Tour’s Books Blog

February 12, 2012

Recent Reads – A Mixed Bag of Brief Reviews

I’ve been hauling in deliveries from Amazon almost daily – like a true book addict looking for fix.  I have no defense, some authors are ‘must have’ even at hard cover prices, and many trade paperbacks would take forever to get through a book swapping site, then there’s the lure of the 4-for-3 promotion that extends to unreleased titles on pre-order.  What can I say, I’m just weak.

For the first time in awhile, I read some erotic romance.  With so many of the ebook authors moving from small press publishers to major print houses, I ended up trying 3 new to me authors at Siren.  Keep in mind, the current popularity of m/m, f/f, and BDSM books cuts way back on what I might read.  Not opposed to them and many good ones have m/m or BDSM elements, they just don’t have a lot of interest for me.  With what I did buy, the results were not encouraging.  In print, yet another anthology came up, meh!, another a cut average thanks to good wring – and there were two winners – Cipher by Moira Rogers and Jory Strong’s Inked Magic!  YEAH!!!!!   I had other winners too –  in the mystery category Boca Daze by Steven M. Forman, in the historical cozy category The Cocoa Conspiracy by Andrea Penrose, and in the noir Urban Fantasy category Aloha from Hell by Richard Kadrey.

First up are the Erotic Romance ebooks and print books:

  • Title:  Cowboy Commandos Seduce Their Woman (Wyoming Warriors 3)
  • Author: Paige Cameron
  • Type:  Contemporary erotic romance
  • Genre: ménage
  • My Grade: C (3.0*)
  • Rating:  NC-17
  • Length and price:  Short/ Category Novel – under 60,000+ $5.99
  • Where Available:  Available online at Siren
  • FTC Disclosure: purchased through an online publisher bookstore

I know, the title should have been a dead give away.  I bought it anyway.  Actually, it was the pick of the litter, even though the shopworn plot has one used so many times, by so many authors, it embodied trite.  Still, the characters had some personality and  for a short novel, it managed a beginning,  middle, and end.  The sex was OK, but not really pulse racing.

You know the story, woman in jeopardy runs to old friend who lives on a remote ranch with her two husbands and lots of other men.  Two of the men get interested and want her, but the guys are ex-special forces who had been sold out and are hunting those responsible.  (Does all this sound familiar?)  Cue ‘I Can’t Help Falling in Love with You Two’ and GASP danger and there you have it!

Is Cowboy Commandos Seduce Their Woman worth $5.99 for an ebook?  Nope.  Feel free to give it a pass for hotter, more original ménage.  I would suggest the Witches Knot series by Lauren Dane which has 2 really good ménage books in it (Ellora’s Cave),  Velvet Ties by Susie Charles (Ellora’s cave), Alpha’s Mate by Leah Brooke (Siren), or any of the ménage books by Madelaine Montague (her Wolfen books are good) or Kaitlyn O’Connor (both New Concepts Publishing).

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  • Title:  Her Ex-Marines
  • Author:  Becca Van
  • Type:  Contemporary erotic romance
  • Genre: ménage
  • My Grade: D+ to C- (2.5*)
  • Rating:  NC-17
  • Length and price:  Novella/short novel – under 40,000+ $5.50
  • Where Available:  Available online at Siren
  • FTC Disclosure: purchased through an online publisher bookstore

Woman on the run applies to a sheriff’s department for a secretarial job – but wait – she won’t give her social security number and wants to be paid in cash.  Yup, frist place I’d apply, the sheriff’s department!  Yeesh.  This piece of criminal stupidity aside, the story would have had potential, but never had a chance to fully develop in the short format.

She saw a murder committed by a police captain that also implicates her Police Commissioner brother-in-law.  She’s being hunted.  “We’ll protect you little lady!” That really had all kinds of potential that was wasted.  As for the sex, it was about as steamy as a blow up doll.

Is Her Ex-Marines worth $5.50 for an ebook?  Nope.   See suggestions above.

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  • Title:  Suddenly Wolf
  • Author:  Abby Blake
  • Type:  Contemporary paranormal erotic romance
  • Genre: ménage
  • My Grade:  C- (2.7*)
  • Rating:  NC-17
  • Length and price:  Novella/short novel – under 35,000+ $5.50
  • Where Available:  Available online at Siren
  • FTC Disclosure: purchased through an online publisher bookstore

OK, as plots go, this one sucked.  (I know, it’s werewolves, not vamps, but still.)  Ex-cop turned jewelry designer/ shop owner is help up by 3 drunk guys as she’s closing.  Calling on her old police skills, she talks them down and the guy with the gun let’s it drop and it fires – leaving her bleeding out on the floor behind the display case.  A werewolf is passing by and smells his mate and blood.  Using a psychic link to his twin, he summons him to the shop.   They both bite her because it takes 2 different bites to convert a human to werewolf and the must convert her now or she’ll die.

Eldest brother and pack alpha is called.  OOPS – she’s his mate too!  The characters were pretty stock, but Andrea would have been more believable except for the ending, which tied things up so quickly, there was no real tension.  This was a story that could have been really good and ended up just barely average.

Is Suddenly Wolf worth $5.50 for an ebook?  Nope.   See suggestions above.

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  • Title:  Cipher
  • Author:  Moira Rogers
  • Type:  Contemporary paranormal erotic romance; Southern Arcana, Bk 4
  • Genre:  Shifters, psychics and magic users
  • My Grade:  B (4.0*)
  • Rating:  NC-17
  • Length and price:  Novel – about 80,000+ $5.50
  • Where Available:  Available online at Samhain
  • FTC Disclosure: purchased through an online publisher bookstore

The Southern Arcana series has been a favorite of mine since book and I’m amazed that the two women writing the series have keep their stories so fresh, well written, and well plotted – while keeping the sex hot.  They don’t spare the characters, killing off really nice people has happened throughout, but the good ones don’t always win.  Each book is a romance played out against a larger, darker back drop of overlapping power struggles, and people who kill to get and keep power.

Andrew Callahan was nothing more than an architect and builder in the New Orleans area with his partner Derrick.  Derrick’s cousin Kat, a computer wiz, was their secretary.  Since that beginning, Andrew was turned werewolf, Kat’s powers popped into overdrive that killed 3 werewolves that attacked them and both went through a lot of changes.  Finally they get their own story a an HEA, but not before people are killed and Kat is again hunted for her powers.  Exciting, fast paced, and like the Kat/Andrew resolution.

Is Cipher worth $5.50?  YES!!!!!!!  To get the most out of the Southern Arcana stories, read them in order.  The ebooks are an exceptional buy and Samhain does put them out in print as well, usually 6 months after the ebook release.

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  • Title:  Inked Magic
  • Author:  Jory Strong
  • Type:  Contemporary paranormal erotic
  • Genre:  Ménage
  • My Grade:  B+ (4.2*)
  • Rating:  NC-17
  • Length and price:  Novel – over 100,000+ discounted at $10.05 Cover price $15.00; ebook available $9.99
  • Where Available:  Available online and at bookstore
  • FTC Disclosure: purchased through an online bookstore

Jory Strong is one of several writers to come out of Ellora’s Cave stable and make a very successful transition to larger print houses.  The big advantage there is a wider audience and promotion.  Lauren Dane, Christine Warren, and Shelly Laurenston have all been really successful on the bigger publishing stage.  Jory Strong is one author that can blow hot and cold for me.  I love some of her stuff and some of it is just too much ‘tear jerker’ for my taste.  Inked Magic was a very good blend of characters, romance, drama, and action.  It was well paced, though I found some plot devices a bit annoying at times in the way the information slowly leaked out through elven Lord Eamon, and it has a nice, strong lead female character.

Etaín in a tattoo artist in San Francisco.  She is estranged from the family that partly raised her after her mother abandoned her.  After shaky teen years when she got ‘scared straight’, she turned her considerable artistic talent to tattooing, a job she loved, even if it drained her.  Etaín is an empathic psychic.  Touching clients, even with gloves, means she can read their memories.  It’s exhausting and she’s slowly learned to block the links as much as she can, but she loves her job and has no intention of quitting.

At a graveside service for a young teen girl, Cathal Dunne, a club owner, stands with his father Niall and Uncle Denis, charge him with getting Etaín to help them find the gang that raped and drugged Denis’s daughter, Brianna, and killed her best fried Caitlyn.  Niall and Denis are mobsters and Cathal has done his best to stay clear of their life, but what happened to Brianna can’t be ignored.  He also fears what Niall and Denis will do if he doesn’t find a way to gain Etaín’s cooperation.

Once Cathal sees Etaín he wants her and the attraction seems mutual.  He takes her to eat at Aesirs, a elegant place not that far from the tattoo shop.  As they approach, Etaín sees the designs on the doors are very like the vines tattooed on her wrists and arms and as they enter, she hears bells.  The entire staff seems composed of  the most handsome males she ever seen, all of whom seem to be staring her.  She writes off their interest to her shabby biker outfit isn’t exactly what their upper crust patrons usually wear.

Eamon feels her the moment she passes thru the wards on his restaurant.  A changling.  More than that – a seidic – a ‘soul seer’.  valued and feared, seidic are usually put in a kind of golden prisons by eleven kings and queens and access to them is highly controlled.  They are also often murdered.  Here’s one living among humans, with no protection, unaffiliated.  And Eamon is instantly determined to make her his consort-wife, and he’s willing to accept Cathal as part of the bargain.  But then, he’s never even met Etaín, but that’s about to change.

The story moves in several directions without becoming incomprehensible, and played out against not only the Dunne’s desire for revenge, Etaín’s FBI brother’s need for help catching a violent serial rapist, Eamon’s desire for her and need to control her, Etaín feels her gift growing and changing, as Eamon warned her.  She knows she’s different and Eamon is more like her, but the elemental attraction between her and Cathal is not to be denied either.   And all the time, she’s being stalked by the rapist turned murderer.

The story is complex and the biggest annoyance was realizing at the end that this is NOT a stand alone novel, but book 1 in a series.  I nearly screamed in frustration.  Had I KNOWN that at the start, I wouldn’t have been so surprised and provoked.  It kept the book from being given an A- rating.  TELL YOUR READERS IT’S A SERIES.  I don’t want to have to figured it out at the last chapter!

Is Inked Magic worth $10.05?  YES!  Rich, complex, and not a retread, it was a good read, but go into it knowing nothing will be resolved in the core romance as it is a series.

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  • Title:  Boca Daze
  • Author:  Steven M. Forman
  • Type:  Mystery
  • Genre:  PI; Bk 3 in the Eddie Perlmutter series
  • My Grade:  B- (3.9*)
  • Rating:  PG-13
  • Length and price:  Novel – over 100,000+ discounted at $16.62 Cover price $25.99; ebook available $12.39
  • Where Available:  Available online and at bookstores
  • FTC Disclosure: purchased through an online bookstore

Boca Daze is set in 2006, before Bernie Maydoff crashed and burned, but the central story is about a similar Ponzi scheme, an ‘investment wizard’ whose returns seem too good to be true.  Using many of the facts that came out in the Maydoff investigation, Forman puts Eddie ‘the Boca Knight’ through his paces.

After all the publicity Eddie Perlmutter got with his exploits against skin heads and criminals, Eddie’s opened a small PI firm, Boca Knights, joined his somewhat reformed hacker/con man Lou Dewey and Lou’s lover, another computer expert, Joy Feely.  Morning coffee in a diner brings Eddie a new acquaintance, WWII vet Herb Brown.  Eddie’s friend, Steve Coleman sees Eddie and shares his excitement in getting into an investment with B.I.G. Investments.  When Steve leaves, Herb has a different view of B.I.G. – it’s a big fake, a Ponzi scheme.  Eddie sets Lou on B.I.G. and he reluctantly takes a request to investigate the murder of a homeless man, Weary Willie who always wore clown makeup just like the original Weary Willie.  And the last case involves Florida’s famous ‘pill mills’ and investigation an old Boston criminal acquaintance asks him to investigate because his granddaughter died of an overdose of painkillers – and addiction fed by the ‘pill mill’ loophole in Florida law.

The plot weaves back and forth between the story lines, and adds the unusual bit about Eddie and Viagra.  Another fascinating tidbit was the discussion of zombies and how investors could be viewed that way.  It takes a grim turn when Lou and Joy are nearly killed and the homeless woman helping Eddie investigate the death of Weary Willie is put in danger.  I like the way Forman handles the homeless, with a tolerance rarely seen, but without pity.  He ties things up nicely and the bad guys go down – though some not quite the way Eddie planned.

Is Boca Daze worth $16+?  Not really.  Despite a very entertaining read, it’s overpriced.  Get it from the library, buy used, or wait for the paperback.

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  • Title:  The Cocoa  Conspiracy 
  • Author:  Andrea Penrose
  • Type:  Mystery
  • Genre:  Cozy Historical, Bk 2 in the Lady Arianna Harrington Mysteries
  • My Grade:  C+ to B- (3.5*)
  • Rating:  PG-13
  • Length and price:  Novel – over 100,000+ discounted at $5.99 Cover price $7.99; ebook available $7.99
  • Where Available:  Available online and at bookstores
  • FTC Disclosure: purchased through an online bookstore

I’m at a bit of a disadvantage here as I didn’t read book 1 in the series, Sweet Revenge, but it made little difference to the mystery part of the plot.  The Cocoa Conspiracy opens with Arianna looking for a birthday gift for her new husband, a peer with the heart of a botanist and a personal fascination with cocoa.  Her shop of choice, a fine used and rare book store.  An extremely rude Frenchman tries to snatch the volume from her hands, but Arianna is not the typical lady.  She might be the daughter of an Earl, but fled England to escape his debts and she was raised in the West Indies and then on the streets making her way in life.  It was how she met her husband, Sandro, the half Spanish Earl of Saybrook and former English spy in the war with Napoleon.  She manages to keep the book, even buy it, but gets kicked out of the bookshop.

But arriving home, Arianna finds her husband with one of the few of his relatives he likes and respects.  His being half Spanish left him subject to a lot of prejudice before the war with France, and even more during it.  Despite his work as a spy for his government, he not as well received as his peers, and his choice of a wife didn’t help.   But the risk to the Congress of Vienna thanks to a highly place spy in the British government is too much to ignore.  Sandor and Arianna are on the hunt.  Making guest appearances at the Congress and many famous historical figures – including the redoubtable Tallyrand.

What makes this book is the first person narrative of Arianna.  She’s sharp, observant, witty, and quite unsentimental.  I suspect that’s why I found the recipes at the start of each chapter so hopelessly out of place and rather jarring against the writing as a whole.  I realize many readers love them, but if she feels she MUST include recipes, for the sake of a consistent ‘voice’, put them at the end!

Was The Cocoa Conspiracy worth $7.99?  Yes, especially for those who enjoy historical mysteries.

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  • Title:  Aloha from Hell
  • Author:  Richard Kadrey
  • Type:  Urban fantasy – contemporary
  • Genre:  Gritty magic and mahem in LA and Hell; Sandman Slim, Bk 3
  • My Grade:  B- (3.9*)
  • Rating:  PG-17
  • Length and price:  Novel – over 120,000+ discounted at $14.50+ Cover price $23.99; ebook available $10.99
  • Where Available:  Available online and at bookstores
  • FTC Disclosure: purchased through an online bookstore

Here how this series has run for me, Sandman Slim was good but over-rated; Kill the Dead was really good and under-rated; Aloha from Hell – I had hoped for more, or maybe a better more original solution to the overall plot involving the mad magician Mason.

Sandman Slim got his name fighting hellions in the pits for the entertainment of higher ranking hellions.  The only living human to not only survive, but defeat hellions.  Then a high level demon made a mistake and hide the key to the room with 13 doors INSIDE Jack.  Now Sandman Slim had a way to escape Hell, which he did, coming back to Earth to hunt the man who sent him there – and who killed the one person Jack really loved, Alice.  He hunted the person responsible and tossed him into Hell.  But that’s what Mason really wanted.  Lucifer has returned to Heaven, so there’s no strong leader left, other than a few loyal generals.  Jack had turned the job down, but in Aloha from Hell, it becomes apparent that he has no choice.  Alice’s soul has been taken and Mason is holding it captive in Hell, so he and Mason must have their High Noon moment.

The plot seemed a bit stretched thin to me and frankly, Jack’s obsession with Alice over a period of more than 10 years was getting annoying – even to Alice.  Their chats are grounded in her refreshingly pragmatic nature.  What I truly did not like was the eventual removal of Jack’s angelic half.  Also, Kadrey seemed to struggle with depicting God.  He certainly had an interesting take on it, but nothing more.   The characters and plot just seemed forced here and contrived in too many instances.  Even the sharp wit that punctuated the earlier books didn’t quite work here.  I also disliked the sense that Jack again had no real choice things.  He was left  playing out a part whose destiny was written.  The inevitability took away a lot of tension and left the book flat.

Is Aloha from Hell worth $14+?  I didn’t think so.  The paperback is due out later this year, but it’s a trade size and priced at $10+.  I would advise buying used, getting from the library, or a book swapping site.  For those who love the series, wait for the paperback.

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