Season’s Greetings from the Groundhog Den! You’re all ready for Christmas, right? Yeah, me too. (As if!) SIGH!
There are many authors who for one reason or another choose to go the route of self-publishing, mostly e-books and sometimes with print editions available. The most popular platform is CreateSpace owned by Amazon. They didn’t develop it, they bought it out and it was a damn good bet.
While some authors using CreateSpace and other platforms are already famous and have a strong following, others are good authors that can’t find print publishers or can’t make a living going the traditional publication route. Another use is for well know authors to try new concepts and series ideas on fans to see if their new ideas have good audience appeal. Ilona Andrews did Clean Sweep this way (loved the book), Seanan McGuire did Indexing (didn’t like it), and Lynn Viehl’s Disenchanted & Co (another winner). All ended up getting published through traditional imprints. Then there are ‘Renegades’, the popular authors who abandon traditional publication for the more lucrative ebook/print combo of CreateSpace. Barry Eisler with his John Rain series is now ALL back in his hands and all being published in ebook and print (new titles on the older books). Brett Battles and other action thriller writers as well.
For the lovers of lighter fare, Jana Deleon, Christine Craig, and Leslie Langtry lost their publisher (and their past due royalties) either built their own publishing mini-empires, and/or just use CreateSpace for their books. Regardless, there are a whole lot of good humorous mysteries showing up as ebooks. So I’ve been enjoying a major wallow in a favorite genre, with a few print books of the UF/fantasy persuasion thrown in.
So, on the better later than never rule, here are some short and sweet reviews.
The cover art varies, but the titles stay the same for this fun series featuring a social inept computer guru that works for NSA in InfoSec (information security). Julie Moffett is an author who has been around awile doing a lot of traditional historical romance, modern romance, and now humorous mystery/suspense. The novella titled No Money Down is listed as book 2.5, but is actually the prequel to the series and introduces the 4 main characters, Lexi Carmichael, girl computer wiz and her best friend Basia Kowalski, speaker of a number of European languages, owner of her own translation business, and Lexi’s social behavior tutor for the terminally nerdy. It tells of how Lexi meets the famed Zimmerman twins, Elvis and Xavier, the rock gods of the NSA and hackers everywhere.
Longer than a novella, but shorter than a novel, it’s a good setup story with enough plot to keep things interesting as well as create a solid foundation for the key characters. It also establishes the pattern of Lexi literally stumbling into things that just seem to explode into dangerous and wild adventures, in this one, it’s stolen illegal medical technology. A C+ to B- (3.4*) for this entry and it can be skipped with no loss to the full length books.
Book 1 is technically No One Lives Twice, and Lexi is at the NSA trying to catch a hacker in a ‘dark’ chat room, but looses him. On her way home she’s accosted twice about a document she simply doesn’t have, but somehow involves her friend Basia. The apartment is torn apart and ANOTHER thug threatens her and also demands the documents.
Unable to reach Basia, Lexi heads to safety at the Zimmerman’s. Having left the NSA, the Zimmerman’s now work from home for a ton of money in the private sector – and the company is so thrilled to have them, they can work wherever they want. Elvis and Xavier come through for her, but when they hit a wall and want help, they suggest contacting Slash, short for backslash, the security expert/hacker that came in when the Zimmermans left NSA and the government panicked about the possibility of them getting into the very security systems they built. Slash is more legend than real, and some believe, not a person at all, but a group of experts the NSA uses. They leave a message someplace only Slash would find it and only he would understand it. And he does, and he also realizes the ONLY reason the twins would approach him would be to help their best friend, Lexi Carmichael.
Instead of going to the Zimmerman’s, Slash lands in Lexi’s bedroom in her still destroyed apartment. Slash might be a hot Italian, the handsome Irish lawyer, and Finn Shaughnassy, who sent Basia the documents to translate is a handsome Irishman, but nothing gets between Lexi and helping her best friend – with the Zimmerman’s help.
Like No Money Down, You Only Live Once has lots of laughs, a decent plot, but the ending was better. The basic premise was not credible as it could be, but not so far off to be annoying. It get a B-(3.8*) from me and a recommended read for fans for Bombay Assassins by Leslie Langtry or the Miss Fortune books by Jana Deleon.
Book 2 is Trust No One and starts off with Lexi at her new job working for Finn Shaughnassy and NSA legend Ben Steinhouser at X-Corp, a high tech security agency. The first clients are arriving and Lexi is in her usual mild panic at dealing with humans. It doesn’t improve when the CEO of their potential client hands he a note in Navajo code from WWII. Once translated it reads ‘SOS. Need Lexi Carmichael’s help. GU’ Only problem is, the missing tech genius isn’t anyone she knows, he specializes in nano-technology for fuel replacement, a subject she doesn’t know, and the three guys watching her are giving her the creeps.
So the Scooby Gang once again is piecing together seeming unrelated bits information as unravel a tangled web of corporate deceit, greed, and government involvement – in the form of the all too handsome Slash. Lexi’s intuition combined with her computer skills gets the essential lead and the race is on.
Trust No One has a better than average plot, the characters find their feet, and the story moves very quickly. Fun and interesting, I give it a B (4*) rating.
Book 3, No Place Like Rome, brings Slash front and center when he’s called away for his date with Lexi at the opera (his choice, not her’s) when his Uncle Benedetto is accused of embezzling from the Vatican Bank where he works. He hires X-Corp to prove someone hacked the bank records to implicate his uncle, as his relationship would call anything he did into account. Soon Lexi and Slash are off to Rome and the Vatican Bank, which Lexi finds a planted program and they both find a dead bank employee. Tito, a friend of Slash’s from when he worked as a Vatican spy, helps them out. Soon they find they need help – the kind the Zimmerman’s can supply. And the Scooby Gang does Italy.
The clues in this plot are reminiscent of a Dan Brown book, but No Place Like Rome see a lot of character development for Lexi and Slash as the focus of the series starts shifting to focus more on fewer characters. No Place Like Rome is a bit more mature than the earlier books in plot and storytelling. It gets a B (4*) from me.
Book 4 is No Biz Like Showbiz and it’s pretty much all Lexi dealing with a Hollywood ‘reality’ show about geeks called, crudely, “Geeks Get Some”. Supposedly these brilliant geeks need help finding a girl and the audience votes someone off the show each week. The ‘girl geek’ does get some say, but for 2 weeks, her favorite has been voted off and it’s obvious someone has compromised the voting system, a supposedly secure computer system. And Lexi is off to Hollywood ………. possibly the one place where her being socially inept will cause the most havoc.
Unlike the previous books, this one has a highly predictable plot, but it also has some very funny scenes – one hysterical one at a Comic Con and one during one-on-one chats at the ‘mansion’. The other characters had bit parts or walk ons. Even Basia had nothing much to do. Slash shows up at the end. The perp is obvious and the ending as predictable as the rest. The only thing missing was a pie fight.
Despite the fact the story was a fun – and laugh out loud, at times – read, the plot was lame compared with the earlier books. No Biz Like Showbiz gets a bi-polar C+ to B- (3.6*) from me. Entertaining fluff.
Book 5, just released this month, is No Test for the Wicked. Lexi relives her worst nightmare, she goes back to high school, and not as a teacher, as an undercover student to find and stop a group of very smart kids, calling themselves the WOMBATS, who have hacked the system and are playing havoc.
At 25, Lex might still pass for 18, but she is no longer the insecure girl who was the outcast in her high school. Now she stands up against the school bully when he goes to pick on resident smart kid who has none of the looks or athletic ability of the bully, a senator’s son. Once again in a tight spot and needing some expert help, she calls her BFF, Elvis Zimmerman. Oblivious as ever to Elvis’s crush on her and the hard way he’s taking her involvement with Slash, Lexi is a little taken aback by Bonnie’s, the young but very competent school headmistress, obvious interest in her friend. But the mysterious file on the advanced computer class teacher’s PC that uses code known to the cyber terrorist group, the Veiled Knights.
Just as they start in the secure computer center, they hear gunshots. True to form, Lexi Carmichael is once again the ultimate trouble magnet. Terrorists have taken over the school. She and Elvis have minutes to get a few things done then hide – a truly memorable scene. Now it’s Lexi, Elvis, and much to their surprise, three students, end up working together to foil the terrorists and the money grubbing Veiled Knight.
The three high school kids were well done and the plot oddly believable, more so than several others. Moffett mixes in humor and action far more smoothly and believably here than the other books in the series. At the end, Elvis’s observations about himself and finally, Lexi realizing everything changes, brought some mixed emotions for me – and a melt down for her. Still, it’s done very well and I think the series might mature nicely if Moffett can stay on this track.
No Test for the Wicked gets a B+ (4.3*) from me and recommended read.
The Lexi Carmichael series is a fun series of reads without a lot of deep meaning, just shallow, occasional perceptive, and comfortably accessible for the techno-challenged. The one big hurdle is the Slash character who seems to be equal parts computer god and James Bond, plus he’s Italian, supposedly worked for the Vatican spy network, and is now in charge of NSA security? This simple does not add up, but if you can let credibility take a vacation, and take the character for what it’s worth, you can enjoy the stories. Aside from No Money Down, which can be easily skipped if you want, the books are fairly short and EBOOK ONLY. Only book 1 is available in print and the price is absurdly high.
Another refugee from the defunct Dorchester stable is Leslie Langtry, author of a favorite series, the Bombay Assassins series and is now going out under author Gemma Halliday’s new publishing company. In Merit Badge Murders, she kicks off a new series starring Fionnaghuala Merrygold Wrath Czrygy – or Merry Wrath as she is now known. Dear old dad is a senator who the new VP detests, so he carefully – with full deniability – outed his daughter Merry as an undercover CIA operative. She almost died getting out of the hellhole where she was operating. Now she’s leading a scout troop Idaho and keeping the lowest possible profile from her many dangerous enemies – well, one less, apparently. Ahmed Maloof, al-Qaeda’s #2 man, is now dead on the ropes course.
A new neighbor across the street is a handsome hunk – and a police detective. Inconvenient when dead bodies start showing up. Even more inconvenient is her unwanted house guest, a Russian double agent, Lana, ex-partner Riley and a Japanese Yakuza, Midori Ito, dead in her kitchen, and best friend Kelly there with tuna noodle casserole. Some days, life is just weird.
Langtry does her usual good job, but as always, has the WTF moments – like what CIA agent in hiding goes back to their home town using nothing but hair dye and colored contacts for a disguise? And since when can’t a trained agent tie knots of every type? And how do you hide when you pal around with your best friend from childhood? This ain’t Manhattan, folks. Credibility issues aside, it was a fun read, though I figured it out easily enough.
Merit Badge Murders gets a C+ to B- (3.7*) mostly for the stupid mistakes in logic, though it was entertaining despite the frustration with the flaws. If you can ignore them, it’s a good read with sharp dialogue and a feisty female lead. I paid $0.99 for the ebook which is now $3.99 and the print book $10.79. Forget print. I think at $3.99 it’s overpriced for an ebook.
Electile Dysfunction, a popular bon mot describing our corrupt political system, is book 6 in a series of mysteries by Jamie Lee Scott – and if they were all this bad, I can’t figure out how it got past 2. Clever title, dumb plot, annoying writing, changing POV every chapter was especially annoying and served NO useful purpose at all.
PI’s get hired to prove a sleazy politician cheated his old rodeo pal and ruined his credit. Said politician is found dead. Client is lying. Wife is lying. Pretty much every one is lying or experiencing some kind of car envy. How this tripe got 4.5* on Amazon is beyond me.
At a slight 164 pages, it is at least short, just not short enough. Electile Dysfunction gets a D+ (2.5*) from me. Thankfully, I got it on a $0.99 special. It would be better free. Even better if forgotten, scratched off Mt TBR and read something good instead.
For six books, author Christina Henry created and sustained a great story of an evolving person with blood ties to Lucifer. Somewhere Maddy Black became a whiny, PIA, jerk, not just due to pregnancy, but because she seemed to loose her brains and her backbone. Black Spring concludes Maddy’s story and after 6 really good books building up a strong and intelligent female lead, Ms Henry destroy’s it all with a lame conclusion and an idiotic WTF moment among what are supposedly the oldest and most powerful beings alive.
In the beginning, Maddy was an Agent of Death, escorting souls of the departed to doorways to the beyond. But she is so much more. Lucifer’s many times great-granddaughter she becomes a pawn in a much larger game of power being played by 3 of 4 oldest, and most powerful beings in the universe. Her own powers evolve and grow and she save Chicago from an infestation of sunlight resistant vampires. Now she’s sulking over the death of her lover/husband, being stalked by a cyber-‘journalist’ into paranormal phenomenon, the loss of so much of life, horror at some of the things she’d been tricked into, and an ungrateful city that wants her GONE. Basically, she’s wallowing in self pity and annoying the crap out of everyone around her – even this reader. OK, she was entitled to a small wallow, I admit, but come on, let’s move it along, put on the big girl panties and get on with it!
Movement is slow, kind of boring, and the ‘big finish’ is summed up in one line as the eldest brother, who has escaped the prison Lucifer and his two other brothers built to hold him, says, “Mother’s awake.” SERIOUSLY???????????? Who the FU&%$*g hell is MOTHER???????????????????? Suddenly big bro can grab all three in his dragon claw and disappear with them? WHAT THE HELL WAS HE WAITING FOR? MOMMY?
To say I nearly had an aneurysm over this is putting it mildly. The book literally sailed across the room, hit a wall and landed on the floor while I yelled something obscene at it. Now I know it wasn’t the book’s fault and it didn’t deserve such abuse, but NEITHER DID I! SIX BOOKS AND ALL I GET IS “MOTHER’S AWAKE”????????????????Christina Henry has a lot to answer for. That ending SUCKED.
Black Spring gets (I know you’re shocked) a D (2*) rating. No, it is not worth the $6.50 or so sale price. If you have followed the series and understandably wish to read the last book, buy it used. Then dig a hole and bury it.
By the way, the archangel Gabriel is an ASSHOLE. He’s also no longer an archangel. I would have stabbed the sanctimonious bastard in the eye with a meat fork. Then again, at that point, I was kind of in a bad mood.
Shelly Laurenston’s Dragon Kin series written as G.A. Aiken has another really fun entry. The books can be a bit uneven in quality, but when she hits on all cylinders, she can really pull it off. Not paranormal romance, like her Pack and Pride series, these books are a cross between epic fantasy and fantasy romance. The world building is very complex and has many parts and the books are spaced far apart as her more popular and better known Pack and Pride books take priority. Plus plotting and writing a book with as many characters and sub-plots as she has going here takes time. I, like other fans, patiently sit and wait for each installment. NOTE: Keep in mind, if you have NOT been following the series, or do NOT realize each book is basically a kind of romance that also advances a very complex secondary plot, you’ll be lost fast and the book loses all it’s impact. Read them in order so you know who is who in the VERY large cast of humans, dragons, and gods.
Light My Fire adds Elina Shestakova, a Daughter of the Steepes, to long list of characters and cultures. Celyn the Charming, one of the very large clan of Cadwaladr dragons, spent several days watching a determined woman climb Devenallt Mountain, home of the queen of the southland dragons. Her tribal leader ordered to kill the dragon queen, so she was honor bound to try, even though she knew all she would do is try – and die, which is what her leader wanted. What she didn’t know was dragons were kind of chatty, could shift to human, and found the notion of of sending a lone human to kill their queen …………. hysterically funny.
After months in the jail of the Southland queen, Annwyl the Bloody, the same chatty dragon comes to fetch her, the forgotten prisoner, to meet with the two queens, dragon and human. Annwyl needs an emissary to the Anne Atili, leader of all the steppes tribes, to start the process of alliance against a joint enemy – the zealots following the one-eyed god. They send only one companion with her, that damn chatty dragon who left her in jail all these months.
Celyn cannot believe he’s getting stuck with the task of escorting Miss Doom and Gloom (or Lady Misery, as he likes to call her) back to the gods-forsaken Outer Plains. Curious, handsome, chatty, generally good-natured (for a dragon), Celyn is sorely tested by the fatalistic, mostly silent, morose Daughter of the Steppes. Their travels (she starts by insulting the horses, calling them ‘travel-cows’ just because they’re bred to take the weight of a dragon in human form and not run away from them in terror) are filled with lively bickering, and Celyn gathering intelligence in various areas.
The tale is complex, brings the children, now adults, of Annwyl and Talaith back into the story and adds yet another character, Brighda the Foul, a dragoness so old, she’s an ancestor, and should have been dead for eons. The action goes right to end, and despite the nearly 500 pages, it managed to read as tightly as a much shorter book.
Ms Laurenston will never challenge Robert Jordan, Tolkien, or even Scott Lynch, but she’s created an interesting, fun, deadly, complex ‘world’ and managed to tell some very non-traditional ‘romances’ within the larger story. As I said earlier, the series is a bit uneven. Holding that balance of biting, often black humor, action, rough and tumble romance, high body counts, and a sprawling multi-level plot is not easy to pull off. This time she kept it balanced AND she managed to move the over-arcing plot forward quite a bit while doing so.
Light My Fire is not deathless prose, filled with moving, unforgettable characters, tell a story for the ages. It’s more a beer and brawl bloodfest, suitable for those who enjoy off-beat, bizarre, funny, interesting, and fast paced story. It certainly is not everyone’s idea of a good read, but it is mine, and I totally enjoyed it. As I said above, the cast of characters is HUGE, so you really do need to read all the books to follow the many plot elements, or you’ll be lost in the wilderness and bored to tears. I give Light My Fire a B+ (4.3*) for being EXACTLY what a book in this series should be – original, funny, entertaining, and filled with strong, deadly women and the males who love then just as the are. AT $7.99 on Amazon and $7.19 on BAM it’s worth the price. And “May Death find you well this day!”