Tour’s Books Blog

April 27, 2011

Four Short Reviews: Assorted Genres – Paranormals, Mystery, Thrillers

Some new, or at least recent releases, in various genres.

  • Title: Tangled Threads
  • Author:  Jennifer Estep
  • Type:  Paranormal UF/alternate reality
  • Genre:  Female assassin helps others while she gets ready to avenge her family
  • Sub-genre:  Magic is alive and well in Ashland
  • My Grade: C+ to B-  (3.5*)
  • Rating:  PG-13
  • Length and price:  Novel – about 90,000+ $7.99
  • Where Available:  Available at most bookstores
  • FTC Disclosure:  purchased from online bookstore

Tangled Threads is the fourth installment of the Elemental Assassin series was not up to the standards of the first three books, but was still a good read.  Gin Blanco continues on her road to avenge the murders of her mother and older sister by Ashland’s doyenne of crime, Mab Malone.   In Venom, her younger sister whom she had long believed dead because of her lashing out with her magic, returns to Ashland a police detective.  She has no idea Gin is her sister, but she suspects she might just be the notorious Spider.

Since killing Elliot Slater, one of Mab’s top men, to keep him from killing her sister, Detective Bria Coolidge, Gin’s been on a mission.  She’s been killing off Mab’s men, slowly working her way up and letting Mab know she’s coming.  Mab’s been on her own mission – to kill Gin – or more correctly, the Spider.  Gin and her foster brother sit waiting and watching a dwarf off loading a drug shipment for Mab.  It looks like and easy kill.  Too easy.  Something feels wrong – and thanks to her patience sees another assassin, LaFleur, in action. Elektra La Fleur might be an assassin, but unlike Gin, she doesn’t use weapons, she uses magic and enjoys killing.

Things aren’t what they seem and once again, when the tipster is a man with a kidnapped daughter that was blackmailed into giving out the info in a effort to lure the Spider into a trap. Gin tries to save an innocent child from Mab’s plans, find a way to tell her sister who she is, and stay alive long enough to kill LaFleur so she can get to Mab – the woman responsible for killing her mother, older sister and torturing her when she was just 13.

Like all series, this book follows Ms Estep’s formula, but does so with verve. Unfortunately, is has the feeling of having been written in haste – too many redundancies, not enough new material – or even new phrases, and like too many books these days, unpolished. That got old fast. Yes, we get she’s the deadly assassin Spider, no need to beat the reader over the head with it 100 times in the book. Tight editing would have helped. A few proofreading errors, but that seems par for the course today.

On the positive side, Ms Estep advances the relationships between Owen Grayson and Gin, as well as Gin and Bria.  Gin is slowly gaining confidence in her own magical strength as well, a slow process given what she went thru when Mab tortured her at age 13.  Estep keeps the angst to a minimum, and Gin stays true to her path, but she is only slowly getting up the courage to admit how much she cares for Owen.  Good ensemble cast, but the book lack the substance of the earlier ones.  A pleasant enough easy read.  It does help to have read the previous books, but it isn’t essential.  They are better reads.

Is Tangled Threads worth $7.99?  For any fan of this series, yes it is.

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  • Title: A Hard Day’s Fright
  • Author:  Casey Daniels
  • Type:  Paranormal mystery
  • Genre:  Pepper Martin helps the ghost of a Beatles fan get put to rest
  • Sub-genre:  An old crime leads to new murders when Pepper searches for a dead girl’s body
  • My Grade: C+ to B-  (3.5*)
  • Rating:  PG
  • Length and price:  Novel – about 90,000+ $7.99
  • Where Available:  Available at most bookstores
  • FTC Disclosure:  purchased from online bookstore

A Hard Day’s Fright is the latest Pepper Martin installment and has our ghost helper looking into the death of a teenager from 1966.  Lucy Pasternack is not just a ghost on a train, she was Pepper’s boss Ella’s best childhood friend.  The coincidence is too much for Pepper, and she starts looking into what happened.  Thing is there isn’t much to go on and she has to act as a baby sitter for Ella’s rebellious 13 year old angsty daughter, Ariel.  No one suffers quite as dramatically as a teenager.  Now she a long suffering dramatic ghost and drama queen (unwanted) sidekick.

Lucy Pasternack disappeared the night of a Beatle’s concert – when she stormed the stage and managed to kiss Paul.  Ella was 3 years younger than Lucy and idolized her as the older sister she always wanted.   Even after 45 years, Ella still keeps Lucy’s secrets.  This was something I found aggravating, especially since she’s the mother of 3 daughters.  Ariel gets interested in what Pepper is doing and to Pepper’s amazement, she turns out to be an excellent researcher.  With each step Pepper takes, she finds more things hidden.  The English teacher turned professional poet, one of the boys in the concert group committing ‘suicide by Nam’, another spending his life lost in drugs and alcohol, trying to forget.

Along the way, Pepper uncovers several well kept secrets, but it’s new murders staged to look like suicides that convince Pepper the killer is trying to cover his tracks.  Quinn, her erstwhile cop boyfriend who left her when she told him about seeing ghosts, is given a harsh lesson on the reality of her ‘gift’, but that kind of is a little something out of nowhere.  Pepper figures out where to find Lucy’s body and nearly becomes one herself.  No great revelations or insight’s.  All the very minor puzzles had obvious answers.

A Hard Day’s Fright was a harmless cozy and decent, though average, read.  Is it worth $7.99?  Not really.  wait for promotional pricing to get it used.

*********************************************************************

  • Title: Agent X
  • Author:  Noah Boyd
  • Type:  Mystery thriller
  • Genre:  Loose cannon ex-FBI agent is asked to help with a counterterrorism case
  • Sub-genre:  Search for Russian spies leads to a mole
  • My Grade: C+  (3.3*)
  • Rating:  PG – 13
  • Length and price:  Novel – about 90,000+ $14-16
  • Where Available:  Available at most bookstores
  • FTC Disclosure:  purchased from online bookstore

Noah Boyd’s The Bricklayer introduced former FBI agent turned bricklayer, Steve Vail.  Agent X brings Vail back to DC to try and patch things up with now Assistant Deputy Director Kate Bannon, so he shows up on her doorstep New Year’s Eve to escort her to a formal party.  Instead, she offers to drive him back to the airport.  n the way, Kate gets a call from a former agent, now sheriff in Virgina about a stolen child.  He needs help.  She knows Steve has a gift for looking at problems differently, he just won’t pay attention to rules or orders.

Vail and Kate detour and naturally, Vail finds the child. He’s in DC just long enough to get called in by the FBI on a problem that has confounded them. They had a source inside the Russian Embassy that has disappeared. They need Vail to bring his special out of the box thinking to bear. He turns them down until the Director tells him about Kate’s near death that many in the FBI believed to be a suicide attempt. Vail takes the job.

From there, the plot runs the usual pattern of FBI institutional interference with Vail’s “Just get it done” technique. But Vail is so intent on following the clues, he fails to see the bigger picture, a costly mistake.  He and Kate end up teaming up for several outing to find the names of traitors being left by and all too clever resource.  On a visit to HQ, Vail runs into a former partner and fellow agent from the Detroit FBI office, Luke Bursaw, now in DC and working on a missing agent case.  He asks for Steve’s help, which he gets. The missing agent had befriended Luke’s sister, so he has personal reasons in additional to professional ones for trying to find what happened to her. They find a serial killer, but not what happened to the agent.

Then Kate gets setup as possible double agent.  While the clues are against her, anyone who knows Kate, knows it’s a lie.  There is a mole in the FBI, but it can’t be Kate.  It isn’t until it’s all over that Vail works out who the mole is.  The last 20% of the book finally gets moving to the real puzzle, as Vail unvaels how they’ve been played and who played them.  Boyd ties up the various threads in the end, but I found the plot far-fetched, it lacked substance and was overall, somewhat unsatisfying. I did like the extra twists at the end that are becoming Boyd’s trademark, but one came completely out of left field.

Is Agent X worth $14-16?  No.  Borrow it at the library or wait for the paperback.

**************************************************************

  • Title: Bad Blood
  • Author:  John Sandford
  • Type:  Police procedural
  • Genre:  Virgil Flowers helps a sheriff unravel a difficult mystery
  • Sub-genre:  Less than believable tale of sexual slavery in Minnesota farm country
  • My Grade: D+ to C-  (2.8*)
  • Rating:  NC-17
  • Length and price:  Novel – about 90,000+ $15-17
  • Where Available:  Available at most bookstores
  • FTC Disclosure:  received from a book swapping site

John Sandford is loosing his skill at plotting believable mysteries.  This out was especially weak and really lacked credibility.   Sanford always had an edge to stories, a dark side, but here pulled it off.  Here, the shock value is nil and frankly the whole thing more tedious than engrossing or disturbing.

Virgil Flowers works for Lucas Davenport at as an investigator for BCA and gets a call from Sheriff Lee Coakly, one of the few women sheriffs in Minnesota.  A high school athlete is in jail for the murder of a farmer and to all appearances hangs himself.  But coroner believes he did was actually murdered.  The only suspect, a long time deputy that Lee defeated for the job of sheriff.  Already unpopular for arresting a very popular young man, accusing her deputy of a crime would be impossible.  She needs a neutral third party.

Virgil finds things that just don’t add up.  It gets worse when he goes to question the deputy to find him dead, another apparent suicide.  By now, Virgil is digging in.  The deputy was a member of this private religious group.  The whole mystery is no real mystery, just waiting too long for Flowers to pull the pieces together.  Much has been commented on about the child abuse, pornography aspect of the book.  The problem I found was the dispassionate voice of a reporter that Sandford used – soft peddling much of it by using an emotionally numb child as its voice, failing to make the reader feel the horror of sexual slavery.  It helped with the ‘ICK’ factor, but didn’t really put across the stomach churning nature of the crimes.  Plus credibility issues with the plot.  Why a massive police action wasn’t called in – including the FBI?  While widespread secrecy might well be possible in remote farming communities, when crimes reach the scale of this one, it’s hard to believe someone over the years didn’t have an idea of what was happening.  All in all, it just didn’t work, though I did like how two of the men were dealt with.

Virgil Flowers stories are no match for his better written Lucas Davenport books.  Child abuse and sexual slavery is far better done in the sometimes hard to read Burke books by Andrew Vachss.  A difficult theme, and Sandford didn’t do all that well with it.

Is Bad Blood worth $14-16?  NO!!!!!!!  No mystery, no thrill, too much ‘ICK’, no satisfactory ending.

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