Tour’s Books Blog

October 8, 2013

New Releases, Three New Authors and the Usual Suspects

I know you’ve been there – picked up a book, started to read and were so bored you put it down and started another one.  I did that with Raymond Feist’s The Magician three times before I was actually able to read the book.  These days, I’m not so patient.  Maybe it’s old age.  Maybe it’s the realization that there are just too many good books to waste my time on ones I can’t get into.  Maybe I just want a book that hooks me and makes me want more, instead of wanting it to be over.  And I REALLY don’t want a book that just depress me.   I want to be entertained, enthralled, like the characters, enjoy the plot, and basically sit back and revel the ride – whether it’s a wild action filled one with spies and killers, or a more sedate cozy, or something off-beat and zany that makes me laugh rather than cringe.  Yes, I’m that shallow.  I’ve read hundreds of biographies, more non-fiction than I can count, but now, at this point in my life, I want to just enjoy.  I have enough reality every day.  When I read, I want to escape a bit.

I love my mysteries and thrillers, but the paranormal section of science fiction and fantasy, where worlds collide, is the fastest growing part of Mt TBR.  Fantasy to me is an alternate world, usually with magic of some sort.  The Lord of the Rings, The Game of Thrones, The Wheel of Time, Gentleman Bastards, or The Kingkiller Chronicles – all true fantasy.  Science Fiction would be Arthur C Clarke, Larry Niven, Theodore Sturgeon, and Robert Heinlein – a not so popular genre these days.  But new sub-genre’s have appeared and caused fits for those who classify books.  You have paranormal romance – some of which is like the traditional generic romance, but with fangs or fur.  Others border on paranormal romantic suspense, having a strong mystery or action element.  Other are urban fantasy – which has somehow given birth to suburban fantasy – urban fantasy having a strong thriller or mystery type element and may, or may not have a romance element.  And just to confuse things further, we have Steampunk – which could be anything from young adult to romance to horror in an alternate history with ‘mechanicals’ and magic and/or things like vampires and werewolves coexisting.

Genre bending series have proven popular, just as the anti-hero has in mystery with things like the Dexter series.  But regardless of how you try and classify them, a book remains good or bad based on character, plot, and writing style.  This time we a pretty much cover the extreme mix of those three common elements.

etiquette and espionage

No one writes more stylistically than Gail Carriger.  Her florid, over-the-top, flowery prose is the opposite of the clean, spare writing of most authors I read.  It is an affectation bound to annoy many, but once you get past the stilted silliness, the deliberately outrageous names, and verbose dialogue, she spins a good tale, and the style in which she tells it, actually suits the story, even though it still annoys at time.

I first read Carriger’s books because many players in the PBS games raved about how good they were.  I started Souless twice before I could get past her style and start enjoying the story.  She kind of made a pastiche of her world building, but I finally managed to get it organized in my head.  And rather surprisingly, she did kind of wrap up the story line in book 5 of the Parasol Protectorate series – though she left an opening for more.

Etiquette and Espionage is her first foray into Steampunk young adult and is set some years before the Parasol Protectorate.  We meet the inventor Lafoux as a child here and get to know whole new cast of characters.  This is book one of her Finishing School series and I won it in a swap, just as I did the first few books of the Parasol Protectorate.  I’m not a huge fan of young adult, and I really have to be in the mood to tackle one of her books, because I can find her style as annoying as it can be amusing at times, so it took awhile for me to get to this one.  Once I did, I read through it fast.

Despite her lurid prose, the story moves at a fairly quick pace as tomboy-ish Sophornia Temminnick is a burden to her mother.  One of many children of an upper middle class family, she’s the square peg in a round hole.  But suddenly, she finds herself packed off to Mademoiselle Geraldine’s Finishing Academy for Young Ladies of Quality – an unexpected event that ends a day that included her taking the dumb-waiter apart to see how it worked and then catapulting herself out to prevent crashing.  Not much can hide hide the torn and dirty clothes.  Despite her protests, the whole thing is looking more like an adventure than anything else.

You have Skyway-men, the Steampunk version of Highwaymen, only using hot air balloons with a dinghy rather than horses.  And the academy itself is a large ship help afloat by multiple balloons.  Sophronia saves the day, gets a new best friend, learns about the boys school for Evil Geniuses and and finds out Miss Geraldine’s is anything but your normal finishing school.

I liked the characters and realize the book is aimed at a younger audience, not an adult one, but despite the story, which was well told and interesting, it felt like it lacked substance.  OK, the age group it’s aimed at won’t notice, but like Harry Potter, books like this attract both younger and older readers, so we’ll see if she follows Rowling’s model and makes the books more ‘adult’ as he character ages as the Harry Potter evolved.

Etiquette & Espionage gets a B- (3.8*) rating and a recommended read for all YA or steampunk fans.  Shorter and less substantial than her Parasol Protectorate series, the price is high for the hardcover and trade size paperback.  I’d urge you to borrow it from your local library or buy an inexpensive used copy.  This is not destined to be on a keeper shelf like Harry Potter and is certainly not as original or creative.  As stated above, my copy came thru a book swapping site and will go back out the same way.

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Aunty-Lees-Delights

I love foreign mysteries and just soak up the atmosphere they convey.  Usually.  There are exceptions.  For example, I dislike Alexander McCall Smith and the Precious Ramotswe mysteries.  I find them oblique, boring, tedious, and just plain dull.  I read 4 books in that series before giving up.  Here we have Singapore’s answer to Precious Ramotswe, Aunty Lee.  An overly chatty Miss Marple with lurid imagination that runs as wild as her mouth.

Ovidia Yu is not a new author, but she is new to the US market and this is book one in a new series obviously designed to appeal to those who like the First Ladies Detective books.  While I did not not dislike Precious Ramotswe, I actually found Aunty Lee wore on my last nerve by page 30.  Her overly obsequious Philippine assistant cook, her step son, his wife and damn near everyone in her restaurant for the wine tasting with food.  By page 75 it got the heave ho – yes I did read the end and no, I was not thrilled.

Aunty Lee’s Delights will get no second chance.  Too many excellent foreign mysteries for that.  If you want to read books that capture character, time, and place, try Colin Cotterill’s Dr Siri series set in Laos in the 70’s, or Martin Walker’s Bruno series set in the Dordogne region of France – or even Shamini Flint’s Inspector Singh books.  All are much better bets.

Aunty Lee’s Delights gets a DNF and I just can’t recommend it even for Precious Ramotswe fans.  Too many good foreign mysteries to be bothered.  To my horror, I bought this book from BAM for just over $9 with tax.  Waste of money.

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Murder and Marinara

Another first book, but this one is a world removed from Aunty Lee’s Delights, not just in setting, either, even though both involve restaurants.  Murder and Marinara is set at the Jersey shore in a little Italian place on the boardwalk in the fictional town of Oceanside.  Like all towns along the shore, the shop and restaurant owners of Oceanside depend heavily on the summer tourist trade to keep the the business afloat.  Victoria Rienzi, better known a Vick Reed to her mystery readers, fled Oceanside, the family restaurant, and a broken love affair for New York where she hit the semi-big time with her fussy fictional detective Bernardo.  Vick is sick of Bernardo – and like Agatha Christie’s Poirot and Arthur Conan Doyle’s Holmes, she yearns to kill him off.  Thing is, she hasn’t created a new detective in her head yet, but she started a fictionalized historical based on her own family’s history.  With the reluctant agreement of her agent and editor, she takes a year to go the 50 miles and a lifetime away back to Casa Lido, her disapproving nonna, her flighty mother, gambler father, and policeman brother who is married to her best friend.

The obnoxious producer of a reality TV show (Jersey Shore, but even lower class) wants to film in Oceanside.  Vick’s nonna and family are opposed.  The mayor, never a fan of family, is gung ho for it.  Then the damn producer walk-in, demanding lunch – salad dressing on the side, hot water for tea, grilled chicken – you know the type.  Before he leaves, he’s pale and sweating.  Unfortunately, a few hours later our mystery author finds his body out back by the garden shed.

The police investigation gets complicated when the woman responsible for Tim and Vick’s break up shows up as the wife of the dead producer.  Tim, the restaurant’s sous chef, is now the prime suspect.  Nonna declares that Vick’s job is now to find the REAL killer so the restaurant can get back to normal FAST.

Sophia, her best friend and brother Danny’s wife – well, separated wife – is ready and willing to help.  Too bad Vick isn’t felling as ready and isn’t very willing.  But nonna is a force of nature and if she wants to learn to cook or wants a snowball’s chance of getting the family history, she had to do SOMETHING.  And the something was well done, pretty believable, and interesting.  The who and why are straight from Miss Marple, but the ride was still a good one.

Murder and Marinara gets a B- (3.8*) from me and recommended read for cozy fans.  A cut above average on plot, characters, and writing.  And the Jersey shore setting was dead on.  Thanks to the author for not dragging Superstorm Sandy into it.  I got the book for $4.79+tax from Amazon and consider it more than worth the price.  I will be happy to buy her next one.

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The Rook

Another first book by a first time author and folks, it’s a winner.  Daniel O’Malley is an American educated Aussie who delivers an original, wry, witty, complex, and very clever urban fantasy story based in London that satisfies both paranormal and thriller junkies with a female lead character, Myfanwy (rhymes with Tiffany) Thomas.

Soaked by the cold rain, Myfanwy wakes up with a ring of dead people around her – all wearing latex gloves.  She knows there is a reason for the gloves, but she can’t think what it is.  She also knows something – she did kill them, but doesn’t know why.  She can’t even remember her name.  She tries to find something, anything to help her remember who she is …………….. and she finds a letter, one she wrote to herself because she knew that she would lose her memory and the ‘new’ Myfanwy would be the same, but different and she had a lot of decisions to make FAST, or die.  The letter is simply addressed to You and signed, Me.

Myfanwy is given a new name, Anne Ryan, an ATM card and ID and a set of instructions to check into a hotel.  Claiming an abusive boyfriend to explain her black eyes, she does as instructed, and reads letter two at the 5* hotel.  She has a choice – one of two safe deposit boxes, each with a different set of information – one let’s her run using the identity and piles of money Myfanwy set up in advance, or two helps her return to her job and discover who is responsible for what happened.  Easy choice, run.  In the morning she goes to the bank for the safe deposit box and is again attacked, and she screams.  Apparently, the scream downs the assailants and she grabs the contents of the box, not the run box, the stay box, because she realizes she’ll never be safe even if she runs.

So begins a fascinating story told in turn by the ‘original’ Myfanwy – or Miss Thomas, as the ‘new’ Myfanwy thinks of her – about an organization of pf people with paranormal abilities, some bizarre, others deadly, other just plain creepy – some all of the above.  And the ‘new’ Myfanwy is a very different person.  Miss Thomas was nothing if not organized and she has prepared well for what she was sure would happen, regardless of any action she might take.  The ‘new’ Myfanwy needs every thing Miss Thomas provided and more, but she simply cannot cram a lifetime into one night.  She doesn’t carry the emotional baggage, is more pragmatic, and unlike Miss Thomas, not afraid to use her abilities.  The last bit she keeps to herself.  But she has a daunting task ahead of her.  She’s walking into an organization of people with all manner of abilities, governed by rules and etiquette dating back hundreds of years, and trying to pretend she belongs in a fairly high level position.  Thing is, she completely lacks the memory set to function as Miss Thomas, so she improvises.  But there’s no disguising her strength and assertiveness, two traits Miss Thomas lacked.

The difference shows itself markedly when a prisoner is ‘interrogated’ and an old enemy, long thought gone.  This struggle between what science can create and what nature creates – the Checquy vs the Grafters – alchemists turned monster makers, or perhaps, creating through science what occurs naturally in the members of the Checquy.  But modern science challenges the long held supremacy of those born with special talents, the Grafters just take it to a different level.

There is no question this book is original and very, very well done.  The only problem, Myfanwy Thomas does not feel very ‘female’.  She feels almost androgynous.  Maybe that’s the way the author wanted it, and he does kind of explain it away, or being male, he simply could not nuance the character enough to feel truly female.  This is a minor issue, but one that caught my several times saying, “What woman would not do xyz?”  I suspect most readers might miss that entirely as the story is engrossing. That said, his description of the visit of the ‘the Greek woman’ told by Miss Thomas was a complete hoot.   Some might dislike the ‘real time’ events interrupted by the many instructions and tutorials the ‘old’ Miss Thomas left for her new self.  It’s a style that I sometimes find contrived or just annoying, but it worked here and wove into the story giving the two versions of Myfanwy, Myfanwy 1.0 and Myfanwy 2.0, substance.  Their differences are quite clear and make the story more interesting.

The Rook is a really good first novel by a new author and gets a very rare A- (4.6*) from me.  The writing style is bound to annoy some, but worked for me – and many others.  Already questions are being asked about when book 2 will be available – assuming Book 2 is planned.  Given the ending of book 1, a rather clever ending I never saw coming, I might add, I’d say yes, this might be a series, but perhaps only a trilogy.  I could be wrong.  Bravo Mr O’Malley for a extraordinary first effort.  Highly Recommended.  I bought The Rook from Amazon for just over $11.50 plus tax.  It was worth every penny.

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