Tour’s Books Blog

April 25, 2010

Short Reviews: Mystery, Erotic Romance and Paranormal Reviews

My apologies for slacking off on reviews the past few weeks.  I’ve been reading a lot, but too busy with life to get here as I should.   Here are a few books worth mention.

Well reading I’ve been lately has been quite a mixed bag – erotic romance, mystery and paranormal.  I’ve also had mixed results, as usual, but a couple worthy entries – one erotic futuristic and one mystery.

  • Title: The Forgotten: Discovery
  • Author:  Kaitlyn O’Connor
  • Type:  Futuristic erotic romance
  • Genre:  Human discovers cyborgs;  cybogs discover themselves and sex
  • Sub-genre:  Science fiction with a touch of ménage
  • My Grade: B  (4.0*)
  • Rating:  NC-17 to XX
  • Length and price:  Full length novel; about 90,000+ words for $7.99
  • Where Available:  ebook available at New Concepts Press
  • FTC Disclosure:  purchased book from publisher’s website

NCP tried a new approach when initially offering their popular author’s latest book – Discovery. Kaitlyn O’Connor is possibly the top author in the NCP line up followed by Madelaine Montague.  Where Montague does her best work with shifters, O’Connor does her best work with futuristics.  Both write menage/polyandrous romance and both are good story tellers, not brainless sex-fest novel writers.  NCP initially offered Discovery in installments.  I loathe waiting, so rather than read – wait – read – wait – read – wait……… I waited for the entire book to be released and bought it.  I was expecting a version of her Cyborg series, instead, Ms O’Connor explored a different facet of emerging AI.

The rather difficult moral, ethical and intellectual issues surrounding artificial intelligence and what is a ‘living being’ has fascinated si-fi writers forever.  Issac Asimov and many others wrote stories about this – the best known becoming the hit film, I, Robot.  In Ms O’Connor’s Cyborg series, the scientist that helped create the cyborgs built in a genetic switch that allowed them to fully realize themselves as sentient beings with the right of self-determination.  In Discovery, you have an isolated colony of a dying civilization that terra-formed a planet using AI machines.  The creators included DNA of their species.  After thousands of years of waiting, the AI created cybogs to populate the now livable planet.  But the creators sent only male DNA, so each of the ‘cities’ is populated by males.  Also, unlike the Cyborgs, there is no programing about sex or many other things, so these cyborgs evolved somewhat on their own and lack certain information.  The arrival of a human female space pilot creates a culture altering event that reaches far beyond sexual awakening.

The Danu lived on a dying world.  To save their civilization they sent out advanced AI equipment to begin the long process of terra-forming potential new worlds.  Manuta was sent the furthest away.  The world was ready for the Danu, but they never came.  Manuta built the cyborgs to construct the cities and now they inhabit them and keep them safe from what few local threats exist.  Manuta is the ‘father-figure’ for the Danu cyborgs.  He has the oldest knowledge, not all of which is with the cyborgs.  The arrival of the human female seems to leave Manuta almost wistful.  The AI machine has only one purpose – prepare the planet for habitation.  That goal is unfulfilled because the Danu never came.

Danielle Dubois is a scout/fighter pilot out on a routine scouting mission – and pressing beyond her orders in her zeal to go after the  invading Nubiens.  Flying an evasive pattern, her onboard AI takes her through wormholes that land her in an uncharted part of space.   A missile sends her crash landing on an unknown planet – right into what looks like a old world sword battle.  The Danu react to her presence as a threat.  Confused about their bodies reaction to her, suspicious of her motives, Danielle finds herself a prisoner of a world without prisons.

The heart of the story if the awakening of the male Danu to what it is that has been missing in their existence – and shift this causes in their perception of Manuta as well as their goals and objectives.  As with the other books by Ms O’Connor, there is a male ‘alpha’ of sorts, in this case Kiel.  It is Kiel, Jalen, and Baen who eventually bond with her.

After slowly gaining the trust of the Danu, the physical attraction takes off.  This bonding causes Manuta to issue increasingly erratic edicts that in turn cause the Danu to plan its removal.  The Danu also use the space traveling technology of Danielle’s ship to not just rebuild her ship making it bigger, faster and better, but to construct ships of their own.  They do fulfill their primary directive of returning to the homeworld of the Danu, only to find a lifeless ball of ice – except for the well hidden caves where the Nubiens have been hiding their fleet.

The ending is really good.  Actually, the whole book is good.  Well paced, thoughtful in its portrayal of the cyborg awakening and the final stages of their evolution into independent sentient beings, the reaction of the humans to them and her relationship with them – all these things give the book nuanced layers.  Yes, there’s sex, but story is not about sex, it’s about self-discovery, for the Danu and Danielle.  Back in the day, “banned in Boston” Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert A Heinlein explored sexual awakening and other coming of age for an isolated male and the nature of belief/faith.  Ms O’Connor might not be in the same league, but it is good to see some classic science fiction traditions carried on and blended into some contemporary themes.

Was The Forgotten: Discovery worth $7.99?  Yes, though that’s getting rather pricey for an ebook.  Nonetheless, Discovery is a must read for science fiction/futuristic erotic romance fans in general and Kaitlyn O’Connor fans in particular.  As she often does, Ms O’Connor offers a story that works on several levels.  True fans of erotic romance might find this a bit light on sex, but it’s a damn good read. Speaking for myself, should NCP offer another book in installments, I will NOT buy the installments.  I just hate that crap.

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  • Title: Biting Me Softly
  • Author:  Mary Hughes
  • Type:  Paranormal steamy romance (Samhain calls it erotic)
  • Genre:  Vamps turf war in human town
  • Sub-genre:  Trust and blood in Meier’s Corner
  • My Grade: B-  (3.7*)
  • Rating:  NC-17
  • Length and price:  Full length novel; about 100,000+ words for $5.50
  • Where Available:  ebook available at Samhain
  • FTC Disclosure:  purchased book from publisher’s website

From the author of Biting Nixie (a good, if slightly annoying book about vamps existing side by side with humans), Biting Me Softly is the latest installment in the amusing and interesting story of humans and vampires in the town of Meier’s Corner, a small Chicago suburb, where paranormal meets polka bands.

Logan Steele, CEO Steele Security arrives at the Meier’s Corner Blood Center unannounced and unexpected – and looking like a gift from the sex fairy.  Liese Schmetterling heads the computer security area at the Blood Center because her scumbag of an ex-fiance not only left her at the alter, but stole her idea to get a promotion, got her fired and blacklisted from computer security jobs.  This was all she could find and she NEEDED this job and its health benefits for the sake of her mother who is being treated for cancer.   Logan Steele is a threat on a lot of levels – to her heart, her body – that seems to immediately hit ‘all systems are a go’ just at the sight of him, and mostly, to her job – the one she so desperately needs to keep.  Of course, it’s hard to remember anything when Logan is kissing her senseless within minutes.

Liese is in for a night of shocks.  Before she can wrap her mind around the soul rattling kiss and the possible threat to her job that Logan represents, she finds strangers trying to steal blood and she and Logan end up in a fight in the sewers under Meier’s Corners.  It it won’t be the last fight either.  Logan is in for a shock of his own when he discovers his ability to use compulsion just rolls right off Leise.  Now she’ll remember what he tries to pass off as ‘headless mannequins’.  Damn.  Now Liese is getting mixed up in the vampire power wars.

Liese is torn by her insecurity about her job, her resentment that Logan Security was sprung on her without warning, the rush to finish the work, the feeling that once again she’s getting used, and her shattered self-confidence and resentment that the ugly experience caused her.  Her fear and resentment has her photoshopping Logan head onto the body of a Dom in porn shot of a BDSM menage scene.  When Logan startles her, she hits ‘send’ and the photo is off into the emails of many people, including the feared and respected – and conservative – Mr Elias, Chairman of the Board for Steele Security.  Now she can add guilt to the confusing brew of feelings she has for Logan.

Logan is determined enough to chase Liese regardless and the heat between them is so great there’s no way she can refuse – even if he does bite.  The sex is stupendous – and so much better than anything she had with her ex it’s unreal.  But she feels like a juggler with one too many balls in the air.  Then her mother comes back from Chicago – only it isn’t the conservative, middle aged mother she sent there for treatments, it’s a new improved ‘hot mama’.  Can things get any worse?  And oh yeah, what is it with the sudden appearance of two tiny Liese’s – a Good Liese and a Bad Liese.  She must be losing her mind.

The cast of characters does include some of those from previous books in this series, but you don’t need to have read them to enjoy Biting Me Softly.  Each book has different lead characters, so each can stand on its own.  Unfortunately, by telling the story in the first person, secondary characters seem to be never better than 2 dimensional.  Even Logan never really emerges as a strong character.  That’s very disappointing.  The pacing is good and the writing and dialogue makes for a quick, easy read.  The plot has enough elements to keep your interest despite what I consider a weakly developed male lead.

Is Biting Me Softly worth $4.95?  Yes.  It’s quirky, amusing and entertaining.  Try buying it now while it’s still on the intro pricing of $4.50.

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  • Title: Tilt-a-Whirl and Mad Mouse
  • Author:  Chris Grabenstein
  • Type:  Mystery
  • Genre:  Classic golden age style mystery series
  • Sub-genre:  Jersey Shore can be murder
  • My Grade: C+ to B-  (3.5*) and B- (3.8)
  • Rating:  PG-13
  • Length and price:  Full length novel; about 80,000+ words for $10-14 in trade paperback, $5.00 used including shipping
  • Where Available:  where books are sold and on used books sites
  • FTC Disclosure:  purchased book from used book site

There are a fair number of mysteries set in Jersey – from Myron Bolitar by Harlan Coben, to David Rosenfelt’s Andy Carpenter series to the most famous Jersey bounty hunter, Stephanie Plum from Janet Evanovich.  Less known is Chris Grabenstein’s John Ceepak series.  It doesn’t have the humor you see with Plum, the courtroom drama/humor mix of of Andy Carpenter, or the kick ass scenes with Win Lockhart and Myron Bolitar, but it does capture the feel of the Jersey shore and the more innocent age of classic whodunits of the ’50’s.

The narrator for this series is Danny Boyle, a 20-something native of Sea Haven and part time summer cop assigned to the newest member of the police force, John Ceepak.  Ceepak is an MP in his mid-thirties who hates to drive thanks to some bad experiences in Iraq, a fan of Springsteen who spends his off hours polishing his forensic crime scene skills, doesn’t lie, cheat or steal or tolerate those who do.  But Ceepak is also shrewd, insightful, and curious.  He uses his Boy Scout reputation to trap killers into confessions.

In Tilt-a-Whirl, we are introduced Ceepak thru Danny’s near worshipful eyes.  The big crime of the day is the theft of bike off the porch of the mayor’s sister’s house that sent the early shift all over to her place.  But that’s about to be old news fast when the murder of mega developer tycoon Reggie Hart sends his young daughter running into the streets covered in blood – right toward the window where Ceepak has his breakfast each morning.  He and Danny go running for the girl and head to the amusement area where her father lies dead, shot multiple times.  He was man that everyone loved to hate – including his ex-wife, the people he forced out of buildings to make way for his development, business associates – you name it.  Reggie Hart didn’t get rich by being a nice guy.

Thanks to his own troubled childhood, Ceepak has a real weak spot for kids in trouble and he’s very protective of the young teen  Sea Haven Chief Bob Cosgrive served with Ceepak for a time in Germany and hired despite his apparent PTSD and he gives him the lead on the murder investigation – till the state Major Crime Unit people take over.  Unfortunately, the team on call is headed by a sloppy cop Saul Slominsky, a lazy incompetent who kept his job thru political patronage, not ability.  Ceepak’s promise to young Ashley to keep her safe has him voluntarily standing guard at the Hart beach house when she gets kidnapped.

When the Squeegee man is identified by Ashley, as the killer, he’s the sure bet for the kidnapping.  Ceepak makes it personal and goes after him and when Squeegee supposedly dies in fire, but Danny thinks his hero Ceepak committed murder, then everything shifts.  While experienced mystery fans will have this one figured out, it a good quick read and the kind of cross-over book that cozy fans will like.  Hard core noir and action fans will find this too light, but with enough meat to keep a good portion satisfied.

Mad Mouse takes place the same summer as Tilt-a-Whirl.  Danny is on the beach with his school friends and slowly realizing that even as a part time cop, he’s having trouble fitting in with the more carefree ones who stiff party like college kids.  Then out of nowhere he and several others get hit by paintballs.  But the crack of the shots have him reacting and the last shot is no paintball, it’s a bullet.  Without even thinking, Danny calls Ceepak and the ride begins.

You can’t say too much about Mad Mouse without giving away the ending of Tilt-a-Whirl, but Danny and his friends appear to have become the targets of a sniper.  Compared with Tilt-a-Whirl, Mad Mouse was a better plot and Ceepak is developing as a character, but don’t expect the kind of intensity you see in a Michael Connelly or John Sanford novel.  These are mystery lite books.  The perpetrator is obvious.  Like Christie and many other classic mystery writers, Grabenstein has ‘tells’ that make it easy to pick up on ‘whodunit’, but the whys get a bit trickier.  The character of Ceepak remains something of a cipher, but Danny develops nicely.  I’d call them really good summer beach reads and appealing to fans of Andy Carpenter and Stephanie Plum.

Tilt-a-Whirl is a C+ to B- in my book while Mad Mouse is a solid B-.  Since the paperbacks are trade sized and over $10, it’s more cost effective to buy these used or get them from the library.  Even with shipping, thanks to selecting a vendor with 4 titles in stock, I got the books for about $5 each and I got my money’s worth.

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