Tour’s Books Blog

November 27, 2013

Thanksgiving Quickies

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OK, this is a tough time of year to keep up with everything.  Football, Thanksgiving, football, Christmas, football …….. oh, yeah, making dinner.  My days of massive Thanksgiving and Christmas meals are behind me (thanks heavens) and things are more relaxed, but relaxed is still not ‘nothing to do.  On top of that, DAYS ARE TOO DAMN SHORT!  By 7:30 at night it feels like 10 PM.  But it’s getting cold enough that cuddling under blankets with a good book and a good game are the way to pass the time.  Of course Thanksgiving weekend is a football orgy as is New Year and the weeks the follow as bowl games kick in and play-offs start for the pros.

I was asked by a non-cooking friend for a simple appetizer and I suggested stuffed endive.  You can use almost anything and those leaves look great as ‘boats’ holding various goodies.  Since she had a vegetarian in the family (who does not consider eating shrimp wrong??!!!!!) I said use chopped pear (ripe Anjou are best for this) and crumpled goat cheese with or without shredded prosciutto and a light drizzle of aged balsamic.  Goat cheese is very versatile with foods like fruit and salty meats.  Endive can be stuffed with anything from egg salad to elaborate honeyed nuts, cheese and diced apples or homemade Waldorf salad.  The other veggie that works well is English cucumber – those long skinny ones in plastic.  You can peel strips, cut 1.5″ chunks and use a melon baller to scoop out the inside and stuff with shrimp salad, a puree of salmon and cream cheese topped with some diced hard boiled eggs or for fancy, black caviar.  Hey, you don’t need to do much any more.  Lots of good stuff is ready to use at your local market or gourmet store.  Skip the cheese and crackers and try something new and simple this year.

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The Mystery Woman

Amanda Quick (Jayne Ann Krentz) is about as predictable as a metronome, and about as exciting.  I won The Mystery Woman in a swap and figured I’d at least try her so-called paranormal historical romance series based on a female detection agency.  I would love to say it was great, or even good.  It wasn’t.  The plot is the same one she’s used time and again with a few new riffs to freshen the stale and well used key elements.  A real snooze fest for anyone not a die hard Quick fan – and they are legion.

My grade is C- (2.7*) and it only gets that because despite the stale plot, she still writes well and paces her action.  The Mystery Woman is not worth the price of a hardcover, so borrow it or get it really cheap.  Better still, buy something more original.  Got it free in a book swap and it will move along.

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Bombshell

Now if Amanda Quick is plowing the same field again and again, Catherine Coulter is not far behind, but she does get points for getting back in some kind of romantic suspense groove with Bombshell after wandering far afield in her FBI series.  Still, it is very predictable, but with some original story elements.  This time we have an FBI agent’s sister at an elite music school in Virginia to study composition when she’s assaulted after finding a dead body in her bathtub.  Turns out the body is an undercover DEA agent and given the deep denial of them to confirm it, the FBI assumes the undercover operation is till ongoing.  The partner is so obvious it’s painful.  You have repeated attacks by a violent drug gang that is imitating Dumb and Dumber, two egomaniacal  brothers who are – maybe – tied up with the Gang That Couldn’t Shoot Straight.

Bombshell is slightly better than average for a romantic suspense novel at C+ (3.2*), but is not worth the hardcover price.  Borrow it, or wait for a super cheap remainder.  Won in a book swap.  Going out to another person.

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The Final Cut

With the able assistance of mystery author, J. T. Ellison, Catherine Coulter introduces a new central character, Nicholas Drummond.  Descended from lower level aristocracy with an American mother mother, Nicholas has always made his way.  After a career with MI5 he went to Scotland Yard.  His former lover and sill friend Elaine Scott is killed while on assignment in NYC as special security for the display of the Crown Jewels at the Met (Metropolitan Museum of Art, not the opera house).  Sherlock and Savage get called in and their good friend and Nicholas’ uncle, the former SAC in NYC and now the Met’s special security consultant, Bo Horsely, is Drummond’s uncle – so we have now neatly tied up a relationship with the main background characters.

At the heart of The Final Cut is the legend that the Koh-i-Noor diamond is one of 3 from huge diamond held by a Mogul leader in India as their empire there fades and they return to the mid-east homelands.  By uniting the three stones, separated for hundreds of years, the family will once again reign supreme.  Having kept the largest part of the diamond in the family, the heir commissions the theft of the other two parts of the original stone – one held by a Russian mobster, the other – the Koh-i-Noor.

The plot is improbable, but no more so than many action thrillers, and the mystery is above the usual romantic suspense level.  The Final Cut gets an unlikely B- (3.7*) from me.  One of the downsides is Ellison’s style is sufficiently different from Coulter’s I could almost pick out where one was driving a scene, especially Coulter.  Not that unusual for collaborations.  Is The Final Cut worth $16-$17 asking price?  No.  Get it at the library or wait for the mmpb or a CHEAP used copy.  I bought mine online for $9 with shipping used.

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The art of stealing time

Book 2 of Katie MacAlister’s Time Thief series, The Art of Stealing Time picks up the story of Gregory Faa starts his career as member of the Watch, the supernatural police.  And he starts it by breaking ALL the rules, stealing time from an immortal to save the beautiful witch he’s trying to arrest from death at the hands of a crazy lawyer.

Gwenhwyfar ‘Gwen’ Byron Owens is visiting her two moms and planning on getting some rare ingredients she needs for a quintessence she’s been working on for years.  Unlike her mother and Mom 2, Gwen is not a witch, she’s an alchemist.  And unlike her moms, she isn’t always getting in trouble with the Watch – or worse.  But she is always protecting them, which is how she ended up getting tossed off a cliff by an evil lawyer only to have Gregory steal time and manage to save her the second time.

Gregory Faa might be cover model handsome with blond good looks to die for, but Gwen needs to get away from him and get her moms to safety.  Unfortunately, they kidnapped a very elderly lady, Mrs Vanilla, who draws a map and insists on going to a Dunkin’ Donuts despite having the police and the Watch after them.  She runs thru the store, the Moms and Gwen racing after her and the run into a store room and out into Anwyn, the Welsh Underworld.

Written in her usual screwball, headlong, breezy style, The Art of Stealing Time is an amusing and painless way to spend a few hours.  I found it more entertaining than Time Thief, and the setting of Anwyn was a good part of that enjoyment.  For paranormal romance, it’s blessedly angst free.  Ms MacAlister plays her books with a balance of plot and laughs, this series is for those who like comedy.  My rating is C+ to B- (3.5*), and suggested for those who like their laughs with a just a dash of romance.  My copy of The Art of Stealing Time came from a book swapping site, and will move along the same way.  It’s selling at $7.19 for the print book and $5.99 for the ebook.  Go for the ebook, or wait for a used copy.  She’s popular and her books usually land in used book store fairly fast.

November 12, 2013

Genre Sampler – Reviews and Comments

Thanksgiving and Christmas are rapidly approaching and, as usual, I’m completely unprepared.  Oh well, we always manage somehow.  The family is small now, and it’s not like adults beyond a certain age actually NEED anything.  Well, other than a winning Lottery ticket.

November and December are both big release months as well, but I have to say, the new releases this month have proved disappointing to me.  As usual, books will be gifted, but that’s been true most of out lives.  In addition, I always haul up a bunch of books by authors my brother and SIL enjoy and let the read away. For many years, my brother an I built a Lincoln Log village on Christmas – starting with an old set his wife picked up at a flea market.  Well, the set grew, and grew, and grew.  A few years ago was our last ‘build’ and it was quite a grand finale.

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We built that whole complex, mostly free form buildings, in about a day and half, working off and on and watching Charlie Chan movies and eating.  But standing for hours was getting hard on my knees and back.  Plus getting out and cleaning up and sorting the thousands of logs to be stored away again was a major project by itself.   Now we work jigsaw puzzles and play cards or Yatzee – and watch Charlie Chan, the old Sherlock Holmes, or other favorite 40’s movies that we saw on TV as kids – and eat.  It’s just more about spending some time together.  It also helps us remember why we live 200 miles apart, it prevents bloodshed and the need to hide bodies.  But before the holidays disrupt my life, I better get on with some reviews.

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Read It and Weep

This latest installment of the Library Lover’s mystery series was disappointing – at least for me.  Read it and Weep was the first book I read from the mass of Nov 5th releases I bought.  Problem is, by page 40 I knew the whole plot and who did it and why.  I know cozy mysteries aren’t exactly the early Ellery Queen books that would lay out all the clues and challenge the reader to solve the mystery, but come on, this was as obvious as a slap to the head.

The local community theater group is putting on A Midsummer’s Night Dream, using as a star a well known actor, Robbie Vine, and friend of the resident semi-retired actress turned director, Violet LaRue.  Everyone is in a dither of anticipation over getting parts, even Ms Cole, the always critical older librarian that thinks Lindsey isn’t up to the level of the former head librarian in Briar Creek.  Robbie is more than a bit interested in Lindsey.  It isn’t helped by Sully having broken things off with her for months to ‘give her time’ without even talking with her about it.  They’re on the outs and Robbie is inspired to chase her, and she’s interested – until he gets poisoned.

In addition to the easy to see plot, the other problem is yet another budding love triangle.  Ms McKinlay did this in her Cupcake series as well.  IS THERE AN EPIDEMIC?  It’s easy to blame Janet Evanovich and her Morelli-Plum-Ranger ploy and Steph Plum’s extended adolescent emotional immaturity, but why is it contagious?  Or just ‘monkey see, monkey do’ writer syndrome?  Are authors so lost in copycat land they are incapable of original thought?  Whatever is causing this blight on cozies needs to be stamped out.  SOON!

Read it and Weep gets a C- (2.8*) rating for predictable plot and even more predictable love triangle.  I am apparently in the minority in this as Amazon reviews are much kinder.  Bought this from BAM for $5.39, but Amazon had it discounted to $4.79.  Its current price is $7.19.  Read if you’re an uncritical fan of generic cozies, but try and get it cheap.

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It’s been awhile since I reviewed a single author anthology of steamy romance novellas.  In the now well entrenched tradition of using Spec Ops military as the the heroes, Cat Johnson offered her rather generic romances using the usual group of male buddies.  If the love triangle infestation in cozies if the fault of Janet Evanovich, then Suzanne Brockman takes the hit for the current inundation of Spec Ops romance in mainstream and smut – even some paranormal.  Everyone from Lora Leigh to Lisa Marie Rice has used them.  Hands down, the most popular heroes in romance.

Red Blooded has 3 novellas originally published as ebooks by Samhain, a high quality smut and mainstream publisher who carries many of the better steamy writers.  Cat Johnson also writes mainstream romance and romantic suspense.  Like all romance novellas, there is no time for complex plots or character development.  More ‘slam bam, thank-you ma’am’ type of sex with the usual ‘struck by lightning’ emotions.  Harmless fantasy that’s well written and highly readable with better than average plots and characters.  Good lunch break or single sitting length stories for romance fans.

Red Blooded gets a C+ (3.5*), which is again well below Amazon.  For novellas, they are cut above.  Still, when Suzanne Brockman hits on all cylinders, as she did in Over on the Edge and Out of Control, she is better than anyone, but those are full length novels, so the comparison isn’t equal.  For pure steamy ex-military, no one beats Lisa Marie Rice’s Midnight Man.  I bought Red Blooded from Amazon for $12.93 and no, it wasn’t worth the price.  If you want to read these, go ebook directly from the Samhain site and think twice about the price – ebook or print – and maybe buy it used.

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Wild Darkness

Lauren Dane is one of my favorite paranormal romance writer’s.  Whether it’s steamy or more mainstream, she is a pretty reliable storyteller.  I’m not that fond of her popular contemporary romances, which I find trite, even if well written.

Wild Darkness is the fourth and final book in her Bound by Magick series that ties in with her Cascadia Wolves and De La Veaga Cat series.  It started off really well with Heart of Darkness, which laid the groundwork for the revealing of Others beyond just the already ‘out’ werewolves.  As a romance involved in a really good plot, it worked well on both levels and it gave the series a strong start.  The focus shifted away from the Magister to the birth of virulent hate groups that wants all Others in the equivalent of concentration camps in Book 2.  By book three, the central plot revolved around DC politics and a weak female president that refused to step into the debate.

Unfortunately, by the time we hit Wild Darkness, the whole over arcing plot kind of fizzles.  Going Under was less than stellar, but laid good groundwork, ending literally with a bang – a bomb in the Senate hearing chamber.  Wild Darkness opens with attacks by hate groups on an Other community, but the focus shifts from action to mostly romance and the whole thing is disappointingly weak.  The ‘big finale’ confrontation is all of 2 pages.  I read through 4 books for THAT?  Unfortunately, while Lauren Dane can start a complex paranormal series, she just does not have the skills needed to bring it to a strong conclusion.  Instead, she writes a romance that pushes the series main plot in the background and fails to give the reader a really satisfying conclusion.  A short fight scene does not work, especially when the main bad guys aren’t even there.  And penetrating their HQ was easy.  Honestly, the whole thing was just lame.

And for the third time, I will deviate from Amazon’s glowing reviews and give Wild Darkness a C- (2.8*).  Bound by Magic deserved better.  I am beginning to understand why she left so many of her series unfinished, like the Charvez Witches and the Cher Chez wolves.  She just can’t write a slam bang ending to her over-arcing plots, she can just end the individual romance parts.  It’s a shame really, because it weakened the whole series and took it off my recommended list.  I bought Wild Darkness from BAM for $5.39 and it wasn’t worth the price.  If you followed the series, read it.  If you haven’t started, give it a miss.

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Mr Penumbra's

Some title’s are irresistible and when this book was in a swap, I took the chance and bought a used copy.  Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore was selected as one of the best books of 2012 – and I’m rather baffled by that.  Yes it was quirky and somewhat interesting, in a nerdy kind of way, but great?  Eh, not so much.  It was, however, original, unique, and mostly enjoyable, if a bit tedious at times.  A ‘Best Book of 2012’?  Lord, I hope not.  In a strange way, it worked, but lacked strong characters.  That kind of left me with ambiguous feelings toward the book.

Clay Jannon is a less than ambitious guy laid off from his job as a web designer and coffee shop clerk and just sort of cruising along, sharing a 3 bedroom place with an uptight corporate landlady and his buddy Neel who works special effects for movies and builds bizarre things in the living room they all share.  He’s job hunting, but the economy sucks and skills aren’t up to Silicon Valley level, so he’s in that uncomfortable in between place.  Then he land’s a job in a very strange bookstore, Mr Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore.  As he works there, keeping detailed records of each person who comes in to borrow a book, Clay gets increasingly bored.

One night a young woman walks in and sees the 3-D model Clay is building on his computer that tracks each customer and every book they’ve checked out in order over time.  He’s certain there is meaning and pattern to their actions and they are really code breakers.  Kat admires his work and offers him a chance to put Google’s data analysis engines to work on a scanned copy of one of the logs that details more of the same data.  Neel makes a replica of one of the log books and Kat and Clay get it scanned and analyzed in minutes.  After he enters all the new data, he still can’t quite see the pattern and in frustration sends his 3-D model spinning – and the many colored lines suddenly form an image.  Mr Penumbra sees it and claims he’s broken the code!  A code he didn’t even realize existed.

Like an onion, layers get peeled away until the final code is discovered.  This quasi-adventure, puzzle, code-breaker, technology meld made a curious story, but not a great one.  Perhaps because, for me, great fiction books requires great characters, not just a layered plot.  No question, the plot was original and on several levels, fascinating.  But ultimately, is was kind of dull without strong, likable characters filled with personality.  Oddly, it reminded me of a nerdy Robert Ludlum book.  Ludlum was always a brilliant plotter, but aside from Jason Borne, never wrote a memorable character.  The action here is more cerebral and other than the quirky Penumbra, none of the players were really memorable, just lightly sketched in enough to do the job.

Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookshop gets a C+ to B- (3.6*) from me.  I can see why critics loved it, since they had a field day with the computer technology vs print book thing, but who really cares?  It was interesting without being engrossing.  It’s in that strange grey area where I neither love nor hate the book, found it oddly appealing, but never compelling.  I can’t really recommend it for anyone other than a person who enjoys offbeat books.  I got my copy used (in perfect condition) from a third party re-seller on Amazon and it’s leaving here this week to a person who won it in a PBS swap.  I’d suggest you borrow it or get it cheap because reactions vary.  The nerd in the family might like it best and it is suitable for teens.

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wicked Autumn

G.M. Malliet hit the mystery scene a few years back with her first cozy in the Ngaio Marsh/Josephine Tey tradition, just not was well done.  Nonetheless, she garnered heaps of praise for bringing back the English cozy in Death of a Cozy Writer – a classic manor house mystery.  She followed that with Death of a Chick Lit wherein she completely emasculated her Detective Inspector St Just.  That put paid to my reading her books until I got Wicked Autumn, the first book in her Max Tudor series, in a book swap.  Really, you’d think I’d learn.

What is it with cozies these days?  The authors talk you to death, drag you through a garden of a character’s personal guilt, beat certain things into the ground, and toss out clues so obvious you want to whack them over the head.  Wicked Autumn opens with the Women’s League planning the Harvest Fayre.  The usual officious and unpleasant woman, Wanda Bratton-Smythe manages to make more enemies, but sees herself as ‘saving’ these poor incompetents from themselves.  Her snide, cutting remarks and generally superior and patronizing attitude have not endeared her to her neighbors.  She may as well be wearing a sign, “Hi!  I’m the victim!  I’m rich, controlling, and obnoxious!  I have a deadly peanut allergy!  Guess how I die!!!!!”

Max Tudor is the local Vicar now, but used to be MI5.  He sought peace and refuge from his former profession and memories of the death of a friend and co-worker.  He refuses to be drawn into the fray in the Women’s League, but knows the complaints are valid.  The day of the Fayre everything s running smoothly.  An oddly excited Wanda disappears and Max goes hunting for her joined by another poor soul Wanda badgered into ‘volunteering’, chef Guy Nicholls.  They do find her, dead on the floor of the village Hall.  Guy starts mouth to mouth to revive her, but Max knows dead when he sees it and pulls him away.  Not just because it’s too late, but because it looks like murder to Max.

Turns out, people had more reason to want Wanda dead than just her personality.  She was also a very rich woman.  Her only child, a son and up and coming artist, was estranged from his parents.  Suzanna Winship, the doctor’s shapely much younger sister was Wanda’s rival and self appointed protector of those Wanda went after the most, like sweet Lily Iverson.  Actually, pretty much every member of the Women’s League hated her.  But the whole plot is twisted around long periods of the backstory on Max and how he came to be a vicar.  By page 124 I was loosing interest.  I finished it, barely.  The killer was OBVIOUS, the why a bit more subtle, but not surprising.

Wicked Autumn gets a C- (2.7*) because the story is told in a choppy and muddled way and lacks exciting characters or any shed or originality.  It’s just dull.  If you’re a hardcore cozy reader, try it if its free, but don’t blame me if it’s just boring.  My copy, thankfully, free from a book swapping site.

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