Tour’s Books Blog

March 30, 2014

Life Gets in the Way – and Book Reviews

You know really, you’d think at my age life would not keep getting in the way.  That’s for the young.  Well, apparently, the problem is more universal than I thought.  Nothing dramatic, just everyday living seems to fill up the day.  I have no idea how people have time to get bored.  I always seem to have something to do – and plenty of stuff I push off till the last minute – mostly because I hate doing those things.  I am a master of procrastination!!!!!!  It’s an art form.

The one thing I get impatient for is the next book in a series.  Yes, I know I already have too many books, thank-you for reminding me.  I DO NOT CARE!  I want certain series and I want them NOW!  Unfortunately even authors are at the mercy of the publishers.  Now Jana Deleon solved that problem by becoming a publisher and her latest Miss Fortune book hit Kindle and Nook this past week.  You guessed it, I bought it the day it was released.  I’ll buy a print copy when one becomes available.  I also checked with Suzanne Johnson, author of the Sentinels if New Orleans series, which was less than thrilling news, the publisher is delaying the release till first quarter next year.  ARGH!  Look, I know the fall is when the coffee table books sell, not fiction, but come on.  It will be almost 18 months between releases.  That is so damn frustrating.  Then Daniel O’Malley, author of the fabulous UF book The Rook, has his follow up written and going thru rewrite now.  Again, maybe next year.  Yes, I did yell at my computer when I read that.

In the mean time, cozy authors are churning 2 to 3 series every year with new books in one or the other every few months.  The stories are so formula that they seem to become the equivalent of those trashy series romances that get churned out every month.  Too many cozy mysteries are just landfill waiting to happen.  Unfortunately that’s become true in a lot of UF as well.  Still, there are bright spots and I found a few this month, so here we go!

Indexing

Indexing takes its title from the ATI (Aarne-Thompson Index) used to codify fairy tale manifestations.  No seriously, that’s the core premise of the book.  Too bad I found it boring as hell.  Seanan is one of my favorite authors.  Fresh, original, clever, and complex, she does first rate urban fantasy.  I was expecting something just as good here as her October Daye series, but I got a weird story that I simply could NOT get into with characters that were more irritating than fascinating.  I will say this, it was original, just not remotely believable and kind of seriously annoying.  Now that said, I do feel I must add I am in the minority here.

The reviews are overwhelmingly favorable on Amazon.  I am surprised. The basic premise is some people are born who are capable of fulfilling the role of a character in a fairy tale – like Sleeping Beauty or the Pied Piper – or the evil witch.  There is this whole organization, ATI Management Bureau, that exists to disrupt any fairy tale manifestation that begins unfolding.  Not sure how you hide all this from Homeland Security, NSA, the CIA (yes, not in the US, HA!), FBI and the NYPD, but OK, let’s give that a pass, even though this is supposedly a government agency and therefore not entirely SECRET.  Still, how many Sleeping Beauties and Prince Charmings are there?  Apparently too many. Now understand, I did not read the serial installments of this story, so I started the book with zero knowledge of what to expect.  As a result, the whole thing came over as episodic and choppy, rather than a smooth, continuous story.  In addition, I simply didn’t care about the characters.  I found the plot annoying rather than interesting and by the end I just wanted it OVER.

If you’re a fairy tale fan, perhaps you’ll like this more than I did.  If you aren’t, be advised to give it a PASS!  Indexing is about one of the characters trying to take over the plotline because she feels she’s been marginalized.   At that point I would have said, “Go for it!  Anything to end this!!!!”  It took longer than that.  Too long. Indexing gets a C- (2.7*) and in fairness, no I do not recommend it.  Again, if you like fairy tales, this may just the book you’re looking for, so go and enjoy.  It’s currently selling for under $9 on Amazon for print and $4 for Kindle.  If you really want it, buy the Kindle version.  Otherwise, just wait for remainders.

******************************************************* Disenchanted

Lynn Viehl has earned a rep in the UF and fantasy field, not one of my usual authors, but this Steampunk book looked more up my alley than her others so I grabbed the print version.  Like Indexing, Disenchanted & Co originally sold as an installment ebook.  There the similarity ends.

Charmain “Kit” Kitteredge is a debunker of all things magical in the city of Rumsen in Toriana (sort for Victoriana, the name of the US in this alternate history where we lost the Revolution and remained a colony of England).  Orphaned as a young teen, she’s had to make her own way, and polite Society was less than kind to her, so she is disinclined to take any commission from their members.  They are both fickle and dangerous.  But a second wife prevails upon her to investigate her husband whom she is convinced is cursed or possessed. Lucian Dredmore, a Deathmage, becomes involved in her investigation as does police Chief Inspector Thomas Doyle, an old childhood friend whom she meets again after many years.  Both Lucian and Tommy have more than professional interest in Kit!  Kit is also very friendly with an eccentric inventor (is there any other kind?) who lives in the sub-basement of her office building and treats her like a favorite niece.  And in the midst of all this, Kit begins believing in magic herself, because it’s the only way to explain what’s happening.  But when a spirit appears to her, she isn’t sure if she’s going mad, or it’s real …… but she trusts the spirit enough to hand over a cursed stone that spirit then destroys.

Soon Kit is held captive by Dredmore and she’s appalled to find herself very attracted to the man.  She knows he’s just trying to keep her safe, but Kit is an independent woman and has no intention of allowing him to control her, even if her client’s husband is doing his best to destroy her and her fledgling business. The story weaves in various plots, creates different races, and ends with a not quite believable sequence where Kit steps thru time to thwart an invasion with Dredmore. Overall, Disenchanted & Co worked, though I found the denouement a bit like that idiot ‘dream sequence’ in Dallas many years ago.  That was the weakest part of the book, along with developing the characters of Kit’s two closest friends, a madame who runs a house of ill repute, and the leading modiste in Rumsen.  Rumsen itself seems to be San Francisco.

I bought Disenchanted & Co and the second book in the series, The Clockwork Wolf, from Amazon for $7.19 each.  I felt I got my money’s worth.  It’s is recommended for fans of the Parasol Protectorate, with the caveat that Carriger’s books are better.  Still, Viehl did a good job with Disenchanted & Co and it gets a B- (3.7*) from me and higher marks on Amazon.

********************************************************** Study-in-silks-lo-res

And here we have another Steampunk style mystery, this time featuring the niece of Sherlock Holmes.  A Study in Silks is the story of a not quite Society girl who is too shrewd and observant living in her best friend’s house with a wealthy family that is several levels above her own place in society.  In this version of Victorian England, it is not the titled aristocrats who rule, but the ruthless ‘Steam Barons’ who control everything, including who does and does not get power to their homes and businesses.  Cross one and you will ‘go dark’ and be shunned, no matter your title. Evelina Cooper is well aware she lives with Imogene’s family on sufferance.  A connection to Sherlock Holmes is hardly enough to lift her into society.  But when a murder occurs in the family home, Imogene gets involved.  And here’s the rub, this book is a ‘new adult’ level read, not a mature adult read.  Romance and plot stay pretty much PG-13 and lose some potential.  But even within the confines of the ‘new adult’ format, it works fairly well.  Not as dark or detailed as a standard adult story, but satisfying enough for most mystery fans.

Evelina also has to hide the fact she has magic.  People with magic are quickly put to death, as the Steam Barons fear and hate them. Magic can have no place in their society ruled by invention.  This places a further strain on the plot as Sherlock Holmes is the most rational man to ever walk thru mystery stories and he fits rather poorly into this world.  Then again, they had Sherlock defeating the Nazis in WWII in the movies and people bought into that so …… eh, deal with it Holmes fans. Given her magical gifts, her less elevated place in society, and rather precarious position in the household as Imogene’s friend, her relationship with Tobias, the son of the steam baron, is doomed from the start.  Involving her Uncle Sherlock and Dr Watson was likely ill advised, especially when someone tries to kill him.  The ending is not really an ending, it merely points to a man we knew to be the bad guy from the start.  (Shades of Moriarty.)

A Study in Silks was ok.  I will say my fellow mystery readers seemed to like it far better than I did, possibly because I get impatient with young adult/new adult stories that seem to have angst.  I don’t like the whole angst thing no matter how it’s done.  I give the book a C+ to B- (3.5*) rating and say it was good, but not as good as many others out there.  Purchased from Amazon for $7.19 it’s a long book, so I suppose it’s worth it, just not to me.

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Swamp Team 3

I broke my own rule on what I’ll pay for an ebook and bought this one for $5.99 the day it was released.  Swamp Team 3 is the fourth book in the Miss Fortune series by Jana Deleon.  Fortune Redding is a CIA assassin with a huge price on her head and an informer in the CIA who set her up with an insane arms dealer in the mid-east.  Now she’s in hiding in wacky Sinful, Louisiana posing as her boss’s niece, Sandy-Sue Morrow, a librarian and former beauty queen.  She immediately became friends with two elderly women, Ida Belle and Gertie, who run the Sinful Ladies Society and turn out to have been Counterintelligence in Viet Nam.

In three weeks in Sinful, Fortune has had more than her fair share of excitement – and interaction with hunky Deputy Carter LeBlanc.  Tonight, however, is a first.  He asked her out to dinner and she said yes.  So Gertie and Ida Belle show up early telling Fortune she needs a ‘day of beauty’ to ‘girlie up’, which is really odd given these two know next to nothing about it.  And so the farce begins.  After many false starts and nearly having her house burned down by Gertie (who refuses to wear her glasses), Fortune and Carter finally get off to dinner………. in New Orleans. Dear God, what will she talk about for 2 hours?  How to kill someone with a Q-tip?  Just as panic is setting in, Carter gets a call that sends them both back to town.  Someone set fire to Ally’s house.  Ally is the first and only female friend her own age that Fortune has.  Naturally, Carter’s admonition she let him handle this falls on deaf ears.

The plot is interesting and more of a mystery than than usual, but with plenty of laugh out loud moments.  Ally is staying with Fortune until its safe for her to go back to her own house.  Her neighbor, a nut case, sics a bobcat on Fortune, Gertie, and Ida Belle when they sneak in his yard.  There are mob guys from New Orleans, a stalker, and always Cater catching them doing things they shouldn’t.  The end is cute.

Swamp Team 3 is a fast and furious romp, not to be taken too seriously.  It’s as frothy as a romantic comedy movie, and about as deep.  The characters are good, and the plot was better than average, pacing is good, and the ending good as well.  I like the Ally character and she doesn’t get quite a co-star role, but at least a bigger part than in the earlier books.  If you enjoy a good humorous mystery, get the book.  My grade is B- (3.8*) and hope that Ms DeLeon picks up some of the assassin elements from the start of the story in Louisiana Longshot in the next installment.

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Dead_Between_the_Lines

Denise Swanson writes the Scrumble River mysteries, that tend to annoy me, and the Devereaux Dime series, which is turning into a better than average cozy series.  Dead Between the Lines is the third book and has a plot that folds in an element of pop culture. A man who is the real author of a book like ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ under a female pen name and made a fortune, even though he hates it and does not just wish to dominate women, but abuse them as well, is speaking to the book club about a volume of poems he published that takes shots at women and small town life in a bitter and denigrating way.

Dev left her high powered life and moved back to her hometown to look after her grandmother who is in the early stages of Alzheimer’s.  Now she’s trying to make ends meet running the dime store, playing hostess to various clubs and serving them refreshment (for a fee, of course), and making gift baskets, each uniquely themed.  This is the first time she’s had the book club in and the guest speaker is an obnoxious, misogynistic poet who thinks all women should be ‘taught their place’.  The book club all but runs him out – but he’s sure to collect his fee – and Dev says good riddance.   Only it wasn’t.  His body is found out back the next day.

Once again, Dev lands squarely in the middle of a murder.  And just as squarely between her high school boyfriend, Dr. Noah Underwood and US Marshall Jake Del Vecchio.  The plot is above average, the pacing and action better than usual, and the ending satisfying as few cozies are.

Dead Between the Lines is well written, the characters are well developed. and the pacing never lags.  Dev is used to taking charge and making decisions, but doesn’t get absurd.  Both Noah and Jake are well done and Dev’s relationship with the men works at the moment, but can’t go on that way indefinitely.  Dead Between the Lines gets a B(4*) rating and $7.19 is at the high end of what it’s worth.

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Resistance Man

Martin Walker writes on of the better foreign mystery series with his Bruno, Chief of Police books.  The Resistance Man is the 6th book in the series and like the others, this one folds together current crimes with those of the past.  In this case, it’s the story of a massive theft of gold and currency from a German train as the Occupation is ending and Germans are leaving and the Resistance strikes one of its most effect blows.  What happened to all that money and gold has been speculated for decades, but the French have always taken a worldly approach to life and chose not to look to closely as suddenly rich Resistance fighters after the war.

The natural death of an elderly man, a missing women, a gay couple beaten and robbed, a crime at a foreigner’s house where antiques and art were stolen, and some questionable dealings in a company all seem unrelated.  The theft gets top billing because the Brit is very politically connected – and a ‘former’ spymaster – who might not be all that former.  And an academic writing a book about France’s nuclear arms program finds her source documents missing.

Woven into this series of seemingly unrelated events is Bruno’s final acceptance of the vast gulf between himself and Isabelle, the ambitious woman he cares for, and as always, all the little details of life in the quiet French countryside that is changing slowly into the modern times.

One of the things I like about Martin Walker’s books is the way he makes them work on several levels at once.  He effortlessly weaves in history, slice of life atmosphere of the Perigord region of France, the life of Bruno and his fellow villagers, and the over-arcing mystery of the crime that has been committed – crime that always sees its roots in the past.  The Resistance Man does that very well indeed.  He does it with respect for history, the characters, and the plot.

The Resistance Man gets a solid B (4*) from me and a recommended read for mystery fans or those who enjoy their mysteries with more substance than fluff and with a decidedly foreign flair.  I bought the hardcover from Amazon for about $20, which is steep for a relatively short book.  Wait for the paperback – likely tradesize, or borrow it from the library, but do give this excellent series a try.  Walker has made a few minor missteps in his books, but taken as a whole, he’s done excellent work that’s well worth reading.

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