Tour’s Books Blog

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.

 

 

 

January 5, 2016

PaperBack Swap – Update 2016 – Does ‘The End’ Draw Nigh?

Come February 15 it will be the first anniversary of the annual membership fee and bizarre ‘caste system’ that PBS so ham-handedly introduced last year.  To say the change from free to paid membership was handled poorly is not giving the still seething outrage among many members its full due.  There must be a thousand faceless voodoo dolls with ‘PBS Librarian’ getting pins stuck in it every day.  Others have composed dance routines to celebrate its almost inevitable demise.  How can a simple book swapping site elicit such strong and long lasting emotion?   Let me explain.

Once upon a time, there was an idea to start book swapping site where people could join for free and list books available for trade so they could then get books in return.  The initial programming and server maintenance and updating were handled well and the forums where members could chat about books, current affairs, make offers on large lots of books like a flea market booth, sell their excess credits ……. it was all there.  The Founders were proud of their creation and called their members a ‘Community’.  Much of the data input and maintenance was done by volunteers who keep everything from pictures of book covers to ISBN’s updated.  The funding came to PBS by members buying postage and credits that had small fees attached, members donating credits and money, or buying special ‘elite’ level programs that gave them larger wish lists, or even buying books through PBS or PBS links to Amazon, which returned promotional fees to PBS.

As ebooks gradually began eating into the print book business, the volume of books traded per year began dropping.  Naturally, the fees that PBS had been collecting on postage and other sales dropped as well.  On Super Bowl Sunday 2015 PBS members got a nasty shock.  If they actually planned to USE all those credits they had accumulated in good faith, they had to buy a membership.  Now the annual fee was not high, but along with the fee came a weird caste system that allowed only PAID members to use forums and the private messaging system and trade books freely as before.  Now the middle-class member paid less per yer, got a finite number of ‘free trades’ after which PBS assessed their standard $0.50/trade fee.  Unless you bought PBS postage, then you earned another ‘free’ trade – except you paid the $0.50 fee when you bought the postage.  Now the lowest caste could not communicate with members unless they were actively involved in a trade with that member.  AND every trade they made to get a book with all those credits now had a FEE assessed/trade and the ‘fee’ had to be paid in PBS money.  To get PBS money you ……. well had to pay ANOTHER FEE.  So credits were essentially devalued like Frequent Flyer points where that first class seat to Hawaii suddenly went from 120,000 miles to 180,000 just as you hit 110,000 and would get them in 2 months.

For those who recall their Greek mythology, this might be likened to the ‘Sisyphus effect’ – standing in water with constant thirst yet never reaching it, and having food to feed your starving body just out of reach.  It’s hardly unique to PBS, but given the tight-knit community they fostered – and even bragged about – it was seen not just as a badly managed business decision, but as a personal betrayal.  Here, the very sense of community they built ended up turning on them because they committed the one unforgivable sin – betrayal.  And what was worse – they effectively retroactively DEVALUED the credits of members.

Unlike airlines and hotels, PBS does not provide a necessary function in life.  They don’t take from the east coast to the west in hours.  They don’t give you a room with clean sheets and a nice bath and room service.  You don’t even have much in the way of competition other than Bookmooch.  The other sites are the equivalent of mom-and-pop motels.  PBS is the ‘big dog, but they are middlemen, facilitators.  Had they taken a more businesslike approach and treated members as customers, not a community of co-equals, the relationship would have withstood the change far better.  Certainly, the ebook effect would still be eroding member numbers and books traded as more and more go digital, but their demise and the lingering hard feelings would not have spun so totally out of control.

When a frequent flyer.stayer plan gets changed, we get annoyed and members do take to social media to strike back at loyalty programs that suddenly change terms because thousands and thousands of frequent flyer/stayer plans get disrupted, miles get lost, points are dropped and the ‘cost’ of those rewards get higher and harder to obtain.  But the nice things about airlines and hotels is the fact we have CHOICES.  And while we are ‘loyal customers’ giving them nice profits, we don’t actually feel like we are partners in the business who had their senior partners stab them in the back.  There never was that sense of ‘community’, just rewards for being loyal.  And if we get annoyed enough, we change to a different provider.

Airlines and hotels usually handle the backlash – something they KNOW they will get – like a business.  That is, professionally.  They realize there will be outrage at the changes and a small number of customers will be lost, but their most important customers, the business ‘road warriors, are the ones they want to keep.  Not the occasional flyer/stayer.  The hotels and airlines even had ‘elite’ levels that automatic perks that the occasional traveler envied, but didn’t begrudge.  They always had the ‘status’ based on usage, or because the paid all that extra money for First Class.  (You could buy membership lounge privileges for a fee.)

PBS had some ‘road warriors’, people who shipped hundreds of books a year and sat with high credit balances.  PBS assumed, wrongly, they would just suck up the fees to keep the service – except they forgot something.  Their choices were divisive and members saw clearly that what had been equals were no longer.  That ‘community’ was betrayed and divided into classes.  It certainly did not help their case to publish a newsletter that had a cover story that sounded like it was written by some high school drama student who thought all those ‘mean members’ has no idea how much they HURT with their complaints and acrimonious emails.  If ever a company needed to hire someone to show them how to manage a customer crisis, this was it, but no, they carried on like a ‘Dear Diary’ entry – missing only the little heart shaped dots above the ‘i’ – but including of ‘!!!!!!!!!!!’ so we couldn’t miss their terrible suffering.  I had to just stop taking the whole thing seriously as a business and just say, ‘Fine, I’ll deal with the games because I enjoy them and to hell with the rest of the teen angst revisited.’  (I was afraid of getting pimples!!!!!!!  <——– See, lots of ‘!!!!!!’ so you know it’s IMPORTANT!)

Well, Armageddon nears.  Since mid-Summer, the rate of books shipped per week has slowly but surely dropped as people like me who were rolled from Gold Key to automatic Standard membership decided not to renew, or members grew weary of the lack of offers and stopped even going to the website.  It’s called abandoned accounts.  But the big hit will happen those first two weeks in February.  That’s when the bulk of paid members first joined.  It sits there like a big, black cloud on the horizon.  PBS tried getting members to lure friends into joining by offering ‘PBS money’ or some equivalent of pocket change in cash that would cover the cost of a coffee a Starbucks.  The offer was loudly and humorously mocked off the PBS forums.

I have already been told several game moderators will not be renewing their membership using the ‘ebook excuse’, which may, or may not, be true.  We’ve lost a number of game hostesses that way too.  I also know publishers are reducing the number and depth of discounts on mass market books, and I see that every month as the number of books I pre-order drops, so the number of print books is dropping too.

Another hit is the lack of discounts for online shoppers for mass market books.  Now Amazon does offer ‘best price’ guarantee, so should you pre-order a book and the price drops between the pre-order and the release date, you get the lowest price.  Books-a-million does NOT.  Also, their discount offers are less frequent, aimed more at in-store shoppers (which means selling existing stock on hand) rather than online shoppers (many using pre-order).  Plus they avoid all the cost associated with shipping.  Not ONCE this holiday season did I get a ‘big deal’ offer of 30% off as I have in the past.  20% was the highest any offer went.  Hardcover and trade size paperbacks still have good deals associated with them Amazon, better than BAM even with their discounts.  Hardcovers are often being sold for less than the ebook price.  All of this means there are simply now fewer books to trade on sites like PBS.

Now let’s look at one last nail in the coffin that is online book swapping – the cost of an ereader.  Amazon Fire has a $50 ereader with very limited storage capacity (so if you buy that extra storage disk, you find YOU CAN’T STORE BOOKS THERE) which means using the Cloud to read your books, but it’s cheap and even has a web browser built-in.  Mine is getting returned, it just wasn’t right for me, but they do offer good value if you get free – RELIABLE – wi-fi.  SO now you have a $20 fee to exchange used books with HOPE of maybe getting a book you want back, the cost of wrapping and mailing that book, and the time all this takes running headlong into a $50 ereader with a colored hi-def screen and web browsing capability. hummmmmmmmmmmmmmm

The final sad sign of the death of PBS is the School Donations program.  Since 2012 PBS has run an annual drive to get new children’s books into the hands of schools with a large portion of under-privileged students and tiny book budgets.  They are located everywhere from Indian reservations to the inner city.  I’d donate a hundred or more credits every year, plus additional cash to defray costs, none of which was tax deductible.  I never cared as getting books to kids is important to me.  PBS supplied anywhere from 16 to 24 schools a year.  Ths year they managed to complete 6 and they have 5 more active in need of cash.  Those 5 extra all have the credits, because people don’t care about them if they plan to leave.  Cash?  That’s different and even though the total cash needed is small, just a few hundred per school, they can’t seem to get it.  Over 100,000 members and not ever 1,000 are giving a dollar each.  In 2014 they completed 18 schools.  The signs are clear.  The good will toward PBS has scraped rock bottom.  The resentment lingers and even programs like this suffer.  There is no ebook phenomenon here, just members saying a very loud, “SCREW YOU!” to PBS.  I’m pretty sure the PBS powers that be are doing a sad little ‘Dear Diary’ entry about this too, complete with a frowny face and tear splatters.

It is sad.  Sad that a company was managed so badly that its own generous customer base turned Scrooge to others.  Unfortunately, that includes me.  The credits and money I normally donate – nope.  Nothing.  I do NOT trust PBS.  And there is the bottom line.  It’s the one that is rearing its ugly head as renewal dates approach.  Members no longer trust PBS to be honest about ANYTHING.  Not providing those books they promised the schools, or even being in business 6 months from now.  They broke that fragile bond last year and have done nothing to repair it.  There is no evidence of ‘We hear you’, just childish nonsense or self-righteous condescension.  They have wrapped themselves in the cloak of martyrdom – of the classic teen response of ‘You just don’t understand!’ – followed by sullen sulking and misplaced anger.  Not the way to win trust and loyalty.  And certainly NOT how you run a business that understands its customer base.  The utter lack of professionalism is just mind-boggeling.

So, is THE END nigh?  Personally, I think in 6 months, maybe sooner, maybe later, PBS will be no more.  If you’re thinking of joining or renewing, do so with the understanding that one day that ‘page inaccessible’ message will be permanent.  The membership price isn’t high, but don’t go spending a lot in mailing out books that you’ll likely get empty credits for – credits that will be lost when the site folds, because the permanent ‘page inaccessible’  day is not far off.  RIP

 

January 2, 2016

Ebook Binge – cont’d

Yes, there are actually MORE ebooks to get through. When I binge, I BINGE! And after those football games yesterday (Just kill me now and put me out of my Fantasy football misery.), it was more ebooks or take up drinking something stronger than Fresca.

I hope everyone had a good holiday – or at least one that did not include tornadoes, blizzards, floods, or sleeping in airports or shelters.  The folks in Texas and other parts of the Great Plains and deep South sure have had a rough few days.  Our Christmas felt more like Easter and even though I did not make it to my brother’s this year, we did ‘tele-Yahtzee’ – playing Yahtzee by phone.  It was just as well I was home as I got sick as a dog Christmas night and 2 days later my SIL’s mother landed in the hospital.  Circumstances kept me home and apparently that was a good thing all the way around.  Funny how that happens.

I’m also starting to look for a new laptop or something like the Surface Pro 4.  Kind of pricey on that second option.  And naturally, ANOTHER crown fell out 2 days before Christmas and my dentist was nowhere to be found.  While I had one missing tooth over the holidays and a lovely hole where I am healing from my LAST oral surgery in October, I might just celebrate my New Year with another visit to oral surgeon.  YIPEE!  Then I KNOW my dentist will want a fixed bridge and ……………. dear God, the money makes me faint.  That expense must be handled before new computers of any type.

So solace was found in real Scotch shortbread – yes REAL, all butter so I can fail my bloodwork in January in style.  (Dr T – you will ignore that sentence!!!!!!!  I ate fruit and vegetables and saltines and have no idea why my bad cholesterol is so high!)  Then tele-Yahtzee and ebooks.  Football, my usual drug of choice, is best left undiscussed as I am still in mild shock and very close to the edge of murdering my TV – though what the poor innocent TV has to do with BAD OFFICIALS AND POOR CALLS I’m not sure.  But I seem to have this primal urge to cause it harm.  Dark chocolate covered figs from Spain have helped stabilize me.  Very high therapeutic value.

On the upside, no ebooks were damaged in the process of trying to pacify myself with harmless, entertaining books.  Though the whole ‘entertainment’ thing gets a bit shaky.  Anyway, here we go.

                           

         

We’ll start with the Lucky O’Toole series by Deborah Coonts set in Las Vegas.  Touted as humorous romantic mystery series supposedly similar to the Steph Plum books.  I can tell you they have only slight elements in common – mostly off the charts insanity.  Lucky is a much more complex, competent, mature character – or so it seems at the start, so the hapless fumbling, nutty sidekick, and crazy grandma are out.  Lucky does have a bordello owning mother, Mona, and a competent assistant, Miss P (Miss Patterson) in her job as head of Customer Relations at the swankiest, most coveted casino resort on the strip, the Babylon – and access to complementary Ferrari’s.

There are also numerous downsides.  The author seems attached to using antiquated technology, calls the casino owner ‘The Big Boss’ (yeah, that was original), she all but runs the whole operation and somehow manages to investigate murders when she has perfectly competent staff to handle such things.  Reality never had much to do with Vegas, so readers mostly gloss over all these annoying improbabilities and go along for the ride.  Hey, if Steph Plum can have giraffes running around Trenton, I guess Lucky O’Toole can have the only dinosaur Nextel in the state of Nevada – though one would think an iPhone would be more probable.

If the author’s last name sounds familiar, it should.  Her husband is NY Times best-selling author Stephen Coonts of the Jake Grafton/Tommy Carmelinni action thrillers.  I wonder how many reviews of this series were from his friends?

Anyway, let’s look at the books and keep in mind the highly improbable events in most cozies – and this would be closer to that than real mystery – so it’s like Steph Plum not having grown older during the 20+ years of the series.  (If you wonder why her sister and her kids disappeared, Evonavich had to get rid of them from the stories or they too would be ageless, despite state of the art electronics everywhere.  Robert B Parker made the same choice for his ageless Spencer.  It’s one of the wonders of FICTION.)

Wanna Get Lucky was free for Kindle to I gave it a shot.  Lucky OToole and the Babylon’s new security guy have a mystery to solve when a Vegas ‘working girl’ ends up getting dumped out of the Babylon’s helicopter into the Treasure Island Lagoon and killed.  And someone just ‘happened’ to be there to film it in high resolution.  Then there’s the 400-pound naked man by main staircase, and missing security tapes from certain floors and …….. well, a whole bunch of other stuff.

Lucky inserts herself into the investigation with the help of a very young, very green detective named Romeo.  The fast pace can’t quite cover the many flaws in logic, even for a lightweight mystery, and yes, it is cliché ridden.  If you can suspend your common sense long enough, it’s a decent read, albeit very annoying with its characters right from a TV script – including the female impersonator who is NOT gay and is interested in Lucky.  I will give Wanna Get Lucky a C- (2.8*) because it could have been really good with more attention to reality and fewer borrowed characters from all too familiar movies and TV.  It’s free, so try and see how you feel about it.

Lucky Stiff once again finds Lucky in the middle of a murder, problems with her now former female impersonator boyfriend, a convention of entomologists who bring in thousands of bees, sharks eating a Vegas odds maker with a shifty rep, and everything short of a circus act.  If book one was pushing credibility, this one entered comic book zone with a dose of soap opera thrown in – and if you didn’t see the ‘big reveal’ coming, you have to turn in your Nancy Drew card and promise to never work the Psychic Hotline.

Lucky Stiff had its amusing moments, but in many ways seemed to imitate the worst elements of the Steph Plum books with too much TV show Vegas.  You half expect James Cann to grab someone’s throat.  Anyway, it gets another C- (2.6*) and the same warning as above.  It’s heavy on the angst in parts too.  In fact, that’s true of this whole series.

 So Damn Lucky had a plot so over the top I actually enjoyed it.  You had Area 51, secret psychic warfare studies the government denies, a missing magician, a murder on the loose – or maybe not if Dimitri isn’t dead, boyfriend ‘Teddy’ now with a singing contract thanks to Lucky out on tour, a break in at her condo complex one floor blow her 30th floor unit, a French chef who looks even better than his food tastes – and he wouldn’t mind getting a taste of Lucky, and then there’s the whole, “How do I deal with Vegas knowing who my daddy is?”   Just to make life complete, Teddy shows up in Vegas unexpectedly – and so do his obnoxious parents.

OK, this one is hard for me because I kind of got a kick out of the magicians and the whole Area 51 thing, but you will have one of two reactions – SHE’S INSANE TO LIKE THIS (and many believe I am) to OMG THIS BOOK IS JUNK!  I give So Damn Lucky a B- (3.7*) because of the above points and despite the whole Teddy drama.  Plus I’m a sucker for mysteries involving magicians.

Lucky Bastard is the point at which I started giving up on this series.  Yes, it’s lighthearted fun, but there are just so many romance crisis I can stand before I hit a wall.  This is one of the problems with binge reading a series, the flaws leap out and start choking you.  Lucky’s waffling attraction to men in a kind of serial monogamy with no serious timeouts between them left me wondering how shallow she was.

Lucky O’Toole’s murder du jour is a body on the hood of a Ferrari on the showroom floor stabbed in the neck with the heel of her own Jimmy Choos – bringing a whole new meaning to ‘blood red sportscar.’  Lucky’s first thought was, “Where’s the other shoe?”  Then she learns the woman in question, well, DEAD woman in question, is actually the wife of one of the men who had been pursuing her since book 1 – former Babylon security man, undercover Gaming Commission Agent, now PI and partners with the Beautiful Jeremy Whitlock, Paxton Dane.  (Yeah, it really is that convoluted.)

Enter Detective Romeo, Lucky’s go to homicide cop who is showing the kind of growing as a character that makes his passingly interesting.  Too bad he’s always a bit player.  And the fact that Sylvie was cheating in the Babylon’s poker room, knew both the security code and the secret password to enter the Ferrari dealership after hours, and told Dane she had to speak with him about something urgent …………….. ok, we are now in ‘this is getting silly’ territory. Oh, and even though Lucky is moving on from Teddy to Jean-Charles, the famous gourmet chef The Big Boss hired, but is pissed at Dane (whom she rejected) for not telling her all about his marriage.  (All together now – EYE ROLL!)

Unlike So Damn Lucky, Lucky Bastard wanders in the personal wilderness of Lucky’s life and the mystery kind of just bobs and weaves in and out of her story.  And that’s my problem.  The books are half women’s fic romance/humor and half mystery and billed as the ‘Heartfelt Series’.  Being neither fish nor fowl, they probably appeal more to romance and romantic suspense lovers than mystery lovers.  Not a good genre for me to binge read after having finished the Savannah Martin series that fell into the same emotional quagmire, but with less humor.

The Lucky Bastard murder is not complex or exciting, but the surrounding endless distractions make it seem more than it is.  And how anyone can be responsible for largely running the biggest casino resort in Vegas AND have time to play amateur detective baffles me completely, especially since her only professional help is a PI and very young police detective is beyond comprehension.  Pacing is fast and if the lack of a real mystery plot and reality don’t bother you, it’s a decent read   I gets a C- (2.7*) from me.

We have now reached Lucky Catch – and in case you’re wondering, here’s the tally to far – Book 1, clear The Big Boss, book 2, clear the Beautiful Jeremy Whitlock, book 3, no close associate blamed (PHEW), book 4, clear Dane, book 5, clear new boyfriend Jean-Charles and his sister Desiree.  (And book 6, not reviewed here because I got fed up, clear Teddy, the ex-lover, who is back in Vegas.)
Romantic French chef, a renowned restaurateur, and new boyfriend Jean-Charles is the lead suspect in the death of his brother-in-law’s conniving mistress who helped him run J-C’s high-end food truck where chef tested potential new food offerings for yet to be opened restaurant at the completely rebuilt Athena – soon to be Cielo and run by Lucky.  (By the way, this will be fastest rebuild in the history of all hotel renovations.)

 Romeo focuses on the spurned wife – a wife with someone trying to sabotage her ultra high-end food supply company that specializes in truffles.  (Not the chocolate ones, the fungus ones.)  Too bad he did think to look closer to home ………….. Jean-Charles’ late wife.

You get a fair smattering of the ins and outs of behind the scenes food supply for top end eateries and enough French drama to fill several foreign language film festivals.  You know, the smoldering, moody, self-sacrificial, tragic crap.  Had this been a paper book, it would have gotten pitched against the wall about half way through.  I have no intention to wrecking my laptop for a cheap ebook, no matter how badly I wanted to stick a knife through the screen.  GAH!  The weakest entry in the series, (until book 6) with enough melodrama to fuel a month of soap operas.  Lucky Catch gets a D+to C- (2.5*) and read only if you’re following this series for the romance, not the mystery.

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 I received The Dirt on the Ninth Grave as an ARC ebook and hoped against hope that Darynda Jones would manage to set the story back on track after the ridiculous ‘amnesia’ ending on Eighth Grave.  You have no idea how hard I was pulling for Charley and Reyes.  SIGH!  I feared I was doomed to disappointment.  I was right and man, does that make me sad.

The Dirt on the Ninth Grave finds the still amnesiac Charley waiting tables at a diner in Sleepy Hollow, NY.  Yes, THAT Sleepy Hollow.  (It’s a scenic real town on the east side of the Hudson just north of Tarrytown where Sleepy Hollow author, Washington Irving, lived.)  Eye roll.  Reyes is now the cook there, Cookie, her PI business associate and best friend, a waitress, Detective Uncle Bob – all with obvious variations on their names and none willing to tell her about her past because she must remember on her own.  No, I am not making this crap up.  Oh, if you’re worried about Beep, the newborn from Eighth Grave, don’t bother.  Mr Wong has that handled.  Well eventually he was going to do SOMETHING.

We labor through pages of Charley seeing ghosts but not getting freaked out, serving coffee, food, and getting it on with handsome cook Ray.  And after several hundred pages, the evil demon inhabiting the body of the man who tormented Reyes and his sister comes back and kidnaps her and yes, hauls her off to a spooky house.

I will not tell you how she gets her memory back, but let me just say it ranks up there with Christina Henry’s Black Wings series ending with “Mother’s awake.”  Oh, she’s not at all freaked out about Beep being cared for elsewhere.  Not a single tear.  But she’s hot for Reyes.

OK, you’ll have one of two reactions – series lovers will LOVE, LOVE, LOVE this book.  People retaining some semblance of sanity will go WTF?  Yeah.  The ‘most powerful being in the universe’ not only got amnesia but is OK with her newborn being raised by strangers and ready to make out with Reyes after once again turning the tables at the last minute.  I simply cannot reconcile the contradictions in the supposed powers of the characters and the pedestrian troubles that they should easily fixed.  The rationals don’t mesh and the baby gets whisked away because it will hinder the romance angle.  Whisked away from ‘the most powerful being in the universe’ because ‘others’ can keep him safer – DOES NOT COMPUTE.  These persistent contradictions in logic just cannot be ignored.  ……….. Let me amend that.  I cannot ignore them.  Apparently fans have unlimited tolerance for such things.

Long sigh.  Time to wrap this up Ms Jones.  You’re pushing the plot well past the sell by date.  I will be a contrarian and give Ninth Grave a C- (2.7*) and acknowledge in advance I will be hated by CD fans everywhere.  The hardcover is very overpriced even at a discount given the short length of the book.  The ebook is insanely over-priced as well.  It does have better verve than Eight Grave, but not enough for me to overlook the basic flaws in logic.  If you’re a serious, SERIOUS fan, buy it.  If Eighth Grave put you on the fence – get it from your library for free or wait for a used book discount in a couple of months.  Regardless, spend as little as possible.

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Alyssa Day is famous for her paranormal romance books featuring Atlantis and an alternate version of our world where vampires attempted a takeover of the US.  In this hybrid reality, in modern Florida swamp country mystery, Dead Eye, Tess Callahan runs a pawn shop half of which she inherited from her former boss and father figure, Jeremiah Shepherd – a man who was murdered some months earlier.  The other half of the shops and Jeremiah’s house and personal belongings went to his nephew Jack Shepherd.  Jack left Dead End 10 years ago and was involved in the vampire wars.  Now he’s back and looking to just settle his uncle’s estate …………… until he learns Jeremiah didn’t just die, he was murdered and Tess has a tiger shifter by the tail.

Tess has a gift too.  One she’d rather not have.  She can ‘see’ a person’s death when she touches them or they touch her skin.  It doesn’t happen every time, but enough that she doesn’t touch folks.  Like witches and shifters, such gifts are not uncommon in Dead End.  Jack makes himself at home all too fast and decides to ‘get this over with’ and touches Tess.  She realizes he’s already ‘died’ – kind of a first for her.  She also learns that he was one of the two top people leading the rebellion.  Jack is also a really nice guy – but bossy.

Dead Eye is a bit different from Day’s usual trope, it’s more in the UF/paranormal mystery mash-up category like Sookie Stackhouse.  Although it is tangential to her other series, you do NOT need to have read them to follow this book as works as the start of a new a different series, but it does help to fill in the background.  The series will carry on more in the UF/paranormal mystery series with the Jack and Tess romance angle.  The plot, unfortunately, was obvious and the characters, especially Tess, lacked depth.  It just came off shallow on all key elements.  There was a sense of deja vu because the characters and dialogues and plot were so familiar it felt trite.  Much as I wanted to really like it, it was too cliché, including the corrupt town sheriff.  It gets a C (3*) rating and for Alyssa Day fans, buy or borrow the ebook.  It’s much too short to justify the price of the print copy.  A miss-able series, but fun for those who like paranormal mystery in the Sookie Stackhouse style, just shorter.

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 Here is my best advice to fans if the Miss Fortune series by Jana DeLeon – RUN AWAY NOW!  DO NOT LOOK BACK!  DO NOT SPEND ONE DIME ON THIS TRIPE!  This whole Sinful World novella craze has spawned some real garbage and but this one – good grief.  You want an example of how allowing other authors to write stories set in a world you created can go wrong – here is the perfect example.  Some of the Sinful World novellas have been good, most mediocre, one other awful, but this was Outer Limits Meets Sinful and almost singlehandedly trashed the series.

I understand that many of these novellas are little better than fan fic.  OK, that’s fine.  I remember back when multiple author series were all the rage in sword and sorcery fantasy and yes, different authors perceived the same character very differently.  But there is a HUGE difference between accomplished authors writing stories using common ‘worlds’ and characters from amateur hour in ebook-orama.  Sinful Science is almost a criminal offense.  A not believable overlay of poorly thought out science fiction/horror using characters who behave totally out of character, banal dialogue, and a plot that’s little short of an insult to both science fiction/horror fans and Sinful fans alike – and even managed to throw in shapeshifting swamp rat Federal Agents at the end.  I can’t believe I just wrote that.  I think I need to bleach my brain.  My WTF gauge just exploded.

Can you guess my rating?  Yes, Sinful Science gets an F (0*).  A rare and not at all coveted award.  I’m confident this author writes far better pieces than this, I just wish she refrained from inflicting this insane mashup of Outer Limits/Twilight Zone/Sinful on Sinful fans.  If I want to read Dystopian or horror, I’ll grab Sandman Slim or one of the other many UF/paranormal/horror mashups available.

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OK, I think I’ve aborted my near cranial meltdown and can manage one more ebook novella review – another entry in Thea Harrison’s Elder Races paranormal romance series.  Pia Does Hollywood is book 2 in a novella series that started with Dragos Goes to Washington.  In this, a pregnant Pia is required to go spend 1 week as a guest of Queen of the Light Fae, who seems oddly anxious to put the timing off.  But Pia is pregnant and unwilling to wait and risk exposing her condition.  Dragos plans to skirt the rules that forbid him to go with Pia by going to CA on his own and staying up the coast to be near.

But Pia sees a problem as soon as she arrives, it’s high security and watchfulness by the Light Fea that has Pia’s own bodyguards on edge.  Dragos arrives early thanks to a favor from a djinn and flies out to grab some fresh fish before heading to Rodeo Drive.  A spectacular necklace, bracelet, and earring catch his eye.  But when he announces himself, the usual sudden appearance of owners doesn’t happen, just a confused and near hysterical sales woman.  Something is obviously wrong as she explains how Light Fae have been disappearing.  But he’s Lord Dragos Culebre, so he takes the jewels, tells he to stay secure and send the bill to his NYC office and goes to investigate.  He finds packs of rabid, mindless Light Fae who attack and try to kill him despite his fire.

Pia is struck by the fact the Light Fae queen and her whole household is armed as if they expect a massive assault.  It seems some infection has struck, perhaps deliberate bio attack, the Light Fae.  Only Dragos, who arrives at the mansion in a stolen vehicle – and he’s been bitten by an infected Fae.

Ms Harrison, who is quite capable of drawing out a slender story to a tedious novel length, manages to write excellent novellas.  Funny how the shorter format seems to bring out the best in some authors and the worst in others.  She managed to create enough plot for a decent book into an excellent, tightly written, action-packed novella.  Pia Does Hollywood is not at all what I expected, but it was actually much better and gets a B+ (4.3*) and suggested read along with Dragos goes to Washington.

With that, I will wrap the ebook binge and hopefully get back to print books for my next entry.  As I sit writing this and watching the end of the Alamo Bowl (which became quite exciting in the second half), I want to wish you all Happy New Year and Good Reading in 2016!

 

 

 

January 1, 2016

Happy New Year!

Filed under: General — toursbooks @ 5:35 pm
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I sincerely you all greeted 2016 bright-eyed and bushy tailed ready for a new adventure and clean slate. …………… Yeah, right, me too.

Anyway, may 2016 bring you good luck, good health, and many happy hours of good books ……….. and chocolate.

 

December 28, 2015

Ebook Binge – Who Done It?

Yeah, I’ve been on a binge reading marathon of ebooks, mostly light mystery, some novellas – mostly paranormal, and a smattering of (GASP!) paper books!   I’ve also been sick off and on (When I miss football games, I’M SICK!  But at least there was no oral surgery, thanks heavens.) and I find when I am sick, I don’t do well reading new stuff, so I go revisit old favorites – books I’ve read so often that I can start on any page and pick up the story just fine.  I think everyone in the family rereads good books.  Of course, we all have our preferences, but generally rereads are not edge of the seat thrillers simply because they don’t ever get as thrilling as they were the first time around – no surprises left.

I have a friend out in California who handles entry and pricing for her library’s FOL – something that is an ongoing thing, not a monthly event.  It includes all types of media, books, CD’s, DVD’s, etc.  She says she’s noticed a significant decline in donations over the last few months, even among their most reliable contributors.  We talked about it and wondered if it was due to the increasing use of ebooks or a decline in the number of books published in print each month.

We both noticed a sharp fall off in getting new books at bargain prices and escalating prices on ebooks.  We’ve also noticed more and more mass market paperback authors switching to self-publishing, following some big name authors who have promoted that route.  There’s good reason – the author keeps more from each book sale than they do when writing for traditional print houses.  Just 2 years ago I’d be getting 10 to 20 new print books a month.  Now that’s down to less than 10 even in big release months, like September.  She also noted publishing schedules show fewer books per months on certain imprints.  She’s mostly a mystery reader with some fantasy and paranormal thrown in, so she’d be less aware of romance, but I checked that category for a new release for a PBS game and was shocked at how few titles were getting released that month.

Now I read print books are staging a comeback of sorts.  Not sure about the truth of that, but I can tell you publishers are cutting series that don’t make a certain sales level really fast.  The traditional 3 book deal is now a 2 book contract with the author.  Whether this is cost driven or market driven or both, I just don’t know, but the long delays in getting print books to market are NOT helping traditional publishers keep their customers.  Sometimes those delays are the authors themselves, but other times it’s a publishing business trying to reduce staff till they can’t turn the work around in a timely fashion.  Not even for hot authors.  Only the traditional NY Times Bestsellers get that treatment.

The other trend I’ve noticed is that with the exception of a few authors, books are getting shorter – especially self-published ebooks.  A typical cozy mystery runs 275 to 320 pages.  Self-published light mystery runs around 200 pages to maybe 275 max.  Instead of a page count, I’d like Amazon to provide me with the word count of the book.  That way  I know exactly what I’m paying for.  That’s especially true for the many novellas authors publish, some of which have maybe 18,000 words while others have 35,000 words and both are the same price.  Ebooks are not always a good value.  And the price of the print versions has jumped almost 20% this year!

So be warned, ebooks are not as cheap as they were unless you’ll wait a long time for a deal.  And overall, the number of books getting printed is dropping noticeably.

That said, let’s take a look at what I plowed through this month.

OK, here we have 10 full novels and 1 longish novella.  From the top.  As a whole, this series would fall under Romantic Mystery more than any other sub-genre.

A Cutthroat Business – Introduces the main characters and a number of key secondary characters that will play ongoing roles in the series.  Savannah Martin was raised by a true Southern Belle.  Married and quickly divorced from a philandering husband, Savannah decides to take life into her own hands and tries to make it in Memphis as a real estate agent.  The older, far less ethical, Brenda Puckett steals her clients and then has the gall to ask her to sit an open house for her on Sunday.  Too bad the house comes complete with one bad boy from her hometown who’s grown into a hunk …….. and a corpse – Brenda’s.

The seamy underside of the real estate business is on full display, along with Savannah’s unfortunate attraction to convicted felon Rafe Collier.

A Cutthroat Business gets a B- (3.8*) and a suggest read (get a discount on the ebooks) for Souther style cozy lovers.  Savannah is an appealing, somewhat naive and sheltered character and Rafe is a perfect foil as an ambiguous good bad guy.  The plot is nicely convoluted too, so more interesting than most cozies.

In Hot Property, new real estate agent Lila Vaughn seems to be friendly with Savannah but then uses her.  There’s something not right with Lila and after finding out all the schemes Brenda had up to, Savannah was tired of always playing nice and getting mocked for it.  Unfortunately, Lila’s description of her robber fits Rafe to a tee, and Det Tamara Grimaldi thinks so too.  But once again, looks are deceiving.

When Lila turns up dead, Grimaldi is hot after Rafe, but having gotten to know her old hometown bad boy better, she refuses to believe Rafe had anything to with Lila’s death, so Savannah does her own sleuthing.  Hot Property is a good second book in the series and handles the progressing relationship of Savannah and Rafe nicely and realistically, especially given the issues with her small town’s opinion of Rafe and her own struggles to break from the role her mother molded her into as the society girl from Sweetwater. (She even went to finishing school before college!)   In some ways, that story is as compelling as the mystery itself as Savannah finds her feet as an independent adult.  Hot Property also gets a solid B- (3.9*) from and again a suggested read for cozy lovers.

In Contract Pending, Savannah and Rafe again cross paths as she checks on Rafe’s Grandmother, the owner of the house Brenda was murdered back in book 1.  His Grandma is back home and he’s MIA.  But people are watching the house, and now her, and suddenly the woman he hired to look after his grandmother is missing then found murdered – and Rafe is once again suspect 1.  Plus her momma is once again matchmaking with her old flame Todd, a District Attorney who, like her ex, wants to ‘take care of’ Savannah.  Too bad Savannah wants to take care of herself and not some smothering male.  All Savannah wants to do is pay her respects to Marquetta’s ex-husband, the deputy sheriff and go back to Memphis.

While the body count in these books stretches credulity, the same could be said of Jane Marple quite English village, St Mary Mead.  Discounting the unlikely involvement of anyone other than a serial killer or homicide cop in this many deaths, yes it would seem the third most likely person to be involved is the lead character in a cozy.  It comes with the territory.  But what is unusual for a cozy, is the way the author grows Savannah’s character out of her comfort zone of the Southern Belle and into a freer, independent woman who might love her family, but is determined to go her own way whether they like it or not.  Once again, I give the book a B- (3.9*) for the way it plays the life of small-town Southern America – far more authentically than most and a place most cozy writers would explore in their far more shallow stories.

Close to Home is a bit heavy on the melodrama as Savannah finds herself pregnant with Rafe’s child, looking for his son he never knew he had, and helping her sister-in-law clear a friend of murder charges brought by none other than her ex-boyfriend and would be suitor Todd, the Sweetwater DA.  As usual, Savannah seems to spend a lot more time being an amateur sleuth than a real estate agent, but this is to help a young mother, and with Rafe gone, she kind of glad for a distraction.

I had kind of mixed feelings on this book.  The mystery part is solid enough, but the whole angst thing kind of overwhelmed it with layer on layer of annoying distractions.  The mystery ends up secondary to the whole emotional mess.  Close to Home gets a C+ to B- (3.5*) in large party because I read books for the mystery party, not the whole soul searching angst thing.

Done Deal circles back to Alexandra Puckett, the teen daughter of the late and unlamented Brenda, who seeks Savannah’s help in keeping her dad from marrying the pushy and conniving Maybelle.  Plus there’s this new agent, Carmen, who has Savannah on edge and always seems to be up to something.  While a lot of this plot of obvious, more so than her previous books, it’s also more mystery than a few of the previous entries and I enjoyed it more.  It gets a C+ to B- (3.6*) and suggested read.

Change of Heart takes us back to the damn angst again.  Has Rafe changed is mind?  COME ON PEOPLE.  Can we put ONE plot point to bed?  Jeeze.  Everyone Savannah knows ends up being a killer, or a dead body, and frankly I’d be real cautious getting too close to her.  This time her gay friend and real estate mentor is implicated in a murder and Savannah sets out to clear his name.  If she put as much energy into selling houses, she’d be rich by now.

ASIDE: This is the point where most cozy series hit a wall.  In many ways this series did too, but the crash was not fatal like many other series where subsequent books slid downhill.  Nonetheless, so far the only ones not dead or other victim, suspects, or murderers are her mother and the sheriff of her hometown.  She needs a wider circle of people and its past time she got over all her teenage insecurities and just grew up.

OK, back to the review.  The biggest drawback here is the constant theme of Savannah’s curiosity nd near misses with disaster mixed with her personal insecurities, the same insecurities we’ve done several times now.  That’s irritating to me.  So despite the mystery portion being decent, the character is an angst loop that has passed annoying and entered the red zone of WILL YOU GROW UP?

As a result, the book gets C+ (3.3*) rating and if you can get past this one and the next, the series gets back on track.

In Kickout Clause, a pregnant Savannah is following her ex-husband at the request of his VERY pregnant current wife who think he’s cheating.  Reluctant Savannah agrees and her first effort gets her caught, but the second finds her tracking her ex to a strip bar – to talk to a man.  A man who he should NOT be talking to because the’s the lawyer for the husband in the divorce case the ex’s firm represents the wife.  It’s this kind of thing that spells disbarment.

This event is followed by dithering, more digging – and working to avoid her ex-boss who she helped put in prison for murder.  Kickout Clause is one of the better entries in the series and I give this one a B (4*).  The ending had a couple of great twists!

Past Due has Savannah heading back to her hometown for her high school reunion with Rafe in tow as her + one.  Of course, Momma still won’t speak directly to Rafe, her friends all think she’s crazy to be with the local bi-racial bad boy, and Savannah’s brother and sister seem to be the only ones who have no problem with him.  But it’s the local land development that draws Savannah because something feels wrong.

Once again, Savannah’s intuition gets her square in the middle of a problem, Rafe in trouble, and her almost killed.  And lots of things in her life seem long past due to be settled.  It gets a B- (3.7*) from me.  Liked the ending.

Dirty Deeds shows just some of the downsides of the short term apartment/spare room rental craze.  With Savannah and Rafe living in his grandmother’s old house that Rafe restored, her apartment is sitting empty so Savannah decides to rent it out.  Turns out her tenants were ladies of the evening – and now one of them is dead in her bed – and Tamara Grimaldi and Rafe are the lead investigators.  The real blow is when Tim, her friend nd the man she saved from being framed for murder, tells he to find another job.   – and it heads straight to Sweetwater and Savannah’s ex-boyfriend, and son of the sheriff – DA Todd.

Just when things seem like they can’t get worse, the detectives find out Savannah’s ex-boyfriend, and son of the sheriff – Todd.  On top of that someone is telling her apartment management she Savannah’s sister – only she isn’t, and the new woman in the real estate office, Liz, is a predator in high heels.

A nice twisty mystery that ties equal parts mystery and family issues together, something Bennett does in most of her books.  It gets a B- (3.8*).  And Savannah’s mom sees the light and wants see her daughter married ….. which leads to

Unfinished Business.  Rafe is missing.  Tough to get married with no groom.  Did he get cold feet or has someone in his past come back to get him?  It’s Wendell and Tamara who think he’s in trouble – and they’re right.  It’s kind of a tear-jerker mystery-romance book, and we all know how much I don’t enjoy that.  As a result, despite a decent mystery/thriller element, the angst part annoyed me enough to give it a C+ (3.5*).

Novella Busman’s Honeymoon (considered book 10.5) feature’s one of the more adventurous honeymoon’s at a bed and breakfast on the Gulf beach and a dead B&B owner for breakfast.  Tight, short, and a decent tangled tale of family resentment, con people, and a former owner who played too many games.  For a novella, it came off well done at about half the length and gets a B- (3.7*).

In Adverse Possession Savannah’s main success, selling a great house to a lesbian couple, is threatening to fall apart.  The young women are getting creepy, vaguely threatening mail and eventually the former owner ends up murdered and one of the girls ends up assaulted in the house when someone breaks in using a key.

There will be two schools of thought on this – the I Love Rafe and Savannah school and the I Thought This Was a Mystery club.  Guess which one I’m in.  Sigh – With book 11, the romance and schmaltz got too much for me.  Along with Savannah forgetting she’s supposed to be a real estate agent.  I kind of wish Ms Bennett ended this at book 10.5.  It gets a C+ (3.5*) – well below the fan rating for the book.

A word of warning, if you want to read the series, at $5.99 each for the ebooks, they are badly over-priced.  You could buy the multi-book sets as they are a decent price or try and borrow them from your public library.  Also, binge reading this series could put you off the two lead characters easily – unless you’re really into all the self-doubt and angst crap.  Pffffftttttt.  Give me more mystery.

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YEAH ELLIE ASHE!!!!!!!   Lucky Penny is exactly what I needed for an antidote to the whole marathon Rafe and Savannah thing.  Lucky Penny is the third Miranda Vaughn mystery featuring mergers and acquisitions specialist Miranda Vaughn that brings some zip to the dry world of accounting.  In book 1 she was framed by her bosses in and has been working for her defense attorney since being found not guilty.  Her reputation is still shot, but not as far a forensic account and all around tough, no-nonsense broad, Dorothy Elaine Russell – Dottie to everyone – is concerned.  70-ish, sharp as a tack, and shrewd as they come, Dottie hires Miranda to help with an audit of the famous luxury hotel, Whispering Pines for her old friend Max Emerson.  Miranda likes Dottie but isn’t certain she’s the right person for the job, but it’s just a one job contract for good money she needs badly, not a career commitment so she grabs it.

Up at Whispering Pines the boring audit getting interesting.  Seems the resort is largely closed during what would be its busiest season thanks to a contact with a movie company that Max’s nephew signed when Max was out recovering from a major heart problem.  Max’s dream was regaining ownership of the abandoned Lucky Penny Casino, formerly a part of the resort lost to supposed mobs ties.  His books have to be fully audited and he has to be squeaky clean to get a gaming license.  That’s what Dottie and Miranda are supposed to do …………. too bad the movie is starring the woman handsome horse trainer Quinn went to jail to protect and FBI agent and hopeful boyfriend Jake and his too beautiful and not very friendly partner Bethany end up called to Tahoe when Miranda stumbles into an illicit underground gambling ring setup in one of the guest houses for the movie crew.

The plot is good, the characters fun if a bit cliché, and the solution a bit different.  I like this series, it’s not the same old thing that many cozies are today.  I’ve read all three books and enjoyed them.  Well written, well plotted, and well paced.  If you prefer your books with a G rating, this series is for you.  Lucky Penny gets a B- (3.8*) and at $3.99 a fair price.

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Well, I hit gold here with the latest Lexi Carmichael book, No Room for Error.  First someone tries to kidnap Lexi in NYC while as she and Slash exit a concert.  She gets away, but there are a lot of unanswered questions.  Then Slash takes her to his apartment and shows her every room but one.  When she tells Basia about the locked room, her fried assume he’s hiding the fact he has a BDSM dungeon playroom – a la a thinly veiled reference to Fifty Shades of Grey.  Lexi, being Lexi, immediately starting researching this new thing and it’s kind of hilarious.

Then Lexi, Basia, Finn, and some security honchos from the ComQuest, the employers for the still battered Zimmerman twins, want her to go to Indonesia to oversee the manufacture of an experiment computer chip the twins designed because she’s the only one they trust.  Slash arranges to meet her in Jakarta for ‘vacation’.  The flight goes off course when the flight attendant and co-pilot hijack the plane.  In a struggle for the gun the flight attendant is holding on them, she shoots the fuselage and the crash land in the mountains of New Guinea.   One guy from ComQuest survives, and wouldn’t you know, he’s NOT on their side.

Ms Moffett somehow pulls off a jungle trek, help from a shunned local tribe’s woman and a few more twists and turns with her usual aplomb and surprising humor.  The scene at the end back in Slash’s place is worth the price alone.

Lexi Carmichael is one of the more interesting characters out there and this series is entertaining, fun, and just good stories.  No Room for Error gets an A- (4.3*) and suggested read, but at $4.99, it’s kind of the limit for an ebook, though at 270+ pages, it’s a better value than many.

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Cindy Blackburn’s Cueball Mysteries featuring a middle-aged, divorced writer of smutty romance and a police detective turned love interest/husband, has its ups and downs.  Five Spot was a real up!  Adelé Nightengale, the nom de plume of Jessie Hewitt, is about to be inducted into the Romance Writer’s Hall of Fame, a once in every 5 years event.  Her beyond buoyant agent, Geeze Lousie, has decided to up the ante in celebrating with a charity auction and ………… Jessie new husband, Wilson Rye, is the unsuspecting prize.  That is until one of the authors, freaks out over her placement at the head table and Jessie swaps places with her.  When she ends up head from poison, the big question is, was she or Jessie the target?

Along with Wilson, her slightly psychic 80-something mother, and Geeze Louise, Jessie works to figure out who did before her number is up too!

While I find Geeze Lousie and irritating character that wears thin quickly, level headed Jessie, her mom, and Wilson are all well done, the dialogue is quick and witty, the humor sharp, and story is well paced.  The who ………….. well, that’s actually a better solution than usual.  The screwball style might not suit some cozy readers, but it is still sold as a ‘humorous cozy’.  It’s lightweight style and easy to read plot is more reminiscent of the 1930’s  and 40’s style than what is currently considered a ‘cozy’.  It depends on your taste.

Five Spot is the latest in the series but can easily be read as a stand alone.  I give it a solid B- (3.8*) and suggested read, especially if read as a stand alone.  At $2.99, it’s a good buy.

 

 

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