Tour’s Books Blog

August 31, 2012

Politics and Reading

If there’s a good excuse to get lost in a book, politics is it.  The relentless barrage of ads and news coverage drives me nuts.  So I look for escape in a good book or old movie.  Escape to a remote island with no electronics has a lot of appeal, but I do enjoy book swaps, so I just  practice ‘safe TV and internet’ – kind of like computer and TV condoms.  I leave political non-fiction, like the meticulously researched and documented Throw Them All Out by Peter Scheizer to my brother – who apparently reads no more than 20 pages at time before becoming so angry he has to stop.   I might have to break out the foil covered colander till after the election.

Books are great.  I can get a thriller on corrupt politicians (are there any other kind?) and maybe even kill them off between the pages of the book, plotting government agencies, terrorist masterminds, evil business moguls (again, are there any other kind?), clever spies and assassins, you name it.  Or maybe a nice mystery – bodies can pile up as you can figure out ‘who done it’.  But I admit, I recently wallowed in paranormal/UF.  Pure escapism, with body counts, of sorts, and I did try a few cozies.   SIGH!  Anyway, here are my opinions on some recent releases –

Precinct 13 by Tate Hallaway was pleasant surprise.  I hadn’t read much of her earlier work, so this was an impulse purchase.  OK – I liked the cover art and found the ‘police’ theme in appealing.  I do like my UF.  Alex Connor has been told she was crazy for years, especially by her stepmother who she keeps seeing as a monster.  Her boyfriend lands in trouble – and jail – and she lands in a psych ward and on anti-psychotics.  She also lands in Pierre, SD with no job despite a degree in forensic science.  So, as a kind of lark, she runs for Country Coroner/medical examiner.  Turns out, the former one was so corrupt he landed in jail and despite not ever campaigning, she won the job.

The steady income is nice and Pierre isn’t exactly the murder capital of the US, so it should be quite.  Then she got her first case with a cryptic message to NOT try and crack the dead man’s chest because he might be booby trapped.  HUH?  How is she supposed to autopsy someone without cutting them open?  Alone, she starts the process – when a snake comes out from behind the man’s heart the damn thing won’t let go despite her flailing around and cursing a blue streak.  It then sinks into her skin.  And if the freak factor weren’t high enough, the dead guy gets off the table, grabs his liver from the scale, gives her a dirty look, and walks out.

Completely freaked out by the snake in her skin and the walking dead man, she goes to the police chief – expecting to be fired or sent to a psych hospital.  Instead, he takes everything says with amazing calm and sends her to what looks like an empty store front.  Walking inside that building changes her life and turns everything she was trained to think by her therapists on its head.  Alexandra ‘Alex’ Connor is a witch and her cursing is what caused the snake to bond with her – possibly by a hex.  And she should probably have a familiar, but all she ever had was Valentine, the man who tried to protect from her stepmother.  And yeah, demons do exist and it sounds like her dad married one – a powerful one that hated her.  And the guy who walked off her autopsy slab?  Necromacer.

Though a bit uneven and not the most compelling writing, Precinct 13 spins an interesting tale that is likely the start of a series, with a lot of characters, many half developed, with a good premise and a lot of promise.  Certainly Tate Hallaway is no Kelly Gay, Alex Connor is no Charlie Madigan, nor is Precinct 13 Discount Armageddon by Seanan McGuire.  Her story lacked the rich depth of detail that really makes these books come alive, but overall, it was interesting, entertaining, and enjoyable.  Alex is an interesting character and Valentine even more so in many ways.  It left a lot of lose ends – deliberately, probably to starting spinning the threads of a series.  At least I hope a few, like the final disposition of the ‘bad guys’ get completely resolved.  A good first book that shows promise in a kind of unpolished way.

Is Precinct 13 worth $10.20?  Not really.  The Kindle edition is no bargain either.  Wait a bit and get a used copy, but do read it, especially if you’re a fan of lighter, but still creepy UF.  Recommended read.  Despite its flaws, I’m giving Precinct 13 a B- (3.5*)

Howl for It by Shelly Laurenston and Cynthia Eden brings us the story of Eggie Ray Smith and Darla Lewis, parents to the notorious Dee-Ann Smith in Like a Wolf With a Bone, a long novella.  Like almost all novellas, it never develops the depth of a novel, but unlike Miss Congeniality, the story of Niles von Holtz and Irene Conridge, which brought to life two very distinctive personalities with flair and style, Eggie and Darla was a rather flat and, well, dull.  I suppose it was mildly entertaining, but certainly not Laurenston at her finest and for one of her most enigmatic characters, aside from the end where Eggie briefly confronts his dad, the story kind of limps along almost, but not quite making it.  Disappointing on several levels.

Cynthia Eden is often paired with Laurenston in these two author anthology books and the stories could not be more different.  Eden always does an angsty romance that seems to me a odd foil to Laurenston’s off-beat humor and larger than life characters.  Wed or Dead is one of her better efforts.  The plot is good – with the usual angst, and the story moves quickly thru various betrayals, plots, counter plots, and the ultimate denouement with not one, but two different traitors getting revealed.  Though not a big fan of Eden’s work, mostly because I don’t care for angsty romance, not because her writing or plotting are bad.

Is Howl for It worth $10.00+?  Not unless you’re a die hard, must have, Laurenston and Eden fan.  I’m lucky that when I pre-ordered, I got a price below $8.00  Still, not a keeper like most of her books.  C (3*) is the best I can do for this one.  (I diverge from Amazon’s rating, so take it for what it’s worth.)

After reading By a Thread, I was a little worried that Jennifer Estep’s Elemental Assassin series would fall into the ‘avenging crusader’ trap.  With Widow’s Web, Estep puts Gin Blanco back on solid ground and weaves a tale that’s the equal of her earlier books.

Gin wins a bet with her her adopted brother, Finn, and her lover Owen and ‘kills’ them both in a war game.  Her prize is dinner at Ashland’s most expensive – and exclusive – restaurant, Underwood’s.  The place lives up to its hype and the evening is perfect up to the point where her old nemesis, Jonah MacAllister walks in.  And behind him comes a woman, a stunning, head-turning woman.  Salina Dubois, a water elemental that sets the little hairs at the back of Gin’s neck up, and melts Owen into a puddle.  Salina isn’t just an old friend, she’s his former fiance.

Several things quickly become clear, Salina is dangerous and possibly insane, she wants Owen back, even if that means over Gin’s dead body, and Owen is blind to anything bad about Salina because of their history together and a lingering sense he’d failed to protect her.  Gin asks Finn to research Salin and he finds a trail of dead husbands with both money and large insurance policies.  All the deaths involved water.

Owen, his sister Eva, and Philip ‘Philly’ Kincaid, Owen’s best friend, were all orphans living on the street  thanks to Mab Malone when they first met up with Salina.  Phillip and Owen went to work with a dwarf learning metal smithing, but the dwarf didn’t like Salina, so they went back to Ashland.  It was there that Salina’s true nature showed when she tortured Eva as a small girl by near drowning whenever Phillip and Owen were out stealing or doing whatever was needed to stay alive.  But Salina is out to get everyone she thinks responsible for her father’s horrific death at the hands on Mab Malone – and that includes Phillip.  He was the one who caught her torturing Eva and forced her to leave Ashland and Owen.  So the night Eva and her friend throw a fund raiser on ‘Philly’s’ gambling boat, Delta Queen, he’d asked Gin to do the catering.  When Salina attacks him, Gin saves him using her ice magic.  Eva makes her promise to kill Salina – the woman still terrifies Eva.

Now Gin is caught between Owen, his obvious emotional ties to Salina, his misplaced hatred of Phil Kincade thanks to another of Salina’s lies, and the promise to Eva.  Not to mention Gin has a certain empathy for what Salina went through seeing her father tortured to death by Mab.  She’s been there herself, and was saved by Fletcher, but was Salina already a sociopath before her father’s death?  In the end, will it matter?  More importantly, in saving Eva and Owen, will she lose Owen by being what she is, the Spider?

It sounds like a soap opera script, but Estep carries it off with Gin’s tough, no nonsense character and Finn’s wicked humor – though I think the story could have used more of that and less of Owen’s wallowing in his emotional conflicts.  The whole story plays out in a very short timeframe.  Will Owen be able to accept Salina was never who and what he thought her to be?  What price will Gin pay to stop her – permanently?

Was Widow’s Web worth the price of $5.99-$7.99  Despite the shades of Days of Our Lives hanging over this slightly melodramatic plot, it’s worth it.  My rating is B (4.0*) and a recommended read.

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Truth of the matter is, I can’t get into a lot of books.  I allow anywhere from 30 to 100 pages depending on the book before I give up, tossing it aside and moving on.  The most common reason for me to do that with cozies is – I know who the killer is and usually the motive way too early in the book and few writers can hold me with their story-telling ability.  With romances, I usually find either the style (weepy and/or angsty) or the characters boring and either will stop me.  Well, all of the above happened lately.

The Lady is a Vamp by Lynsay Sands had such insipid leads I just couldn’t care less and tossed it into the DNF pile.  This is a series that has had more downs than up lately, so I wasn’t surprised, though I was kind of annoyed.  There were some excellent books earlier in the series, so it’s a shame.  Give this mess a miss.  Two Weeks Notice by Rachel Caine was well done, but I simply can’t get into zombies, even ones built by secret US government nanotechnology. Sorry, if there’s a bigger turn off than ‘watch for decomp’, I can’t think of it.  Off it went to DNF and I moved on again.  To If Fried Chicken Could Fly by Paige Shelton, which started out well enough, but I knew who did it much too soon and rather than waste my time on a book in which I had limited interest, I moved on.  Now, unlike the other books, this one wasn’t boring, or off-putting, it just didn’t appeal enough, despite being well written.  While I liked the Southern Sisters books by Anne George, I’ve never been a huge fan of the vast majority of cozies set down south.  Maybe I’m missing the ‘down home’ gene.  Bruja Brouhaha by Rochelle Staab is the second in her Mind for Murder series.  Like Fried Chicken, Bruja was well written, but also like Fried chicken, I knew who did it by page 45.  The characters and story telling weren’t enough to hold past that point, so it went to the big DNF pile.

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Labor Day weekend is upon us – summer’s last hurrah.  Here in the Northeast, schools will be starting, if they haven’t already, and once again it will be all timing to avoid the great school bus back-up in the center of town.  It’s also one of my favorite times of the year.  I’m sure it has something to do with an early childhood attachment to Donald Duck and the Witch, a Halloween story my parents had to read me every night – OR ELSE!

The Hudson River Valley was home to more than robber barons like the Vanderbuilts and Jay Gould (Lyndhurst is open to the public in Tarrytown and National Park Service gives tours of the Vanderbuilt Mansion in Hyde Park.  You can see FDR’s house up there as well).  Two of my favorite spots to visit are Sunnyside, the home of Washington Irving, author of The Headless Horseman, in Sleepy Hollow, and Boscobel Mansion in Cold Spring, NY.  Both are on the east side of the Hudson just north of Tarrytown.  Sunnyside is a beautiful spot on the river and a fairly modest family home compared with the mansions built by New York’s elite.  As you drive up winding route 9, you can sense the weight of history, hear hoof beats of the past echo in the rustle of the leaves.  Boscobel is a beautiful Federalist style house sitting on a prime spot with magnificent views of the Hudson River Valley.  If you live in the NYC area, visit them, and visit the Philipsburg Manor as well.  It’s one of the earliest houses built in the area and contains Jacobean furnishings, not a style you often see – and most of us wouldn’t care to own.

Four very different homes from 4 very different times.  Lyndhurst – built by a robber baron, Sunnyside – built buy an author, Boscobel – built by wealthy farmer in the mid-1700’s, and Philipsburg Manor – a ‘country house’ owned by city merchants who leased the land to tenant farmers and eventually lost the property when the Philipses family sided with the British during the Revolution.

Spend a weekend exploring the many other sites on both sides of the Hudson.  It’s an area rich in history and natural beauty.  And if you’re really lucky, you can get a reservation at the CIA (Culinary Institute of America) in Hyde Park and try some food from the next generation of great chefs.  Drive down the west bank of the Hudson and be brave and take Old Storm King Highway from Cornwall past West Point.  The views are worth it, especially when the leaves are turning.

A stone’s throw from NYC is whole different world.  This fall, go spend some time enjoying it – and read some Washington Irving stories so you can listen for those hoof beats.

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August 28, 2012

The Reason Why I Always Travel with Books

Filed under: Asleep at the wheel,General,Musing on life — toursbooks @ 5:51 pm
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Get a bunch of business travelers together with nothing to do and invariably they will start swapping ‘war stories’ about things that happen on their trips.  Things that are entertaining only when viewed in retrospect.  Lost luggage, diverted flights, aborted take-offs, blown engines, hotel staff strikes, food and drinks spilled all over you, having Jeeps with machine guns challenge your tour bus – you name it.  I’ve had most of those happen to me (including the machine gun thing) – as have most travelers – but I do get a lot of attention when I announce, “Well, I spent the night under the craps table at the El San Juan hotel.”  Yup.  That’s an attention getter.

I’ve been traveling for years – decades.  Actually, more decades than I care to count.  Pleasure and business have taken me many places around the world, though I still have a long ‘bucket list’ of places I haven’t seen.  I made a point of hitting the ones that mattered most to me early and I’m glad I did.  Arthritis, which started young for me, has taken its toll, so climbing the Acropolis at Lindos on two different trips 20 years apart won’t be happening again.

Business trips rarely allow for much sight seeing.  Maybe a quick day trip here or there if you’re lucky.  I drove all over Wales to see Harlech and Caernfon Castes with a colleague, then taking him up thru back roads to see Mt Snowden.  Little did we know he would be diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and die less than a year later.  Made me glad I did all that driving I cursed at the time.

I also got to see the temples at Nara, the oldest wooden buildings in the world, the glass works at Murano, had hot chocolate at Florian’s on St Mark’s Square, took a canal cruise in Amsterdam, and dragged two guys to the diamond district in Antwerp where I got asked by one, “Can you tell these two stones apart?”  I glanced at them, told them which was which and why – and I was dead right.  They stared at me like I was insane.  I kindly explained knowing diamonds came with estrogen.  (The sales woman had hysterics.)  Then there was Pittsburgh, Evansville, ID, and Pottstown, PA  – far more often than not.  But I have to admit, the one place the company had the devil’s own time getting me to travel to was Puerto Rico.  Yup.  They hauled my butt half way around the world and back again, but getting me from NYC to San Juan turned into a nightmare for them.

I’d spent 20 years artfully avoiding any business trip to PR, sending my guys, pleading other commitments, but my boss put his foot down and said, “You HAVE to go, you’re the only one we trust to get this done!”  I had become something of a legend for evading a trip that others fought to take – actually many were begging to go in my place and I waved them a happy good-bye.  So now that I was finally trapped,  I was traveling ‘under protest’.   As we go into our landing pattern at San Juan airport, the always calm pilot comes over the intercom and says, “Ladies and gentlemen (there were maybe 30-40 of us on a flight that carried 180+), if you look out the left side of the plane, you’ll see Hurricane Hortense.”  Let me tell you, a Cat 2 hurricane looks damn impressive from the air.

A little background on how I found myself in this mess.  I was sleep deprived from being in AZ for a week, arriving home late the night before, renting a car to drive home, getting 6 hours sleep, the rushing to toss out dirty clothes for clean ones before racing BACK to airport for the flight to San Juan. Hadn’t seen the Weather Channel or any other TV for several days, but once at the airport, I hear there was a hurricane off St Thomas. I think, “Damn, the flight will be cancelled and I’ll have to call the car service to take me home. I got up early for nothing!”  (I admit, the part that really pissed me off was getting up early.)  Nope, they board us on time on a nearly empty flight – except for business people like me. Now I shamelessly eavesdropped and these folks were saying how it was nothing, they were in and out of PR a dozen time a year and it’s all a bunch of hysteria. So on the flight I get.  (Was this my second or third mistake?)

Ours was about the last flight they allowed to land. (obviously, everyone was nuts, me included). I check into the El San Juan, where they looked at me like I was crazy (How the hell did I know about Hortense? I’d spent the last 7 days 3,000 miles away in the damn desert of AZ!), had dinner with the vendors (who were at a different hotel) had drinks at the lovely lobby bar and chatted with stranded folks trying to get to various Caribbean islands, and went to bed dead tired.

Then came a midnight call.  It had me so confused.   “Get your pillows, a blanket and comes to the casino NOW!”  I kept flipping the light switch, but the damn room light wouldn’t tun on.  I’m cursing a burnt out bulb, I grab the flashlight I always have when I travel and staggered around trying to figure what the hell I was doing.  I got semi-dressed by flashlight, packed my little clock-radio, several  books, and a super large beach towel into a backpack, grabbed 2 pillows, a blanket and staggered into the hallway that was filling with complaining guests.  In my somewhat disoriented condition, I’m wondering why the lighting looks so odd and then I realize that the emergency lights are on.  But the elevators are running so down we go, expertly herded by staff to the still fully lit casino.  Each person was given a dreadful old lounge cushion and told to find a spot on the floor to sleep.  Apparently, when the hurricane hit the island it blew out some of the windows in the rooms, so for safety reasons, all guests has to go to the casino. Even in PR, casinos have no windows, so it was the safest place, plus the governor had closed the bars and casinos at 9PM, so they weren’t losing any business.

You were wondering about the beach blanket, right?  Well, having spent a lot of time in tropical areas, I smartly wrapped the old lounge pad COMPLETELY in the heavy terrycloth.  Even smarter, I parked myself under a craps table where I could prop myself up against the leg and read and maybe cat nap.  I also used my little clock radio to try and get a local weather report – which I did.  Too bad I don’t speak Spanish.

BUT – I had my books!  So knowing I wasn’t actually going to sleep, despite my state of exhaustion, I did read.  Except for one problem.  In any crowd, there will ALWAYS be one problem.  Keep in mind, the bars were CLOSED and had been for hours, but we all know some people will still find a way to get drunk, and despite 4+ hours in a room with sandwiches, water, cold drinks, and juice, this one guy managed to stay that way. He was loud, abusive to the hotel security staff, almost started 2 fights, and generally behaved like a world class a-hole. While I found the ‘floor show’ mildly diverting, I did have the urge to pick up a chair and beat him to death with it. I was not alone, but the staff managed to keep relative peace – despite the outraged mother who confronted the idiot for screaming obscenities near her small children.  Since he was like 6’4″ and maybe early 60’s and she was about 5’6″ and mid-30’s, my money was on her because man had she had it.

Then there were the whiners, there always are, but I figured the last thing staff needed was a hard time. They couldn’t be with family, were stuck taking care of idiot tourists and hapless business travelers and had to stay pleasant at 3AM when they were as tired and fed up as we were, and probably a lot more worried about what was happening at home. So I got to spend a memorable night under a craps table in the El San Juan Hotel during a hurricane, mostly watching two guys play cards and listening to the loud drunk yelling about ‘being illegally detained’, while reading.

Finally, around 6AM we were allowed back to our rooms.  At 7 AM, the phone rings.  It’s my boss.  The man who forced me to go to this stupid island was checking to see if I was OK.  Peachy, I was just peachy.  And so damn thrilled at be being woken up AGAIN!  If he’d been in walking distance, he would have died at my hands in about 90 seconds.  He, however, was safely back on the mainland because HIS FLIGHT WAS CANCELLED!

Hortense wasn’t a really awful storm at Cat 2, but parts of Puerto Rice that are normally desert like, got over 20 inches of rain and catastrophic flooding.  Even San Juan was badly flooded and we were pretty much confined to the hotel by security, like a lock down, due to looting and things like that.  The airport stayed closed for 2 days.  We ate pretty much the same buffet food breakfast, lunch, and dinner, though at dinner we usually had something like baked ziti added.  I figured the staff was doing the best they could.  The rooms had no lights, so housekeeping left us votive candles. and even made the beds and left fresh towels.  We did have flushing toilets and hot water.  Taking a shower by the light of 2 flickering votive candles sounds a lot more romantic when you read about it than it is in real life.  With no power, I sat out on one of the verandas and ……. yes, read a book.  Actually, I read several books and the ones I finished got snapped up by fellow guests grateful for the diversion.  It’s not like we had TV.

The bars reopened late the next day and by then, many of us sort of bonded a bit and exchanged ‘why the hell I’m stuck here’ stories that ranged from ex-pats trying to reach their Caribbean homes to a guy who had been called to testify at a trial on Anguilla.  It was a pleasant evening at beautiful bar and I tipped all the staff generously.  They deserved it.  The whiners left little or nothing, apparently unable or unwilling to understand 5* service just wasn’t possible when hurricanes hit.  I did, however, manage a laugh at them.  One of the women who did a lot of whining was on my floor in an oceanfront suite.  She came up to me in the hallway and asked if I was bitten by bugs.  I politely smiled and said no.  And that, dear friends, is why Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy tells you to always travel with a towel – or in my case, an oversized, heavy beach towel.  Fleas.  Somehow, the dear whiner picked up the fleas from the old lounge pads and managed to bring them back to the room in her jammies.  Ah, poetic justice.

Today, in the day of Kindles, air books, e-readers, and Smartphones, why carry books?  Obviously, when this happened none of those existed, but without a way to recharge and functioning cell towers and wi-fi signals, you can’t get far with electronics when you’re days without electric.  A good book – well all I needed was enough light to see.  Hey, reading is VERY useful and has lots hints about avoiding pests like fleas.  heheheheheheheheh And you thought Hitchhiker’s Guide was just humor!  LOL  While ‘the whiner’ was showing off her bites, I just smiled pleasantly and nodded now and then in sympathy.  Don’t know what happened to the drunk, but never saw him in the bar – or anywhere else.  The books I finished moved on to other Caribbean islands  or back home to the mainland with my fellow travelers.  I FINALLY got a flight out, to a different airport.  As I told the guy at the ticket counter, “I don’t care if you get me to Kansas, I can always get home from there, even if I have to drive.”  And thank heavens for car service.

Here at home, we got hit last fall by a Cat 1 storm that caused epic flooding and then a month later that weird 19″ snow in Oct that took down tons of trees, and both times we had folks in town without power for 7-10 days.  They had no cell phones, internet, water pumps for their wells – so no water (and that means no flushing toilets), nothing.  The town opened various centers where folks could shower, recharge electronics and such.  That’s the great thing about books, you never have to plug them in, and those new LED reading lights work after dark and take just 1 battery, so it’s easy to have spares.  Even now, when not having a computer with internet access makes me edgy, when my ISP goes down, I just grab a book.  Yeah, I have a Kindle, and yes, my laptop has many ebooks on it, but even the most energy saving laptop or smartphone will die within hours.   Better to save them for communication and entertain yourself with a book.  You never know when you’ll find yourself spending the night under the craps table during a hurricane!

August 20, 2012

OMG – Summer is Almost Over

Where did it go?  I’m watching pre-season football and counting the weeks till the season starts!  Days are getting shorter much too quickly.  Pretty soon, I’ll be looking out my windows watching the leaves to red and gold.  SIGH!  Then I read the east coast can expect extra snow in January and February.  Oh joy.  I feel a bout of depression coming on.  SOMEBODY GET THE EMERGENCY CHOCOLATE STASH!  STAT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

It’s been a strange year for me.  I actually had my family doctor call me to let me know my blood work was fine (usually I get the ‘cholesterol’ lecture) and then she says my sodium to “…..too low.  Eat more salt.”  I swear, I so want to get those words framed!  How many people over 45 with high blood pressure get to hear that spoken with sincerity, not sarcastic disdain, by their doctor?  I clutch them to my heart as I shamelessly consume a bag of Wise potato chips without a single whisper of guilt – except about all the empty (but very tasty) calories.

Greasy fingers and all (carefully wiped off before handing books), I managed to polish off a bunch of books, only one of which managed a B+ to A-, and most of  the rest were OK to really good, but not great.  I also used my Kindle a bit more.  Now the Kindle itself deserves a column, so I’ll just review the book here.

Shadows Before the Sun by Kelly Gay was hands down, the best book I read.  I like mindless, easy reading as much as the next person, but Ms Gay does so much more and does it well.  It’s not fair to lump her in with the likes of Jeanine Frost, Lynsay Sands, or Carrie Vaughn.  Ms Gay takes her time, spins a complex story where her protagonists evolve, suffer, and evolve more.  They pay the price for their growth and change, grow deeper and more complex with each book and her stories have maintained a very high standard.  This one had one unfortunate flaw, but I can forgive that.

At the end of The Hour of Dust and Ashes, Hank, Charlie’s male siren partner is taken back to Fiallan, on Elysia to face charges of treason.  Charlie is determined to get him back – but gets told he was summarily executed when he returned.  She refuses to believe it and goes anyway.  At the transfer terminal where the mages move people between worlds, she runs into Alessandra, the Oracle of Oracles, and not exactly her friend, but she’s he closest thing to a friend Charlie has once she leaves Atlanta. She reveals that their destinies are tied together so they will go to Elysia together.  A mixed blessing, as most things are.

Periodically, the book cuts between Charlie’s story and Hank’s, as he’s once again tortured by the Circe.  If ever there were beings in need of death, the Circe are it, but they aren’t easy, and everyone will pay a heavy price for what will happen.  I won’t spoil this one, it does deserved to read as written.  Its one flaw, the recovery.  It is conveniently explained away by ‘time moves differently here’.  It is all too quickly followed by the destruction of the supposed indestructible Death.  That deserved a book of its own, or a long novella, not a couple of all too short chapters.

Ignoring the big finale with Death, and it was anticlimactic plus kind of a stutter step, the book was very well plotted and evenly paced.  Now that the long awaited Charlie/Hank romance has started, it will be interesting to see where this goes.  I pre-ordered this book on the 4-for3 plan at Amazon and paid $5.99 and got my money’s worth.  My score is (for a change) in agreement with Amazon at B+ to A- (4.2*)  I deducted for the lame big finale and too quick recovery.  Recommended read for all UF fans.

If Shadows Before the Sun was a reassuring surprise, Biting Cold, the lastest in the Chicagoland Vampires by Chloe Neill was a disappointment.   In Hard Bitten, Ms Neill took a bold and utterly unexpected step in killing off her male lead protagonist, and the love interest of Merit, her heroine, and I was impressed and cheered – though many fans hated the story’s turn.  In Drink Deep, Merit’s best friend, and budding mage Mallory, manages to use dark magic to bring him back, but gets stopped before she make him her ‘familiar’.  Still, Ethan has a residual ties to Mallory that are keeping him from taking back control of Cadogan House.  Mallory escapes and heads for a book that will restore the balance between dark and light magic.  [Warning:  This review contains SPOILERS!]

Biting Cold should have been a tense thriller that had Ethan struggling to find his missing pieces, Mallory trying different approaches to reach the secret book, and the mages lined up against her with the two vampires to keep it protected.  Even Gabriel, the North American alpha werewolf is there.  And so is Seth, the evil former mayor of Chicago that was convicted of selling the vampire drug ‘V’, then set loose by the current mayor who is busy stirring up fear and hatred of vampires.  Despite being at the bottom of a 100 foot silo, not only does Mallory reach the book, so does Seth, and just as the spell ends, Seth touches the book and he splits into two identical people.  Only thing is, they aren’t identical.  (And a great story circles the drain.)

Talk about a HUGE let down.  Mallory is tearful blah, blah, blah, Gabriel takes her and her punishment is being banned from using magic and washing dishes at a werewolf bar.   The mage’s house burns down along with her huge collection of books.  She was the society’s archivist.  She goes back to Chicago and Cadogan house with Merit and Ethan and we’re back in Chi-town where we were about 100 pages earlier.  Big whup.  And oh yeah, Ethan still can’t commit to Merit because he’s still tied to Mallory. (I can hear the water gurgling as it swirls ever downward.)

OK, now we battle Seth.  Or is it Seth?  Whatever it is, it’s seeking vengeance all over town.  Meanwhile, the GP is threatening to kick Cadogan House out of the happy vampire club.  Ethan basically flips the guy a verbal bird and lets his vamps vote on whether or not to to quit before the GP can act.  Off to save the world from Seth, with the help of …… Seth!

I will give one guess how this ends.  If you need more than one, you haven’t been paying attention to the trite set pieces that stitched this patchwork quilt together.  What’s missing?  Tension?  Excitement?  Unexpected twists?  Original plot?  All of the above?

At my kindest, I’d call this a ‘bridge book’ where Ms Neill finished out the whole ‘balance of magic Mallory’ plot (which she seemed to lose interest in or wasn’t sure how to complete with dramatic effect), got Ethan and Merit together, and started in on the GP, Red Guard, and the ‘where the hell was the Council of Mages’ problems.  At my snarkiest, I say this was blatant rip-off of a story that had it’s heart and soul removed and existed largely as an elaborate shell of story.  It might be enough for the lovers of the Dark Huntress or Kitty Nornille series, but it sure does NOT live up to the excellent first 3 books.  Obvious character issues and oblivious characters that seem either willfully blind or dumb about what goes on around them.  Saved here and there by scenes where the depth of character shown in the earlier books shines through the mass of gloss and the gossamer thin plot.  A C-(2.7*) is a generous grade and only that high because you’ll need the background for the next one, which will, hopefully, find Ms Neill back in form, or start writing this series off as another bit of paranormal fluff that reads more like a quickly fleshed out outline than a carefully plotted and crafted story.  At a $10.20 discounted price, either buy a cheap used copy, or borrow it.  Not a recommended buy.

If I have a weakness for books, it’s screwball comedy, be it romantic suspense, mystery with witty cops and PI’s, or clever romance with sharp, funny dialogue.  Yeah, I know, it all hearkens back to watching too many Thin Man movies as a kid on Saturday afternoons.  I really enjoy books with some humor, be it Roman mysteries, PI noir, or romantic suspense.  The angst and drama can wear on the nerves, and my least favorite is lame heroines like ‘Whitney, My Love’ (I still wank to barf), while I love books filled with the snark and one liners.  From Bogie’s Sam Spade looking in the Maltese Falcon and saying “The stuff that dreams are made of.”  To Bogey and Bacall in to Have and Have Not.  “You know how to whistle, don’t you?”

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i9Ay727EYzw

I’m sure you’ll be shocked to learn I own both movies on DVD – along with a host of other classics.  Fun, mystery, and the push and pull of attraction between two characters.  Well, I bought my Kindle for a reason, and it wasn’t to supplant new releases, because frankly, the ebooks aren’t worth the price.  But many books that are privately published are MUCH cheaper as an ebook and many are kindle only, or cheaper as a Kindle book.  One of those books sold as “A Humorous Romantic Suspense” and it was.  And at $3.99. In Deep Shitake by Patricia Mason was a really fun, funny, and well done fluffy novel with no pretensions of being anything else.  The opening was priceless and I quite liked both characters, Imogene ‘Mo’ Tuttle, and Ross Grant, a sort of has-been movie star so closely identified with his movie character (Stephan Dragger) most people don’t know his real name.

Mo is told by the small PI agency she works for to break into a specific car.  She manages to get stuck in the sunroof when she reaches for the the auto door locks.  Not the best day to wear a short skirt, or to be working on giving up swearing.  But for Ross, it’s all a black lace panty delight.  So starts a romp that has as much body as a souffle, but is just as much fun.

Like any screwball comedy, we have over-the-top villains, double-crossing co-workers, scheming blondes, blackmail of Russian mobsters, and race to save themselves of a bad case of mistaken identity.  Do NOT look for a brilliantly plotted mind-bender.  This is part spoof, part tribute, and just plain fun.  Like so many ebooks, the editing/proofreading leaves some residual problems, but not as bad as some and it didn’t have any more errors than your average NBC news story online.  (Which had the word ‘altered’ in a sentence where they meant ‘alerted’.  Different words guys!)  The story has no pretensions, so just enjoy the ride.

If you want a slight, funny, beach read, or just something to lift your spirits AND you like the old-fashioned screwball genre, then go forth and enjoy.  I give it a B- (3.7*) but that’s a fan of the style speaking.  If you want a more serious romantic suspense, look elsewhere.  Was it worth $3.99.  YUP!

PS – The Kindle is a whole other matter.  That will be discussed separately, when I’m less annoyed and more objective.

Back to the latest releases – Kitty Steals the Show by Carrie Vaughn is the latest in the Kitty Norville series.  Kitty is asked to be the keynote speaker at the first International Paranormal Studies meeting.  Husband/mate Ben and former vamp hunter friend Cormac – with Amelia – the female ghost that is currently riding along with him – are heading to London and the hospitality of Britain’s master vampire, Edward Alleyn, a former Shakespearean actor with a real flair for the dramatic.  But not as dramatic as some of the European masters.  That’s ok, because Kitty has more than a bit of showman in her blood and brings the vamps to a complete halt by holding up one of Roman’s talisman coins and asks who here is a member of his secret group.  Talk about a bloodletting party killer!

She runs into the GB werewolf Alpha as well.  But mostly, it seems to be a series of disconnected episodes concerning everything from Amelia the ghost and her descendants and what Kitty say in her keynote address.  Ben, as he all too often is, is just along for the ride.  He deserves more character.  Fey are thrown in for luck and some bodies and kidnapping.  The big keynote meant to be a call to arms against Roman and his forces lacked fire.  Thomas Paine and Winston Churchill have a secure legacy.

Kitty Steals the Show was a much better read than Kitty’s Big Trouble, hardly a difficult feat give how bad that entry was, but it’s not a great book and comes in at a C+ (3.5*).  At $7.99 (I paid $5.99 on the 4-for3 promotion on Amazon) it’s for Kitty fans.  Try and get it used or borrow from a friend.  It’s too uneven for a recommended buy.

The Care and Feeding of Stray Vampires by Molly Harper is an addition to her Half-Moon Hollow series and while not the best in the series, it’s a fun read.  Iris Scanlon has a smart-mouthed teen sister that’s like her daughter since their were killed in a car crash while Iris was getting a graduate degree in botany.  Coming back to the home she was raised in was the only way she really care for her sister Gigi.  But somehow, in this small town she needed a job.  Helping her new vamp friend, Jane Jameson, she realized the local vamps needed daytime help.  She opened Beeline, a vampire concierge doing all those chores like dry cleaning, getting blood supplies, and doing the many other errands needed and only available during the day.  It was early days yet and she needed every customer.  Except maybe the amorous Mr Rychek.

While Iris is comfortable around Jane, she’s very careful around her customers and leaves their property BEFORE sunset.  Delivering the contract and blood to her newest customer, Vampire Council investigator into a series of human maulings by vampires – apparently poisoned by Faux Neg O. Dusk is coming and Iris wants out of the vampire gated community before she becomes meals on wheels.  But in rushing thru this last stop comes to an abrupt halt when she falls over a body in the kitchen.  A poisoned vamp who is just managing enough control to not allow the drugs in his system to cause him to attack her.  Luring her with a large cash reward, Iris takes the Cal Calix into her home so he can recover is secrecy, away even from Ophelia, the council member that scares her most, even if she does looks like a teen.

With her trademark humor, sharp dialogue, and better than average plot, Iris and Cal make a great odd couple.  Fast and fun, but with enough meat on the bones to give it substance.  Gigi is a great addition to the story, adding an extra dimension, especially when Cal gives her the ‘truth’ about the whole Trojan War – though Iris was upset to learn Homer was now writing for TV.  “Not Two and a Half Men!”

One of the better entries in this series.  Ms Harper managed to nail this one with her classic fast, funny style, yet gave it an enjoyable mystery edge with who was behind the poisonings.  For any fan of fun pararnoral romance or just fun paranormal, because romance is not the overwhelming element, will enjoy this read.  Recommended and no, you do NOT need to read her previous books in the series to follow it.  It can be read as a stand-alone.  My grade is B+ (4.3*) and a Good Buy at the $5.99 4-for-3 Amazon price.  Recommended read.

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It’s a wrap!   My favorite ubiquitous food, after pasta, is the wrap.  Yes, I find them versatile, blandly tasty, and most of all FAST!  I can toss them on a cookie sheet, layer then with swiss and ham, and after 15 minutes in the oven, enjoy a hot meal.  I can stuff them with cold cuts, bake them with a mix of cheddar, parmesan, salt, pepper, and Italian herbs and have a cheesy flat bread perfect alone, or with bruschetta or fresh salsa.  I can wrap almost anything in them, but I really like them for hot dogs.

OK, this will sound weird, but I like my hot dogs with salsa, not ketchup.  You can give the humble hot dog a south of the border feel by grilling them or roasting them in the oven at high heat (425F) till the skin is as crisp as you like.  (Or you can try the very tasty, but heart attack worthy prep of steaming them then frying them in fat till the skin is crisp.  Yum, but have the defibrillator standing by.)

Now you have a couple of ways to go here.  First you can use the traditional hot dog bun.  I usually buy the long potato rolls as they have more body, thinly slice real cheddar and line a hot bun, toss on the dog, top with salsa.  OR, be adventurous and get white flour or corn flour tortillas in the refrigerator case and you favorite salsa, something with a kick, and start to play.

When the grilled, roasted or fried dogs are just about ready, wet some paper towels and squeeze them out.  Lay one on a plate and place a tortilla on top.  Another paper towel, and another tortilla.  Don’t stack more than 2 and cover with the last wet paper towel.  Nuke on high 2-30 sec, depending on the microwave.  The tortillas should be steam hot.  Sprinkle with a thick layer of grated sharp cheddar or a good Jack cheese down the center of the tortilla (to melt, microwave about 15 seconds), put the hot dog on the cheese, pile with salsa, fresh tomato and diced sweet onion.  Flip the bottom of the tortilla up, fold one side over and roll buritto style.

Suggested additions – heated dark red kidney beans, black beans, corn nibblets (fresh of the cob or canned), green onions, sour cream, avocado slices (shudder), and shredded lettuce.  Great way to make vegetables fun and tasty and the hot dog peeking out of the wrap is very appealing.  And by the way, try this trick with stir fried chicken and veggies with Hosin sauce and they’ll forget it’s mostly veggies!

This is a great way to use up leftover hamburgers and meatloaf as well chicken that you pulled off the bone and sliced or cut into chunks.  I like getting the bigger wraps because I can add lots of beans and other things.  These are messy, so served with LOTS of napkins and wipes and extra salsa.   Fresh fruit, especially melon, is the perfect dessert.  For fussy eaters, one can have hot dogs, and another chicken, and someone else leftover burger cut into chunks and steamed hot in the microwave and still done in minutes with the same basic ingredients.  Want some crunch?  Try the Taco Bell trick and throw some Frito’s or whole grain chips on top, or even some crumpled potato chips.

Bless those thin little wraps.  They have made my day plenty of times when I haven’t felt like fussing.

 

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