Tour’s Books Blog

April 20, 2014

Observations on ARC’s and Reviews – MYSTERY WEEK!

Filed under: Book review,Cozy,Mystery review,Tough Guy PI — toursbooks @ 4:00 pm
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I enjoy getting ARC’s of various books, but I can’t say I’m thrilled when I get one with so many type-setting errors it’s nearly unreadable.  One of the ARC’s I recently received was so damn annoying I came close to tossing it several times before I finally had to quit in frustration.  Probably 95% of all words, including contractions, that had a double ‘ll’ in the spelling read like …… ‘usual y the Wel ington’s were kept in a hal  closet’.  It went past distracting and reached serious annoyance when I had to go back and work out what the words really were.  Why would any publisher risk a new author or series with such shoddy work?  An ARC is not for Beta readers, it’s meant for reviewers, many authors in their own right.  Publishers want something good to promote the book, not, “Incomprehensible junk!”

Typos in ARC’s exist.  Hell, they exist in print even in the best hardcover bestseller.  But when every page is so littered with them it’s like trying to read code, that’s not excusable.  After 48 pages it improved, but it was false hope.  Within two pages ‘down the hal ‘ was back.

The author and reader both deserve better.  I simply couldn’t finish reading it with so many errors, mostly because the odd spacing kept disrupting the rhythm of my eyes going across the page.  Authors, please tell you publishers that ARC’s readers are not Beta lab rats.  I know ARC’s have errors and I deal with that.  Heaven knows hardcovers go to print with errors that would have been unheard of 10 years ago, but the material still has to flow smoothly enough that it’s not an endurance contest for the reader to get through it.

That’s a book I’m not naming.  It wouldn’t be fair to the author, but the publisher is Hatchette, owners of Grand Central and Little  Brown and Co, not exactly small houses, and they should know better.

On to the reviews!  And it’s MYSTERY WEEK!



Sugar and Iced is the latest in the Cupcake Bakery series, which is kind of a mixed bag.  I liked the mystery part, but all the teenage drama in 30 year olds over their respective love lives drove me nuts.

Mel and Angie find themselves supplying cupcakes to a beauty pageant thanks to Mel’s mom and her best friend Ginny.  Seems to me cupcakes and beauty pageants are sort of mutually exclusive, but the decision to have each contestant create a cupcake that Mel and Angie will then bake and the judges evaluate as part of their score give their presence a little credibility.  Oz, their Goth skateboarding part time help and his girl Goth pal, Lupe, get dragged into this when the two ladies decide that Lupe should enter the contest which has substantial scholarship money as a prize.  Lupe might put magenta streaks in her hair and wear the whole Goth black and piercing thing, but she’s smart as a whip and accepted at Stanford, if she can find the money to go.

Now a word of warning, once again a judge dies.  Yes, it’s happened before in her books, but this time, the shrewish judge, an original ‘mean girl’ is under the cupcake display table in the hotel lobby.  Enter the handsome cop, Manny, ex-fiancee waiting patiently for Mel to come around ‘Dear Joe’, and slightly sleazy but handsome lawyer, and Angie’s lifelong love, Tate is back at the bakery doing business plans for expansion – something Mel is opposed to.

Naturally Lupe, who rec’d outrageously low scores from the now dead judge, becomes the leading suspect, so Mel and Angie one again meddle in police business.

The mystery plot was good, though it stretched credibility at times.  Mel’s personal issues are more of a distraction than asset to the story, at least for me, though other readers seem to like it.  The big denouement isn’t a shock, but what happens afterwards has a personal shock for Mel.

Sugar and Iced is a good, but not great, cozy mystery.  It gets a C+ to B- (3.5*) from me which is lower than most reviews on Amazon.  If this is your favorite genre, then this series is above average, even though I had a sense of déjà vu with over half the plot.  I got this book for $7.19 from Amazon.  I sent it on to a PBS (Paperback Swap) friend.  Free is the best, but try for a used copy.  This is not a keeper.



J.J. Cook hit the ground running with the Sweet Pepper Fire Brigade mysteries and with Death on Eat Street, the latest in the crowded field of foodie mysteries.  J.J. Cook is a pseudonym for Jim and Joyce Laverne, the prolific husband and wife team that does  the popular Missing Pieces mysteries among many others.

Zoe Chase has a dream and she quits her boring job, gives up her expensive condo and buys a run down diner and a food truck to fulfill her dream of owning her own restaurant like her eccentric Uncle Saul.  Her mother, a lawyer with political ambitions, and her dad, the head of the investment bank where her supposed fiancee works, don’t agree with her choice, but her dad is quietly more supportive.  Even worse, she dumps fiancee Tommy Lee – who has been cheating on her anyway.   Times are tough for Zoe and she’s living in the diner with an overweight cat and soon a woman who needs a job and is a natural at selling her deep fried biscuit bowls.  With the help of an strange, but nice guy from the shelter, Ollie, she starts getting her food truck business on track.  It means less food for the men’s homeless shelter, but on bad weather days, they still do well.

That’s when things deteriorate.  Someone tries to rob her.  Her brake lines are cut on the food truck, there’s a public fight with the owner of another food truck – who is then found dead – and now everyone seems to think she has something valuable that the dead food truck owner had.  She hasn’t clue what that something is, but someone if willing to kill for it.  Her defense lawyer is handsome, but a bit shabby and seems a little beaten down.  But life has not treated him well either and he fits right in Zoe’s band of misfits.

Death on Eat Street had more pluses than minuses.  The plot revolving around some missing valuable is old as time and who did was obvious to any mystery reader, but the characters were interesting, from pushy divorced parents to the ragtag group of friends that Zoe acquires.  Like a lot of first books, establishing the backstory of characters takes up time and detracts somewhat from the flow.  Overall though, it was above average.  I’d give Death on Eat Street a low B- (3.7*) and a suggested read for cozy lovers.  Not as original as I’d hoped, but there’s not much new ground to cover in the foodie mystery field.

I bought this book from Amazon for $7.19 and will pass it on thru PBS.


Second Helping for Murder



A Second Helping on Murder is the second book in the Comfort Food series by author Christine Wegner.  Wegner has published numerous Harlequin romances, so this is a departure, but her Harlequin roots show through.  The first book in this series, Do or Diner, I have not read, so I wasn’t quite prepared for this simplistic mystery.  I don’t hold cozies in high esteem, but many are enjoyable and a choice handful rise above the generic formula and become fine additions to any mystery read’s ‘Books I Read’ list. A Second Helping is down at the other end, Books I Could Have Missed.

The story takes place in a realistic town of Sandy Harbor, NY on the southern shore of Lake Ontario.  All the states bordering the Great Lakes, or any other large lake away from major cities, have similar small towns with summer homes and rental cabins where people go to enjoy the country air, cool evenings, lake sports, and the slower pace of small town life.  Come winter snow season, they head south.  That’s what Trixie Matkowski’s Aunt Stella did when her husband died, and Trixie, who was fresh off a divorce from her cheating husband bought the place and started life over as a 30 something diner chef and owner of about a dozen well maintained rustic cabins used for summer rentals and one 24 hour diner where managed the night shift cooking.

The town is in something of an uproar over the discovery of the remains of a 16 year old girl who went missing one summer back when Trixie was an awkward child.  She had nothing but good memories of the older girl who befriended her when she needed it.  But with the diner and her first guest arriving insisting on Cabin 8, the cabin where the ill fated Jacobson family was in when Claire went missing.

As usual, Trixie, who apparently does not have enough to do running both a 24 hour diner and a dozen rental cabins, decides she owes Claire enough to investigate the 20+ year old murder.  Deputy Ty Brisco might be a handsome, slow talking cowboy relocated up north, but her was also a sheriff’s deputy, so she’s wary ……. and he isn’t a local.  Then there’s another death, the strange man renting Cabin 8 is shot and killed in the cabin – and cancellations come in on the cabin rentals.  Naturally, Trixie gets involved.

If you don’t figure it out in the first 50 pages, you’re losing your Nancy Drew badge.  The book is short, the plot simplistic and predictable, the characters unoriginal.  A Second Helping is essentially a dull read.  At the $7.19 I paid at Amazon, it was also a waste of money.  Typeface is large, so word count per page is short and the whole thing can be read in a couple of hours – if you last that long.

A Second Helping gets a C- (2.7*) from me.  It’s a Harlequin romance with bodies.  The score is that high because Ms Wenger captures the atmosphere and character of those small summer lake towns really well, even if her characters and plot are lame.  You can safely miss this one.


bone deep

Randy Wayne White is the author of over 20 Doc Ford novels.  His books have made the tiny islands on Sanibel and Captiva famous.  A former local reporter, former fishing guide, and current resident of the islands in Pine Island Sound, White sets his books in area and in countries he’s come to know well over the years, including much of the lesser known Southwest Gulf Coast of Florida.  And now he’s an investor (NOT OWNER) in three restaurants (one on Sanibel, and newer one on Ft Myers beach, and the most recent one up on Captiva (2013) named for his iconic character, ex-CIA agent, marine biologist, and Sanibel resident, Marion ‘Doc’ Ford.  The above photo is him in front of the Original Doc Ford’s on Sanibel holding his latest book, Bone Deep.  I confess that Doc Ford’s has been a favorite of mine since the restaurant opened years after the books started hitting the NYT Times Bestseller list – and more years after I had to hunt them down in on-island book stores that White had to deliver to himself.  By 1990 I’d been a frequent visitor to Sanibel and Captiva for a few years and was delighted to discover a local writer who did good mystery/thrillers.  Sanibel Flats, The Heat Island, The Man Who Invented Florida, and Captiva are not to be missed by any lover of John D MacDonald.  After that, things get dicey.

By the time The Mangrove Coast hit the shelves in hardcover, thanks to a new publisher and some badly needed promotion, I was able to buy his books easily up here in the Northeast.  Doc Ford and his hippy, pot smoking, peace loving genius side-kick, Tomlinson (the name of the Sanibel Police Chief and friend of White’s) are once again enmeshed in problem that seems simple, but never is.  Some of the locations on Sanibel, like Dinkin’s Bayou, are made up (though it’s located in Tarpon Bay according to the map in the books, the location of the marina where White used to work as a guide.), but he loves researching Florida and folds in the history this with the eye of a newsman he once was.

In Bone Deep, the mining of phosphorous in Florida, a controversial business like everything these days, and the illegal fossil hunting and dangerous trespassing that thieves do to recover fossils in the mining areas, is really interesting – and one of the things I like about White.  The story opens with Doc getting pulled into the hunt for two Native American carvings by a Crow Indian friend of Tomlinson’s.   He agrees to take them to a private island for some touchy feely sweat lodge drum ceremony, and he goes off to talk to the aging scion of a once rich family that owns mining concessions in the state.  In the end, he’s dragged into the dangerous underground trade in rare fossils.  Who knew???  The story is one of family and betrayal, and greed, old sins, and new.  Is the carving taken from the dead collector’s house and the taken from the thief by the Doc what the crazy killer is after, or something  else he has – or the psycho THINKS he has – that was stolen from the home of the illegal collector.  And what’s going on with the stepson and his buddies at the phosphorus mine?  The two separate yet co-joined mysteries make for strange bedfellows.

As always, White excels at capturing the atmosphere of Florida, especially the islands, but Bone Deep is a choppy read and frankly, the plot just didn’t work for me.  Disjointed when it needed to spool out seamlessly.  It seemed to be confused and jumbled rather than clean and sharp.  Was this about the fossil thieves, the psycho killer, or the missing Indian artifacts?  And throwing in confusion about his relationship with Hannah was more a distraction than addition to the plot.  Instead of a tasty fusion, we had a messy mashup.  A book that starts strongly then seems to just spin like a dervish.

Despite the fact that I love the character Doc Ford, I simply cannot overlook the short-comings of Bone Deep.  Plus the ending was too Twilight Zone.  Bone Deep gets a D+ to C- (2.5*) from me, but do NOT let that deter you from reading his excellent early books.  I got Bone Deep through Paperback Swap and I will pass it along to another reader.  In truth, White is at his best when he does clean, direct, fast paced stories with few side tales, and gets messy when he goes for the multi-thread stories that need to be cohesively woven together.  His clean, spare writing style just seems to work best with equally clean, spare, tricky plots rather than sprawling story lines.

And should you ever find yourself on Sanibel Island with the best shelling beach in North America, go have lunch at Doc Ford’s.  Try the Yucatan Shrimp, fish tacos (very mild salsa typical of Central America) with black beans and rice, and carrot cake brushed with 151 rum.  And if you have a driver, try a flight of rums to discover a world of tastes as complex and varied as any good Scotch.



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