Tour’s Books Blog

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.

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

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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