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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1 Comment »

  1. Glad to hear Widow’s Web is good. That was the series that brought me into adult UF.

    Comment by Lori — August 31, 2012 @ 7:22 pm | Reply


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