Tour’s Books Blog

October 16, 2012

Some New Releases

The past two months have seen the usually rash of fall releases, and it’s no exception this year.  My TBR pile grew exponentially again.  Trying to keep up is a challenge.   So here are some recent releases and a few from the summer I’m just catching up with.

First up is new author Owen Laukkanen with his first book, a thriller, The Professionals, about college kids with no job prospects who somehow find themselves in the easy business of kidnapping wealthy upper management types, mostly banking and investment types, and holding them for reasonable ransoms, and letting them go the next day.  A simple business plan.  Don’t get greedy, ask for an amount that the wife would have available, don’t call the cops.  But finally one victim DOES call the cops and the cops call the Minnesota BCA (Bureau of Criminal Apprehension made famous by John Sanford’s Lucas Davenport books) – the state criminal investigation unit.

Overworked and world-weary detective Kirk Stevens catches the unwanted call about a kidnapping in Minnesota.  Talk about a rare occurrence.  Curious, Stevens goes to investigate. As Stevens starts finding bits and pieces, our enterprising gang, lead by Pender and girlfriend Marie, tough guy Sawyer, and ‘Mouse’, the computer hacker, have moved on to another city.   The next target leaves town with his family for vacation the day they plan to snatch him.  So now they have leave town or quickly change targets.  They find a back-up and snatch him – and things start to go terribly wrong.

At the same time, Stevens gets permission to get the FBI involved with his case and Agent Windermere start working together. Donald Beneteau isn’t frightened about being snatched, he’s mad.  He keeps telling them “You don’t know who you’re messing with.”  The phone call to the wife for the ransom demand doesn’t go as scripted, just “You know what to do.”  The gang is nervous and Mouse digs deeper, the kind of digging he should have done before the snatch.  Donald isn’t the big problem, his wife Patricia is.  It’s a worst case thing, they just grabbed a guy with mob ties.  Worse he learned one of their names – and foolishly taunts them with by asking, “Who’s Pender?”  That’s when Sawyer shoots him in the head on street in front of his house.

Now they’re running from the police, the Feds, and the mob – and from themselves for suddenly being part of a murder.  Shocked by what happened, and the magnitude of what they’ve done, Maria takes off for home – Seattle while the 3 guys head for Florida.  The mob is hot on their tail, so are Stevens and Windermere.

The story switches point of view between characters – the cops, the mob, and our gang.  The characters are well drawn, especially the 4 young gang members.  The author does a decent job of watching them go from treating kidnapping as a virtual ‘victim-less’ crime to to the realization they are serious criminals and now killers.  When Mouse gets shot by mob guys there for bayback, he lives, but the mob guys don’t and Pender has to deal with the fact he remorselessly killed a man.  The change is realistic, but not their ease with weapons, but I found that credibility factor not too hard to hurdle.

It’s a long book at over 400 pages in paperback, but it held together. The Professionals is a good first novel and apparently the start of a series featuring BCA Agent Stevens and FBI Agent Windermere.  It get a B- (3.8*) from and a suggested read for thriller readers.  I got the book thru the Amazon 4-for-3 promotion for about $8 ($9.99 list) and it was worth that as entertainment.  The second book, Criminal Enterprise, is due out in hardcover in early 2013.

Daryanda Jones hit the paranormal market with a real breakthrough book First Grave on the Right, first in the Charlie Davidson series.  She has now turned the same bright, sassy, irreverent style to the lucrative young adult market with Death and the Girl Next Door.   Lorelei MacALister was left an orphan when her parents were killed – though in truth, she just remembers their ……. disappearing.  Raised in a small New Mexico town she and BFF’s Brooklyn, an irreverent and loyal friend since they fought it out at 6 years of age, and Glitch, the boy who’s kind of skinny and funny and tight with both of them.  Inseparable friends who keep Lori’s secret – she can see things when she touches people.

As if being sophomores in high school isn’t bad enough, Lori finds herself the centerpiece of a battle between loner Cameron Lusk and a supposedly ‘new kid’ Jared Kovach.  Neither is what they seem to be – but then neither is Lori.  Luckily, her two quirky friends and loving grandparents seem OK with what she is.  When the high school principal seems to recognize Jared, and Lori quickly realizes he’s made his name up, and she starts having lots of questions.  She has a lot more when Jared seemingly does the impossible and saves her from dying when she’s hit by a truck.  Literally.  And why isn’t she hurt far worse than she is?  And where did Jared disappear to?  And why does Josh hate him and warn her away from him?  And what’s going on with the school principal?

A quick read, and suitable for teens, as young adult books should be, yet still entertaining enough for adults.  It’s a lighter version of  characters that are in many ways similar to those in her Charley Davidson series.  The same humor is here too and the kids seem only slightly too mature for sophomores.  The plot doesn’t move a smoothly as it should, digressing into various side stories, and tension levels are not all that high.  The ‘Big Reveal’ about Lori is a bit flat and more than a little confusing in its mythology/history.  Without spoilers, I can’t give the details, but I can’t say where this is going from here.

Overall, it was average at the end with some excellent moments in spots.  I’d give Death and the Girl Next Door a C+ to B- (3.5*) and say for $9.99 on the 4-for-3 promotion, it’s a decent buy with 3 other books, especially if you have a young adult reader in the family.  Got my copy thru the Amazon promotion for about $8.

Christie Craig writes romantic mysteries that are on the frothy side.  Her latest series centers on three PI’s – cops wrongly convicted of murder who were exonerated after 18 months in prison.  Blame it on Texas is about Tyler Lopez.  Tyler Lopez is convinced he’ll never find happiness like his partner did, but he has god a big family that loves him.  Unfortunately, the command performance at his niece’s birthday party ended up with him in a clown costume.  And punching her stepfather who hit his sister.

Zoe Adams is a grade school teacher on a one month leave of absence while she investigates the strange story of a supposedly kidnapped and murdered girl, granddaughter of a billionaire, in a house she has vague memories of.  His ordinary and loving parents claimed she was born in Alabama, yet her birth certificate was from Texas, this small town she faintly recalls.  She had years of therapy convincing her the ‘memories’ she had as a child were all false.  By the time she graduated college, her dad had died and then her mom.  It was going thru their belongings that lead her to the birth certificate.  Working as a waitress in a diner helps pay the rent while she tries to find the truth.  Her boss suggests she go see the PI’s that come in to eat lunch.

Now Zoe is no wimp, but she’s getting threatening phone calls and decides maybe talking to the PI’s isn’t a bad idea.  She goes to the office – but it seems empty.  The sign says ring the bell.  Looking, for the bell, she sees a file on the Bradford’s when her oversize purse knocks the file on the floor.  Crawling on the floor to pick up the papers, she suddenly sees the one thing she has an irrational phobia of – a clown.

It’s not everyday a beautiful redhead is crawling around the floor of the office, and Trey assumes this is the new receptionist, Ellen.  Except for the complete panic when she sees him – and the certainty he knows her from ….. somewhere.  But she’s out of there and running before he can do anything and all he gets is the fact her plate is from Alabama.  Finally, he remembers where he saw her before – and next day heads there for breakfast – one that he ends up wearing when he startles Zoe while holding a tray full of food.

Finally Trey and Zoe talk, and he’s not exactly believing her theory.  But he becomes a believer when someone starts shooting at her in her apartment.  No question, someone wants her GONE.  Taking her to the agency ‘safe house’ – well he invented that because he had to say something to get her out of there, he takes her back to the agency where the upstairs apartment he was planning to move into.  He more of a believer because of the yearbook photo in one of partner’s father’s HS class, but when the man walks in, he takes one look at Zoe and says she’s the image of her real mother.

But why try and kill Zoe?  A simple DNA test would prove whether she was the kidnapped granddaughter.  The story twists and turns and Trey and Zoe get romantically involved, but he believes he’s a bad bet for marriage.   But there’s another story, why did two decent, ordinary, loving people kidnap a child and raise her to believe she was theirs?

That answer is tied up a bit conveniently in a letter from her dead mother, along with the suicide of one of the men involved.  There is an HEA and a not very happy family reunion, one that tells Zoe that maybe what happened to her was in fact, good luck.  Confusing things is a second story line of policeman and part time PI agency agent Rick and the new agency receptionist Ellen.  With two romances running, the old kidnapping, current attempts to frighten or hurt Zoe, and the the whole spousal abuse element with Trey’s sister, it was kind of on overload

Ms Craig draws her characters well, even if they are a bit unoriginal, but the ‘humorous meeting’ thing is forced here.  I general, Zoe is grounded and feisty and I liked her.  Trey was a bit too angsty.  Give him fangs and he could have been a vampire.  It was fluff, but a decent read.  Overall I give Blame It on Texas a C+ (3.7*) though Amazon readers rate it much higher.  On the 4-for-3 rate of $6.00 it’s an OK read, but not not recommended unless you’re a fan of Craig.

Terry Spear favors writing stand alone shifter novels and Savage Hunger is no exception.  Set mostly in the Amazon where Jaguar shifter Conner Anderson and his sister Maya are camping.  She wants him to find a mate, instead he finds Captain Kathleen McKnight a prisoner of men that work for the local drug lord, Carlos Gonzolas.  Things go wrong.  She’s badly injured and vaguely recalls being rescued by a jaguar and a man named Connor.   Eventually, what’s left of her team rescues her, and she spends a long time in military hospitals and then gets discharged from the only life she’s known, the military and her fiance breaks up with her.

She goes back to the jungle in hopes of finding the man who saved her only to be save again – by a pair of jaguars.   After what had happened to her on her first trip, Kat did a lot of reading on jaguars and she finally decides this male and female pair must have been raised as cubs by her mystery rescuer.  And sure enough, Connor shows up.

Kat’s pheromones are driving Connor crazy.  But she’s human, not a suitable mate for him.  Maya thinks differently and scratches Kat with her claws, then licks the wounds, hoping the virus transfers to her and she becomes a jaguar shifter too – and a mate for Connor.  She knows he’ll be furious at what she’s done, but he needs a mate.

The local drug lord has not forgotten what happened the year before when all his men were killed and when he hears that the woman is back in the jungle, he comes hunting her.  There’s a mysterious ‘jaguar god’ that gets sighted now and then that may, or may not have something to do with Connor and Maya’s parents, but that is one mystery left unsolved.

We have our HEA and then Kat’s ex-fiance shows up to ‘patch things up’.  This, after he used her as bait to lure out the drug lord.  Men are idiots.  You can imagine the reaction.

Savage Hunger was a decent paranormal romance, but I did prefer her A SEAL in Wolf’s Clothing.  Not her best effort, but with some good parts.  C+ (3.5*) and a suggestion to buy used or get it through book swapping.  I paid $5.99 on the Amazon 4-for-3 promotion.

Last review is one of the better action thriller reads of the year, Black List by Brad Thor book 11 in his Scot Havarth series.  Thor has a bad habit of using his characters to preach his own ideas about national security and terrorism, but here he went back to basics and wrote a traditional action thriller that was scary in that I can see this happening.  In an odd quirk of fate, I read this book just before Leon Panetta, Secretary of Defense, spoke about ‘Cyber Pearl Harbor’.  On the cover page –

“All of the technology contained in this novel is based upon systems currently being deployed, or in the final stages of development, by the United States government and its partners.”

Caroline Romero once saved the life of an enigmatic computer genius nicknamed “The Troll”.  Now she stumbled onto something so black and so unbelievable, she reaches out to the one person who would never be linked to the conspiracy.  But she’s being followed and knows they’ll kill her.  She has to get this to someone who can get to the Troll in her place.  Goes the one place the men won’t follow – Victoria Secrets.  Then she runs.  And dies.

Scot Havarth meets with Riley Turner in an apartment in Europe.  He no more than arrives when they get attacked.  Riley is killed and he uses his SEAL training to make use of what weapons he has to take down the killers.  Killers his own government sent.  He runs, using cover passports and still he’s tracked.  Unable to reach any of the other operators or their boss, he manages to get back to the US to try and find out why he and the other operators have become targets.

Meanwhile, back in the US, the Troll lands in Texas at a private ranch owned by someone who owes him more than a few favors.  He rarely sets foot in the US, but for the woman who saved his life and never asked for anything from him, he came.  A dwarf with two huge dogs, he keeps the lowest profile someone can.  But when he makes the meet at a parking garage, it’s not Caroline running to his SUV – but she knew all about how they met and he saves her – and the memory stick Caroline mailed her.

In Northern Virginia, Reed Carlton, founder of the Carlton Group for whom Havarth works, as do many other skilled spec ops  people is awakened in the middle of the night by a fire.  A fire that’s engulfing his whole house and all the electronic safety measures, including the safe room, into a prison.  But it’s a prison with a secret escape hatch and the shrewd old man makes use of it and very quickly realizes that everything electronic can’t be trusted.  But he was a spy back before all the electronics existed, so he uses his old tradecraft to evade detection.  Then he enlists his own mentor for help.

The three men manage to link up to get the man who put them on the Black List – a list of ‘Enemies of the State’.

Thor takes the three separate story lines and weaves them together through a private security company turned rogue by their CEO – Craig Middleton.  Devoid of his usual editorialism for most of the book, Black List is a first rate thriller and one of the best he’s done.  I had trouble putting it down and knocked it off in a few hours.  Thor’s writing isn’t in the same class as Daniel Silva’s more elegant prose, but for this story, his straight-forward, spare style suits.

Black List gets a solid B+ (4.3*) and a recommended read for action thriller lovers.  It’s selling for $16+ on Amazon, but I got my copy through a book swap site.  Either buy used or get it from the library.  Or if you can, wait for the paperback, but do read it.

October 2, 2012

My Kindle 3G

Filed under: ebooks,Editorial — toursbooks @ 3:12 pm
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I promised I’d write about my Kindle, and here it is.  First, let me just be clear, NO, I do not have the ‘paperwhite’ Kindle.  I purchased the Kindle Touch 3G with both 3G and wi-fi and the 6″ screen about 6 months ago and have intermittently used it since.  I also bought the leather cover and the power adapter and by the time I was done, the whole package cost just a few cents under $199.00, not a big fat bargain.

The Kindle arrived in good condition, well packaged, and I immediately played with it a bit.  I found adjusting to the whole touchscreen thing annoying.  Also, I want a ‘go to’ and then a page number option.  There is a ‘go to’ feature – though mine seems reluctant to appear – but it does NOT provide a page number or chapter option.  Another feature is the ‘turn page’ by sweeping right to left or tapping the right side.  If you make the natural sweep motion, you’ll often highlight text for comment instead of turning the page.  I found that annoying.  I look to touch at paragraph breaks now.

I ended up on Amazon’s live chat feature when I couldn’t get a completed ebook to go back to the start.  I even did a reset using my laptop.  It was a very frustrating hour.  The tech rep on the chat line was very nice, but my Kindle seems a bit wonky.  It still does.

I started slow, reading free, inexpensive novellas.  For that, it’s perfect.  I did buy a long historical fiction book that is otherwise out of print, The Assyrian by Nicholas Guild, and a bunch of small press/Create Space books that were significantly less expensive in ebook vs print.  This included a bunch of ‘new to me’ authors and Brett Battles, who has, like other established thriller/espionage authors, tried eliminating the publisher and created a series in the Create Space platform that Amazon offers.  I have Create Space print books as well, and they are a nice quality, but mostly priced to encourage to purchase of the ebook.

Now, having read a number of novellas and short novels and kind of gotten the hang of the Kindle, I have some comments.

Screen contrast – As I said at the beginning, this is NOT the new ‘paperwhite’ Kindle, but the older one and the contrast is far from optimal.  The background is pale grey.  While certainly very readable, it has a vaguely ‘dirty’ look.

ebook pricing – This is an area I particular attention to.  Only when the ebook is a significant savings will I consider buying the Kindle in place of a print book.  In many cases, the ebook is MORE expensive because of Amazon’s promotional options on mass market paperbacks.  Most of the bargains are books published by Create Space, Samhain, Siren, and a few other small pubs.  Novellas remain somewhat overpriced, lots of freebies that are great, and you can ‘borrow’ one book a month.  It all adds up.  But is it enough?

Digital file quality – OK, we all know digital content can have gremlins that move words, leave long blank pages after one word, odd word spacing, all kinds of glitches epubs are famous (or infamous) for.  Yes, I’ve had a few, and the now universal problem with homophones that drives me nuts.  Problem is, large publishers now have the same issue, so it’s an invasion of crappy proof-reading and contagious digital content problem.  Sending it to print doesn’t add a quality step that corrects these mistakes, which are present even in best seller hardcovers.  (Publishers should be ashamed.)

Exclusive Digital Content – Yes, there are many novellas and short stories, as well a free books, that are digital content only and not available in print  This is a big plus, but the Kindle itself isn’t needed, just the Kindle app on your computer or smartphone.

Weight – This was kind of a mixed bag.  It’s a lot heavier than I expected.  Far heavier that a mass market paperback.  More significantly, it’s a lot harder to hold.  Without that leather cover I’d be hard put manage it easily.  Very heavy for a purse or pocket.  BUT – it’s is a lot lighter than the 40 or so books/novella loaded on it, so that’s the HUGE plus.  Plus, when traveling, it takes up far less space than even a paperback.

Battery life – Not as long as I’d like and it seems to take forever for the Kindle to fully recharge.  Amazon claims charging from your computer is the fsatest, but I have yet to compare it with the AC adapter speed.  It does hold a charge a long time when turned off.

3G service – Works like a charm.  No issue at all.  While I do live in a rural area, it’s at the edge of a big metro area and I do get regular ATT cell service these days.  I can’t speak to the  wi-fi as I have’t used it.  (NOTE:  By choice, I use a hard wired connection on my laptop.)

Reading – This is where the rubber hits the road.  Yes, legibility is good as is the contrast.  Text is clear. BUT ……. I am a fast reader and when you have so few words per page and only 1 page visible at a time, you’re CONSTANTLY turning pages. It isn’t smooth.  Easy to go too far and then you’re flipping back.  You want to check a detail 2 (or is it 3?) chapters back, no easy way to scan to what you want. It simply isn’t as easy, or as fast, as flipping through the pages of a book.

The Book Rating Pop-up – OK, this feature is ANNOYING, seriously, stunningly, ANNOYING.  On the last page, before you navigate away, it wants you to rate the damn book/novella.  Well guess what, you MUST be hooked into wi-fi to rate a book!  I HATE THAT DAMN THING!  Then you have to fumble around to make it stop.  Did I mention I HATE THAT DAMN THING?

Compared with Acrobat on Laptop – I have hundreds of ebooks purchaed in pdf (non-DRM) on my laptop.  I compared reading the same ebook on my laptop and on the Kindle.  I actually like the ease of the laptop better.  Acrobat allows me to move from page to page very at a natural reading speed, so I find it more comfortable, I have more words visible, and easy navigation.  I have Acrobat Pro, so I do have features not available in the free reader software, but I don’t think that matters all that much.

FINAL DECISION – Is the Kindle worth the price?  hummmmm ………. Yes and no.  If I was on the road the way I was 10 years ago, it would be a simple YES!  If you think you’ll save money, then the answer is no, especially if the majority of your reading is mass market paperback.  The instant gratification of getting a book is offset by the many device limitations.  Yes, there are some savings to be had on hardcovers, but a $2-4 per book, that’s a lot of hardcovers before you hit a beak even on the cost of the device.

The majority of computer users have notebooks, net books, or tablets.  All can carry the Kindle app for reading or you can read from your Amazon Cloud account.  Smartphones do as well, but the tiny screens must drive any fast reader insane.

The Bottom Line – If you always travel with a computer or smartphone, consider the battery life issue first.  If you want to save your battery for work, games or movies, then by all means, Kindle is a good idea.  If you have a desktop, then it’s an ever BETTER idea, but consider the Kindle Fire instead.  A great compromise between a heavy laptop and the limited option ereader only.  If you have a smartphone, them we’re back to the whole battery life thing.  The simple Kindle ereader has far better battery life than the power hungry color screen tablets, airbooks, and smartphones.  So if you have long flights or want audio books, it’s the way to go.  The greater the flexibility, the flashier the display, esp, color screens, the shorter the battery life.  That makes it a very personal decision that every makes for themselves.

If you don’t want the Kindle, get the Kindle App for your computer and you’ll get all cool extra free stuff and cheap ebooks for some titles, then buy the print when it makes sense.

Many books I buy I know will go to someone else.  Very often 4-5 others before moving to some Goodwill shelf somewhere.  Print books are much easier to pass along.  Yes, you can lend Kindle books, but it’s a nuisance compared with passing around a print book.  If you’ve come of age in the digital era, then this seems silly.  If you over 40, and not a ‘gadget’ person, it doesn’t.  I guess what bothers me most is that digital content can disappear, a print book can still be read by people 100 years from now.  I’ve been dealing with computers since the early 80’s, so I’ve had a lot of different operating systems and software ‘state of the art’ stuff become passé in year or two.  None have lasted 5 years.  With ‘new’ kindles and Kindle Fire devices out and newer ones already in development, the other question becomes one of money.  It will be another expensive toy that gets replaced every 3 years or so.  My laptops are for work, and I plan on their being replaced every 3 years.  It’s part of the cost of doing business – and not that much more than a Kindle, it’s just not as convenient.  The Kindle has nothing to do with business.  So it’s something to keep that in mind when deciding on buying a device.  If the money is meaningless, enjoy.  More importantly, if the convenience matters, it’s a great choice.

As for me, well, I expect the print book vs ebook balance to 90/10.  Print suits my current life better.  For me, the Kindle is a toy, not an essential.

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