Tour’s Books Blog

December 31, 2013

New Year’s Quickies

Well, another year has passed and a few hundred more books have been read.  I figure I’ll just take this last chance to do a few quickie reviews and wish everyone a happy, healthy, safe 2014.

This is the 6th book in the King and Maxwell series, and the one that the TV series was loosely based on.  You can tell it was written with an eye to TV or movie conversion, much like many of Michael Crichton’s later books, but it’s still a good read and better plotted than a lot of his books lately featuring a teenage client who seems trapped in a web of lies that his father initially helped build, and his father, trying to get back to his son and find out who set him up to die and what the hell was going on.  And naturally, there’s no better way to get Maxwell involved than to tell her to back off.

Baldacci blows hot and cold on his books, but this one hits the mark.  I give it a B- (3.8*) and recommended read for thriller fans – but try and buy the ebook.  At $15-16 for the hardcover, it’s a bit steep.

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This being the 50th anniversary of JFK’s assassination, who better than Bob Lee Swagger to look into conspiracy theories about The Third Bullet.  An unwilling Swagger is waited out by the window of a writer who had been investigating the assassination, she asks him to look into his murder and see if it’s possible it was related to his research on the assassination.  Swagger refuses her again and again, but the one thing the widow has in abundance is patience – and a clue that probably only Swagger would understand – a bicycle like tire track on a rain coat found at a different building.  So the man who said no, suddenly changes his mind and gets involved.

Followers of the series will like the way the ending of this books ties in with Point of Impact.  In a series that has ranged from excellent to awful, The Third Bullet comes in at the high end with a solid B- (3.7*).  To his credit, Hunter did not twist the facts of the actual shooting, which makes the plot more interesting.  The usual unlikely death defying events for Swagger stresses the reader’s credulity, but otherwise a solid outing.  A must for Swagger fans.  I got the book free thru an online book swapping site in hardcover.  Borrow it, buy the ebook, or wait for the mmpb.

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A new entry in the paranormal romance genre, Dragon Awakened is book 1 The Hidden series.  Like other paranormal series, this one is set in the ‘normal’ world, but must remain ‘Hidden’ to survive humans.  This is the story of of an assassin dragon who gets an assignment he ends up questioning and in the end pays for his act of compassion.  Fun, fast paced, the two protagonists, Ruby Salazaar and Cyntag Valeron are likable and entertaining.

Dragon Awakened is a fast, easy read with enough meat to be entertaining, but devoid of any innovation or surprising plot twists.  My score is C+ (3.2*) and a pleasant way to pass your time for a few hours, but only if cheap or free.  I paid $5.40+tax from an online book store.  I certainly wouldn’t pay more than that.

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In The Art Forger, Barbara Shapiro wrote an interesting study in human nature enmeshed in the closed and clannish art world weaving in the theft of the paintings from the Isabella Stanley Gardner Museum, art forgery as its own art form, historical looks at the artists ‘Bella’ collected and her disdain for ‘impressionist’ art, and how a struggling artist copes with moral quandaries and ‘Faustian’ bargains – and rationalizes her choices.  It’s stories within stories within stories, like Russian nesting dolls, taking semi-disgraced artist Claire Roth on a path she never expected to walk – and finds her inadvertently discovering a well hidden secret of the art world.

The changing time frames and POV’s are mostly smooth, and I found the ‘letters’ by Mrs Gardner lively and interesting – and my favorite part of the book in many ways.  The mystery was more predictable than I expected.  The art world is neatly skewered and pretty accurate.  The details on the whole painting process will bore some interest others.  Me, I wavered between the two, but leaned toward bored.  The brief cover synopsis pretty much covers the whole plot.  Characters are flat and two dimensional and dialogue uninspired, which seriously detracted from an interesting plot.

My score for The Art Forger is C+ (3.2*) because the writing itself was largely tedious and saturated with the type of pretensions that annoy the crap out of me.  I bought The Art Forger from Book Outlet, a site that sells remainders, for under $3.00 on sale.  It’s current price for the same trade size on Amazon is $11-12.  It was interesting enough for a fast read and as intro to the art world few see, but buy a remainder or used copy.

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December 22, 2013

Happy Holiday Special!

Yup, it’s that time of the year again when we all over eat, over spend and do nice things we somehow neglect to do year round – even though we should.  We donate to charities, leave big tips to harried waitresses, drop $20 in red kettles, donate to animal shelters, and treat others better then normal, – unless they make the mistake of getting between us and the bargain electronics/toy/game/apparel we want.  Thank heavens I can do my shopping on line!  I’m even having the ham delivered directly to my brother’s house so it’s one less thing to carry.

We’ve reached the age where we need nothing – except a winning lottery ticket – so we just exchange small stuff, a few books, a board game, a DVD and stocking stuffers.  Since my SIL retired this fall, I’m adding a Happy retirement/Happy birthday/ Merry Christmas gift – a beautiful silver necklace with square solid silver stations that are hand worked on both sides.  I bought it years ago on a trip, but I can’t wear silver – a metal she loves.  It’s simple yet with those stations, a work of art.  It has simple matching earring too.  The price at the time was high since it was all handmade and one of a kind.  I don’t want to think about what they charge these days.  But it’s an item that deserves a good home with someone who will appreciate the craftsmanship and effort it took to make it.  As an artist and collector of nomadic style jewelry, this will be very much her ‘thing’.  Beats waiting till I die for her to get it.  She can even remake it to something she prefers as the necklace is 60 inches long.  That and a bag of Starbucks Hazelnut Cream coffee and she’ll be in 7th heaven.

My brother is easy.  Books, cookies and a game – one I know nothing about, but is a maze game.  I kind of ran out of DVD’s go get him, since he likes the old black and white B mysteries.  And I bring up all the action movies I got this year.  Luckily, a bunch were on sale, everything from RED2 to Olympus is Down.  And of course, I cart up cases of books.  I’ve been buried in action thrillers and mysteries for weeks to get them all read and ready to go.  I also went on an ebook binge with humorous mysteries, which are better than the cozies that have hit the stands recently.

By the way, no fear of the family reading this, they don’t have internet yet – which means both my brother AND SIL called me to order things on line for them!  Good thing one member of this family is wired up!  SO on with the short reviews!

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Dirty Little Secrets                                     A Dirty Shame  Dirty Rotten Scoundrel

 Liliana Hart has been moving away from her steamy romantic suspense style and going for humorous mystery, a genre that has seen a burst of new series in the past couple of years.  With J.J. Graves, an MD turned coroner and now operator of the family funeral home after the suspicious deaths of her parents, she’s hit another winner.  Unlike the screwball Addison Holmes ‘Whiskey’ series I reviewed in an earlier post, the J.J. Graves are first and foremost mysteries.  There are no zany, over the top moments, yet there is a lot of genuine interest and humor – the plots are at times grim and sometimes funny, but always interesting.

In Dirty Little Secrets, J.J., called Jaye by everyone, comes home after her parents car runs off the road and over a cliff, leaving her with a run down funeral home, a more run down house, and a whole lot of questions about what her parents had really been doing all those years.   As an MD, she can serve as a coroner and since Bloody Mary, Virginia isn’t exactly a hotbed of crime, she wasn’t expecting to be called on so soon.  Not only is she the coroner, her best friend, Jack, is sheriff, a former SWAT team member that barely survived a gun battle in DC.

Dirty Little Secrets is a short book for a mystery, but tightly plotted, good characters, witty dialogue, believable people and a very creepy ending.   From cheating spouses to people who love BDSM, to blackmail, to a killer who is much more dangerous than anyone ever realized.  I honestly can’t fault this one for anything except the fact it could have used a bit more background on JJ and her family.  Dirty Little Secrets gets a B+ (4.2*) and is highly recommended and currently free for Kindle, which is how I got my copy!

A Dirty Shame picks up with a torture murder.  As JJ is pulling into her driveway in a remote area, her headlights flash off a naked body chained up on a playground across from her house.  A twisted tale of murder – and more romance for JJ.  There is also quite a bit more about the death of her parts in the non-accident and about their running from the FBI over some swindle they pulled off.  The missing money was never found.  And handsome sheriff and best friend Jack finally makes his move.

Once again, Ms hart serves up a good solid mystery rich in local characters, tightly plotted, and with a completely unexpected twist at the end.  My one complain is some inconsistencies, minor ones, between book 1 and 2 with regard to her parents.  Other than that, it was really well done.  Now a word, she keeps her sex scenes to the PG-13 level, not steamy like most of her other books.  That’s fine with me, but some like it hotter.  A Dirty Shame gets a B- (3.8*) and a suggested read for mystery lovers.  I bought the ebook from Amazon for $2.99 + tax.

Having finished the first two books, I hunted down Dirty Rotten Scoundrel, which at $4.99 for the ebook was pretty much at the limit of what I’d pay.  I dithered a bit, but in the end, I bought it.  It’s about Jack’s past as commander of a SWAT team that suffered a terrible fate and now someone is hunting them and the FBI wants Jack to be a staked goat to capture the killer.  He’ll do, in large part because he’s haunted by the guilt that he missed something that got his men caught in a trap.

With the FBI team comes Jack’s old sweetheart who wants to be his CURRENT sweetheart, even though Jack and JJ are due to be married in a few weeks.  Along with Jack’s past, an unexpected part of JJ’s past is hovering in and out of her life too.  And the fact her parents were con artists, something even she never knew till their death, just makes everything more difficult.

Once again, Ms Hart weaves an engrossing story and one that isn’t trite and formula driven as cozies are these days.  I love the twists and turns in the plot, which is quite original, though the who and why is just a bit glib at the end.  Still, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels is a good read and gets a B- (3.8*) from me.

This is a series I’ll keep up with.

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Diners Dives

                              Last Diner                           Diner Impossible

Now here is a trio of books that define humorous mystery.  The characters are great, the plots solid, yet more in the cozy vein, and books have wit and charm and are told with a good deal of brio.

Diners, Dives and Dead Ends introduces Rose Strickland, waitress and part-time student who works the breakfast place with no name but lots of loyal customers.  Her fellow waitress and BFF Roxy, and Ma, the elderly, still spy owner of the diner are all willing to help Rose find Axton, whom she knew since childhood, and became close friends with at the Community College.  His call for help has her searching for him most of the night.  Ax has been kidnapped.

Axton lives with Joe, a dedicated pothead who is largely oblivious to his surroundings and little or no help.  But Ax holds down a job working with computer systems, something he does well.  His two work buddies can only cover so long and Ax will get fired – which is nothing compared with Ax getting dead.  In the midst of all this enters tall, dark, and handsome – oh, and threatening Thomas Sullivan, local crime lord.  Kind of.  Mostly stuff like gambling and strip clubs.  He wants the same thing Ax’s captor want, a thumb drive with a LOT of incriminating information – much of which concerns Sullivan’s businesses.

Crooked cops, stuffy, country club parents who radiate disappointment and have virtually disowned her for not conforming, a sexy crime boss, and bombshell info on everyone, especially gambling cheating spouses, that someone will kill for, makes a heady and fun mix as Rose bumbles her way thru saving Ax.  Diners, Dives, and Dead Ends gets a B (4*) rating and recommended read for anyone who enjoys a good laugh with a well plotted mystery and some fun, is slightly stock, characters.  I paid $2.99 for the ebook and got more than my money’s worth.

Last Diner Standing has Roxy and Rose caught up in Ma’s virtual caged death match with her competitor, the lunch diner that decides to start serving breakfast.  And Rose’s school friend, Janelle, is in jail for supposedly killing her ex-husband.  Roxy and Rose are on the case because the police sure don’t care.  But to get the money for her friend’s bail, Rose ends up approaching hunky crime boss, Sullivan.

Rose and Roxy are fighting a war on two fronts – Ma’s lunch war and Janelle’s charge of murder.  Ax is doing all he can to help them in their snooping to find the real murderer.  Straight arrow cop, Andre Thomas is always reminding her to leave things to the cops, but this is Rose’s friend and she knows too much about corruption in the department.  Sullivan is also helping, but only because he’s really attracted to Rose.  Exhaustion with work hours and lousy tips mean Roxy and Rose have to solve Ma’s stubborn determination about lunch and find enough energy to keep investigating – though Roxy is more interested in investigating Janelle’s cousin than anything else.

Another well done humorous mystery with sharp dialogue, well drawn characters, and better than average plot.  Frankly, they put the formula driven cozies to shame.  Last Diner Standing gets a B- (3.8*) and recommended read.  At $2.99 it’s a bargain.

Diner Impossible finds Roxy in the dumps, mentally and emotionally.  Dumped by her boyfriend, she can’t quite snap out of her funk.  And Rose needs her, because Rose’s mother has asked to investigate the murder of woman who was the personal secretary of the husband a friend of hers.  The husband is none other than corrupt Police Chief Mathers with the big gambling debts.  And straight arrow cop, Andre Thomas, asks for her help in the murder Delia Cummings as well.  Mathers railroaded a captain now dying of cancer and Thomas wants him cleared.  Suddenly, Rose is an investigator as well as a college student and waitress.

Just to make matters worse, Ax drags her into an argument about the prize in a game between the Romulans and the Trekkies where the prize – a signed Captain Kirk uniform, is gone missing.  Dragging Roxy out of a funk, figuring out whole stole the uniform, keeping up her relationship with Sullivan, and awkwardly re-entering the country club life she left behind makes for a unique study in human nature, relationships, values, and Roses intuitive understanding of what makes people tick.  Despite obvious similarities between the Steph Plum books and this series, the characters here are their own.  And this book had greater depth and complexity than the earlier ones.  Dinner Impossible, did not disappoint and gets a B (4*) rating.  I paid $4.99, but had I been a bit more patient, I would have paid the current price of $2.99.  Either way, money well spent.

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Now, I must wrap this up and wish all of you a ……………………..

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