Tour’s Books Blog

September 28, 2013

New Releases and New Authors – Short Reviews and a Travel Tale

Once again I got involved in a reading challenge.  Why do I do it?  It takes me away from other things, like this blog.  I’m I glutton for punishment.  I think that’s a lingering element of my corporate life.  So is my giving advice in Trip Advisor, at least for my oft visited destinations.  I was, for years, the ‘go to’ person for hotel and restaurant advice in my department.  This week on TA it was the unpleasant shock that the much delayed beach renourishment project for Captiva and a small section of Sanibel that is suddenly scheduled to start Oct 1.   This long planned, but rather sudden start, has people who rented beachfront in the village area upset – with some justification.  It’s noisy and runs 24/7 and blocks a lot of beach at once, but it is also ESSENTIAL because of the extreme damage from Tropical Storm Debby last year that sent buzz saw waves sweeping across the beaches to the south, washing them away.  This lead to the exchange of travel war stories and I offered the one about my first business trip to Puerto Rico.

For many years I did a lot of traveling for my job.  Yes, I hit a few great places, Venice, Japan – including a tour of Katsura Villa, England a number of times, Paris, but I also went many more places that that only the locals could love.  I recall waking up one morning and having to hunt down the hotel stationary to see what city I was in and then a paper to get the date.  How hardcore road warriors do it, I’ll never know.  But one thing every traveler should pack is a sense of humor.  Travel is frustrating.  You plan the perfect vacation and the giant vulture of Fate craps all over it.   But really, sometimes the worst things make the best stories.   Yeah, it’s great to have a vacation where NOTHING goes wrong.  Of course, I wouldn’t know about that, because it’s never happened to me.

I worked in the pharmaceutical industry and spent almost 20 years ducking any trip to Puerto Rico due to an acute allergy to penicillin.  Finally, they – my former boss and my current boss in evil league with a purchasing agent – decided I had to go, not to our production facilities, but to two injection molding facilities to see if I felt they were technically acceptable.  I was on a project in Arizona for over a week, flew home, rented a car, drove to the house, tossed the dirty clothes, packed clean clothes, showered, caught 6 hours sleep and drove back to the airport for an early flight.  As I’m driving into the Hertz car return, the weather report says the hurricane that was stationary near the US Virgin Islands was moving.  Now this was before Smartphones, and everyone carting a laptop/tablet was common place, so checking weather wasn’t easy.

Cursing under my breath I go into the airport ready to call a car service to go home when I check the flight status and yes, it’s on schedule.  OK, so everything must be good.  I get to the gate and there are only business people there, which was kind of weird, but these folks went down there like once a month and thought everyone was excited about nothing.  They were wrong.  As the plane circled the San Juan airport, the pilot comes over the intercom and announces to the 50 or so idiots (including me) who boarded this flight “Ladies and gentlemen, if you’ll look out the left hand windows, you’ll see Hurricane Hortense.”  Yup, couldn’t miss something that big.  Ours was the last flight in.  I should have just stayed on the plane and gone to where ever it was going next, but no, I check in at the El San Juan.  The desk clerk thought I was nuts.  Well, Hortense wasn’t exactly news in Phoenix, so what did I know?

I get to the room and call my former boss, who is supposed to be coming down and …………… his flight was cancelled.  So was the flight for the purchasing agent, the 2 people responsible for my being there.  “You’re alone. We don’t know if either of the vendors made it down.”  Swell.  I’m loving this trip.  Now one vendor did make it and we managed to eat at my hotel that night, but by then the bars and casinos were closed and they had to leave because of security lockdown.  I’m exhausted, I read and hit the sack, and the damn phone rings at midnight.  Go to turn on the light ……….. nothing.  Find my travel flashlight and grab the phone.  All guests must come down to the casino, bring a pillow as blankets – NOW!

HUH? So I toss on a few clothes, grab a book, pillow, blanket and my huge CAPTIVA beach towel and head down. By now, my tired brain has registered the electric is out, but backup generators are supplying emergency hallway lights and elevators.  At the casino everyone gets a ratty old lounge cushion and told to find a spot on the floor. The staff is stuck in the hotel and they are doing their best, but man, were some people acting badly. They had water soft drinks and sandwiches (no alcohol as the Gov had closed the bars and casinos much earlier) but we still had one loud drunk. (There is always one) I setup housekeeping under a craps table and propped myself against a leg and read. Around 6AM we were allowed back to our rooms and I had just barely gotten to sleep when the damn phone rings. My boss calling to see if I was OK, and I told him I ended up spending the night under a craps table because the casino was the only room with no windows and the hotel had a few blown out. (I’ll give you one guess about how many jokes I got about the whole craps table thing – which I swear someone must have emailed to everyone in the damn department.)  And oh,  I was getting the first flight home and they were paying for it even if I flew first class and hung up.

Now I was stuck for two days, no power, but we could flush the toilets and take showers by candlelight and that was far more important. The staff was just amazing and really did the best could under really difficult circumstances. Of course some folks complained. I finally got out and got home.  I’m free, right?  Wrong.  Two weeks later they made me go back. (I think they flipped a coin to decide who got to call me and tell me I had to go because they were all scared.  They had reason to be. ) Down I go. Weather was perfect, everything goes fine, I’m sitting in a nearly empty flight home with a chatty FEMA guy who was an Air Force reserve pilot heading home for his assigned weekend when he says, “They’re dumping fuel. They’re heading back to the airport.” I just stared. Did I say something intelligent? No. I said, “Won’t that pollute the ocean?” “No, it will vaporize before it hits the surface.” OK, so it turns out that loud thunk was a blown engine and we land with police, fire and emergency trucks lining the runway. This chatty guy says, well, we might as well get lunch (which at the time was limited to a sandwich place) and we’re exchanging travel stories when the server’s tray tilts and 16 oz of Coke come pouring over my shoulder down my chest and into my lap – leaked between my legs and soaked my butt.  On the upside, the lunch was free.  Thankfully, I did have a complete change of clothing in my roll aboard, because I needed everything from the skin out.

One of the other posters added her comment – “I will not be following up with the “my son vomited all over me and burst his eardrums on the flight down, shortly before our daughter stepped on a spiny urchin and had to get the spines removed and stitches put in” story. Nope. I’ll save that one for another time!”

I replied, “Given a choice between “my son vomited all over me and burst his eardrums………… ” and Hurricane Hortense, I’d take the hurricane.”  See, everyone has travel war stories!

You quickly learn to take your sense of humor and perspective when you – though keeping them can be hard at times.  And I always had a lot of books for all those flight delays.

And books still go with me.  (I confess, my Kindle sees little use, but I do read ebooks on my laptop.)  Here we go, a mix of genres and quality.

cakes of wrath

Yet another food oriented cozy mystery.  Not my favorite series, but Cakes of Wrath was above average.  Set in New Orleans, this cake shop mystery has an interesting plot with local small business owners trying to organized.  Motorcycle shop owner, aptly Moose, asks Rita to give his flaky wife Destiny a chance to help with the scheduled clean up, she can’t say no – especially when he yanks her out of the way of a van trying to run her over.  Bad enough she’s injured from that, but he mother of her late husband – a man she was almost fully divorced from – Miss Frankie, asks her to help her cousin Peggy Lee a job at the bakery.  Now Rita is stuck with a woman who stole her pain killers and got so high she had to order her out, only to find her dead at her husband’s chopper shop with Rita’s prescription bottle in her hand.  Then there’s Peggy Lee, a 60+ year old Southern belle with no jobs skills except finding unsuitable men and spending money she hasn’t got, and a vice detective who is either stupid or looking for easy answers and is convinced Rita is part of the drug trade.

Destiny had a long and bad history with drugs – and claimed she would roll on her drug supplier, said she’d challenge the obvious candidate from president of the small business owner’s association, flirted with another shop owner, and was inches from being divorced from Moose for stealing from his business.  But persistence in asking questions – to get herself of the damn suspect list of that vice detective almost gets her killed by the person with all the anger.

For once, the solution was not obvious by page 30, so I enjoyed Cakes of Wrath more the most cozies.  I’d give it a B- (3.7*) and a suggested read for cozy fans.  Not worth $7.10, but for around $6.00 it’s OK.  I got this through BAM for $5,59.

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whiskey rebellionWhiskey SourWhiskey for breakfast

Liliana Hart is best know for her steamy romantic suspense and lightly humorous erotic romance, but with her Addison Holmes series, Hart starts with a new genre using CreateSpace, the Amazon self-publishing platform, to introduce her first foray into comedic mystery.  Certainly not a cozy and yet not a mainstream mystery either, Addison Holmes is one of that genre that is best considered hybrid.

There is a tendency today to say everyone rips off Janet Evanovich’s Steph Plum, but Evanovich just followed a path cut by authors like Phoebe Atwood Taylor writing as Alice Tilton way back in the 30’s.  Humorous mysteries have a long tradition and some are great entertainment as well as good mysteries.  The problem, some devolve into dumb farce and forget at heart – IT’S A MYSTERY.  Ms Hart manages to to a least get that part.

Addison Holmes is a teacher with a problem – and eviction notice, an expensive new car, and a subscription to lingerie of the month club – oh, and a thing for shoes.  She wants to move out of her condemned apartment into a neat bungalow across town – but her anemic bank account means she needs a second job for a down payment.  Well, first jobs are hard enough to come by, and one that pays a lot of money in a short amount of time are hard to find.  So Addison tries to become an ‘exotic dancer’.  Possibly the worst dancer ever, made even worse when her principal starts snapping cell phone shots of her in her pasties and g-string while he’s getting a lap dance!

You’d think that would make for the worst day of your life, but it got worse when she escapes out the club’s back door and finds a body.  But all is not lost, her BFF and her husband run a very successful investigation and security business.  She can hunt cheating spouses and take sleazy pictures for $100 a day.  The murder of her principal dead, suspended from her job, her apartment  condemned, her mortgage application turned down and this really hot homicide detective have Addison digging into what’s happening in her little town of Whiskey Bayou.  Aside from her BFF Katie, Rosemarie, a really ditsy fellow teacher in her 50’s, or her mom, are the only ones willing to help.

Whiskey Rebellion is a long setup for the series with a fairly surprising twist at the end.  Not as well done as Jana DeLeon’s Miss Fortune series, but worth a read at ebook prices.  I read the print book at $10+ with tax and that’s too high.  The cast is a bit too close to Evanovich for comfort, but that’s helped in the later books when the storyline veers off on a track all its own.

Book 2 is Whiskey Sour and now not only is Addision out of a job, living with mom, she’s decided to take classes to get her PI license.  Her detective boyfriend Nick is not exactly pleased.  He’s even less pleased when the FBI want Addison involved in a sting operation of a super high class call girl out that might be dealing in a lot more than sex.  They never succeeded in getting any undercover agent in the ‘escort’ service, but Addison fits the bill perfectly – educated, the right looks, right age, everything and she doesn’t even faintly smell of COP.  And Agent Savage will be over-seeing the operation – and is he H-O-T.  But Addison is with Nick and not the cheating type.  Plus, it pays well.   Nick is opposed due to the risks, and BFF Katie isn’t thrilled either.

Since she moved back home with mom, Addison discovered her mother and her late father’s partner, Vince, another police detective, are having an affair.  Really, she’s just not old enough to listen to her mom and Vince going at it like horny teenagers.  Or learning mom’s taking naked yoga.  She needs her own place – and the money the FBI offered is too good to pass up.

Along the way, Addison gets the job done, but the madame  was a lot more than the politically connected flesh peddler the FBI thought she was.   But Addy ends up in the hospital where Nick basically says it’s me or the job.  He can’t deal with the danger she puts herself in.  She isn’t letting anyone dictate her life, regardless of her feelings for Nick, and he walks out.

Book 3, Whiskey for Breakfast, has Addison sitting in on a very strange meeting.  A dying billionaire is trying to find his only blood relative, an illegitimate son he fathered in a misspent and less that legal youth when he had a whole different name and life.  She’s also asked to help track the sudden surge in local drugs by hunky FBI guy Savage – who is also her neighbor.   She might have broken up with Nick, but she wasn’t about to cross the line where she’d sleep with Savage.  Her sister has very different ideas on that.

Addison also meets the team of eccentric neighbors that make up the local neighborhood watch type unit.  She learns Savage is the only other normal person there – and Savage isn’t exactly a ‘normal’ guy.

The difference between the plotting of the mystery in book 1 to book 3 is striking.  With each book, the plots got more interesting, which I liked.  Overall, it was a cut above average for humorous mystery, despite similarities to the Steph Plum books.  With the help of her teacher friend Rosemarie, who somehow got involved with a man who wants sex morning, noon, and night, she and Addy start checking out this old age home with some questionable goings on.  Then she has the arrival of her older artist and free-spirit sister on her door step begging for a place to sleep – because she can’t deal with the mom/Vince thing either.  Addy has her hands full.  And Nick is back.  But getting left at the alter has Addy tough enough to deal, until the kissing starts.

Overall, the series improved with each book.  The books ranged from C to a B- (3* to 3.7*) rating and there was some of her steamy sex, but not much.  I enjoyed the books, but would recommend buying the ebooks instead of print.  The price of the print books ranged from just over $10 to about $12 with tax from Amazon.  The Addison Holmes series wwould be enjoyed by those who like the Mudbug series by Jana DeLeon, Crhistine Craig’s romantic mysteries, and Leslie Langtry’s Bombay Assassins (though that series was much more original), or the Stepf Plum Series.  I passed all three on to a fellow humorous mystery reader in California.

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one-lucky-vampire-19-argenau-vampire

Lynsay Sands writes fluff paranormal romances featuring her nano technology vampires and One Lucky Vampire is the latest in this long running series.  In all of her 19 books, there were really only two or three standouts – Single White Vampire, and The Accidental Vampire are my two personal favorites.  Her attempt to turn the series darker and more Gothic in the Hunter books with an evil vampire didn’t work and someone slapped her upside the head and yelled “FLUFF!”  Honestly, she just can’t write decent dark paranormal.  Fluff she can manage.

At 384 pages, this novel is an easy, FAST read.  Better than her last few, it features Jake Colson, the human son of a woman turned vampire by her mate.  He grew up not knowing her mom and beloved step-father and half brother were all vampires.  When he found out at 18 and his mother happily offered her one turn to make him one, he not only refused, he became estranged from his family.  He ended up working for Vincent Argeneau and was in his 50’s when Vincent turned him to save his life.  He left California and went to work for a security and protection agency using his two middle names, Jake Colson.

Having just finished a job protecting an egomaniacal dictator, his ‘Aunt’ Marguerite asks him to protect Nicole Phillips, the niece of her long time housekeeper and noted portrait artist who was getting a messy divorce.  He would pose as her cook/housekeeper.  Of course he can’t cook.  (Now if readers of this series are sensing a certain deja vu, it’s understandable.  This is a plot element she’s used before.  In fact, the whole story is a bit of a mishmash retread for several similar stories.)   There’s really nothing new or ever slightly original here.   Vaguely pleasant and slightly amusing, it was largely a waste of money and time – and still better than her dreadful ‘hunter’ books.

One Lucky Vampire gets a  C- (2.7*), significantly lower than the Amazon ratings where her fans rule, and it can only be suggested to rabid Argeneau followers.  Thankfully, this book only cost $4.79+ tax from Amazon.  It wasn’t even worth that.  Unless you’re an Argeneau junkie, skip it.

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fatedcursed

The Alex Verus series has been sitting on Mt TBR for some time, but thanks to the Reading Challenge, I FINALLY got to it – and could not put them down.  Where I found Mike Carey’s Felix Castor books a bit too heavy on horror for me to enjoy, Alex Verus was more like Harry Dresden light.  Not quite as complex, the characters still standout and the plot is excellent.  (Book one has a sly one line reference to Harry that made me laugh.)  So UF lovers rejoice, this one is worthy of the title!

Alex Verus is a diviner.  The ability to see possible futures is not exactly the sheer power that war mages carry, but the way they can predict things and chose their actions to create an outcome makes other mages very uneasy.  Even worse, Alex fled is master, a dark mage to whom he apprenticed.  No mage, Light or Dark would help him, not even those he thought of as friends.  So Alex survived on his own and stayed clear of the whole mage community.  Now he runs a small shop that sells non-magical and some magical items and just keeps a low profile.  Luna, his young assistant helps him procure items of the ‘back room’ where the real magical pieces are sold.  Luna has a curse laid on her, one worked by an angry witch long ago and still as potent as ever.  The curse makes for a lonely existence for the young woman and Alex, knowing what it’s like to be alone, does what he can to be her friend and teach her to control the curse.

Luna brings him an object that makes her nervous – a red cube.  Alex can tell it’s magical, an ‘imbued’ item that possesses magic of its own, but what he can’t tell.  Frankly, it makes him nervous too.  Then a man he once thought of as a friend comes to him to help the ruling council with an excavation.  Oddly, all the diviners – and there aren’t many – are suddenly ‘unavailable’.  Alex wants no part of the council or the slippery Lyle.  But diviners have an over-developed sense of curiosity, and it takes Alex to the dig site.  Soon he finds himself drawn into the problem whether he likes it or not – and as a sign of ‘good will’ he’s even invited to a mage ball.  Between upper level mage politics, people wanting him dead, then more or less getting possessed, he has a rough time of it.

From Fated I immediately started Cursed with Alex once again drawn back into the world of Mage politics when Talisid, a mage who seems to be OK, but who knows with mages, recruits him to help with a raid to capture a magical creature feeding off the people of London.  And Luna wants to introduce Alex to her boyfriend, Martin.  When Martin steals the Monkey’s Paw, Alex knows his meeting Luna was hardly accidental.  His intense dislike of the young man and Luna’s infatuation and refusal to listen about how dangerous the Monkey’s Paw is strains their relationship almost to the break point.  Then Meredith, an enchantress, working for Belthas, a very powerful ice mage end up pulling him into the search from whatever is drawing the life force from apprentice mages and magical creatures.  Alex warns Arachne, his 10 foot tall spider friend who lives in the heart of a wooded area of the Heath in London, but it’s Luna taking Martin there that does the damage.  Everyone is selling the other guy out.

The story’s pace is fast an furious and Alex, with the help of Sonder, a young time mage, they manage to stay alive long enough to rescue Luna and Arachne.  Like Fated, Cursed has two stories running at once.  The background plot involving the council and Tailsid, and also Luna and her curse, and the immediate story which is resolved.  I have read Taken and Chosen and the web that Jacka weaves is fascinating.

Fated and Cursed are both solid B (4*) books.  Not as complex as Jim Butcher’s Harry Dresden, not a witty as Kevin Hearne’s Iron Druid, but in the same mold.  Recommended reading for fans of either of those series.   I bought the books from Amazon for $7.19 each.  They’re a bit less at the moment.

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Chimes at midnight

Seanan McGuire writes two excellent series that sit on my auto-buy list, the lighter UF Incrypted series and the darker October Daye series.  Now getting into the October Daye books required a bit of a struggle on my part.  Book one seemed tedious and at least as annoying as it was interesting.  Book two had Toby’s world taking shape.  By book three I was hooked.  This is not an easy series to like and it MUST be read in order or you’ll be lost for sure.

Chimes at Midnight is book seven in the series and in many ways the culmination of a long battle between Toby and the Queen of the area, an over riding story arc throughout the books to date.  They not so cordially hate each other.  Which might be tolerable, but Toby’s success infuriates the Queen – and at a command appearance, she creates cause to banish Toby over the Goblin fruit trade killing half-bloods, like Toby.  For pure bloods, Goblin fruit is a hallucinogen, but a single taste by a half-blood and they are instantly and fatally addicted.   Tybalt, her lover and King of Cait Sidhe, has been helping her along with May, her fetch, May’s significant other, Jazz, a winged shifter, and Quentin, her squire.  Only Toby is banished.  She has 3 days.  That was the Queen’s mistake.  She gave Toby time and she used it wisely.

Toby is no ordinary half-blood.  Though she kept her mother’s true self secret, she is the off-spring of a human and a ‘firstborn’ – a child of Tatiana and Oberon, making Toby’s inherited powers far stronger than the queen knows – and almost no one knows just what they are.  The Sea Witch is her ‘aunt’ and her memory goes back much further than most.  Though she is bound not to interfere, she does give Toby the lead that starts to unravel the monarchy.

As always, the trip to the end is not easy and the denouement at court is excellent.  A very short story follows that lays the groundwork for where the series will go in the future.

Chimes at Midnight is a highly recommended read at a B+ (4.4*), but with the caveat that the series needs to be read in order.  Still priced at $4.79 on Amazon which is what I paid.  Ms McGuire maintains a very high standard with her plots and her writing.  Enjoy!

September 1, 2013

eBook vs Print and Some Mystery/Thriller Reviews

I just had three lessons in ebooks vs print books.  The first was Elysian Fields by Suzanne Johnson, third in the Sentinels of New Orleans) which I had read as an ARC ebook (twice) and then got in print and read again (twice).  The second was Inferno by Dan Brown which I only had in print.  For the record, I bought Elysian Fields on a pre-order through BAM.  Inferno came to me via Paperback Swap and it’s already leaving next week, though I did end up with 2 copies – one from a swap and one from my wish list which I forgot to cancel.

So what lesson did I learn?  Well, I enjoyed Elysian Fields in ebook, obviously, I read it twice, but reading it as a print book was a very different experience.  I felt more involved and when I was done, more satisfied than with the ebook.  It will even get a higher rating, and not just because all those minor proofing errors got cleaned up, but because I quite literally experienced the story differently.  Result – print book was superior all around for reading satisfaction.

The next was Heart of Venom by Jennifer Estep, the latest in the Elemental Assassin series.  I read it as an electronic ARC as well, and bought the books.  Oddly, I found less of a difference in how I experienced the story.  That could be the more straightforward ‘action thriller’ style of the series, or the difference in writing styles.  I’m inclined to think it’s the straightforward and fairly uncomplicated plot.  I noticed those books I liked best as ebooks were all very much in the same vein – uncomplicated plot lines, so I could just enjoy the characters.    While certainly not the intricate, multi-layered, cast of thousands book, written with flowing, complex prose and a demanding vocabulary, that say one of Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time books is, Ms Johnson does write a more layered and complex story and atmosphere and characters require greater attention.  And yes, the writing style, syntax, and vocabulary will slow down my reading speed.  Some writers are worth savoring – William Kent Kruger may not write the best mysteries, but they among the most lyrically written.  And that works better for me in print.

Now Inferno, is a different story.  Part of the problem is the fact that Dan Brown is a complex plotter, but lousy character author and as a writer, not the most skilled in his turn of phrase.  In that he’s much like the late Robert Ludlum.  This makes staying involved in one of this maze like stories a challenge.  But there was a bigger problem – the book itself.  It weighed a ton.  I switch hands when reading, holding the book more often in my left so I can turn pages with my right.  This isn’t usually an issue – or it wasn’t until two things happened:  1) I developed arthritis in my thumbs and, 2) I broke my left wrist 2 years ago and had a plate implanted to stabilize the bones.  While the recovery from the break was excellent given my age, the wrist is just not as strong as it was and like most broken bones, sensitive to the weather.  So reading big, heavy books is actually quite taxing to the wrist and hand, which makes for an uncomfortable situation and shortens the attention span.  Add to that Dan Brown’s less than enthralling writing skills and it was a long, slow, oft interrupted slog.

Now keep in mind, I own a Kindle that I hardly use.  I downloaded the software to my laptop and read on it instead.  Why?  I have an older Kindle and it’s a PIA to use and heavy to boot.  Heavier than a paperback, but not as heavy as a hardcover.  I just found the short page length annoying.  Actually, that’s pretty much true of ALL ebooks.  Fewer words per page.  It makes keeping a train of thought going harder.  With a book, you see two pages at once and do not have to think about changing pages every 225 words.  It keeps breaking the story’s flow.

So yes, I will still buy ebooks, but truth is, they are less than 10% of my book purchases.   The experience with Elysian Fields showed me why.  Trow away books, like romance, and even basic plots like Heart of Venom, ebooks are fine and cheap.  Book you want to sink into – for me it’s paper – DTB (dead tree book).

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Inferno

Dan Brown hasn’t written many books, but that could be because of the amount of research he puts into his plots.  Like Robert Ludlum, Brown relies on the compelling story of a puzzle being unraveled to avert a crisis, not on any character development, though each book does have character elements as the underlying motivation.  The other reason might be the fact that his books are really LONG – just shy of 500 pages in hardcover.  Not as long as Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time epic fantasy books, but for a thriller, it’s a long book.

With Inferno, Brown steps up to bio-terrorism plate, an area usually explored by action thriller writers with former Spec Ops heroes battling their way to the truth.  But Robert Langdon is no soldier and uses his odd eidetic memory and his vast knowledge of history, art, and symbology to unravel clues to avert some kind of global disaster.  Only this time his memory is failing for the first time in his life – thanks to a bullet wound to the head.  He wakes up in a hospital in Florence, Italy, a city he loves and knows well, but the last thing he remembers is being in Cambridge at the Harvard campus several days earlier.

What follows is classic Brown …… fast, filled with exquisite detail, and often tedious.  And not one single outstanding character leaps off the page.  Langdon has three dimensions in large part thanks to Tom Hanks.  The nerdy academic who unravels complex clues.  Though why these brilliant villains always leave these trails of breadcrumbs has always baffled me.  Kind of like James Bond villains who always screw up because their gloating.  A brilliant scientist leaving a trail even though he leaped to his death to avoid revealing anything?   hummmmm

Anyway, let us accept the master villain left these arcane clues only a master scholar could follow – bring on Robert Langdon.

WARNING:  Spoilers below

What’s right with Inferno:  The pacing is fast, and Langdon thinking he’s averting a global bio-terrorism plot gives it an edge.  The armed men chasing him do too.  As usual,

What’s wrong with Inferno:  The ending.  It fell flat in the last 75 pages.  All the tension built up over 400 pages as Langdon races against time to prevent a disaster and the solution was a classic WTF moment.  Unfortunately, for the reader, it was also a “WTF did I just waste my time on this?”

As a thriller reader, the dénouement after such – well sort of – breathless journey to avert the disaster was EPIC FAIL.

The other huge problem was the lack of any aftermath for an event of this magnitude with economic, social, religious, and political consequences.  Two scientists walk off into the ‘brave new world’, Langdon flies home, and ………… That’s it?  What about what happens when the world finds out?  What happens to fertile females?  Will they be made into baby factories under control of the government?  Jeeze, talk about a disaster.  Someone didn’t think this through – including Dan Brown.  No wonder he just threw Langdon on a flight home.  I would have run from that mess too.  The author just ignored the ramifications of the event completely.  Astonishing.

Inferno gets a D+ (2.3*) from me in large part due to the ending.  I know his legion of fans will hate me, but come on, he did NOT think this through.  He just abandoned the whole thing in an abstract, professorial way.  It did not register with the man.

Thankfully, I got Inferno through Paperback Swap.  Free is the only way to go here unless you are die hard Langdon junkie.  Then but a CHEAP used copy.  This is no keeper.

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the-english-girl-daniel-silva

Will this 13th outing be Gabriel Allon’s last mission?  We’ll see.  Here Allon is minding his own business at home in Israel restoring a Bassano when he gets a visit from the ‘the old man’, the legendary Ari Shamron.  Seems something has happened in the UK and Graham Seymour is calling in a favor.  An English girl, late 20’s, vacationing in Corsica with friends has disappeared.  This is no ordinary English girl, she a rising star in the PM’s party – and his very secret mistress.

The kidnappers have made contact – but strangely, no demands.  Gabriel finally agrees to go help, not as assassin, but as an investigator.  He hears the story first from John Lancaster, the PM with his ‘power behind the throne’, Jeremy Fallon.  From all outward appearances, Madelyn was a middle class success story, a beautiful, brainy young woman who caught the eye of party powers and was raised thru the ranks, getting groomed for an eventual run as an MP.  Her disappearance in Corsica is even more mysterious as no ransom demands have been made – just notification to Lancaster they have her.

Gabriel goes to Corsica to see the local Don who makes his money in olive oil and contract hits, and ask to borrow one of his assassins, an Englishman, former SAS thought to have been killed in the mid-East – and a man who was once contracted to kill Gabriel and didn’t.  The two men began the investigation all over again – and starting with a picture of Madelyn at a table with an unknown man, they begin trying to piece things together.

All the elements are there for a great story, yet somehow, it didn’t quite cut it for me.  It was obvious they knew Gabriel’s personal history and they also knew entirely too much about things that were known by only a few, and had Gabriel not been so lost in his cycle of personal angst, he would have seem it.  I guess that’s the part that annoyed me.  Allon is known for his ability to puzzle out motives, yet he failed to do confront a key one for a long time.  Perhaps, Gabriel’s concession to age and the need for a new man to take his place in the field – and who he apparently tries to recruit at the end, was the single most interesting part.  It looks like the baton may be passing to a new lead character, and someone who is interesting and enigmatic too.

The English Girl is not quite up to DeSilva’s usual standards, but is a good read.  I give it a B- (3.7*) and a recommendation for fans, but only in mmpb.  The HC is over priced.  My copy of The English Girl came through an online book swapping site and will leave the same way.

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breaking point

Like Craig Johnson’s Walt Longmire series, C.J. Box’s Joe Pickett books went a long time unnoticed outside hardcore mystery readers.  Not anymore.  Longmire and Pickett have a lot in common, especially a bone deep respect for nature and the fundamental kind of survival instincts that keep a man alive in the unforgiving wilderness.  They also have the fierce independent nature that is typical of Westerners, tough, self-reliant, men that enforce laws but respect personal freedom and the land itself.

Box incorporates a lot more aspects of government intrusion into citizen’s lives and in Breaking Point he used an actual lawsuit and Supreme Court ruling as a springboard for his plot.  One of Joe’s friends is former black ops man Nate Romanowski who was featured in his last book Force of Nature, (not my favorite) and since disappeared.

The story opens with two armed EPA enforcement agents driving from Denver to deliver a cease and desist order on a man in Wyoming.  The Corp of Engineers man who is supposed to meet they and go out to the land with them is aghast at the order and the person they plan to serve it on.  In the end, both officers are dead and buried under a berm of dirt.

Joe’s out riding a line of watering trenches set up so wildlife stays away from domestic herds to get water.  He sees a cut fence an follows it to a camp where local builder Butch Roberson is.  Butch is a real outdoors type, but something about their whole encounter feels wrong.  Still, Joe heads back and then gets the call about the murders.

Over on Butch’s land, new sheriff and paraplegic Mike Reed is doing all the right thing to keep evidence and crime scene conditions in tact with a loud, obnoxious, and obviously self important EPA Juan Julio Batista shows and has the FBI claim jurisdiction.  Reed is not about to be bullied by some high level desk jockey and tells him to get a court order and get out of his crime scene.

Now Joe is only a game warden, but even he knows something here isn’t right, and it’s more than 2 dead agents and an over-reacting desk jockey who starts calling Butch a terrorist.  As his new boss keeps caving to the increasingly outrageous tactics of the feds, Joe goes and hunts for Butch – and the fools he’d taken hostage when they’d tried capture him – said fools including the former sheriff who sent Mike out into a surefire armed confrontation that put him in the wheelchair – all because Mike was running against him in the election.

McLanahan, the former sheriff, with his ego and an ax to grind ends up one of the hostages trying to show up Mike.  But it’s when the EPA idiot calls in a drone strike with a Hellfire missile kills the wrong man and sets off a monumental forest fire that thing go really south and pushes Joe to find out what the hell is REALLY going on here.  And Butch has most of the answers.

Box spins a tight, well written mystery and has his usual twist at the end, a twist that puts everything into perspective and puts the real motives behind the whole incident that led to the deaths of 2 agents, firefighters, and other people, into perspective – and it all started long ago with a lover spurned.  An innocent man willingly goes to jail to protect another.  That part I saw coming, the rest I didn’t.

Box does have an ax to grind with the high-handed tactics of the EPA thanks to what even the US Supreme Court calls a ‘badly crafted law’ that Congress has no interest in fixing.  That does not control the story, which is more about hubris, long held grudges, and people who use connections to screw others, in addition to the abuse of federal authority – a favorite theme of writers who live out west.  It also sees Joe quit his job, a job he loves, but can’t do thanks to the weak management caving to what he sees as highly illegal and ethically and morally questionable tactics.

Breaking Point is just a really good read on several levels, but there is no question political points are part of the story and Box has some strong views that did not make Joe step out of character, but remained within his own well established ethical boundaries, a lesson some other authors should take to heart.  Breaking Point gets a B+ (4.2*) from me and a recommended read.  I got Breaking Point through an online book swapping site.  Buy a discount copy as the current online price is over $18.  This is a series to read!

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