Tour’s Books Blog

June 26, 2013

Murder, Mayhem, and Magic – Sad Goodbyes, and Sneak Peeks of To Be Released

Death really does come as the end, to paraphrase Dame Agatha Christie.  For some it comes too soon.  As anyone who reads my blog knows, Vince Flynn is one action thriller author I read.  Even when his books got average, he remained as solid choice for CIA assassin reads.  At the age of 47, Vince Flynn died June 19th from prostate cancer.  He was open about his 3 year battle with the disease, so it was not a shock to his fans.  I had hoped he would be one of the lucky ones and beat the odds.  He has two releases scheduled for this year, his latest Mitch Rapp book and a collaboration with Brian Haig (which I have on pre-order).  If they both go to press, they might well be his last, though I expect another author will continue his Mitch Rapp series.  I shall miss all the stories Vince Flynn had yet to tell.

vinceflynn

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New releases mean the most recent chapter in favorite series, a whole new series by a favorite author, or maybe a new author or two.  The first Tuesday of every month is usually the big release day.  June is about an average month for me.  You get a decent number of cozies (most of which I ignore), some traditional mysteries (YEAH!), the annual glut of ‘beach reads’ – AKA ‘Women’s Fiction (a genre I avoid), the usual crop of historical romance (read one, read most), and a wide range of science fiction and fantasy (a favorite).  So, here are some reviews.

Death Taxes and Hot Pink

The fifth book in the Tara Holloway series, Death, Taxes, and Hot Pink Leg Warmers, brings a few changes and resolves some personal relationships from the earlier books – and puts, Tara, Nick – the hunky co-worker she taking for a test drive for a relationship, Tara’s friend Christie, the DEA agent she became friends with in book one, Death Taxes and a French Manicure.

In Death, Taxes, and Peach Sangria, Brett Ellison and Tara decided their relationship needed a breather so they both had a chance to explore the feeling they’d had each developed for other people.  It was a lot more mature than Stephanie Plum’s bouncing between Ranger and Morelli.  They would meet in a month.  The only ground rule, no sex with the other person during the month.  Nick and Tara were finding that hard, but managing.  I liked the way Ms Kelly handled this whole thing.

The ‘Lobo’ is back at work running the IRS Enforcement office and Nick and Tara go under cover with Christine and another DEA agent at a ‘Gentleman’s Club’, thanks to inside information from one of the ‘girls’.  But Lu also wants Tara to go to workout with her at the health club so she can lose the weight she packed on after her cancer surgery, chemo, and quitting smoking.  At the same time Tara and her old partner Eddie and handling a case with local prosecutor on a mortgage/builder scam four men were running for years – and not paying taxes on any of it.

And that’s the problem with the book.  It has so many different plots running concurrently it gets a bit fuzzy.  It lacks a clear focus and the building tension of solving the crime.  This fault was compounded by a piece of stupid by Tara at the very end.

Death, Taxes, and Hot Pink Leg Warmers was good, but not on the same level as the earlier books in this series, a series I happen to really like.  The best I can do here is a  B- (3.7*).  If you can get it cheap or through a book swap site, read it, but it’s not one you need to run out and buy.  I bought this book on Amazon for $7.19

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the-heist-cover

OK, call me a sucker, but I had to try this novel.  Intended as a first in a series, Janet Evanovich has gone the route of Clive Cussler and James Patterson and teamed with another writer for this first ‘caper’ style story in what is intended to be a series.  Now caper stories have had some excellent practitioners over the years – notably Ross Thomas, Donald E Westlake, even the redoubtable John Sanford writing under his real name of John Camp did this style with his Kipp books.  When you say ‘caper’ books, most people immediately think of things like Ocean’s 11 or How to Steal a Million, two movies that are examples of how capers run.  Caper novels being basically con jobs – and like any good con, even the reader should not see the final plot twist.  In the hands of the masters, like Thomas and Westlake, they move at a breakneck pace and have more twists than a pretzel factory and the ending is usually brilliant and completely unexpected.  In the hands of Evanovich and Goldberg, it runs predictably and at half speed, lacking much of the punch of a Thomas or Westlake book, but it remains an enjoyable and fast read – and one of the best things she’s done for some time now – which is kind of damming with faint praise.

The basic plot of straight out of the TV series White Collar with the female lead taken from Castle and stuck playing the Peter Burke role.  Seriously, you have tough, no nonsense, FBI agent Kate O’Hare rather than an NYC detective ‘Kate Beckett’, and a ‘Neal Caffery’  clone name Nick Fox.  Really.  O’Hare and Fox.  SIGH!  Yes, you even have the sexual tension between the tough cop ……. ummmm ……. FBI agent and the con man ……… wait, yes, Kate Beckett does Neal Caffery.  Damn.

Now, before Evanovich fans start sharpening their knives and light the torches, I would like to say I actually LIKE White Collar and Castle.  What I don’t like is the feeling of a wholesale rip-off of characters for this book.  That’s just insulting.  The bad part is, it will most likely be popular too.

Kate has been after Nick Fox for ages and finally has him, too bad the man is shrewd as well as slick.  He gets out on bail, flees to Mt Athos on Greece (no women allowed) and hides out as a ‘priest’ supposedly studying the culture of the Mt Athos monastic life unchanged since Byzantine times.   Kate is a former SEAL (REALLY????  The authors even apologize for this egregious breach of credibility by saying ‘there should be female SEALs’) and her dad Jake a former Sec Ops Marine.  They team up and get to Greece so she can take a highly illegal flight over Athos and parachute in to drag Nick out.  But it isn’t just Nick waiting in the hut, it’s her boss AND a Deputy Director of the FBI.  She and Nick are about to be partners in some highly illegal plans to get fugitives back to the US.  Their first target, a investment banker who ran off with $500 million in his clients money.  (Piker.  Even Michael Milken did better than that with junk bonds in the ’80’s!)

And the con is on.  Because they have to get the man’s location from his high power attorney – a former prosecutor turned defense lawyer.  Then it’s off to Indonesia with Kate posing as an heiress who is about to be stranded off just the right island to get their man.

All in all, tension is minimal, the con is actually pretty straight forward, action is blah and the characters 2 dimensional.  A fast easy read that was mildly entertaining, but actually not as well done as the plots in White Collar.  Evanovich needed a more experienced hand in the genre than Goldberg’s, one that could create the kind depth and complexity this book begged for.

The Heist with lightweight, pleasant, fluff that barely makes a C (3*) grade despite the reviews on Amazon.  If you want to read a funny caper novel, try The Gunseller by Hugh Laurie or any of the Ross Thomas books (even if they are a bit dated) – The Seersucker Whipsaw, Briarpatch, The Money Harvest, even his last caper book – and far from his best, Ah, Treachery!  These are not series books, so read his caper novels in any order.  There are 13 all together apart from the three series he also wrote.  Or try one of the Dortmunder books by Donald E Westlake.

I bought The Heist for about $15.50 from Books-a-Million.  It wasn’t worth it.  If you’re a HUGE Evanovich fan, get it from the library or buy the paperback.  It’s about 3 hours of mindless entertainment with some laughs and no real tension or surprises and less originality than the TV shows it so shamelessly copies.  It’s worth maybe $5 tops.

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mayhem-at-orient-express

Mayhem at the Orient Express is a first book by Kylie Logan.  Set on an island in the Great Lakes, the story centers around a group of 3 female neighbors with petty grievances that have driven the local magistrate to distraction.  To help his librarian wife keep the grant money that runs the town library, he sentences the women to a book club.  The one enthusiastic member is a local widow and fishing charter captain.  Chandra Morrisey is a new age, aging hippie, with a cat that pees in Bea Cartwright’s brand new B&B’s flower beds.  She traded Manhattan for an isolated island, so Bea isn’t about to let some cranky locals spoil her plans, not when she already has her first guest.  Kate Wilder is a no nonsense winery owner who opposed the B&B wanting the land it sat on for a small park.  Only Luella Zak, the local fishing boat operator was at the meeting willingly.  As a first book, the unwilling group agreed to read Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie – not knowing an April snowstorm would find them kind of reliving it.  First they had to escape the ‘discussion group’ and all 4 women ended up at the new Chinese restaurant, Orient Express, for Peter Chan’s orange chicken.  Only problem is, Peter is dead, stabbed with his own knife.  The police finally let them go and the skid home to their respective houses.

When Bea renovated the old Victorian (a work still in progress), she installed a back-up generator.  She was about to bless that piece of foresight.  Out of nowhere, a huge April blizzard moved in cutting power to many places – including the homes of her annoying neighbors who end up seeking refuge at the B&B.  So Bea has all her bedrooms full to overflowing with guests and residents without heat or light – including the sheriff – Chandra’s ex-husband – and his handsome deputy.  Thank heavens Meg, the young woman she hired to bake for her, was one of the ones she took in, because Bea wasn’t much of a cook.

The one thing the 3 squabbling neighbors and the friendly and down to earth Lu have in common besides a love for Peter’s orange chicken is a tendency to be curious.  Like search the rooms of her off-island guests curious.  The best part of the book is watching these very different women slowly find a way to get along and work together and sort of like each other.  Yes, many elements are a rip off of Christie’s book, but more like a homage and it does work, especially in light of the late season storms we saw in the area this year adding to the credibility.

Who did the killing is actually obvious, the whys were not, and the solution not as unique as Christie’s.  Like most first books, a lot of time was spent developing the backstory behind various characters, especially Bea, who remains deliberately vague in her history.  The mystery is OK, but watching the women was the real entertainment.

Mayhem at the Orient Express gets a B- (3.7*) from me and a suggested read for lovers of classic style cozies.  Purchased online for $7.19

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SNEAK PREVIEWS: Two Urban Fantasy Novels

Elysian Fields

Elysian Fields, the third book of the Sentinel’s of New Orleans series, is due out in August and I got an ARC of the ebook.  YIPEE!!!!!!!!  Kudos to author Suzanne Johnson.  She does some expected and unexpected things with her characters and really puts her young wizardress, DJ (or Drusilla to Jean Lafitte and her grandmother), thru a lot.  This is the best new UF series since Kevin Hearne’s Iron Druid books hit the shelves 2 years ago.  More importantly, this series is one of the few that made the jump to my keeper shelf.

Starting just a few weeks after the end of River Road, the plot runs at a breakneck pace from the opening chapter with an investigation into a serial killer.  DJ’s problems with the elves are a lot more serious than the Elders realize.  There’s an old ax murderer on the loose, possible called up by a necromancer, and DJ is on his list, and the vampires have alliances and whole other game going on – one that could end with another Wizard War.

I won’t give a full review here, but buy this if you can, or make sure your library does.  Even though I read the ARC I left my order for the book in place.  I want a print copy for my shelf.  I know changes can happen between ARC’s and final print, but usually nothing major, especially thing close to the release date.  Elysian Fields will likely get a B+ (4.3*) and is a highly recommended series from me for fans of the Iron Druid, Grave Witch, and Elemental Assassin series.

Free ebook ARC

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Heart-of-Venom-625x1024

YES!  Your favorite assassin is back with a special tale to tell – one that centers around not Gin Blanco, but her closest friends Sophia and Jojo, the dwarf sisters that have been family to her since Fletcher Lane took her in after Mab Malone killed her family.  What was supposed to be a ‘girls day’ at Jojo’s spa turns bloody, with Sophia kidnapped, Jojo shot and Gin unable to intervene without getting them all killed, even her sister Brie.  First she has to get to a healer to save Jojo, then she has a sadistic half dwarf/half giant and his even more sadistic sister to hunt down.

Owen is back, struggling to make amends for his behavior after realizing Gin had no choices in what she did to his ex-fiancee.  Gin isn’t falling over herself to get him back, cautious of the hurt he caused her before.  She is what she is, and if he can’t live with that, she might always miss him, but she isn’t taking any crap or making any apologies about her life.  That is a strength I do like to see.  And with the focus on Sophia and Jojo, and the flashbacks to when Gin was just training with Fletcher Lane, makes for an all around good read.

After several very formulaic books, Heart of Venom was a welcome shift to the history of the dwarf sisters who have played such a big role in Gin’s life.  It has an interesting ending too, with the promise of a new underworld figure, Mab Malone’s heir.  My grade is B- (3.8*) and a must for Elemental Assassin fans and recommended read to those who read f UF in general.

Free ebook ARC

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