Tour’s Books Blog

July 22, 2012

Cold Drinks and Summer Releases – Print and ebooks

Well, after a mild summer last year, we’re getting much hotter weather this year, but not sweltering like so much of the country, and luckily, no drought here.  Summer has always been a time for books, especially those ‘fluff’ type reads, but oddly, other than romance releases, the bulk of new releases have been darker, heavier reads, noir mystery, darker UF, and paranormal, not the usual bright and breezy books.  Cozy mysteries are generally lighter reads and have been giving me breaks from the thrillers and death filled paranormals.  Is a sense of humor against the law or something?

What goes better with a book on a hot day than a cold drink.  I love GOOD, properly brewed iced tea – especially made with Constant Comment – a tea blend with bits citrus peal in it.  My mother bought it loose and brewed by the cup, though I preferred making it by the pot myself.  Makes wonderful iced tea if brewed extra strong to take the diluting of the ice cubes.  I like using lemonade cubes myself, when I remember to make them..

Over the years, I’ve gotten sensitive to caffeine, so I’ve learned to drink herbal teas.  Celestial Seasonings is only average, but brew their Berry Zinger about double strength, add a flavored Cruzian rum (I favor lemon or orange) or vodka and some ice cubes made with lemon water, a splash of club soda, and you’ve got a great cooler – something that I drink when in the USVI’s or even on Sanibel and Captiva, and at home (without the alcohol) on hot days.

But what is summer without iced coffee?  I’m not a coffee drinker.  Love the smell of the beans, but hate the taste of the stuff.  But mom made Viennese Iced Coffee on really hot days and that I liked.  Now mom was no cook, so hers was made with Hersey Syrup and double strength instant, which makes a more than passable drink if you use a good instant, but for the ‘good stuff’, brew some good coffee – Jamaica Blue Mountain or Dominican dark roast – and make it extra strong espresso style.  (If that’s more trouble than you want, used an instant espresso) While hot, pour it into a heat proof glass or steel container (not plastic) with about 1 oz good quality dark chocolate (I prefer Tobler Tradition) per 1 cup of coffee.  Stir with a wire whisk until the chocolate is fully melted.  Cool, stirring occasional to keep chocolate suspended.  When it reaches room temperature, pour it into a nice glass serving pitcher, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate not more than 2 days, but a few hours is better.  Before serving, use the whip to make sure the chocolate is not settled on the bottom, then stir in 1/2 c heavy cream and (optional) 1/2 c Creme de Cacao for every 3 cups of coffee.  Pour over ice, top with a dolloped of sweetened whipped cream (not the canned junk) and sprinkle with some shaved chocolate.  On a really hot day, use ice cube made from leftover (but still good) coffee so it won’t get watered down.

Anyway, Jenn McKinlay’s next installment of her Cupcake Bakery series, Red Velvet Revenge, finds partners Mel Cooper and Angie DeLaura selling their cupcakes from a rehabbed ice cream truck at a rodeo in northern Arizona, far from the awful heat of Scottsdale with it’s empty streets.  With them are their young intern and very senior helper, Oz and Marty, and unexpectedly, ‘silent’ partner

The rodeo opens with a parade – where the the man who invited them, Slim Hazard gets shot – luckily, only wounded.  But bull riding champ Ty Stokes isn’t so lucky when he’s found gored to death – but not by some bull.

As always, carefully limiting her settings and giving herself a large cast of new characters, McKinlay comes thru with a good, classic style cozy with a good whodunit mystery that makes sense and only pulls one unexpected  twist at the end.  Red Velvet Revenge gets a solid B+ (4.2*) for this and a recommended read for those who don’t like their cozies too cute for words.  This book as an Amazon 4-for-3 buy at $5.99 (cover price $7.99) with the discount and worth the money.

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Vivian Arend writes the Granite Lake Wolves shifter series set mostly up in Alaska.  Wolfline is novella in the series featuring Jared Gilliand, the easy going, easy loving wolf, who finds himself running like hell from a couple of very angry males.  He takes refuge on a cruise ship pretending to be one of his friends and packmates, figuring he could escape before the ship set sail.  Well, it turns out, his packmate never showed and Keri Smith smells just too intriguing to leave, so Jared continues his charade.

Keri is helping her cougar shifter friend by acting as trouble-shooter on Tessa first time in charge of a cruise.  What makes it more nerve wracking is the fact the ship is loaded with werewolf royalty and very highly placed shifters.  Tessa is a nervous wreck and Keri is almost certain that male wolf who snuck on board at the last minute is her mate.

In a light and fun addition to this series, Jared is not quite who or what his pack believes him to be and now he’s stuck on small ship that includes some folks who know him and his family, a wolf that might be his mate (not that he’s ready to admit that), and a thief who’s stealing small, expensive jewelry and planting it his room.  Now he has to solve a crime, catch a wolf – or maybe let himself get caught by her, avoid old family friends, dance with all the unattached ladies, and not get caught impersonating his friend.

For a novella, you get your money’s worth on the story, which is a good lighthearted read.  Vivian Arend writes well and her usual skill id evident here.  A Samhain ebook, you can get it there ($3.50) or from Amazon ($2.66) and yes, it’s worth the money, though I bought when released and got the new release discount at Samhain before Amazon had it.  A solid B (4*) and suggested summer read for shifter lovers.  Not an X rated story, but some pretty sexy scenes.

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Devil’s Gate by Thea Harrison is novella set in her Elder Races world, a uneven series of good and very disappointing books.  Samhain publishes the novellas and they are no spicier than her regular mass market books.

In Devil’s Gate, two characters from her series from a Serpent’s Kiss, Sermela Telemar, a Medusa, and Duncan Turner, a vampyre and the youngest of Carling’s children take the lead here.  (Serpent’s Kiss was an annoying books and I ended up disliking Rune intensely.)  Seremela Telemar might have an hysterical prima donna for a sister, but she does love her often troublesome niece Vette, who has run off – again – this time heading very dangerous area known a Devil’s Gate.  A modern day ‘gold rush’ town that sprang up around a small pocket where planes meet that’s being mined by those who know how and are willing to risk everything for a chance to get rich.  Being a Medusa gives Sermela an advantage, but not against every type of Elder race.  Luckily, she’s not going alone.

Vampyre Duncan Turner choose to stay with Carling when she went into exile in Florida with her mate Rune.  He was attracted to Sermela from the first and unlike most creatures, vampyres are immune to the bites of a Medusa’s snakes.  Besides, Sermela’s snakes like him, something she finds a bit embarrassing at times.  Using Carling’s private jet, they reach the area of Devil’s Gate to her niece Vette has been accused of murder, tried, and sentenced to die.

Duncan and Sermela don’t have the character for a full book, but are just right for this novella.  The story is decent, if predictable, and lacks the witty dialogue of the Pia and Dragos book.  A gentler, easy read with limited excitement and no real drama, but two appealing and unusual characters that I liked.  For a novella, it gets a B- (3.7*) and if you have a Kindle, it’s worth the $2.66 they charge.  I bought it when first released on Samhain and paid a bit more, even with their new release discount.

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For a LONG time the fans of A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness have been anxiously awaiting book 2 in All Souls trilogy.  Bummer.  I thought A Discovery of Witches was a bit boring, over long, and needed a ruthless editor.  Well Shadow of Night is a book in need of an editor AND a real plot!  I realize Ms Harkness is a teacher, and having a mother for a teacher I know all the signs of a modified lecture, and this book is rife with them.  I always knew when my mother stopped being Mom and became Mrs Teacher.  Her voice would change, even her syntax and I seriously doubt she even realized it.  When I’d call her on it – and trust me, I was a bright kid who loved to yank mom’s chain, so I ALWAYS called her on it – she’d try and insist not.  There is just no disguising a ‘lecture’ as opposed to a story.  And I kept hearing it throughout Shadow of Night.  The author became a first person tour guide and teacher again and again.  It was really very annoying.

At the end of A Discovery of Witches, Diana Bishop and Matthew de Clairmont marry and Diana uses her magic to take them back in time to his home in England in 1590.  Everyone from Queen Elizabeth, to Sir Walter Raleigh, to Christoper Marlowe (a daemon who is in love with Matthew and instantly hates Diana), the ‘Wizard Earl, Henry Percy, Thomas Harriot and sweep of everyone from Shakespeare to King James of Scotland.  Somehow, the awe of the characters and their huge historical impact managed to push Diana and Matthew’s story into the background.  Too often, she sits as little more than witness to history.  And push and pull of their relationship shifts as she too often takes a backseat to Matthew and the sparks that gave some life to the overlong book 1, died here.

The hunt for Ashmole 782 takes them as far as the court of King Rupert in Prague.  (Everyone speaking in mostly modern English.)  The excitement is packed in the last few pages – AGAIN.  After 550 pages of tedium, the reader deserved better than the unsatisfying ending.

While Harkness has nice style, she does keep slipping between author and teacher mode, something that is most annoying.  Like her long lectures on wine, and extensive descriptions of the Bodleian, in book 1, here we get her science history and Elizabethan history lectures.  I love historical fiction, historical mysteries have always been a favorite, and having a history teacher for a mother means I’ve read more history and non-fiction books than most people, but I can’t say I like a paranormal romance with history lectures.    Especially at the expense of the PLOT!  Because somewhere in all this awe of historically significant people, she forgot THE PLOT.  Yes, Deborah, we need characters to like and a PLOT in fictional paranormal books, not extended history lectures.  And where the hell was your editor?  AWOL again?  Matthew went to controlling ‘jerkdom’, Diana went to some subservient mode in shock and awe, the key relationship comes unbalanced and somehow Diana lets it go there.  Her character turns weak and full of self doubt.  What a wuss.

Did I like Shadow of Night?  Not really.  (You’re shocked, I know.)  By 100 pages in I speed reading, by 200 I was skimming.  I had been hoping for something BETTER than A Discovery of Witches and instead got something worse.  It’s like all the mistakes in the story telling in book 1 were exponentially increased in book 2.  Is the book worth $16+ in hardcover or $13 as an ebook?  No.  Get it at the library.  My Grade C- to D+ (2.5*)

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July 8, 2012

Is imitation really the sincerest form of flattery?

A new book hit the market and zooms to the top of the bestseller list and in nothing flat, there are dozens of clones out there, all variations on the same theme.  I’m having a private bet with myself over how many 50 Shades of Grey rip-offs will saturate the market.  (This is one case where the clones might be better than the badly written original.) Even the originator of a series can be hard put to keep things fresh and new.  In fact, having a series almost precludes too much fresh and new, especially as books pass the 8th and 10th entry.

J.K. Rowling did a brilliant job with Harry Potter, telling the story and resisting the temptation to keep Harry and friends ‘forever young’.  As the books progressed, he matured and so did the stories, growing darker and grimmer and dealing with more adult themes.  Her dedication to the initial premise was worth it and the series is, as a whole, remarkable.  Before his death, Robert Jordan began his deep, complex and beautifully written Wheel of Time series, but by book 7 he became so lost in the minutiae, I just gave up on the series.  Other series are never meant to be anything but froth and fun – and there’s nothing wrong with that so long as they aren’t also boring and predictable.  It doesn’t matter the genre – mystery, romance, paranormal, fantasy, even historical fiction, author patterns emerge and ongoing characters begin to enter certain predictable sequences of events.  To me, a certain amount of this is forgivable, maybe even a bit desirable – kind of like finding old friends just as we remember them.  What isn’t so forgivable is copying another writer’s formula and creating a clone.

Clones are as inevitable as the sunrise, and some are so well done, they become icons in their own right.  Look at all the books based on famous fictional and historical characters recast into different perspectives.  Sherlock Holmes must have 6 or 7 different versions of himself walking about the pages of various books.   Everyone from Abraham Lincoln to Queen Victoria is hunting vampires and zombies.  Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and the Brontes’ must be spinning like tops in the graves.  Some authors can carry it off, others, simply cannot.  To purists, the whole thing is a massive insult, an abomination.  What can I say, even Shakespeare stole plots and characters, but, some of these books are, inadvertently perhaps, insults to the original.

Take The Innocent by David Baldacci.  CIA assassin Will Robie is 25% Jack Reacher, 25% John Rain, 25% early Bob Lee Swagger, 15% Mitch Rapp and 10% original.  The plot, which held great promise at the start, just didn’t stand up over the length of the book – especially when compared  with Barry Eisler’s standards in his early John Rain books.  It lacked the kind of detail in tradecraft that makes the stories seem more real and gives twisty spy novels their verisimilitude.  Still, it was good, had potential, but lacked the punch of a top of the line thriller.  Best I could do was a B- (3.7*) and a wait for the paperback, or borrow it from the library recommendation.

On the lighter side of the mystery/thriller genre sits Death, Taxes, and Extra Hold Hairspray by Diane Kelly.  This is her third installment of the Tara Halloway IRS Enforcement agent series and another winner.  There are shades of Stephanie Plum, but Tara Halloway is a very different person from the amateurish Steph.  Strong, competent, and tough, but with a real sense of humor for the eccentricities of people.  Kelly plots well, writes solid characters, has good cast of secondary characters and blends humor in without ever going over the top or forcing things to a ‘Lucy and Ethel’ farce.  With a B+ to A- (4.5*) it comes as a recommended buy for fans of classic style mysteries without the cozy oozing out.

On the romance front we have Scandal Wears Satin by Loretta Chase.  Chase is as reliable as any writer out there.  Her early books were fresh, original, and very well researched.  Personal favorites are Lord of Scoundrels, The Last Hellion, Lord Perfect, and my most re-read historical romance, Mr Impossible.  And it is the shade of Mr Impossible that hangs over Scandal Wears Satin, but nothing can disguise the slight story, which seems to wander aimlessly for 200 pages on weakest premise ever seen, then wrap up much to simply.  There were far to many, “You must joking” moments, and far too few moments of any real connection with the characters.  It wasn’t frothy, just a big ball of empty puff.  Even the romance was weak and had no real fire.  Mr Impossible had heart, laughs, and interesting plot and a great setting.  Scandal Wears Satin had a lot of detail about clothes and totally bland and unexciting characters playing out a minor plot for far too many pages.  Best I can muster for Ms Chase’s latest book is C- (2.8*) and a suggestion she go back to her more historical based books and leave the froth to others.

Once Burned, book 1 in the Night Prince series by Jeaniene Frost isn’t so much a new series and it is a spin off of her highly successful Cat and Bones Night Huntress books.  Spin-offs don’t just happen with TV shows, they happen with books all the time.  Generally speaking, Frost writes a lightweight paranormal with romance elements and a certain percentage of gore.  I’ve always felt it was used to cover up what the books lacked in character and plot.  She can’t seem to hold suspense well, and even her most ardent fan would have to admit, the books are kind of shallow.  By turning to the darker, more bloodthirsty Vlad Tepesh – who we met in the Night Huntress books – she ups the gruesome factor without with amping up the plot and characters to match.  Three-quarters of the way through, I was still waiting for the core of the story to start unfolding.  It was rather frustrating to say the least.  By the end, it was like a meal that might have filled you up, but not satisfied you appetite.  It just wasn’t an entertaining read.  I’m breaking with the majority of reviewers on Amazon and giving Once Burned a C (3.0*) and say this is for hardcore Jeaniene Frost fans only.  There are far better series out there, so give it a pass.

More to come, but I have to get away from dentists and oral surgeons long enough to be able to sit back and get some reading done!

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