lost his fortune to Mike in a workplace accident lawsuit), now lovers, seeking a share of the treasure, partners telling different stories about what Mike owned and who had title to the treasure – and more deaths – including twice nearly dying herself.

Once again, despite the sometimes rambling plot and overuse of migraines, the culprit is a surprise.  The plot unspools in a choppy fashion and is only tied together at the end, but once again, it was better than the typical cozy and the mid-Keys setting is a big draw for me.

My grades are Death by Blue  Water is C+ (3.4*) and Death by Sunken Treasure is C+ to B- (3.6*).  Since she has to create a whole new base of characters, I will buy book 3 and see how she manages the transition.  Good reads, but not great.  Far better than the typical cozy and worth the ebook price.

April 27, 2016

New Releases, News, and Mystery Odds and Ends

Well, April came in like it was March and March went out like it was May, so spring is the usual weather potluck in the northern states where we can 4 seasons in 24 hours. We had a rare April snow and my brother got over 5 inches – and was displeased because the 70-degree weather had him putting away his snow blower and plough the week before. (My laughing at him did not improve his mood.)

There is a major bout of angst among cozy readers as the latest ‘consolidation’ of publishers is causing contracts to be canceled and series abruptly ended as authors are notified their sales are too low to justify keeping them.  For anyone who has followed the glut of cozies on the market, it comes as no shock that the buyer pool has been diluted and the publisher’s rationale that they ‘overbought books in that genre’ is probably fair.  Still, a few of the authors have been around a long time, so they were shocked at having the rug yanked out.  The list of about to be deleted authors is growing, so if you’re on FaceBook, check out the Save Our Cozies section.  I’m not on that site, but those who are say many authors are venting their frustration at the short notice.

The whole mmpb market is not considered ‘profitable’ to publishers.  They want trade-size books to be the new paradigm for softcovers as that format’s higher price also had better margins.  That’s why many paranormal series are in that format already.  Romance and cozy mystery still use the mmpb size as their default and a few paperback versions of HC books.  I am more and more often seeing popular hardcovers going to paperback getting released as trade size books, so buying used HC books is actually more economical!  Aside from improving the used book market, I’m uncertain if the publisher’s bottom line see substantial change.  Authors don’t have a whole lot of choice – unless control stays with them and their estates.  Harper Lee required To Kill a Mockingbird mmpb books be removed from sale – and publishers and sellers did so very promptly – but not before I got a cheap new copy!

Books-a-Million is continuing to stumble in online sales.  I dropped my membership in their Millionaires Club because of failure to ship pre-order books, despite multiple phone calls to customer service.  That happened while I was still a member last year and I never did get my book.  And it happened again in March and April, much to my lasting annoyance.  Three days after the new releases SHOULD have been here, I sent Customer Service an email with the details of all the missing books.  They claimed they were ‘out of inventory’.  HUH?  They were released Tuesday I wrote on Thursday and you don’t even have a delivery date?????  I wrote back and told them to cancel every remaining pre-ordered book.  I have a very low tolerance for such incompetence and poorly run business in an age where inventory control is entirely computerized and pre-orders tell you in advance what your demand is.  AVOID BAM! Their sale discounts are not what they were and their service has fallen off badly and only released books in the store where you shop get the MC discount of 10% for in-person purchases, nothing online or for pre-orders.  Their pricing on HC and trade size books was never a match for Amazon, even with additional % off promotions.

Amazon is once again offering random discounts on mmpb books, particularly cozies and si-fi/paranormal/UF series.  Some are as much as 26% off list.  And numerous HC’s have sale points BELOW the ebook cost, including several bestsellers, like Off The Grid by C.J. Box below.  Get them while you can and if you’re Prime, remember, pre-order adjusts prices to reflect the lowest price between your order date and release.

If you’re a cozy fan, be prepared to have your authors migrate to self-published ebooks like so many others have.  They are cheaper, but much harder to pass on as you do print.

On to reviews!!!!! (I started this post nearly 3 weeks ago and forgot I never finished it.  OOPS!)

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Vanilla Beaned is the latest entry in Jenn McKinlay’s Cupcake Bakery series takes place in Vegas where Tate has kind of bullied Mel into licensing a franchise.  The story starts with a bag as the woman who wants the bakery is a stunning showgirl and Mel, thanks to her overweight HS years, has kind of a deep prejudice over that, but her mean girl stunt kind of backfires and she ends up agreeing to take a look at the place.  The realtor who hung back from the girl drama for a smoke opens the door and the place explodes.  The showgirl and hopeful bakery owner, Holly, works with Mel to try and help the two men while waiting on EMTs and the fire department.   Tate and Angie get there just in time to see the end. and Angie convinces Mel to do a tasting at Holly’s house the next day.  Turns out Holly’s glamor was just as much artifice as she said and her baking skills were extraordinary.  With Mel finally on board, the search for a store continues – and so do the awful ‘accidents’.  But who are they trying to hurt, Mel or Holly?

Ms McKinlay does a good job here, much better than her last Library Lovers book.  In fact, this is pretty much her best series for characters and plots both.  I liked Holly and the change of scene to Vegas was refreshing and the Elvis convention amusing and also gives some of the plot a unique twist.

Vanilla Beaned gets a B (3.9*) rating from and a suggested read for cozy lovers.  It’s a reliable series so far.  I paid $7.99+ tax but you can get lots of discounts at any big box or club store with books.

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It seems to me there have been an awful lot of disappointments lately, including Fortune Hunter, Jana DeLeon’s latest entry into the Miss Fortune series.  I don’t think I was 30 pages in when I realized she had allowed the darker side of her writing used for romantic suspense to creep into what is normally a very light and entertaining series.  The change in tone made all the usual humor seem forced and contrived, rather than flowing naturally from the characters.  That was especially true with Ida Belle, Gertie, and Fortune.

The other bad part – no one even died yet and I knew who did it and why.  When a plot is that transparent and trite, it signals a complete lack of caring by the author – or a loss of focus that had her doing reruns of old TV series plots.  I was bored and what few chuckles I had were not really entertaining.  The real kicker?  I bought the ebook and wouldn’t bother with the print because I could bearly slog through it once.  Her previous book, Hurricane Force, was on the bubble but I still liked it enough to have a hard copy.  Not this one.

I might not be a writer, but I know how hard it is to slip from serious and dramatic, to light, clever, and briskly witty.  The carry over made with out of character for the series.  She’ll get one more shot, then I’m done.

Fortune Hunter gets a C- (2.7*) for a dreadful transparent plot and a total change in tenor for the characters and feeling of the book.  Read it if you’re a fan, but try and get the ebook from the library.  Not worth the $6.00  I paid for the ebook.

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And another favorite author bites it with Leslie Langtry’s Marshmallow S’More Murder.  Where is a good editor when you desperately need one.  I don’t what to hammer first.  OK – let’s start with in impossible timeline.  When we left Merry, boyfriend Rex, best friend and co-scout leader Kelly, and Riley, her boss, Merry’s cat Philby just had kittens, Kelly just announced she was preggers, and Riley took off after the dubious vet who  cut the SD card out of Philby’s neck because it something to do with Midori Ito’s death back in book 1.

Fast forward about 6 weeks.  Philby is still nursing the kittens but they’ll be weaned soon.  Kelly, who learned she was preggers 6 weeks ago is due to pop so not in DC with Merry and the scout troop as a prize from the Girl Scout Council for selling the most cookies ……. ever.  (Is it me, or do you see a space-time continuum issue here?)  There she is, at the White House with the whole troop and a missing mom, Evelyn Trout, who stepped in to cover for Kelly and promptly stepped out to the hotel spa leaving Merry to deal with her troop alone.  Good thing the First Lady can manage because the Secret Service guys are close to panic.  But wait!  There’s more!  Riley is missing and she gets a call suggesting he’s in great danger there in town.  So what’s a former spy to do?  Take the troop to the CIA HQ and get some unofficial help from her buddy (and cookie junkie) Maria Gomez.

But wait!  There’s more!  Riley is missing and she gets a call suggesting he’s in great danger there in town.  So what’s a former spy to do?  Take the troop to the CIA HQ and get some unofficial help from her buddy (and cookie junkie) Maria Gomez.  Maria goes above and beyond when she takes time off, moves into the hotel with the troop and helps ride herd on the girls while Merry tries to figure out where Riley is before he dies.

Just to make sure there are lots of loose threads, something is wrong between Merry’s mom and dad and neither is talking.  She goes undercover at the Japanese Embassy while her dad, a respected Senator from Iowa, works his charm on his friend the Japanese Ambassador, and the daughter of Midori is working at the Embassy.  And is mom was ruthless, daughter is certifiable nuts, and the troop is in danger.

While parts of this book are very entertaining and works, the author left so many loose ends it felt like half a story and the obvious issue of Evelyn Trout is not even touched till everyone is safely back in Iowa and the Ito’s are no more.  Time wise, nothing makes a bit of sense.  Story lines are left hanging in space, and the ending is better suited to a 3-hanky tear-jerker.  And why in heaven’s name would a cop who got a restraining order against an old girlfriend give her a key to his house and have her care for the cat and kittens of her arch enemy, Merry?  I had to assume everyone lost the minds.

Marshmallow S’More Murder gets another C- (2.8*).  Honestly, authors cannot make that many basic timeline errors and not get hammered or that many impossible plot line leaps and not annoy readers.  Humor and an entertaining group of girl scouts can only cover so many errors and these were just too glaring.  The ebook was $5.oo and at a slender 218 pages, not worth that much.  Get it as a loaner.  This is another I won’t be buying in print.

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Off the Grid picks up the story of Nate Romanowski where Endangered left off with Nate escaping the hospital and a sleazy FBI agent who almost got him and his girlfriend killed.   In hiding and healing for months, the illness of his girlfriend Sheridan’s mother leaves just enough trail for a NGO to find him.  They want to find the sun of an Arab leader they think has turned rogue -and he and that young man have something in common – falconry.

Once again coerced into helping, in the national interest, of course, Nate ends up back near his friend Joe and does find the man in the video – and as is often the case in Nate’s world, nothing is as it seems – but Nate sort of knew that going in.  The ending alone with the canny and shrewd soon to be ex-governor is worth the read.

I should note this is far less of a mystery than the early Joe Pickett books, it’s more of an action thriller.  If you don’t like how this series has been trending toward a slightly different genre, then you won’t like this book.  Pickett himself stays more true to his earlier character but gets drawn deeper into the gray life that Nate lives and is less than comfortable there.  That is the one part of this evolution I have yet to fully embrace – Joe the family man moving to Joe the reluctant action character.  I have mixed feelings about it, but even Robert Crais evolved Joe Pike and Elvis Cole, so it’s not uncommon for an author to shift to a different style and have characters change over time.  This is book 16 in the series and the move has been gradual, but I think the departure here to put terrorists Wyoming is the whole NGO is a bit of a stretch, but not unbelievable.  Pacing is fast and not every good guy wins.

Off the Grid gets a B (4*) rating from me, but I love action thrillers so I might be more tolerant than some with Box’s segue in style and his inherently suspicious view of NGO’s and other ‘black ops’ security groups.  This is the second time he’s a similar thread in his plot, so if you’re a regular reader, you know .  It is a recommended read with the above caveats.  At around $17 new, wait for a good used copy or borrow from the library unless you’re a collector of Box’s books.

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Double Mint and Double Knot are two latest entries in the humorous mystery series featuring Davis Way.  In Double Mint, Davis and new hubby Bradley, now the General Manager of the sprawling Bellissimo Casino are trying to come to grips with living in a 10,000 square foot voodoo Mardi Gras from Hell palace that was the former GM’s residence – now their’s – and home sweet home it ain’t.  Davis is going crazy with the demanding Bianca Sanders, for whom she works as a body double, just one floor up.  (Her going to the gynaecologist for Bianca is just hysterical.) Not to mention she is utterly convinced As one of the casino’s undercover security people, it’s like having 2 jobs and no life.  And Bradley is trying desperately to undo the damage of the old GM – including locating the platinum coins that they help as part of the casino reserve that were replaced with fakes.  There’s the whole locked room that curious Davis shoots her way into only to find a press and rag paper for a counterfeiting operation that the old GM and now largely senile Casimiro family boss (Bianca’s father) apparently ran.

Ms Archer writes a fast, funny plot with some great twists involving undercover security partner Fantasy, the security muscle, Baylor, and chief, No Hair (Jeremy) and missing events manager Holder Darby, and her ‘not cat’ found in Holder’s empty house that hated Davis but took up residence in the huge GM suite.   Oh, and the handsome guy down the hall in the Jay Leno suite doing the advance work for Dionne Warwick.  He fainted when Davis shot her chandelier.

If you feel a little lost at all the plot lines, that’s just Archer’s style.  Her writing takes getting used to, as she writes in the first person and Davis’s thoughts are often confusing integrated.  Nonetheless, Double Mint was a good read and it gets a B (3.9*) rating from me with the caveat about her writing style.  I read the ebook at $6.99 – which is overpriced.

Double Knot picks up the plot several months later with Davis being pregnant with twins and Bianca panicked by her weight gain due to inactivity and too much delivery pizza.  But the new joint venture casino boat was about to take its maiden voyage and there was a fashion shoot scheduled for the trip, so Davis was off with her ……. mother ….. and Fantasy in an owner’s suite with a butler, maid, and …… Jessica DeLuna, wife of Max DeLuna, the banker Richard Sanders hired to filled the ship’s 50 suites with very high rollers – without doing proper background checks.  Bradley is stuck doing a casino security seminar in Macau, so Davis has no real buffer between her and her mother except Fantasy.  Everyone is issued the latest high-tech handheld to operate everything from elevators to stateroom doors to TV sets and ship communications.  Jessica, who Davis is convinced is after Bradley because she and her hubby Max do not even touch each other, shows up in Davis suite and suddenly all the doors lock, all communications are cut and they have no way in or out because every single device is dead.  They are just close enough to shore that Davis tries to call her sheriff dad in her mom’s antique cell phone, but the connect is so bad, he won’t be riding to her aid.  And No Hair is trapped and tied up deep in the bowels of the ship and can’t help.  What the hell is Max DeLuna doing?

It’s a good read and the way they get out is clever and relies on Davis’ computer skills and a working device.  All the usual ways of escaping are out.  Thankfully, the kitchen is stocked so her mom can do the cooking but can Jessica be trusted and what about the main and butler?

Two plot elements stand out her, one is Davis’s relationship with her mom and an event in her teen years, and Fantasy’s decision to get a divorce because she can’t forgive herself for cheating on her husband.  (It’s all a part of Double Mint, so that’s all I can say.)  The other part is Mom is not exactly what Davis always saw her as ……. and the part where her mother gives ‘marital advice’ to Fantasy is laugh out loud funny.  So is the part where Fantasy uses a priceless metal sculpture to knock a hole in the wall.

Double Knot, like Double Mint and all her other Davis way books has plenty of twists, turns, and unexpected plot developments.  You have a good core story, character growth without too much drama to drag down the general tone, but enough to give it heart, and good ending.  Double Knot also gets a B (4*) rating.   Like Double Mint, it’s $7 in ebook so unless you plan to re-read it, borrow it from your library.

March 16, 2016

Who is your favorite……….?

I’m on a number of Good Reads forums where this question invariably comes up? What’s your favorite book? Who is your favorite author? What’s you favorite series?

You know, that hard to say because even in a single genre you have sub-groups and then mashups and …….. well, you get the picture.

But it got me thinking about some of the best reading  – mostly because my doctor needed some ideas for books that she and her sister, someone with very different taste in tropes, would like.  That’s not easy.  I have very strong ideas about what makes a book memorable.

I looked at some lists of the ‘Greatest Historical Fiction of All Time’ and most made me cringe.  I thought Wolf Hall was – meh.  So did my brother.  Now Anya Seaton’s Kathrine – yeah that was brilliant.  George MacDonald Fraser’s Flashman was there as well, and though I loved it – and the series in general -not sure it belongs.  Many choices were written long ago, like Tolstoy and Charles Dickens A Tale of Two Cities (Oh, just kill me now.  I hate Dickens.)  I, Claudius by Robert Graves, I can kind of get behind that one.  The Name of the Rose by recently deceased Umberto Eco was not that good for me despite it often being named to the top 20 of the mystery genre as well.  Most of the others, not so much.

It seems when I was growing up there were many great choices for historical fiction.  Thomas B. Costain was at the end of his career, but for a man who didn’t start writing till his 50’s, he did some remarkable work.  His 4 book non-ficion history of the Plantagenet kings starting with Henry II to Richard III is just excellent.  Then he wrote The Black Rose, later made into a film starring Tyrone Power, Jack Hawkins and Orsen Wells.  Set in the time of  The Three Edwards (the third book of is Plantagenet history) it is just a great historical adventure read.  For my brother, Dumas’ Count of Monte Cristo will always be a favorite along with Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes.

But my favorite historical fiction these days tends to run to mysteries and SteamPunk – which is any alternate history paranormal genre often done with a mystery trope.  But in plain old real world history, I was impressed by Mary Miley’s Roaring Twenties series, The Impersonator and Silent Murder (the better of the two by far).  A third book is due this year, and another complete for 2017.  A history major, she writes very well and has created a terrific character with Jessie Carr blending in real life people in Vaudeville and silent movies.

Agatha Christie was married to an archeologist and spent a lot of time in the Mideast and other locations.  This led her to write Death on the Nile, Murder in Mesopotamia (set at an archeology dig site), and Evil Under the Sun (movie filmed on various island locations off Spain, but the book is set on an island off of the south of England) set in the 20’s and 30’s as part of her Poirot series.  In retrospect, it’s amazing how good she was with plots that involved various ‘isolated’ groups as well as standard locations.  She was light years better than the typical cozy writer of today.  She also wrote one true historical mystery, Death Comes at the End, set in ancient Thebes.

Lindsey Davis sets her Falco series in Vespasian’s Rome and is a favorite for me.  She aged  out Falco (which was overdue) and his daughter, Flavia Alba has taken up her father’s private informer business.  John Maddox Roberts, better known in the fantasy genre, wrote his terrific SPQR mysteries set at the time of the rise of Julius Ceasar.

A big favorite among historical fiction fans is the adventure series Outlaw Chronicles that’s a spin on the legend of Robin Hood by Angus Donald.  They can be hard to find as he no American publisher, but I get them used or new from Book Depository, an Amazon-owned company, in the UK.  Best read in order, Outlaw is book 1 and The King’s Assassin is the most recent publication.  The last book in the series is due out next year.  His following is a mix of male and female readers, so give his stuff a try.

Bernard Cromwell is most famous for his Sharpe’s Rifles series that was made into a BBC series starring Sean Bean as Sharpe, but he writes non-fiction including Waterloo: 4 Days 3 battles 3 armies.  Jeri Westerson is another British author who sets her stories around a disgraced knight, Crispin Guest.  Described as Medieval Noir mystery, it has the same edgy sardonic humor as Lindsey Davis and John Maddox Roberts.  Book 7, Silence of the Stones, was just released in Feb, but all mysteries, the main story arc wraps up in a single novel, but to follow the origins of the lead character, read the first few in order.  Two other reliable historical mystery fiction authors are Ruth Downie who writes the Gais Ruso series set in Roman Britain, Gaul, and Rome.  The other is Rosemary Rowe who uses Roman Britain for her Libertus series.  Both can be expensive and hard to find, but are available.  Like Angus Donald, most are published by Severn House and no US publisher picks them up, hence buy used, get ebooks, or get it from your library.

Tasha Alexander does the Lady Emily mysteries set in Victorian London and throughout Europe.  (Her husband is English born action thriller author Andrew Grant.)  Deanna Raybourn has two series out – her famous Lady Julia Grey, which I was not crazy about until book 4, Dark Road to Darjeeling.  I really liked that one.  She’s started a new series featuring Veronica Speedwell, a female physician in London.  Like the Julia Grey series, it’s set in the 1880’s.  It is sitting on Mt TBR.  Set in Regency England are the Sebastian St Cyr books by C.S. Harris.  I tried the first few and was bored, but friends like them.  Too angsty for me.  Anna Lee Hubler’s Lady Darby books are a big favorite of my sister-in-law while my brother loved loved Steven Hockensmith’s Amlingmyer Brothers Holmes on the Range books set out west in the late 1800’s.  He ended the series at the famous Chicago Exposition.

Rhys Bowen has three series, her Evan Evans, Molly Murphy, and Her Royal Spyness.  I know the Molly Murphy series and liked quite a few, but prefer Her Royal Spyness, even though her lead character, Lady Georgiana, can get on my nerves, but Ms Bowen does a nice job weaving real people though her stories – from Noel Coward, to Edward VII (her cousin), to Charlie Chaplin.  Her prose really is a pleasure to read.

Historical mystery is a rich and broad genre moving across thousands of years and lots of fine authors.  Pick a period and you’ll likely find something.  Here are some other authors you might enjoy:

Will Thomas – Barker and Llewelyn series set Gaslight London; Collin Cotterill – Dr Siri series set in 1970’s Laos;  Laura Joh Rowland – Sano Ichiro series set in Edo in 1600’s Japan; Ellis Peters – her famous Brother Cadfael series set in 12th century England (also a BBC series); Gary Corby – Nicolaos series set in ancient Athens/Greece in 460BC; C.J. Samson – Matthew Shardlake, a lawyer, in mid-1600’s England; Carol Nelson Douglas – Irene Adler, opera star, in mid 19th century Europe; Alex Grecian – Murder Squad set in late 1800’s London (but a bit uneven in quality); Dennis Wheatly – Roger Brook special agent for British PM Pitt late 1700’s to early 1800’s.

There are simply too many to name and more all the time.  Those who like both historical fiction and mystery – like me – are delighted at the growth in this area.  Like all other genres, some are good, some not.  Find one that suits you and enjoy!

February 29, 2016

Mixed Genre Reviews – Print, eBook, and ARC

Well, winter is drawing to a close but not without some departing drama in extreme cold, some snow, wild thunderstorms (and power outages) and general irritation – which kind of beats tornados any day.  On the upside, March isn’t far away and I wasn’t on the flight where a disgruntled flyer peed on a passenger – which is likely good for him and me, because he would have been castrated (by me) and I would be in jail now instead of reading and reviewing books.  Now if laryngitis would just strike all presidential candidates on both sides, I might actually begin to recover from football withdrawal ………….. but it’s unlikely.  Come on all you bio-geneticists, surely you can manage a simple ‘SHUT THE HELL UP POLITICIAN’ virus easily spread by rubber chicken dinners.  We the people would be forever grateful.  I can’t promise to shower you with great wealth, but I might share my dried figs with you and I won’t pee on you.

On the book front, it’s been kind of a mixed bag of mediocre across all genres.  Disappointing, really, especially when some of the releases were long delayed.  Really loooooooooong delayed.  Anyway, where we go:

This book was delayed multiple times thanks to the author getting lost in the conference, fan-faire swirl and then health problems.  Still, it was such a good series I hung in there and waited (OK, not really patiently) for her 4th book.  I dearly wish I could say it was worth the wait.  It wasn’t.

It starts off prosaically enough with Alex getting called to go to police HQ to raise a ‘ghost’ that was murdered.  And everything goes sideways.  This is not helped by the fact she can no longer trust the man – well Fae – she was falling for, Falin Andrews, a knight of the Winter Court who now is charged by his queen to live with her to convince her to become one of the court.  Alex is a very rare plane weaver and all the courts want her – what she finds out is she actually NEEDS them.

At her birth, her father charmed her to protect her from the courts.  He won’t even acknowledge to which court he owes his own allegiance.  A but after the near disaster at the morgue, he sends for her to explain why her powers are diminishing.  She needs a line to the Fey to feed her energy.  Without, she’ll die.  She gets an offer from the King of Shadows, but Falin drags het back to the Winter Court so she can heal and keep the queen from going mad.

Alex has little choice, she needs a source of power, but feels she needs more information before choosing a court, something she never thought she’d have to do.  So for solving the mystery of the murder at the court, Alex demands a year of freedom with a line of energy to keep her alive.

The story seemed to progress at a snail’s pace and there was not real progress in character growth or plotline beyond what little happened right at the beginning.  No big revelations.  No shocks.  No major plot points resolved.  Just ……. OK.  She gets a year reprieve.  It only took 300+ pages.

Grave Visions gets a C (3*) rating.  It felt like a filler book, not an essential piece of the over-arching plot.  The story was a lethargic as Alex and the mad queen was over-played to an annoying level.  It’s still on sale at Amazon for $6.47, but it is a buy for hardcore fans only.  It’s a book that can wait till used copies or library copies are available.

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Yes – I snagged an ARC of Stiletto, the long awaited sequel to Daniel O’Malley’s brilliant book, The Rook.  This is where the effusive praise should start, but won’t, because man, was this sophomore outing a tough slog.

At a hefty 500+ pages it had only 300 pages of story,  The first 10%+ of the book was a detailed rehashing of the origins of the Grafters and their view of what happened on the Isle of Wight.  It was dull – not kind of dull, mind-numbingly dull.  Then, much to my everlasting disappointment, this becomes not the ongoing story of Myfanwy Thomas, but a story of the Checquy/Grafter merger.  This explains why the book was changed from Myfanwy Thomas, Bk 2 to Checquy Files, Bk 2.

Finally, our two protagonists emerge, Pawn Felicity Clements and Odette Leliefeld, both 20-somethings one from the Checquy and other the many times great-granddaughter of Graaf Ernest, one of the founders of the Grafter’s.

O’Malley proceeds to tell several concurrent stories from multiple points of view.  Odette and the fact the Grafters are hiding the fact they have a group of dissident young Grafters, called The Antagonists, after them to stop the merger,  and Felicity who has been raised to be suspicious and distrusting to the point of irrationally hating the Grafters.  In all of this, various side detours are taken on the history of other characters and Myfanwy puts in a quick appearance, as do some new, and fairly unknown members to the Court.  The book, however, centers around Odette and Felicity.  The plot is convoluted, which served O’Malley well in The Rook with essentially a single narrator – Myfanwy past and present.  Here, the story loses much of its strength because of the flip-flopping and then dragging Ernst and Myfanwy back in and throwing in a rabid paranormal who is committing random acts of murder by growing pointed crystals that impale dozens of people at once.

Got all that?  Oh yeah, The Antagonists – they are Odette’s best friends.

While the pacing went slow, fast, slow, fast, even, O’Malley seemed most comfortable and polished when writing about Myfanwy.  His prose and clarity of thought was less certain and more inclined to be repetitive when trying to write Odette and Felicity.  Of the two, Odette seemed to become the most complete character at the end.  But the book was NOT in the same class as the far more refine, creative, original, polished, and fascinating story told in The Rook.  While fans will praise and swoon, be warned, Stiletto NOT on the same level.  I did, however, like the final chapter where O’Malley seemed right at home.

The flaws here are the kind of things you see in the second book by an epic historical fiction or fantasy author where they did not have the luxury of time, or maybe inclination, to polish a work to a fine gem or even develop a plot that moved seamlessly through the tale.  It’s choppy and seems to take occasionally pointless detours.  Stiletto gets a C+ to B- (3.7*) and suggested read for The Rook lovers.  It does not have enough to recommend it for any price over $15, so if you can wait, do so, or order while it’s still sale priced.

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The stand-alone thriller by Eisler had good and bad points – but the bad outweighed the good for me.  The God’s Eye View is about an NSA spy program that was not approved by Congress as it violated Constitutional rights, but because it can be created, it IS created.  Now the Head of the NSA has weathered the whole Snowden fiasco, but has a new problem on his hands, so the General, with his next in command, a man he saved from a burning vehicle during one of our Mideast wars, warns him that the smart analysts who caught the current problem needs to be on the team, but could prove a threat to the potential uncovering of the secret program.

Evelyn Gallagher is uncomfortable around General Remer and his ruined face, but as Director General Anders aide, he ran the office.  Eve’s new program found a link between a journalist and an operative in Turkey and now she will have a high profile place with some of the ‘inner circle’ at NSA to investigate things.  The two guys in question both die – seemingly in accidents.  Now the two killers sent after the journalist and ‘rogue’ NSA officer are both working for General Anders.  The giant of a man, Manus, is deaf …… and by golly, wouldn’t you know, Eve’s son is deaf too!  OK, can everyone see where the plot goes after Anders assigns him to watch Eve?  Huh?  Anyone?  Yeah, me too.

On the plus side, the whole ‘secret spy system’ God’s Eye View is plausible and Eisler used many of the documents released by Snowden, whom he obviously admires, as the foundation for his concepts.  On that level, the book succeeds.  The characters and plot do not.  But what really tore it for me was the closing scene where Remer, who has stepped into his old boss’s job, makes up the name of a new ‘less intrusive program’ and the committee approves it.  Does anyone remember the closing scene in the first Jason Bourne movie where the CIA guy is testifying and says, “We’ve closed that program down, but we have new a new program, Blackbriar.”  I swear it was a direct lift of that scene.

The God’s Eye View is scarily real one level and frustratingly banal on another.  Eisler basically blew it on the characters and predictable plot, which is a shame given how well he did with all the technology aspects and their impact on just how far the government is overstepping Constitutional limits.  I’d love to give the book a high rating for core plot, but how he played it out with his characters, stops that.  The God’s Eye View gets a C+(3.5*) and could have been so much better had he just used a less predictable and rather shallow group of characters.  Purchased from Amazon.  If you MUST read it, but or borrow the ebook.  It’s not a keeper.

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Lisa Shearin’s third outing of her UF series, SPI Files, is The Brimstone Deception.  There’s a new drug in town and taking it lets ordinary humans see through the glamours that all the paranormal citizens cast to get along in life.  Of course, seeing demons, pixies, dragons, and trolls is not the trip they planned on.

Makenna ‘Mac’ Fraser is trying to have a nice, semi-romantic (maybe) lunch with Rake Danescu – a rich goblin (They’re very handsome, but have oddly colored skin.) who brought the powerful talisman to NYC that set off all the events in Book 2, The Dragon Conspiracy.  Unfortunately, her highly suspicious partner, Ian Byrne, decides to take his own date, Kylie O’Hara, a dryad.  The two men …… males ……… glare and taunt right up until a human goes crazy and starts yelling about all the supernatural creatures in the restaurant.  While Mac might be interested in going up in flames with Rake Danescu – maybe – a guy screaming about monsters and knocking over a Bananas Foster carts setting the place on fire was NOT what she had in mind.

In the following melee as sups run for the door right along with humans, Rake makes a gracious, but hasty rear exit.  Kylie, Ian, and Mac stay and work with the cops, one of whom was Ian’s former partner and a sup himself.  And a dead guy ….. well, sup suspect at a very posh apartment, Sar Gedeon, a drug dealing elf lord who got exiled, but apparently back – and very dead.  At his super posh NYC address, they find goblins and the mistress of the not so dearly departed and a portal opened by a demon or black magic – the smell of brimstone.

Shearin handles her light, but interesting, plot with her usual deft humor combined with plenty of action for Mac and Ian and everyone else, including Rake.  I like her writing and humor, but her books are short, easy reads with relatively straightforward mystery type plots with enough twists to be both interesting and fun.  I give The Brimstone Conspiracy a B- (3.8*) and a suggested read to all Shearin fans and a suggested series to those how like their UF with a touch of humor.  Purchased from an online bookstore.

January 29, 2016

New Releases in Print and Ebook Reviews

OK all you savvy readers out there, in case you missed it, the number of books being released per month is dropping like a stone.  I know there are more and more budding epubs out there even as many of the older, more established ones, like AmberQuill, are closing for good.  Others, including Samhain, have drastically cut back on the releases per week.  Since half of what they sell is novella-length ebook smut, it’s something of a surprise to me, but it could be the market for that genre is shrinking.  I checked out what was on Siren and the quality of what was on offer was way below the material they offered even 3 years ago.  I almost never read smut anymore myself, except for a few of the funny authors.  Meanwhile, Gemma Halliday’s light mystery/romance publishing effort is going strong, but some of her ‘new author’ releases are just awful lifeless junk reading while others are OK to good.  She needs a much better editor to approve manuscripts, yet some are really good and her $0.99 specials encourage folks to get books a try.

Romance, especially historical romance, cozy mystery, and even UF/paranormal are also seeing serious cuts in books released – print publishers are quick to cut any series that does not sell up to a certain level no matter how loyal the readers.  That makes it hard for authors to build readership through word of mouth, a generally slow process.  I just read the latest Jenn McKinley Hat Shop book (reviewed below) and found that like too many other ‘bankable’ authors, she’s spread too thin over too many series and the quality is suffering.  On top of that Alyssa Day is delaying her Dead Eye paranormal mystery books from SilverHart Publishing due to family issues and two other series disappeared (one historical mystery, one UF) and the authors had to write and publish their final books through services like CreateSpace.

Then Barry Eisler, with a new female lead thriller in what might be first in a new series is staying in Amazon’s playhouse.  He seems to have passed his zenith as an author and is now coasting on a shrinking fan base – or trying to get the best of both worlds – more money/book, but fewer buyers.  I just bought his new release on sale for $0.99 as an ebook while the print is going for $14+ in hardcover.  That’s not a lot of bank for the author or publisher – Amazon’s Mercer division.

There’s no question that self-promoting is a huge deal for authors as publishers put out less money for advertising and promoting books.  It can consume so much of an author’s time they lose their fan base by not writing.  Kaylana Price is a perfect example if that, plus that was compounded by health issues.  Her lastest in the Grave Witch series is over 3 years late, which for a mmpb is a LIFETIME.  There are various fan conventions and writers and genre association conventions that are ‘must do’ to keep the fan base happy, but I know from experience that kind of thing is a huge distraction from work and the flow of your thoughts.

Most writers I’ve met and seen speak, and it’s only few, seem more extemporaneous than practiced, but breaking your thoughts while writing can often mean taking a long time to get back into the right mindset,  If that happens during an especially key area of a story, you might have a huge rewrite on your hands.  I found most writers friendly and thrilled to meet fans – and it’s kind of fun to meet them.   I enjoy the experience, but I wouldn’t spend a lot of money doing it.  Other fans are the kind who wouldn’t miss a chance at meeting their favorite author and are happy to spend lots of money to travel and stay conventions.  It’s a big business and book signings give authors a shot at a HUGE and loyal fan base – but at a price in their productivity.

Not many authors get to be multi-millionaires like the James Patterson or JK Rowling.  Most toil away for the sheer love of writing and making a living.  A few make a very good living.  A tiny number get rich.  But most keep their day job.  I know how much time it takes me to just do a few thousand words for an RF story installment, or one of these blog entries, and it is not easy.  Creating stories for RF and the gang is harder as I actually need a plot, at least here, all I need is a kind loose theme and opinion.  And we all know what opinions are like!  I spent a career writing technical reports, white papers, and journal articles and believe me, it takes TIME.

So why am I discussing this?  I whine a lot about waiting on books in a series.  It’s not entirely fair, especially since I know better.  Yes, I do prefer quality over quantity.  Am I anxious for the next book?  Of course.  But I also what it to be just as good and just as creative as the first few.  There is nothing more disappointing than an author who writes half a dozen great books and rather than wrap up the series, rides the characters popularity into the ground, slowly losing fans with each book.  An epic fantasy writer was asked why he always stopped at 3 books when his fans wanted more.  His reply was along the lines of he’d rather leave then wanting more than wishing the series would END.  I only wish more authors felt that way instead of milking popular characters till people are sick of them and just stop reading.

So let’s get to the reviews and see what wonders – good and bad – came our way recently.

The First Order is the latest in Jeff Abbott’s Sam Capra series could only have one ending.  That was obvious from the beginning.  Still, I had been hoping for a better thrill ride along the way. Abbott does deliver plenty of twists and turns in his plot using Seaforth, an old CIA contact of Sam’s as a key character.  Mila, becomes equal parts friend and foe as a hidden group, the ones responsible for Sam spending time in a black site prison, starts pulling strings of plots within plots.

This story centers on Sam’s hunt for Danny, his older brother supposedly killed by terrorists in Pakistan – but apparently still alive.  Who and what Danny has become is obvious from the outset, but with each bother getting betrayed by the very people that supposedly support them, it is obviously headed for disaster.

The ending was about the only way Abbott could end the book given Danny’s character.  That was obvious early on, but it was still a good read with an interesting conclusion as hidden powerbrokers get exposed.

I’m giving The First Order a B- (3.7*) as a good, but not a great read.  Fans should make note, unlike the other books, this one was written in the third person.  Some prefer that, some do not.  It did not affect the quality of the story ar all and given the larger cast, was probably his best choice.  At nearly $18 in print and $14 in ebook, borrow this one from the library or wait for a cheap used copy.  No urgency here.  Purchased from an online book store.

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Another of Jenn McKinley cozy mysteries, the Hat Shop books have been one of her better series, but I found Copy Cap Murder predictable.  I like her characters and a lot of other things, but I knew who would die, who would be implicated, and who was guilty by page 50.  When I can essentially write the book in my head, that’s not good news.

Yes, I realize cozy mysteries have limited scope and drama, but even Agatha Christie wrote better puzzles just by creating wonderful characters.  Unlike Ellery Queen, who did Byzantine puzzles and dared readers to solve the crime by presenting all the clues, she did character studies, an art that seems lost with today’s cozie writers.  And I am suffering from Jenn McKinley fatigue.

The murder takes place at a Straw Man burning at Harrison’s boss’s mansion when his arch rival at the firm is killed and substituted for the straw man.  Obviously, Scarlette’s love interest is #1 on the suspect list and for some reason, a normally fair police Inspector seems very biased and willing to impede certain discoveries.  The ending was well done and did have a few surprises.

Copy Cap Murder was far better written than A Likely Story and had a much better-developed plot, some drama, and a bit of ingenuity.  The best I can do here is a C+ to B- (3.6*) for the book and a suggestion to wait for a used copy unless you’re a diehard fan unless you can find a good discount off the $7.99 list price.   Purchased from an online book store.

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OK, the biggest problem here is the book reads like it was drafted by Evanovich but written by someone else entirely.  Not a single character in the long-running series stayed fully true to form.  Not one.  In addition to that, Tricky Twenty-Two had many ‘factual’ errors in basic things, like where Ranger’s office was, the building size, and also subtle things, like how Steph saw her relationship with Ranger and the fundamental character of both Morelli and Ranger and even Steph’s mother.  It was a reflection in a fun-house mirror – distorted.

As usual, Steph and Lula had their escapades with the ‘Bacon Bandit’ – anyone recall the naked guy who smeared his body with Vaseline?  Yeah, me too.   And Gobbles – a Rider College student who is FTA and his protective frat brothers, a nutty professor, and Dean of Students with a giant grudge supposedly assaulted by Gobbles.  Morelli breaking up with Steph after sex with nothing but, “We should date other people.”  I was surprised to find that by page 55, I had laughed just once.  In fact, I was bored and annoyed.  And became more and more convinced she’s either lost it, her editor quit, or she’s hired a ghost writer.

Naturally, after the highly unlikely plot unfolds (This was less believable than the giraffe running down a main street in Trenton.) and Steph gets in the middle of what could biological warfare (yeah, seriously) we end with – a you guessed it! – car explosion!  (I know, done so often it’s not even amusing anymore.)  Oh, and Mrs Plum tackles the bad guy.  Well, there’s a groundbreaking change.

Tricky Twenty-Two will be hard for old fans to take.  I began reading this series when she published her first book. now I stopped buying them and wait to get a copy from an online book swap site.  I am beyond glad I did NOT waste money on this.  Yes, it was past time for her characters to evolve, but this was not character evolution, it was complete personality transplants.  Tricky Twenty-Two gets a D+ (2.4*) and a strong suggestion to real fans to go reread and enjoy books 1-8.  If you MUST read this get it free.  I’ll pass my copy on fast.

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This is one of the better entries in Ms Painter’s Nocturn Falls paranormal romance series.  The Vampire’s Fake Fiancée has a rather predictable start with Sebastian Ellingham, the eldest, most reclusive, and serious of the 3 Ellingham brothers, learning his sort-of-ex-wife who left him 300 years ago is staying in town and wants to reconcile.  To Sebastian, that means, “She wants a LOT more money.”  Unwilling to seem easily available, the sister of the town deputy – and a Valkyrie – librarian is there for a job interview for what seems to be a dream job as head librarian at the local academy.  Much to a sister’s surprise, Tessa agrees to play the role providing it gets her the librarian’s job.  It’s just a couple of days.

Sebastian’s romancing skills, if he ever had any, are long gone, so his businesslike approach makes Tess feel comfortable and she’s rather surprised at how at ease she feels with him.  They have a trial kiss that’s way more than either expected.  And then get in deeper when what was supposed to be a dinner to prove he had another love, becomes a challenge to allow the ex to live in the mansion and watch them to make sure she can’t ‘win’ Sebastion back.

The pacing is quick, the action mostly light and humorous, and the selfish, self-absorbed ex turns out to want something else entirely than Sebastian.  The ending was good and realistic and I liked both Tessa and Sebastian and enjoyed watching them get more comfortable with themselves and each other.

For a paranormal romance, I give The Vampire’s Fake Fiancée a B (4*) rating.  I bought the ebook for $4.99 and it was worth it.  Print is $10 and since this is not a keeper kind of book, get it at the library and enjoy!

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Gemma Halliday Publishing offered this new release, first in a series featuring female PI, Barb Jackson.  Bubblegum Blonde by Anna Snow is in the same humorous mystery vein as Steph Plum.  It’s a short read, under 200 pages, and it moves fast enough that the many shortcomings get missed.  A few too many.  The it ended with a thud.

First, aside from being prone to the same silly accidents as Steph Plum, I’m not sure I have a clear mental picture of Barb beyond short, busty, blond, and not dumb – though given her actions, I have my doubts.  All the guys but one are hunks, including Tyler Black the detective who apparently falls for her at first sight.  Barb gets hired by

Barb gets hired by he ex-fiancée, Jason King, who is the prime suspect in the murder of the wife of his boss, a powerful agent in town.  Jason swears he was NOT doing the wife (yup, sure), but his jacket and money clip were found in the bedroom.  Barb wants to put the agency on the map for things other than cheating spouses, so she reluctantly accepts.  At this point, her IQ drops and she commits felony illegal entering into the Hastings estate and house to investigate the crime scene because she’s so experienced she’ll find things CSI didn’t!

By golly, she DOES find a hidden compartment in the drawer of a bedside stand – along with a porn DVD.  (Like cops wouldn’t take that!)  Then gets caught my the maid, makes an escape, and gets beaten by a frozen chicken and rips out the seat of her jeans dashing bare butt to her inconspicuous red VW beetle getaway car.  The motel receipts lead her to a small town, a lying night clerk, and a house the victim bought which turns out to be a brothel – one full of hunky guys and horny women.  My goodness, it’s a miracle the police ever solve a crime without her help!  On the way back she gets run off the road and is lucky to live.

OK, just let me say, at this point, the author lost steam and wrapped the book up with a deus ex machina ending that was as improbable as any I ever read.  The bad guy was barely a shadow on the wall, much less a character.  I LOATHE that trick.  It means the author could not think of a plausible way to find the killer.  It’s lazy and insulting to readers.

Oddly enough, this book – short novel – long novella – gets a really high score from Amazon readers.  I am assuming they are not actually mystery fans, just chick lit readers.  Bubblegum Blonde gets a D+ to C- (2.5*) as the first half was almost decent.  Amazon readers give it 5*.  To be honest, it wasn’t worth the $.99 I spent for it.

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Tom Corcoran is the author of the Alex Rutledge mysteries based in Key West expands his to add Southernmost Aristocratic Investigations featuring his friend Dubbie Tanner and former street person Wiley Fecko in Crime Almost Pays.  They guys share a house and in home office, but Wiley is too soon off the streets to be fully at home in Dubbie’s spare room.  Kim Salazar is a local taxi driver and something of a love interest for Dubbie.  Alex is their friend and sometimes crime scene photographers for the cops who is involved with a homicide detective, the same detective that gets mixed up in what becomes a perfect example of “no good deed goes unpunished.”

It’s Tuesday night and Sloppy Joe’s has as many tourists as always, but Dubbie spots a good looking young woman at the bar who seems to be getting too drunk for what she had – and 3 Hispanic men around her, chatting her up and waiting.  The whole thing looks like they slipped her a roofie.  With the help of the bouncer, Dubbie gets her out and Kim, who was driving that night, helps get her to his place and settled on the sofa.

Morning brings out the nasty side of the woman, Lauren, who thinks everything is his fault and he’s kind of glad to see the back of her – and her multiple passports and the guys who were starting to look more like kidnappers than rapists.  When he sees Harpoon, the bouncer, he learns the 3 men sounded like they were Cuban and from the east end of the island.  Then Lauren leaves money and asks him for his professional PI help and Dubbie and Fecko are butt deep in murder, Cuban military criminals, and a lying client.

Corcoran is a Key Wester, photographer, buddy of Jimmy Buffett, and Mustang enthusiast.  His writing is the classic brisk, PI style of short sentences, quick exchanges, and fast pacing.  If you’ve read his Alex Rutledge books, this is the same style,  He knows Key West inside and out and his knowledge and love for the island with all its warts comes through.  The story has his trademark twists and turns and keeps readers guessing.  The ‘Homeland Security’ agent becomes quite a character himself.  The extra twist at the end is completely unexpected.

I give Crime Almost Pays a solid B (4*) rating.  I broke my cardinal rule on this one and spent $5.99 on the ebook and it was worth is.  I’ve missed Tom Corcoran and classic style of mystery writing.  He is now self-publishing.  Get the ebook if you like classic style PI stories, especially Florida-based ones, despite the price.  Yes, I’m a sucker.  You could try your library, but most won’t carry such a niche author.

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The last review for this installment and another book I enjoyed more than expected.  I bought the ebook of Boundry Lines at $4.99.  I read book 1 where ‘Lex’ Luther, the sole survivor of an attack on her platoon in the Mideast learns she’s a ‘Boundry Witch’, one who works between life and death.  They’re rare and mostly feared by other witches.  While the local head of the coven tries to be friendly and her one daughter is a close friend to Lex, the other witches are very unwelcoming.  Made worse by the fact that Lex works for Maven, the head vampire in Colorado.

Lex just returns from LA where she tried to learn about her magic (apparently that’s a novella 1.5 or something I missed, so there seems to be story gaps to me) and she immediately notices something seems ‘off’ about the magic in Boulder.  Then there are these unexplained attacks on humans, werewolves being driven to attack the borders, and an ancient creature – somewhere between a land Nessie and worm-snake – and only Lex can kill it, but she needs to heal her mind.

Let’s just say the plot of too convoluted to go into here, but the three key elements are the behavior of the werewolves, the appearance of a long dormant monster, and Lex getting all her memories back so she can fully use her witch powers and the fact that Maven was key to locking down the coven’s powers after a supernatural war between the wolves, vamps, and witches years ago.  And, of course, her niece (a rare magical null) is a piece of the puzzle.

Olsen’s world building sometimes defies logic, but the book was much better than book one, moved key character development along, and began laying more groundwork to flesh out this patchwork world.  Boundary Lines gets a C+ to B- (3.5*) from me and a read if you like Olsen’s work, but it’s not the best UF out there, so a series that can be safely missed.

 

 

 

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