Tour’s Books Blog

September 24, 2015

Reviews: eBooks and Print – New Authors and Old Favorites

I find I’m reading more ebooks lately for 2 reasons……..  First, a surprising number of authors have moved over to self-publishing and ebooks beat the print prices by a lot.  Second, it’s cheaper to try a new author out in ebook than print, unless I get the book through a game in PaperBack Swap.  Can’t beat free.

I admit I BUY my ebooks, I don’t use the Kindle ‘$10/month Read it Free’ option.  Why?  Mostly because I find plenty of free books anyway, most I want are not in the Read It Free (hardly ‘free at $120/year!), and finally because I feel the authors deserve to be PAID FOR THEIR WORK.  Now I don’t know what if any fee they get for books read in the ‘Read it Free’ program, but I think they deserve SOMETHING.

The price of ebooks is climbing, or so it seems to me.  Climbing enough that I often bypass a book I would have bought had it cost less.  I do hold hard and fast to my rule on what I’ll pay for an ebook and lately, some print books have been CHEAPER than their ebooks with their deep discount sale price!

So here are some reviews, some long, some short, on print and ebooks I’ve been reading.

Yet another cozy mystery with 4 20-something would be fashionistas who get a chance to have a week’s vacation at an exclusive island resort off the California coast.  Beach Bags and Burglaries is an odd balance between shallow youth and curious adult.  Though Haley Randolph and her obsession with the season’s hottest fashion item, a Sea Vixen beach bag, got on nerves at times, overall, the book was better than I expected.  This is part of a series by Dorothy Howell that need not be read in order to follow the superficial story.  The characters and plot were adequate, yet not especially memorable and Haley came off as being shallow and materialistic more often than not.  The male characters were not well developed nor did male or female have any real depth.

Not awful, but nothing to go crazy over, Beach Bags and Burglaries gets a C+ (3.3*) rating from me.  Bought it in print for around $5 from Walmart online.  Easy, breezy beach read, or just give it a pass.  You’re not missing anything special and $5 was overpriced.

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The first of 2 books in the Deanna Oscar paranormal mystery series came to me thanks to another lover of this genre in Paperback Swap.  Well, book 1 did, in print.  I liked it well enough that I bought book 2 in ebook.

The basic premise of A Mansion, a Drag Queen, and a New Job is this – Deanna has been seeing ghosts since she was a child and her father and grandfather told it was just her imaginary friends.  She grew up deep in denial of her gifts because the scared her dad and grandfather.  Now, armed with PhD’s in Forensic and Abnormal psychology, Deanna has come to New Orleans for an interview at Tulane.  But instead of going to the hotel she has booked, she gives the cab driver a street address.  She also warns the cab driver to keep a close eye on her little granddaughter, little Cel.  The driver takes her very seriously.  Seems the Oscar name is revered in New Orleans for their psychic medium powers.  And the address is the Oscar mansion – where she’s greeted by a Latina drag queen with, “We’ve been waiting for you to get here!” – and a mansion full of ghosts and haunted objects – and the drag queen’s cousin, and ex-priest – all of which she inherited from the grandmother she never knew until her spirit introduces herself to her.

Thankfully, Granny’s spirit beings teaching her the ins and outs of taking care of the house, the resident ghosts, and start straining her as a psychic medium – something Deanna is slow to accept.  Until Little Cel disappears.

The plot is part humor, part mystery, part world building (in early post-Katrina New Orleans) for the paranormal gifts that Deanna inherited and fleshing out of the core characters, and part a journey of self-discovery for Deanna and the gift she always denied.  There were some awful proofing errors and other distractions that detracted from the quality of the read, but the story was well-paced and clever.

In book 2,  A Club, an Imposter, and a Competition opens with a big party thrown by Deanna’s neighbor, a socialite, former beauty queen, but well-meaning neighbor who invited Deanna’s whole family down for the celebration.  There is also another so-called ‘medium’ there, one that’s a fake, but does have some gifts who apparently wants to complete with Deanna for some reason – and an opportunistic reporter who wants to make a name for herself by creating controversy.  Caught between her staunchly disapproving father who remains opposed to all the ‘psychic medium nonsense’, and her surprisingly accepting mother, her eager younger brothers, finding out about secret romance she’d rather not know about, and a murder at the drag club where her friend was about to headline.

What follows is a kind of choppy story that tries to weave family drama with a mystery and doesn’t quite get there. Deanna’s suspicions about her so-called competitor, a kind of religious cult leader that thinks she’s a hotline to God is again, a mixed bag.  It tries but fails to really pull things together into a coherent storyline.  It’s like watching a movie that’s had one too many key scenes cut and leaves you going, “HUH?”  The whole thing is further complicated by another bunch of grammar, spelling, and homophone errors that force the reader to fill in the blank, guess the right word, or reread a sentence to figure out what the author REALLY meant to say.

A Mansion, a Drag Queen, and a New Job gets a C+ to B- (3.6*) rating largely because of all the distracting errors and partly due to less than original characters.  With a little polish and a great editor, it would have been a solid B.

A Club, an Imposter, and a Competition gets a C- (2.8*) for its disjointed, choppy plot, and a second round of easily corrected grammatical and spelling errors that made a mediocre read annoying.

Buy the books in ebook book form if you want to give them a whirl.  The print book prices are insane, even used.  There’s a lot of potential here that has yet to be developed.

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The author of the Deanna Oscar books above switched gears completely and went for a straightforward light mystery Helena Goes to Hollywood.  Helena Morris is a divorced martial arts expert and owner of a dojo in Vegas.  Her beautiful younger ‘girly’ sister Sonia is a soap opera star in Hollywood who is beset by a stalker who is getting scary.  Helena knows her sister would never ask for help unless she was scared  badly, so she makes arrangements to have the dojo run my her top teachers while she heads off to Hollywood to protect her younger sister.  Sonia is divorcing her husband and co-star after she caught him cheating on her.  She’s also been signed to star in a new prime time detective action series.

Helena is divorced from her FBI agent husband and sometime lover because she couldn’t take the constant moving around and always having to put her own career second to his ambitions and the FBI system of promotion, but protecting her sister is something she’s happy to do.  Besides, she may not be beautiful like Sonia, but she sure as hell can intimidate with the best of them.  And she does exactly that with Sonia’s soon to be ex – only he seems more lost and depressed than vindictive.  Then he’s dead and Sonia is suspect number 1.

The plot moves quickly, Helena is a great character, Sonia is a perfect foil for the down-to-earth Helena, and several scenes are priceless, like when she gives the 20-something rock star a black eye and bloody nose for grabbing her ass.  Even better, it seems CC Dragon has an editor/proof-reader so the errors are FINALLY minimal.

Helena Goes to Hollywood is the first book in a new series and there is no indication when, or if, there will be a book 2.  I hope so as it’s got a great kick-ass heroine and lots of potential for future plots.  My rating is B- to B (3.8*) and is a recommended read for those who like strong, independent female leads and some sass with their mystery.  I did NOT guess who did it, in part because the clues were not clear and there was almost a deus ex machina ending.  A buy as an ebook if you like the genre with sassy, tough female leads.  Skip the print as over priced.

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The Hot Damned series by Robyn Peterman was an unexpected hoot.  I had read her Ready To Were books and was very entertained, but these were not your run of the mill paranormal/vamp books.

Fashionably Dead opens – all Astrid wanted to do was quit smoking.  Seriously, that’s it.  She paces outside a strangely obscure hypnotists door having her last cigarette and finally goes in to find a blond and gorgeous Amazon of a woman – and that’s all she remembers until she wakes up to a foul-mouthed Oprah who tells her she’s now a vampire and she (Oprah) is her guardian angel.  Then there’s ‘The Ken’ who looks and talks like Arnold Schwarzenegger and is her new fairy fighting instructor.  Why would she need to know how to fight?  Can she do it heels?  What about her art classes at the senior’s home where they all make genitals out of clay?

Astrid finds accepting the vamp thing a little hard to take – but getting ‘rushed’ by vamp sororities?  Ok. way past surreal ………. well, except for the bag full of Prada, the real stuff, not knock-offs.  She is now Fashionably Dead.  If only she could get past this whole blood thing.  Oddly, her roommate and bestie seems to accept the whole things better than Astrid.  But her out of control libido anytime she gets near this hot guy she thinks is a rogue vamp – but is really the Prince, hot flashes take on new meaning.

Funny, entertaining, well-drawn characters, and a decent plot combine for a laugh out loud read with loads on potential carried into the Fashionably Dead Down Under, which picks up exactly where Book 1 left off.

Astrid is in Hell.  Literally.  Satan is her Uncle.  The Seven Sins are her psycho cousins and FaceBook addicts.  The palace plays Journey (yup, the Steve Perry Journey) continuously.  Satan’s youngest daughter Dixie, is good, a great embarrassment to Satan.  She gets straight A’s in school.  She’s also, apparently, sane, in a palace with talking walls and fricking Steve Perry blaring non-stop.   On the upside, Satan also smelled like brownies.

Astrid gets to meet a lot of her extended family – while finding out Mr Rogers plays poker with Satan, and everybody cheats at cards.  New hubby Vampire Prince Ethan gets to her and with Dixie’s help, Astrid gets Mother Nature to stop time so Ethan won’t risk death.

A fascinating bunch of characters in a screwball comedy with a few serious moments.

In Hell on Wheels, Dixie goes to Earth college with her 3 crazy friends.  Why her father sent her there, Satan only knows, but she needs every skill she has to survive while her cousin Astrid ends up somewhat in hiding due to pregnancy.  This is kind of a demonic coming of age book with Dixie finding her true calling, the one she is supposed to be.  Shades of Carrie at the end, with a weird family reunion.

Fashionably Dead in Diapers comes back to Ethan, Astrid and their new son, Samuel, who is growing up far faster than a human – and acquiring his mother’s very colorful vocabulary.  But Ethan and Astrid need some alone time so they call in The Kev (an ancient Fairy), his mate and Astrid’s bestie, Gemma – who is the true Queen of the Fairy, Venus, a kick ass vamp guard, and at Sammy’s insistence, Jane and Martha – the two most annoying senior art students at the home who she foolish turned vamp.

Ethan and Astrid get their alone time, but not without a price.  Seems Sammy’s powers are strong and he lacks the filters that would put brakes on adults conjuring up thing, like Martha’s and Jane’s 49 dead relatives as zombies.  Astrid calls a family meeting and everyone except Uncle God and Jesus make it and all agree to the new visitation rules until Sammy grows up a bit.  They no more than leave when Cressida House comes under attack by the Fairies.  They manage to kidnap Sammy, but end up taking Martha and Jane with him.

Ethan, The Kev, and one seriously pissed off mommy with scary powers go to Fairy to get Sammy back.  But trust Sammy to take everything in stride.

The Hot Damned series ranges from C+ to B (3.7 to 4.0*) and is a recommended ebook read for those who enjoy slightly warped humor and don’t mind some very creative swearing.  Book 1 was free, but all others ran around $4.99.  Once again, avoid the overpriced print books.  A fifth installment is due, but no pub date is available.

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Murder of an Open Book is the 18th book in the Scrumble River cozy series has Skye and Wally back in Scrumble River, she as school psychologist and him a police chief.  Skye is also pregnant and working up to telling her nosy, interfering mother.  She went back to swimming as a way to try to get back into some kind of shape, but volleyball coach and all around PIA Blair drags her from the pool and won’t even allow her to shower before changing and being at her desk.  OK, we now know who is about to be knocked off.

It’s another slow moving plot with plenty of clues and family stuff, but not much meat and frankly the characters should be gracefully retired.  The who, if you’ve read any of these books, is also obvious.  Ms Swanson’s other series, the Devereaux Dime books is better and freshed.

Murder of an Open Book get a C (3*) rating.  Neither terribly good or truly awful, it is just an average cozy with mostly dull, predictable characters and not a lot going for it.  I bought it cheaply online.  I should have saved the money.

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September 11, 2015

9-11

Filed under: Editorial,General — toursbooks @ 4:11 pm
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I remember 9-11-2001.  It was a day like today.  Sunny, blue skies, mild temperatures.  I saw the Twin Towers on my way into work.  I did most days when the air was clear.  I had arrived home on a night fight the weekend before and we had a rare southern approach to Newark and we saw the Towers all lit up and I turned to the young woman sitting next to me and said, “It looks like home.”  Little did I know, I’d never experience that again.

I was sitting at my desk working on a report on the computer when one of my engineers walked in with the oddest look on his face and said, “A plane flew into the Twin Towers.”

I thought it was a bad joke.  “I just saw them.  They were fine.”  I started checking the internet and there it was.  I went up to the roof and there were maybe 10 people there, all wearing the same expression of disbelief and fear.  Many had friends, spouses, family who were First Responders or worked in the Towers.

I just stood silently and watched.  No one seemed to want to say anything, even me.  There were no words.  From where I stood north and west of Manhattan, the two towers seemed to overlap slightly, their windows like mirrors in the bright sun and a mushroom cloud of dust and smoke above.  Then the first tower collapsed and a city I grew up seeing nearly every day disappeared in a cloud of dust.

It was one of the strangest days of my life.  The shock and the immediate aftermath as we all realized it was no tragic accident, but a deliberate act of terrorism, left us speechless.  I sent my guys home.  The phone lines were so overloaded, they couldn’t even call out.  I stayed for awhile, but the company finally closed the plant – a first for anything but a county declared state of emergency.  Those still there of the nearly 4,000 people headed home, many worried about family in NYC.

That day 2,753 people died.  Since then, 3,700+ survivors and first responders died, mostly of cancer from inhaling the dust.  Just   2 weeks ago, the woman in the famous ‘Dust Lady‘ photo died at the age of 42 from cancer.  Thousands of our service men and women have died in the Mid-East, more have been forever injured.  The toll extends well beyond those who died at the Pentagon, Twin Towers and in a field in Pennsylvania bringing down Flight 93.

It was day that altered the course of many lives, even for those far removed from the event.  But was also a day when people, many ordinary working people, stepped up and helped.  I know I’ve shown this link before, but it’s worth watching again.  Boatlift 9-11 narrated by Tom Hanks.

Lest we forget.

September 7, 2015

Introducing Readers to New Old Authors and Different Genres

There is something fundamentally very satisfying about getting readers out of a rut. People who ‘only read romance’, ‘only read fantasy’, ‘only read mystery’. I should know. I fall into ruts myself. But I tend to explore more simply because I always did.  Even though both my parents worked, we never had a lot of money for extras.  I might not have worn the latest fashion, but I could always buy books.  My mother was surprisingly liberal in her in what she’d let me read.  She herself was a devout fan of Earl Stanley Gardner, Victoria Holt, Agatha Christie, and Daphne du Maurier.  She read most of the other mysteries as well, but not all.  And lots, and lots of non-fiction history.  Well, she was a history teacher, so that was inevitable.

Somewhere early in my grade school years,  many classic mystery authors from the 20’s 30’s and 40’s were republished, not just the famous ones  like Hammett and Chandler, but many of the so-called ‘pulp fiction’ mystery writers – Phoebe Atwood Taylor, Ngaio Marsh, Clayton Rawson,  Earl Der Biggers, and many more.  Also Edgar Rice Burroughs’ books were fashionable again, so his Tarzan, John Carter of Mars (Barsoom series), and Pellucidar books were reprinted.  And Mary Renault’s brilliant 3 book series based on the legend of Theseus came out.  I read them all and many more while also reading things like The Longest Day and Thomas Costain’s history of the Plantagenets, biographies of various Russian Czars and Napoleon ……… and tons of books on archeology.  Yes, I once thought I wanted to do that for a living.  Luckily sanity prevailed when I decided I wanted a paying job instead.  But if you ever want to get your pre-teens interested in ancient history, try Leonard Cottrell’s books on Egyptian, Greek, and Minoan history and archeology.

My wildly eclectic taste in reading means I can often encourage people to try new things.  I kept a lending library at work and people would ask for suggestions.  I had books shelved by genre for mystery/thriller fans, si-fi/fantasy fans, romance fans, historical Fic Fans could all check their interests.  I had people I didn’t know ask what they should read and I’d ask who they liked reading and make suggestions.  I had everyone from hourlies to Directors using those books and every 6 moths or so I clear them out and gave them to a man who took them to a veterans home.

On paperback swap I’ve gotten a number of people to try new genres and authors.  Several blame me for their ever expanding wishlists and growing piles on books.  My doctor complains I get her off on tangents.  I was so proud I was actually able to get her to read Josephine Tey’s The Daughter of Time!  And what’s more, she enjoyed it!!!!!  She did not go easily into the mystery genre.  I lured her in using Jana Deleon’s Miss Fortune books, Leslie Langtry’s Bombay Assassins and Merry Wrath books,  and moved her up to Donna Andrews’ Meg Langslow series.  (BUWAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAH!)

OK, I cheated.  I did name what I consider on of the BEST mysteries ever written (as does the Crime Writers of America and many other groups that publish a top 100 list), and I played to her love of history, but lets face it, if you’re going to get people into a genre, you hit them with a sure win.  Tey is a great writer and her plotting, pacing, and research are dead on.  But back then, writers were much better than they are today.  Read early Ellery Queen, even Hammett or Sayers and you’ll find the vocabulary is far more extensive than you’ll find in their modern equivalent.  It is also utterly devoid of the swear words that we all take for granted these days.

I’ve gotten cozy fans into romantic suspense and some of the better paranormal romance and UF.  I’ve watched Amish romance lovers start adding humorous erotica to their wish lists.  I’ve hooked folks on humorous mystery and mystery lovers on some of the better romance and hardcore police procedural and PI lovers on historical mysteries.  When someone likes what I suggest, I am pleased, and when they don’t I always say, “Don’t force yourself.”  There are too many authors and books to try and we don’t all like the same ones.

I like assassin books that my brother would hate.  He likes some non-fiction I’d be bored to tears with.  We both read many mysteries and I’ve slowly gotten my SIL, a talented artist, into mysteries as well.  Of course all these variations play merry hell with my wish list on PBS, where I’m sure some psychologist is convinced I have some sort of multiple personality disorder with a strong violent streak and a bizarre preoccupation with shifters and vampires.

With all this in mind, I will do an occasional entry that lists some favorite books or series, their genre, and why I like them.  Many will be older books, not ones showing up in my reviews.

The Daughter of Time by Josephine Tey – I’ve read this book several times in my life and marveled at how brilliantly Tey wove an historical mystery into the life the of a (then) modern police detective.  It’s short, especially my today’s standards, yet the spare plot is complex and beautifully woven by prose I can only wish modern authors had.  A Classic and deserving of the frequent first place or top 5 best mysteries of all time.  An absolute must read for even a casual mystery fan.

Dance Hall of the Dead, A Thief of Time, Skinwalkers by Tony Hillerman – Many authors have tried their hand at creating authentic ethnic characters and cultures, but few have equaled Tony Hillerman and his Navajo mysteries with two very different lead characters, the ‘modern’ Lt Joe Leaphorn, and the traditional Sgt. Jim Chee.  Both had separate series and later, several books had the two characters together.  All are steeped in an atmosphere so rich and textured you can almost feel it.  Hillerman was respectful and accurate in his portrayal of the Navajo and was honored by them for his authenticity.  His later books grew weaker as cancer took its toll on him, but the three named here are possibly 3 of the best he wrote.  Each has Navajo religious and cultural traditions woven into the fabric of what is modern police procedural and the struggle to maintain a culture against a rising tide of the modern world, its comforts, and its seemingly endless opportunities.  An education and a great mystery all in one.

The Maltese Falcon by Dashielle Hammett is often considered the first great hard-boiled PI novel.  Most people know it from the movie starring Humphry Bogart, so the novel’s Sam Spade will be a shock to some.  Tall, blond, built, a little sly, full of mischief, but still tough, conniving, and shrewd.  In many ways, Sam Spade is an anti-hero.  He’s not the dazzling problem solver like Sherlock Holmes, or Dr Fell, or Ellery Queen.  He quips, fights, insults, schmoozes, and dances with the devil, and has very flexible ethics, but maintains a code he lives by – and was the prototype for Jake Gittes in Chinatown played by Jack Nicolson.  Like most detective fiction of its time, it was classified as ‘pulp fiction’ – largely because many books were serialized in pulp magazines for mysteries.  He is also a one-off.  Sam Spade was not a series, just a single novel by Hammett.  Read it.  And while you’re at it, read his The Thin Man and The Glass Key books too, but remember,  The Thin Man is NOT the hero!

Raymond Chandler took the hard-boiled PI genre and gave it its second most famous archetype, Phillip Marlowe.  (Curious footnote: Humphry Bogart was the only actor who play BOTH Sam Spade and Phillip Marlowe, one of the main reasons his syle influenced Jack Nickerson’s Jake Gittes character in Chinatown.)  The Big Sleep, Farewell, My Lovely, and The Lady in the Lake are three most famous and given his very limited output, that’s amazing 50% of his published novels.  Brisk, spare prose and quick, snappy dialog are the hallmarks of his style.  Razor sharp without spare words, lightning quick, yet conveying all needed nuance and character.  Marlowe is a study in the flawed hero, but the mysteries all carry the theme of justice will be served, one way of another.

“Last night I deamt I went to Manderley again.”  Possibly one of the most famous opening lines of a novel since “Call me Ismael.”  And for a novel a lot more entertaining than Moby Dick!  Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier became the archetype for modern romantic suspense.  It twisted the mind and played with reality as seen and narrated by the nameless lead character who is the second wife of wealthy Max de Winter.  The book’s title and overwhelming central character is the dead Rebecca, his first wife.  A psychological suspense thriller, it is crafted using traditions laid down by the Bröntes, yet departs those simpler plots for a more taut and twisted tale that pulls the reader into life of a young wife struggling to fit into her wealthy husband’s much more refined and established life while being constantly told how lacking she compared to Rebecca by Mrs Danvers, Max’s head housekeeper.

And speaking of psychological suspense that goes off the charts, I would be remiss to not include Thomas Harris and possibly two of the scariest suspense novels ever written, Red Dragon and its more famous sequel, The Silence of the Lambs.  I read them both and I can tell you without any shame that I slept with the lights on for over a week after reading them.  Twisted, brilliant, almost unputdownable, and utterly terrifying.  You literally find yourself holding your breath in places and almost afraid to turn a page.  The characters are so damn believable, the story so well done, and the intensity so extreme, these are not for the faint of heart.  Anthony Hopkins did such a brilliant job with Lecter that I will forever see the character and here Hopkins’ voice.  The sheer believability of the characters is what makes these books scary beyond words.  A stunning tour de force in psychological terror.  Not for everyone, and certainly not something I’d read twice, they remain some of the most intense thrillers ever written.

At the opposite end of the spectrum sits Agatha Christie, author of many original mysteries.  Several of her books were made into movies and the BBC and actor David Suchet have made Hercule Poirot a familiar name.  It’s hard to single out her best books, but two always leap to the top – The Murder of Roger Ackroyd and Ten Little Indians (US publication title And Then There Were None).  That would be followed by Murder on the Orient Express and Death on the Nile.  Of all of them, The Murder of Roger Ackroyd is possibly one of the finest pieces of detective fiction written.  A low-key approach to crime solving that is a lesson for all mystery writers.  While Christie would eventually come to hate her little Belgian detective, Hercule Poirot, here he is at his earliest and best.  In Murder on the Orient Express, he solves a crime then tells authorities that he has no solution as he believes justice was already served.  In Death on the Nile, you again have all the usual suspects gathered as he expounds how the crime was committed, but again, justice is delivered by the perpetrators themselves.  In And Then There Were None, everyone dies – or so it would seem.  Read it to learn the end.  It involves no detectives at all and is unlike any other book Christie or any other author wrote.

I’ll do another installment on historical fiction for my next entry in this occasional series.

 

 

 

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