Tour’s Books Blog

September 13, 2017

And Even More Binge – Short Reviews

My apologies for not posting.  I’ve been suffering fatigue and just kind of digging out of it slowly.  Yes, I’m still reading, actually more ebooks than print lately.  Why?  Well, publishers have consolidated, ruthlessly cut authors and series, no longer give a series a chance to develop a following and delay publication dates 18 months or more except on big name bestsellers.  On top of all that, they raised prices and reduced quality of everything from the paper itself, to the crappy proofreading and editing.  No wonder authors have turned to self-publishing.  Earlier this year, cozy mystery writers had contracts canceled and whole series dropped.  Now si-fi, fantasy, paranormal, and dystopian are getting the same treatment.  Action, espionage, military thrillers and many mysteries, from humorous to noir have gone ebook.

Looking at my Amazon purchases, I found I ordered more non-book merchandise than books.  Five years ago, the first Tuesday of the month meant UPS had sacks on boxes at my door.  Now a get maybe 2 books a month, 4 in the high release months.  Having moved from quality packaging, Amazon now also save money using padded envelopes, except the books often arrive with creased covers and scuffing thanks to Amazon and the PO abuse.  When I spend $20+ on a book, is it too much to ask for a dust jacket that’s NOT TORN?  A trade paperback with a bent, creased cover?  Can the damn publishers not use recycled tissues for paper so thin I can see the print on the back of the page and despite great care, the fragile paper rips just turning a page?  Better still, can they find printers who don’t leave blotches of link like mini-Rorschach tests all over the pages – often causing those frail thin pages to glue themselves to each other?

God knows ebooks are the prototype of bad proofreading – not to mention authors who seem unable to exercise even minimal self-discipline in CONTINUITY ERRORS – but they aren’t $20, either.  I get a lot of them through Book Bub on sale for $0.99 to $2.99 and a lot of free books.

The big downside of ebooks is the fact most authors choose a short novel length.  That might be what ebook readers prefer, but it often leaves the characters and plot wanting.  Certainly, Golden Age mysteries were largely short novel length, with Josephine Tey’s The Daughter of Time being one of the finest mysteries ever written and one of the shortest.  Christie’s books were all shorter novels, especially her best early works.  Same for Hammett and even Chandler.  But today’s writers are simply not in that class – or even close.  Today’s writers lack the skills of compacting paragraphs of atmosphere into a single sentence.  “It seemed like a nice neighborhood to have bad habits in,” from Chandler’s The Big Sleep tells you more that paragraphs about the setting and the atmosphere in a modern book.

But bemoaning the loss of mystery’s Golden Age is a bit pointless.  Today’s books reflect the taste of modern readers and the fact they want easy, entertaining diversion – and apparently a limited vocabulary.  Not many authors can command a wide audience other than a handful of big names that run more on the reputation for their past works than their often mediocre, formulaic current novels.  Still, even ebooks have good, bad, and indifferent authors, so let’s see what we have for July/Aug mysteries.

PS:  No, I have not lost my fondness for UF and paranormal, but most paranormal now seems to fall into mystery or romance genres.  Pickings are lean there too.  Some authors have nothing new out – due to the whole publisher issue or the fact they’ve just hit a dry spell I can’t say.  I do have a few for the next print book reviews group.

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The newest entry in the Merry Wrath series is decent but choppy and frankly, not that credible, but still a fun read.  Mud Run Murder is decent as an ebook, but try and borrow it unless you’re a hardcore fan.  SHORT book.  C+ to B- (3.7*)

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The Never Say Spy series books 1 to 10 that I binge read:

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OK, this series is set in Canada and involves a cross between a spy series, near future virtual reality, and a book keeper who is mistaken for a deep cover spy.  It has humor, heart, twists, turns, excitement, and some interesting takes on the James Bondish style send-up mixed with serious stuff.  Each book, while part of an overarching story, is complete unto itself.  Aydan Kelly, the woman who insists she’s a book keeper (which she is) is a terrific lead character, but would be more believable as someone 10 years younger.  Book one, Never Say Spy, is free and ebook.  Give it a try.  I enjoyed the series a lot.  The books ranged from C+ to B (3.6* to 4*)

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The House of Spies, the 17th book in the Gabriel Allon series, was the usual 500+ page tome by Daniel Silva.  What it wasn’t was great.  In fact, it barely made good.  With a cast of ever character you can think of – and some extras, an episodic style, and no really solid lead, it limped along in Mediocreville.  Completely miss-able.  Get from the FOL sale or borrow it.  Read the HC version – it was cheaper than the ebook.  C- (2.8*)  Not impressed by a usually reliable author.  Retire Gabriel, please.

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How a really good series can cause an author to rush out a book before it’s time.  Call of the Wilde is a very short book.  Yes, it’s action packed because the author doesn’t take the time flesh out any of the many individual elements and it all becomes messy in the headlong rush to the big finale in London.  Let’s do, not think.  Never a good plan.  Loose ends all over.  The rush had predictable bad consequences.  Not as well done as the earlier books.  Unpolished and fragmented.  My score is a C (3*).  Had Ms Stark taken the time to just breath deeply and THINK, it would have been light-years better – and 50-75 pages longer.

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An interesting concept, a former Episcopal priest turned war vet turned professional poker player/trouble shooter.  The Preacher was a book I wanted to like.  It had all the anti-hero elements.  It was dull, predictable, occasionally tedious, and just blah.  The Preacher gets called into some dusty torn in New Mexico by and old seminary friend to find out what’s wrong.  How he does this playing poker only works because the poker players are what’s wrong.  As sere and dusty as eastern New Mexico.  I was frustrated at wasting my time on this.  My score C- (2.8*) and give it a miss.

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OK, a favorite author – G.A. Aiken/Shelly Laurenston and a favorite series, the Dragon Kin.  Bring the Heat was a sure bet – sort of.  Now Branwen the Awful is a great character and so to is Aiden the Divine, what didn’t work do well is the choppy plot.  You’ve got Annwyl the Bloody in Hell, the dragons wiping out the followers of the blind god,  and Brannie and Aiden escorting Keita to poison another dragon queen because he son was kidnapped and murdered while under the Dragon Queen’s care.  Anyhoo …… the scene switching is not unusual, but the story isn’t smooth or as interesting, which is a shame as Brannie is one of my favorite characters.  My score is C+ (3.3*)

 

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February 14, 2017

I’m BACK!

Yes, you have all been awaiting my return.  Or maybe not.  But I’m back!  And we the good, the bad, and OMG what the hell were they thinking?

I’m happy to report I can now see again – with both eyes.  Yes, it’s true.  You CANNOT see through cataracts.  I must admit to a certain feeling of persecution as my very blue-eyed dad never wore sunglasses and died at 85 cataract free.  My OLDER brother has hazel green eyes and also never wore sunglasses – and he’s CATARACT FREE!  Both spent/spend a LOT of time outdoors.  I have worn sunglasses – expensive polarized glasses – for decades and I’m the one with cataracts.  Gene pool lotto sucks.

Still, thanks to modern surgery, getting cataracts removed is stupidly expensive, but easy.  It’s the inability to see, and double vision, before, the two different focal points between, and the waiting on the healing to get results and news reading glasses, which I still need.  Then I have to get my driving confidence back.  It’s so nice that street signs are no longer blurry even wearing my distance glasses.  The downside, I might have the beginning of age-related macular degeneration, so add one more vitamin to the mix.  If you’re over 60, it’s actually a good idea.  PreserVision AREDS2 by Bausch & Lomb are recommended and I got mine on Amazon.

Between surgeries (2 weeks apart) I really couldn’t read much and frankly reading before had become a challenge.  But I’ve been playing catchup and plowing through print and ebooks.  So hoping you all had excellent holidays and are ready to check out what new – or at least new to me – in books!

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Big type, easy reading, mindless, predictable plot, short book.  Perfect for getting back in the game with my brain still in neutral.  Turbo Twenty-Three was better than her last book – which I remain convinced was written by someone else.  That’s it, that all the good to mention.

Evanovich is stretching her reader’s credulity more and more with each book as they get more and more like an I Love Lucy episode – but less funny.  Let’s face it, it’s tough to be Lucy and Ethyl packing chocolates, but she gives it a shot in an ice cream factory.  Sorry, that’s just visual comedy she can’t quite pull off.  Vaguely amusing is about it.

The plot is just painfully obvious, the trip to Disney was pointless except to give Ranger and Steph a reason to climb into bed.  And Ranger was insulted in the last book and this one she insults Morelli.

The eternally young Steph Plum has grown old, tired, and retreads dialogue and plots till you’re just so damn glad you got it through a book swap site and didn’t pay a dime is it a relief.  Frankly, a dime is about the fair price.

Turbo Twenty-Three gets a D+ to C- (2.5*) for a waste of perfectly good paper.  If it takes more than 3 hours to read, try staying awake more.  I know it’s kind of a snoozefest, but it’s fairly painless and you won’t be wincing at the continuity errors like those in her last book.  Highly missable and get it from your library.  Buying this is a waste of money.

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The new young adult Steampunk series by Shanna Swendson is a new genre for the humorous fantasy romance author.  Rebel Mechanics is the series and the book title is All is Fair in Love and Revolution.  Verity Newton is the ‘daughter’ of a Yale University professor who knows she’s not his own.  She is very well educated at 17 and gets a second class ticket to New York City to find a job as a governess.  In this world, England has kept hold of the colonies and conveniences are supplied by their ruling class, magisters, magic users who are titled and act pretty must like all aristocracy.  After being turned down for every job she interviewed for, she finds she must go into the heart of the magister area.  Much to her surprise, she is offered the job, complete with room and board.  Her charges youngish uncle bears a striking resemblance to the gang that held up her train and stole the crown’s money.

These improbable coincidences plague the book’s setup, including the way she meets the Mechanics. The plot is largely simplistic, Mechanics vs. Magisters, as the audience is young adult, and the prose matches that.  The pacing plods along at times and seems to race to cover her bald spots.  Verity is no fool and figures out both sides of the game but is now caught in the web while being governess to the grandchildren of the Duke who rules the city.  Set in 1888, it combines some historic elements with her Steampunk NYC, but at limes seems lacking the verve that make the best book have a sense of life.  I was always outside the story, never really engaged.

All is Fair in Love and Revolution gets high marks on Amazon, where I bought it for under $7 (but buy the ebook or borrow from the library -this is not a keeper).  Despite that, the best I can do is C- (2.8*)  It’s short and fairly fast read for an adult and not a struggle for kids 11 and up.  Not as well imagined as some of the recent Dystopian books and certainly no Harry Potter.  An uninspired read.

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Poison is the New Black is the most recent entry in the entertaining humorous mystery series Eat, Prey, Die by Chelsea Field.  In this, Izzy and her neighbor, overactive senior Etta, get involved in proving the innocence of Mr Black, the legbreaker who threatened Izzy in book one about paying off her ex-husband’s debt to some mob loan shark.  Turns out, Mr Black is just a family man trying to make a living after losing his job, house, and life savings caring for a sick wife and exceeding bright daughter.  Etta, convinced Izzy is a ‘honey trap’ for some secret government agency – not a Shade, a paid food taster highly trained to detect poisons, is convinced they can prove the cops are wrong.

She also has the assignment from hell, being a Shade masquerading as a PA to one of the obnoxious ‘Housewives of Beverly Hills’ type who is competing with other backstabbing females for a position in the annual nude calendar.  Apparently, poisoning the competition is a well-established tradition, all the while maintaining that brittle civility that masks bone-deep loathing among the rich and useless.  Another Shade – one that hates Izzy, is also on the job for another club member.  She makes Izzy’s life miserable.

Worse, her honey, the taciturn Connor, has become even more remote and she about ready to throw in the towel on him – except she needs access to his security company to help Etta and Mr Black.

Altogether a fun, fast-moving story that includes the Christmas short Taste of Christmas.  The author balances the 3 plots lines rather well, with a few bobbles here and there, but mostly dead on.  A good entry if a solid and entertaining series, one I recommend to anyone who enjoys a light, humorous mystery with well-done characters.

Poison is the New Black gets a B- (3.8*) and is recommended to fans of the Miss Fortune series, Whiskey Bayou series, and the Davis Way series.  I purchased the ebook online.

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We go back to Reacher’s past in the Military for this installment in the series, which was an improvement over the usual trope he’s kind of exhausted.  Night School is set in 1996 and takes place mostly in Europe.  It opens with Reacher finding himself sent to ‘school’ with just 3 other men, each coming off an equally highly successful case, one from the FBI and from the CIA.  Someone is trying to sell something for $100 million dollars – who, where, and what are the questions.  Lee brings back Sgt Neagley, who has made several appearances in the Reacher books past and present.

Each man in the class is briefed by members of the National Security Council.  This premise is off to a weak start and frankly, the plot is lame in many ways.  A high-level Iranian asset is at risk and these guys putter around Hamburg, but Reacher becomes convinced a murder in Hamburg is tied to the deal and does his usual off-grid independent routine with Neagley’s help.

The story complex, yet oddly flat and lifeless.  The bad guy – yes military – is no genius yet seems to defeat all the systems.  Even he is two-dimensional.  Yes, there are the usual fight scenes, yes, Reacher gets laid – and not by Neagley.  Yes, the day is saved.  And the whole thing was lackluster with occasional reminders of how good Child can be when he really tries.

Night School gets C- (2.8*) from me.  It good enough for a plane read or an evening’s diversion so long as you don’t ask for too much.  For fans only and borrow it from your library.  My copy of Night School came through the PBS book swap site and will go back out the same way.

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One Fell Sweep is once again one of the most original books I read in months.  Ilona Andrews’  Innkeeper series, of which this is book 3, just gets better and better.  I count it one of my top 5 series.  Unlike some, there is no over-arcing plot that must be advanced.  Each book is a complete story, the characters and secondary plot lines might move on a bit, that’s about it.

Ilona Andrews (a husband and wife team) started this series online on the author website.  A practice they continue.  But the final published book gets rewritten and polished and occasionally changed a bit.  You want to know how much I liked it? I bought the ebook AND the print book.

Dina DeMille’s Inn has been quiet since the ‘peace’ conference she hosted, but the sense of someone brushing her boundary wakes her and she goes to her balcony to find Sean, an alpha strain werewolf and neighbor/sort of boyfriend, is out and about.  He feels uneasy.  And they both soon know why.  A boost bike screams down her road, turns and comes back.  She hits it with EMP that kills the bike.  She and Sean just manage to hide the bike and it’s alien rider before her neighbor gets there.  Her anger at the disturbance is real, but when they get inside and she starts on the Ku rider, it’s lost when he gives her a necklace and a note with coordinates – to a hellhole in the Holy Anocracy – Kahari.  There’s nothing she can do but call Lord Arland Krahr, Marshall of House Krahr for help.  And she gets it – and him and his ship to take them to ‘the anus of the universe’ to get her sister Maude and niece Helen.

As usual, the rescue is the beginning and Arland is taken with Maud and decides to stay at the inn for a much needed ‘retreat’.

The story that unfolds is rich, complex and has multiple plot lines involving a race near the brink of extinction, the Hiru, seeking her help and in return offering her the chance to ask the Archivarius one question about her parents – who disappeared along with their Inn.  But they bring with them another race that declared a holy war on them for no know reason generations ago.  It’s the Hiru’s last chance at survival and the Draziri’s chance at reaching paradise.  Between them stands Dina, her Inn, Sean, Maud and daughter Helen, Arland, the ever-cunning Caldenia, Orro the drama king chef, and Wing the small Ku on a hero’s quest.

With a great story, humor, grief, fighting, adventure, and a touch of romance, this quirky group is as real as any characters you’ll meet.  One Fell Sweep earns an A (4.8*) rating and the whole series is highly recommended to lovers of original, well-plotted and written urban fantasy.

November 11, 2016

A Last Post and Then – A Long Break

I suspect you’ve noticed I’ve been posting less these last few months, in part due to repetitive computer issues and in part due to issues with my eyes.  Like most folks my age with light eyes I’ve had cataracts for years.  These last few months saw a marked changed in my vision and it is difficult for me to work on the computer for any length of time.

Yes, I am getting surgery on both eyes, but I have to wait for openings which put’s it out later than I had hoped.  Still, it will be good to get it done.  Hopefully, it will be drama free and mark the end of a very expensive year of car repairs, extensive dental work, multiple trips to the computer place (where I was mistaken for an employee), and ending with eye surgery.  Could have been better, could have been worse.

I’ve been on a spy/assassin/action thriller binge with multiple authors in various formats.  I belong to Goodreads and I occasionally post (in fits in starts) in two groups, The Orion Team, a group for fans of action thriller/spy/espionage type books and the VERY large Mystery, Crime, Thriller group.  I am almost never around the fantasy and paranormal groups I belong to.  The latest Mitch Rapp book, Order to Kill by Kyle Mills who took over for Vince Flynn and did a really spectacular job of The Survivor, the previous book in the series is reviewed below.  By comparison, I found Order to Kill …… well, average or slightly above.  My comment brought out Ryan – self-styled ‘The Rappologist” – a Mitch Rapp superfan who runs a blog dedicated to Mitch Rapp who took exception to my views.  So I did something I rarely do, I sent an email to the author, Kyle Mills.

Now I email my many political representatives and office holders in DC and tell them off or agree with them (can’t remember the last time that happened) and sent the email expecting ‘Thanks for writing’, canned reply of a similar nature.  But lo and behold, within a few hours Kyle Mills replied himself.  And not some rote response, but a thoughtful look at what books of his I liked and how I loved The Survivor, but not Order to Kill.  A part of his response was:

“My impression of the Rapp books is that he is a bit of a superhero.  Realism is less important than the fact that he be the master of his universe.  Part of that is shown through his actions and part is through the deference others show him.  Further, because The Survivor leaned toward the cerebral (in the context of the series) I wanted to do more of a pure action thriller this time out.”

I thought about his reply awhile and about what books I liked best and those that ended up annoying me and came to the conclusion I do prefer the cerebral thriller.  There’s plenty of action, but the characters are more nuanced, flawed, and human, so more relatable.  See, even a thriller teaches us something about ourselves.  And kudos to Mr Mills.

On to the reviews!

PS – Belle Chasse by Suzanne Johnson, the next in the Sentinels of New Orleans series is due out next week.  If I have a moment, I’ll post a short review before surgery.  Happy Holidays!

NOTE: All books purchased by me unless otherwise noted.

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Order to Kill has Rapp back in Pakistan works with the team of ex-Seals to locate the now mobile nuclear missiles the Pakistani Army is playing dangerous games with.  Then he is pulled away when the wife and son of the Louis Gould, the man who tried to kill him, are in jeopardy.  Apparently, the safe home in South Africa is breached by ISIS rebels led by a low-level Russian thug.  Rapp saves the day (of course) but feels this urgent need to get back to Pakistan.  He sends the mother and son to his house the one he’s he’s finally finishing so many years after the death of his first wife.  The best line in the book is the interior decorator who is increasingly frustrated by his non-responses to texts about things like countertops and threatens him with pink Formica if he doesn’t reply.

Then we go off the rails.  Mills’ Putin clone orders his best assassin to kill Rapp.  And the ‘Rapp is Superhero’ song begins.  It’s annoying beyond belief.  Everything in Pakistan will fall apart if Rapp is there and without him their operations are crippled?  Seriously?  He’s the ONE man who can see this and wreck the ‘big plan?  Maybe he should check with the Johnny Carson estate to see if his Carnac hat is available for sale.  All Rapp was missing was a clingy body suit and big red ‘S’ on his chest.  I just took what came next as shallow, predictable, and kind of tedious in that like a romance novel, the ending was never in doubt, just how he got there.  You couldn’t even hate the competent Russian assassin, who was just doing a job.  We can hate ISIS, but big deal.

What’s missing?  Well, there’s plenty of action and the pacing is excellent.  Mills knows his way around writing a thriller, but in trying to imitate Flynn’s later works where Rapp is less human and more a cartoonish, shallow, always right, he lost the nuance that he brought to The Survivor, what I thought was one of the best books in the series for some time.  That he deliberately changed the style to better match Flynn is precisely why I found myself annoyed with it.  I’d grown tired of Flynn turning Rapp into an almost inhuman superhero.  I did like Grisha Azarov, the Russian assassin and he has some potential for future books as he manages to get away from both Rapp and Russia.

If Mills sticks with this ‘superhero’ approach, I’ll likely quit buying after the next book.  It’s like a good, but unsurprising action movie rather than an intellectual challenge with action an integral part.  Plus Rapp is getting too old to be fully credible in plots that are all about physical challenges without the redeeming factors of human error or character flaws.  To his credit, he did leave Rapp with the widow and child now living in his house and not knowing how to handle things.

Order to Kill gets a C+ (3.4*) rating for me and will be loved by dedicated Rapp fans – 70% of whom gave it 5* on Amazon.  I found it tedious and annoying and actually a step back from the far better book, The Survivor.  There are far too many of the ‘James Bond’ superspy genre out there.  Shallow and to me, ultimately unsatisfying.  Read it if you are a Flynn fan.  I’m sure you’ll at least like it as it is was well written and paced and you like the ‘avenging crusader’ style of thriller.  If you’re NOT a huge fan, borrow it from the library, buy it used, cheap in about 6 months (or less as remainders are already down to $10 including shipping on Amazon) or hit the FOL sale in about 2 months when they start removing extras from their shelves.

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Scot Harvath, like Mich Rapp, is getting a bit long in tooth (this is book 16 to Rapp’s 15th – but Flynn’s death caused a break in time before a new author was selected) to be the only guy to do the job again, and again, and again.  Like Kyle Mills and Vince Flynn, Thor brings a sense of realism to his settings and action, but Foreign Agent lacked the originality of his earlier books and like Rapp, Harvath has become a bit too much – though Thor is giving him more humanity and a strong sense of his mortality.  The series is suffering from character fatigue.

Harvath, like Flynn, chose to go the route where action takes priority over over character and complexity of human nature.  The plot becomes the story and characters are stoically going through the motions of playing out scenes.  I give him credit for slowly developing the self-realization of his and the fact this cannot last.  Still, it’s almost cut a paste in parts from prior work.  Not a patch on Black List, which was excellent, one of his best.  This can be a trap when the protagonist must start confronting in changes age brings and the equally harsh realization that they want a life beyond the endless action, beyond being responsible for the whole world.

And it is that humanity, the flawed person, that makes characters go from good to completely memorable.  And it’s that element of the plot that raises a book from decent read to amazing.  Now you can do that with some other elements like he did with Black List, but that made the PLOT great, not the characters.  Here, the plot cannot push the book from average to amazing.  It’s a decent plot – and like Kyle Mills, he mixes Russians and ISIS are the antagonists against whom Harvath must match wits and killing skills.  But here the Rissian involved with ISIS is not an apolitical professional assassin like Mills’ Grisha Azarov, but a nutcase who hate Americans.

Again, no question Thor knows the area, the techniques, technology, and keeps things moving, but he’s at the ‘fish or cut bait’ point with Harvath.  Made a few books more, but his character is too old and fire that drove him is changing.

Foreign Agent gets a C+ to B- (3.5*) and will be a huge hit with action thriller fans.  It shows less prescience and tension than Black List, the book I now judge his others by.  Like all books in the action Thriller genre, the price on remainders drops like a stone pretty fast and you can get a HC new book delivered from an Amazon reseller cheaper than the paperback.  Or go buy it at the FOL sale or borrow it from the library.  It wasn’t worth the HC price, but I share this series, like the Rapp series with my brother, so off to him it goes.  Print only.  He and amy SIL do NOT do ebooks.

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Victor the assassin is back with another excellent installment.  Unlike characters like Rapp and Scot Harvath, Victor is a true anti-hero.  An assassin for hire with a certain code, the first priority being his own survival.  He trusts no one and leads an existence devoid of human ties.  But he keeps his promises.

A Time to Die finds Victor on a train to fulfill a contract for MI6 as part of deal they made.  But he’s not alone.  There are other assassins out to get him.  Someone has put a price on his head.  But Victor now has his focus divided between Rados, the worst of the many Balkan war criminals and mass murderers, now a crime boss, and those who are hunting for him.

Patience and attention to detail are what have kept Victor alive when most other assassins would have sought retirement and refuge.  But it also means someone sold him out and it can only be one person – the middleman who acts as the go-between Victor and is clients.  No time for that now, now he must find a way to dig deep enough into the criminal underground to find Rados who has evaded all who have sought to bring him to trial for war crimes.

It is a wonderfully twisted knot of a killer seeking to kill a killer while another killer is trying to kill him and the target that Victor ends up close nearly gets to live …….. but he seals his fate by causing Victor to break a promise.

Assassin novels are very different from ones where the protagonist is a hero fighting for a cause or belief and someone who has made his life about the art of killing and going unnoticed.  Victor is gray, he has limits, a personal code, but is morally flexible on some things.  He does not kill unnecessarily nor is he any kind of patriot.  Just a killer.  Complex and fascinating in his own way.

A Time to Die poses some interesting perspectives on the nature of true evil.  One of Tom Wood’s best and most mature from a plot and character perspective, with plenty of action and twists.  It gets a solid B (4*) and a highly recommended read for fans of early John Rain books by Barry Eisler, Solo by Jack Higgins, or Shibumi by Trevanian.  I’m not sure why this series is not more popular.  It’s really well done a Victor makes a wonderful anti-hero.

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I bought the ebook, Tokyo Black by Andrew Warren, the first in the Thomas Caine series, from Amazon through a Book Bub sale and figured I’d give it a try.  Tokyo Black is about an ex-CIA covert operative who got set up and is getting set up again by the same man.  Using an alias, he’s lived a comfortable and quiet life in Thailand’s resort area doing minor smuggling of designer knockoffs.  His partner sets him up with a narcotics rap and he lands in prison.  His was out is an ex-lover who needs him to some work in Japan, part of his old territory before things went sideways in the Mideast.

This setup moves quickly into the story where Caine is in Japan where he uses a favor owed him by a Yakuza boss to try and find out what’s going on.  Unlike most spy novels, this thriller is more tied to organized crime than national secrets or terrorist groups.  Sort of The Godfather meets John Rain – and I hope that didn’t give away the ending, which was well done.

The story is a really good, fast-paced read but not nuanced as I like my thrillers, just a personal preference in style.  Caine is a really good character and it will be interesting to see where this goes as he ends up agreeing to work freelance for the CIA.

Tokyo Black gets a solid B (4*) from me.  For lovers of the John Rain books, Gray Man series, and the Keller books by Lawrence Block.

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From well-crafted thrillers to mystery fluff with as much substance as meringue.  Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing inherently wrong with fluff when it’s well done, which this is not.  In the tradition of Clive Cussler, Tom Clancy, and James Patterson, we add Janet Evanovich, aging doyen (75 years old) of the increasingly awful Steph Plum books (once favorites of mine, 14 books ago), cooking up ways to ‘expand the brand’.  God, the money machine runs on her name.  The books are mostly written by her co-authors, but it is HER name that sells them.

Curious Minds is mildly original, very choppy, meant to have this brilliant and eccentric lead character (a copy of the TV series version of Elementary, except Emerson Knight has none of the flaws and is a LOT richer) and the ever reluctant female in the late 20’s trying to break into the financial world who is assigned to keep him as a customer of the financial house.  Riley Moon is the reluctant sidekick in his plans.

This is supposed to be funny, and apparently, some people found it so.  But a decade’s old scheme to replace the gold in the US Federal Reserve in NYC with gold plated tungsten while moving the actual gold elsewhere is not only improbable, it makes no sense how Knight works it out.

Curious Minds has a few really amusing throw-away lines, but it was so choppy and jittery, it got annoying.  Though it got 3* from me on GoodReads, it’s really a D+ to C- (2.6*) effort.  I know the style was deliberate, but that did not make it less annoying.  Riley is too young for her years and lacks the maturity to make this pairing work, so she comes off a dimwit with multiple degrees from Harvard, an unlikely combination.  I found it frustrating as the concept was good, it was just not well done.  For Evanovich fans, none of this will matter.  For anyone else, give it a miss or get it free or really cheap somewhere.

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Oh dear God, why do I do this to myself?  I hate chick lit and buy the ultimate chick lit ebook because of the reviews.  On the upside, I got it super cheap, on the downside, about half way through I gave up.  It was that or throw up.

OK, a psychologist learns her building is being demolished and the two weird people she shared the practice with both knew and had new jobs.  She’s left holding the bag with even her file lost.  (The improbability of all this boggles the mind.)  So she starts a column called The Breakup Doctor with the help of the friend she was counseling when the demolition started.

She starts getting clients and missing the fact that she also missing all the signals her own romance is about to hit the rocks.  All that was missing was a flashing neon sign.

At a quarter of the way through, I’d had enough.  It’s mildly amusing, annoying, and beyond belief – with amusing being only 20%, 50% annoying and 30% not remotely believable.  The Breakup Doctor gets a DNF since I couldn’t make myself finish it.  The writing was solid but the characters everything I loathe in chick lit.  Unless this is your thing, (please, don’t tell me, I’ll just cringe) give it a miss.  If it is your thing, it gets 4.5* on Amazon, but they tend to overrate these things.

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OK folks, it came election day and I read it all that day.  I did vote first.

Belle Chasse picks up soon after DJ and Jake make good their escape from the trial Zarkovi  – with the help of Christof Winter Prince, Jean Lafitte, René, and Adrien – getting Eugenie out at the same time.  The are now in Old Barataria at Jean’s home.  Alex stayed back to get the inside scoop on the Council.

The pace is quick as Faerie descends into civil war with the queen on her deathbed.  Eugenie’s sister is killed by vampires – but who did it?  Rand, the elf father of Eugenie’s son, the or the wizards?  Then a group of vampires attack Lafitte’s home in Old Barataria and end up paying the price as the gang arrives back before they can kill any but the undead.  Then a strange woman arrives who turns out to be her cousin Audrey, Lennox’s daughter.  They a young ally to get holy water and take messages.

Then the war the war in Faerie goes bad as Florian kills their aunt and claims Christof is to blame seeking help from the council, help denied by Zarkovi.  With the holy water and her staff, they get to eavesdrop on the council meetings.

The ending is fast and furious as Zarkovi grows more desperate to prove himself.  Old loyalties die hard, but we also lose one of the characters I really liked, so it kind of sad.

Suzanne Johnson did a really good job in keeping this series fresh and interesting and action packed.  Belle Chasse ends on a very surprising note.  Only downside, the book was pricey for a trade sized hardcover just barely over 300 pages.  I give Belle Chasse an A- (4.8*) but a big negative on cost.  Borrow it from the library or wait for a few months and get a used one.  Even the ebook is overpriced.

August 4, 2016

Witness Protection?

No, not hiding and not on vacation and I am not incarcerated for attacking any presidential candidate, though both have provoked me to rages at various times.  (Though I wish I was able to avoid our election coverage, it seems impossible.  It makes me want to move Australia, except they too have a huge problem and turn prime minister over faster than pancakes.)  I have been enjoying the expensive pleasure of a hard drive crash – from which they thankfully were able to save my data, followed by getting a keystroke logger that kept crashing the OS.  So it had to be lobotomized.  And it happened again.  And again.  And finally, I had them reformat the SSD and start from scratch, changed a bunch of settings, passwords, my firewall, and – much to my eternal joy – my bank account.  In all, it took almost 3 weeks and I did buy a rebuilt backup computer JIC.

Now getting a new checking account is more fun than root canals without Novocaine.  The banker was surly and treated me like scum, and despite her pinstripe suit, the young customer service person had attitude to spare and NO understanding of the bank’s rules.  I did discover my driver’s license had expired 5 days earlier and landed at DMV with 5,000 pieces of ID to prove I’m me.  Not a seat in sight (and they have over 100) I point out I’d be happy to wait, but cannot stand that long.  I end up over in an area for mobility impaired and basically get first rate service – after I filled out a form that had been copied to many times the print was pale gray on white and just barely legible if you sort of tilted it the right way.

You know, the day you can say the DMV treats you better than your own bank says so much about how big banks now treat customers.

The upside to so much computerless time, I did a LOT of reading.  The downside, I’m still fixing all the damn EFT autopay accounts.  Technology cuts both ways.  (And that damn snotty bank associate didn’t fall in a ditch.)

Well, here go the books.

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Cash Landing was on my PBS wishlist and came through quickly.  It didn’t take long to understand why.  I was a good 70+ pages into it and kept muttering, “How many times have I read a variation on this trope?”  Too many.  It was at best a pedestrian and uninspired book from a usually decent author.  The story arc was such a familiar tale I know what each character would be before it happened.  It made a tedious and unexciting read.  I mean a robbery staged by a chef, a criminal, and druggie with the IQ of a turnip was a train wreck waiting to happen.  Making them Cuban does NOT make then interesting.  Even worse, he used names that confused characters.

Cash Landing was a crash and burn and certainly not up to Grippando’s usual level.  My grade D+ to C- (2.4*) and with nearly 40% of the Amazon reviews and 3* and down, you’d be better off reading an old Hardy Boys book.  Free through PBS and will depart that way or to the food pantry.

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Stealing the Countess was the second disappoint Housewright delivered in his last 2 books.    When Paul Duclos approaches Mac about helping him ransom his stolen Stradivarius, you can tell immediately what’s wrong.  No insurance company would pay a claim on a violin of that value with offering a reward, no questions asked, for its return.  But the violin belongs to the Foundation his wife runs with her family money.  Like all Strads, it has a name, the Countess Borromeo, or Countess, for short.  Duclos is a local boy who ended up a world class violinist was asked to do a benefit in his hometown.  The violin was stolen from the suite at the B&B where he stayed and someone wisely unloaded the case with the GPS tracker on the property of one of the now richest women in the town, and Paul’s old HS flame.

Mac gets a letter forwarded from his old address that warns him away and learns the insurance investigator he knew from his initial windfall and occasionally shows up in the books, Vincent Donnatucci, sent it.  But why?

You can figure out who has the violin fairly fast, but the rest of the story, including murder and infidelity (that was obvious) and well-drawn characters keep it interesting along the way.  My score, C (3*).  Borrow the book from the library, though I bought the print book and thought it way over priced.  Stealing the Countess is NOT a keeper, just a very a very average read.

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Book 4 in the Laura Black series, Scottsdale Scorcher, is another good outing for Laura and her police and mafia love interests as a major drug gang war starts brewing and she gets caught in the middle.  Billed as a ‘romantic humorous mystery’, it all 3 elements, but the mystery part does take center stage.

Laura gets hired by Mistress McNasty, Scottsdale’s leading Dominitrix and a friend of Laura’s as well a college professor part time, to find her favorite client.  Then Tough Tony DeCenzo her to find is long time friend, former bodyguard, and now driver who has gone missing – the same man she’s already hunting for Suzie.  Hot on her trail is the Mexican drug Carlos.  She and her friends at the law office when Ms McNasty (Suzie Lu, a neighbor to Laura) is officially a client of her sleazy boss and the girls are on the case.  Using the super-secret DEA software left behind, Sophie finds four very hidden accounts that suggest the Mexicans have been paying him to tip them off.

As is often the case, there are plenty of twists and turns and the whole thing ends in a shootout that ruins Maura’s decision between Reno the cob and Max the mobster that kind of had my ‘shallow bitch’ alarm going ding ding ding.  Even with that annoyance, Scottsdale Scorcher gets a solid B (4*) rating.  Read the ebook, like did.  Available on Amazon and the author is NOT prolific.

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Yet another entry in the seemingly bottomless well of paranormal cozy mysteries to hit the market is Tonya Kappes’ Spies and Spells.  She also authors the rather blah and uneven Ghostly Southern mysteries.

Let’s summarize the whole mess this way, Maggie, our ‘heroine’ suddenly can’t make the gravy for the biscuits, sausage and gravy sold at the family restaurant.  That means her ‘witchy hour’ is there whatever her powers are, they won’t include taking over the restaurant.

Then she gets recruited by some secret agency called SKUL (no, I did not make that up, so don’t blame me.) and ends up posing as the top saleswoman for a privately held cosmetics company, a loosely cloned copy of Mary Kay with red as their signature color.  The whole thing is akin to asking a dog groomer to do brain surgery.  Seems her Witchy Hour was this hottie guy in the diner.

Oh yeah, her ‘familiar’ is her car,  Vinnie, who does NOT like the hottie SKUL agent Mick, the guy that triggered Maggie’s Witchy Hour.

Now the Amazon readers LOVED this book.  Damned if I know why.  Even for a fluff read, it was not well done.  A slight, silly, not especially entertaining, except for Vinnie, Spies and Spells gets a C- (2.8*) from me.  If you must read it and like chick lit fluff, you’ll enjoy it more.  Bought the ebook from Amazon for an insanely overpriced $4.99.  It’s now sells for $2.99 and is worth about 99 cents as a beach read.

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J. C. Daniels is one of Shilo Walker’s pen names, so Blade Song carries her usual style, just in UF.  Her lead character, Kit Colbana, a one woman all-purpose crime player, assassin, thief, investigator, whatever work come her half-breed way.  Being half human makes her an outcast, but her sword makes her damn dangerous one.  Except she also has panic attacks that all but paralyze her thanks to her abusive family upbringing.  This is classic Shilo Walker trope, a strong woman with a fatal flaw that keeps interfering with her life.

The other problem is the Walker inability to fully command her world building.  She sketches it in as needed, but never fleshes it out and breaths life into it.  It becomes a 2 character drama, Kit and Damon, her shifter ‘bodyguard’, watcher, and apparently love interest.

But no matter what name she writes under, Shilo Walker goes for the traumatized heroine and the ‘hero’ who tends to infantilize her.  It does not sit well with me.  Neither did the angsty plot.

Blade Song gets a D+ to C- (2.5*) from me because I found Kit just not a very believable character and the romance bit more icky than romantic.

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Another Neurotic Hitwoman book for JB Lynn, Hitwoman Under Pressure.  One again, the whole, ‘white hats’ and black hats’ secret organizations as well as one angry mobster, are all converging on Maggie.  It’s a very convoluted tale that bordered on incomprehensible at times with all its various detours.  In fact, too convoluted for here without a lot of spoilers.

Suffice it to say that Maggie’s sister’ kids, and her whole family are in danger over a code in a book Maggie has.  Her supposedly dead sister’s  kids are kidnapped and Maggie had to get them back while keeping the rest of her family safe – with the help from her lizard, cat, dog and now a bird that talks like he too many Soprano’s episodes.

Unfortunately, there is a sameness to these plot lines that regular readers will like or find tiresome, especially all the family crap she puts up with and unanswered questions about her brother – the one she never knew about and no one will talk about.

Hitwoman Under Pressure was a quick, light read and moderately entertaining, though I hear, One more, “We can’t discuss that,” and I’m DONE.  this overarching plot is an endless loop of non-answers.  My score is C+ (3.5*) and suggested for series fans in ebook, preferably borrowed from the library.

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 The First Hostage is the second outing for news correspondent J.B. Collins.  Covering the President’s secret visit to Jordan he is in the convoy that is returning the president to Air Force One when they are attacked by a well-organized group of ISIS soldiers who take the president hostage.

OK, that part might faintly be possible, but who gives a journalist automatic weapons and trusts his instincts over their own intelligence service?  And Collins immediately falls under suspicion as the leak to ISIS or ISIS i trying to get even for his provocative and incendiary articles about them.  One exception is a Jordanian Captain who tends to believe him that the leak is somewhere in the US chain of command.  Very few people knew the president was there, so the list of suspects is short and very high ranking.

An untrained journalist fighting with battle hardened elite soldiers is a bit of a tough sell.  SO was convincing me saw things no one else saw in his ‘reporter instincts’.

The initial pacing, taking place mostly in various intelligence bunkers in Jordan, is slow, and it doesn’t pick-up speed till the end.

While plot has some credibility issues with me, especially at the end, Rosenberg’s skill as a writer shines and his knowledge of the area and the key people, including the King of Jordan, gives it authenticity most books lack.  He writes fiction and non-fiction, so his style is professional and finely honed.  It’s the plot I found issue with.

The First Hostage gets amazing endorsements from Action/Thriller fans on Amazon with over 1,000 reviews with 85%+ at 5*.  It gets a B- (3.7*) from me because honestly, a newspaper reporter did all that?   I bought it on pre-order for just over $13.00.  Some used copies are less + shipping and Amazon’s current price is just under $18.  The paperback is tentatively set for Sept 6 and is over $9.  My suggestion, buy used or get it from your library to keep cost down.

February 29, 2016

Mixed Genre Reviews – Print, eBook, and ARC

Well, winter is drawing to a close but not without some departing drama in extreme cold, some snow, wild thunderstorms (and power outages) and general irritation – which kind of beats tornados any day.  On the upside, March isn’t far away and I wasn’t on the flight where a disgruntled flyer peed on a passenger – which is likely good for him and me, because he would have been castrated (by me) and I would be in jail now instead of reading and reviewing books.  Now if laryngitis would just strike all presidential candidates on both sides, I might actually begin to recover from football withdrawal ………….. but it’s unlikely.  Come on all you bio-geneticists, surely you can manage a simple ‘SHUT THE HELL UP POLITICIAN’ virus easily spread by rubber chicken dinners.  We the people would be forever grateful.  I can’t promise to shower you with great wealth, but I might share my dried figs with you and I won’t pee on you.

On the book front, it’s been kind of a mixed bag of mediocre across all genres.  Disappointing, really, especially when some of the releases were long delayed.  Really loooooooooong delayed.  Anyway, where we go:

This book was delayed multiple times thanks to the author getting lost in the conference, fan-faire swirl and then health problems.  Still, it was such a good series I hung in there and waited (OK, not really patiently) for her 4th book.  I dearly wish I could say it was worth the wait.  It wasn’t.

It starts off prosaically enough with Alex getting called to go to police HQ to raise a ‘ghost’ that was murdered.  And everything goes sideways.  This is not helped by the fact she can no longer trust the man – well Fae – she was falling for, Falin Andrews, a knight of the Winter Court who now is charged by his queen to live with her to convince her to become one of the court.  Alex is a very rare plane weaver and all the courts want her – what she finds out is she actually NEEDS them.

At her birth, her father charmed her to protect her from the courts.  He won’t even acknowledge to which court he owes his own allegiance.  A but after the near disaster at the morgue, he sends for her to explain why her powers are diminishing.  She needs a line to the Fey to feed her energy.  Without, she’ll die.  She gets an offer from the King of Shadows, but Falin drags het back to the Winter Court so she can heal and keep the queen from going mad.

Alex has little choice, she needs a source of power, but feels she needs more information before choosing a court, something she never thought she’d have to do.  So for solving the mystery of the murder at the court, Alex demands a year of freedom with a line of energy to keep her alive.

The story seemed to progress at a snail’s pace and there was not real progress in character growth or plotline beyond what little happened right at the beginning.  No big revelations.  No shocks.  No major plot points resolved.  Just ……. OK.  She gets a year reprieve.  It only took 300+ pages.

Grave Visions gets a C (3*) rating.  It felt like a filler book, not an essential piece of the over-arching plot.  The story was a lethargic as Alex and the mad queen was over-played to an annoying level.  It’s still on sale at Amazon for $6.47, but it is a buy for hardcore fans only.  It’s a book that can wait till used copies or library copies are available.

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Yes – I snagged an ARC of Stiletto, the long awaited sequel to Daniel O’Malley’s brilliant book, The Rook.  This is where the effusive praise should start, but won’t, because man, was this sophomore outing a tough slog.

At a hefty 500+ pages it had only 300 pages of story,  The first 10%+ of the book was a detailed rehashing of the origins of the Grafters and their view of what happened on the Isle of Wight.  It was dull – not kind of dull, mind-numbingly dull.  Then, much to my everlasting disappointment, this becomes not the ongoing story of Myfanwy Thomas, but a story of the Checquy/Grafter merger.  This explains why the book was changed from Myfanwy Thomas, Bk 2 to Checquy Files, Bk 2.

Finally, our two protagonists emerge, Pawn Felicity Clements and Odette Leliefeld, both 20-somethings one from the Checquy and other the many times great-granddaughter of Graaf Ernest, one of the founders of the Grafter’s.

O’Malley proceeds to tell several concurrent stories from multiple points of view.  Odette and the fact the Grafters are hiding the fact they have a group of dissident young Grafters, called The Antagonists, after them to stop the merger,  and Felicity who has been raised to be suspicious and distrusting to the point of irrationally hating the Grafters.  In all of this, various side detours are taken on the history of other characters and Myfanwy puts in a quick appearance, as do some new, and fairly unknown members to the Court.  The book, however, centers around Odette and Felicity.  The plot is convoluted, which served O’Malley well in The Rook with essentially a single narrator – Myfanwy past and present.  Here, the story loses much of its strength because of the flip-flopping and then dragging Ernst and Myfanwy back in and throwing in a rabid paranormal who is committing random acts of murder by growing pointed crystals that impale dozens of people at once.

Got all that?  Oh yeah, The Antagonists – they are Odette’s best friends.

While the pacing went slow, fast, slow, fast, even, O’Malley seemed most comfortable and polished when writing about Myfanwy.  His prose and clarity of thought was less certain and more inclined to be repetitive when trying to write Odette and Felicity.  Of the two, Odette seemed to become the most complete character at the end.  But the book was NOT in the same class as the far more refine, creative, original, polished, and fascinating story told in The Rook.  While fans will praise and swoon, be warned, Stiletto NOT on the same level.  I did, however, like the final chapter where O’Malley seemed right at home.

The flaws here are the kind of things you see in the second book by an epic historical fiction or fantasy author where they did not have the luxury of time, or maybe inclination, to polish a work to a fine gem or even develop a plot that moved seamlessly through the tale.  It’s choppy and seems to take occasionally pointless detours.  Stiletto gets a C+ to B- (3.7*) and suggested read for The Rook lovers.  It does not have enough to recommend it for any price over $15, so if you can wait, do so, or order while it’s still sale priced.

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The stand-alone thriller by Eisler had good and bad points – but the bad outweighed the good for me.  The God’s Eye View is about an NSA spy program that was not approved by Congress as it violated Constitutional rights, but because it can be created, it IS created.  Now the Head of the NSA has weathered the whole Snowden fiasco, but has a new problem on his hands, so the General, with his next in command, a man he saved from a burning vehicle during one of our Mideast wars, warns him that the smart analysts who caught the current problem needs to be on the team, but could prove a threat to the potential uncovering of the secret program.

Evelyn Gallagher is uncomfortable around General Remer and his ruined face, but as Director General Anders aide, he ran the office.  Eve’s new program found a link between a journalist and an operative in Turkey and now she will have a high profile place with some of the ‘inner circle’ at NSA to investigate things.  The two guys in question both die – seemingly in accidents.  Now the two killers sent after the journalist and ‘rogue’ NSA officer are both working for General Anders.  The giant of a man, Manus, is deaf …… and by golly, wouldn’t you know, Eve’s son is deaf too!  OK, can everyone see where the plot goes after Anders assigns him to watch Eve?  Huh?  Anyone?  Yeah, me too.

On the plus side, the whole ‘secret spy system’ God’s Eye View is plausible and Eisler used many of the documents released by Snowden, whom he obviously admires, as the foundation for his concepts.  On that level, the book succeeds.  The characters and plot do not.  But what really tore it for me was the closing scene where Remer, who has stepped into his old boss’s job, makes up the name of a new ‘less intrusive program’ and the committee approves it.  Does anyone remember the closing scene in the first Jason Bourne movie where the CIA guy is testifying and says, “We’ve closed that program down, but we have new a new program, Blackbriar.”  I swear it was a direct lift of that scene.

The God’s Eye View is scarily real one level and frustratingly banal on another.  Eisler basically blew it on the characters and predictable plot, which is a shame given how well he did with all the technology aspects and their impact on just how far the government is overstepping Constitutional limits.  I’d love to give the book a high rating for core plot, but how he played it out with his characters, stops that.  The God’s Eye View gets a C+(3.5*) and could have been so much better had he just used a less predictable and rather shallow group of characters.  Purchased from Amazon.  If you MUST read it, but or borrow the ebook.  It’s not a keeper.

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Lisa Shearin’s third outing of her UF series, SPI Files, is The Brimstone Deception.  There’s a new drug in town and taking it lets ordinary humans see through the glamours that all the paranormal citizens cast to get along in life.  Of course, seeing demons, pixies, dragons, and trolls is not the trip they planned on.

Makenna ‘Mac’ Fraser is trying to have a nice, semi-romantic (maybe) lunch with Rake Danescu – a rich goblin (They’re very handsome, but have oddly colored skin.) who brought the powerful talisman to NYC that set off all the events in Book 2, The Dragon Conspiracy.  Unfortunately, her highly suspicious partner, Ian Byrne, decides to take his own date, Kylie O’Hara, a dryad.  The two men …… males ……… glare and taunt right up until a human goes crazy and starts yelling about all the supernatural creatures in the restaurant.  While Mac might be interested in going up in flames with Rake Danescu – maybe – a guy screaming about monsters and knocking over a Bananas Foster carts setting the place on fire was NOT what she had in mind.

In the following melee as sups run for the door right along with humans, Rake makes a gracious, but hasty rear exit.  Kylie, Ian, and Mac stay and work with the cops, one of whom was Ian’s former partner and a sup himself.  And a dead guy ….. well, sup suspect at a very posh apartment, Sar Gedeon, a drug dealing elf lord who got exiled, but apparently back – and very dead.  At his super posh NYC address, they find goblins and the mistress of the not so dearly departed and a portal opened by a demon or black magic – the smell of brimstone.

Shearin handles her light, but interesting, plot with her usual deft humor combined with plenty of action for Mac and Ian and everyone else, including Rake.  I like her writing and humor, but her books are short, easy reads with relatively straightforward mystery type plots with enough twists to be both interesting and fun.  I give The Brimstone Conspiracy a B- (3.8*) and a suggested read to all Shearin fans and a suggested series to those how like their UF with a touch of humor.  Purchased from an online bookstore.

January 29, 2016

New Releases in Print and Ebook Reviews

OK all you savvy readers out there, in case you missed it, the number of books being released per month is dropping like a stone.  I know there are more and more budding epubs out there even as many of the older, more established ones, like AmberQuill, are closing for good.  Others, including Samhain, have drastically cut back on the releases per week.  Since half of what they sell is novella-length ebook smut, it’s something of a surprise to me, but it could be the market for that genre is shrinking.  I checked out what was on Siren and the quality of what was on offer was way below the material they offered even 3 years ago.  I almost never read smut anymore myself, except for a few of the funny authors.  Meanwhile, Gemma Halliday’s light mystery/romance publishing effort is going strong, but some of her ‘new author’ releases are just awful lifeless junk reading while others are OK to good.  She needs a much better editor to approve manuscripts, yet some are really good and her $0.99 specials encourage folks to get books a try.

Romance, especially historical romance, cozy mystery, and even UF/paranormal are also seeing serious cuts in books released – print publishers are quick to cut any series that does not sell up to a certain level no matter how loyal the readers.  That makes it hard for authors to build readership through word of mouth, a generally slow process.  I just read the latest Jenn McKinley Hat Shop book (reviewed below) and found that like too many other ‘bankable’ authors, she’s spread too thin over too many series and the quality is suffering.  On top of that Alyssa Day is delaying her Dead Eye paranormal mystery books from SilverHart Publishing due to family issues and two other series disappeared (one historical mystery, one UF) and the authors had to write and publish their final books through services like CreateSpace.

Then Barry Eisler, with a new female lead thriller in what might be first in a new series is staying in Amazon’s playhouse.  He seems to have passed his zenith as an author and is now coasting on a shrinking fan base – or trying to get the best of both worlds – more money/book, but fewer buyers.  I just bought his new release on sale for $0.99 as an ebook while the print is going for $14+ in hardcover.  That’s not a lot of bank for the author or publisher – Amazon’s Mercer division.

There’s no question that self-promoting is a huge deal for authors as publishers put out less money for advertising and promoting books.  It can consume so much of an author’s time they lose their fan base by not writing.  Kaylana Price is a perfect example if that, plus that was compounded by health issues.  Her lastest in the Grave Witch series is over 3 years late, which for a mmpb is a LIFETIME.  There are various fan conventions and writers and genre association conventions that are ‘must do’ to keep the fan base happy, but I know from experience that kind of thing is a huge distraction from work and the flow of your thoughts.

Most writers I’ve met and seen speak, and it’s only few, seem more extemporaneous than practiced, but breaking your thoughts while writing can often mean taking a long time to get back into the right mindset,  If that happens during an especially key area of a story, you might have a huge rewrite on your hands.  I found most writers friendly and thrilled to meet fans – and it’s kind of fun to meet them.   I enjoy the experience, but I wouldn’t spend a lot of money doing it.  Other fans are the kind who wouldn’t miss a chance at meeting their favorite author and are happy to spend lots of money to travel and stay conventions.  It’s a big business and book signings give authors a shot at a HUGE and loyal fan base – but at a price in their productivity.

Not many authors get to be multi-millionaires like the James Patterson or JK Rowling.  Most toil away for the sheer love of writing and making a living.  A few make a very good living.  A tiny number get rich.  But most keep their day job.  I know how much time it takes me to just do a few thousand words for an RF story installment, or one of these blog entries, and it is not easy.  Creating stories for RF and the gang is harder as I actually need a plot, at least here, all I need is a kind loose theme and opinion.  And we all know what opinions are like!  I spent a career writing technical reports, white papers, and journal articles and believe me, it takes TIME.

So why am I discussing this?  I whine a lot about waiting on books in a series.  It’s not entirely fair, especially since I know better.  Yes, I do prefer quality over quantity.  Am I anxious for the next book?  Of course.  But I also what it to be just as good and just as creative as the first few.  There is nothing more disappointing than an author who writes half a dozen great books and rather than wrap up the series, rides the characters popularity into the ground, slowly losing fans with each book.  An epic fantasy writer was asked why he always stopped at 3 books when his fans wanted more.  His reply was along the lines of he’d rather leave then wanting more than wishing the series would END.  I only wish more authors felt that way instead of milking popular characters till people are sick of them and just stop reading.

So let’s get to the reviews and see what wonders – good and bad – came our way recently.

The First Order is the latest in Jeff Abbott’s Sam Capra series could only have one ending.  That was obvious from the beginning.  Still, I had been hoping for a better thrill ride along the way. Abbott does deliver plenty of twists and turns in his plot using Seaforth, an old CIA contact of Sam’s as a key character.  Mila, becomes equal parts friend and foe as a hidden group, the ones responsible for Sam spending time in a black site prison, starts pulling strings of plots within plots.

This story centers on Sam’s hunt for Danny, his older brother supposedly killed by terrorists in Pakistan – but apparently still alive.  Who and what Danny has become is obvious from the outset, but with each bother getting betrayed by the very people that supposedly support them, it is obviously headed for disaster.

The ending was about the only way Abbott could end the book given Danny’s character.  That was obvious early on, but it was still a good read with an interesting conclusion as hidden powerbrokers get exposed.

I’m giving The First Order a B- (3.7*) as a good, but not a great read.  Fans should make note, unlike the other books, this one was written in the third person.  Some prefer that, some do not.  It did not affect the quality of the story ar all and given the larger cast, was probably his best choice.  At nearly $18 in print and $14 in ebook, borrow this one from the library or wait for a cheap used copy.  No urgency here.  Purchased from an online book store.

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Another of Jenn McKinley cozy mysteries, the Hat Shop books have been one of her better series, but I found Copy Cap Murder predictable.  I like her characters and a lot of other things, but I knew who would die, who would be implicated, and who was guilty by page 50.  When I can essentially write the book in my head, that’s not good news.

Yes, I realize cozy mysteries have limited scope and drama, but even Agatha Christie wrote better puzzles just by creating wonderful characters.  Unlike Ellery Queen, who did Byzantine puzzles and dared readers to solve the crime by presenting all the clues, she did character studies, an art that seems lost with today’s cozie writers.  And I am suffering from Jenn McKinley fatigue.

The murder takes place at a Straw Man burning at Harrison’s boss’s mansion when his arch rival at the firm is killed and substituted for the straw man.  Obviously, Scarlette’s love interest is #1 on the suspect list and for some reason, a normally fair police Inspector seems very biased and willing to impede certain discoveries.  The ending was well done and did have a few surprises.

Copy Cap Murder was far better written than A Likely Story and had a much better-developed plot, some drama, and a bit of ingenuity.  The best I can do here is a C+ to B- (3.6*) for the book and a suggestion to wait for a used copy unless you’re a diehard fan unless you can find a good discount off the $7.99 list price.   Purchased from an online book store.

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OK, the biggest problem here is the book reads like it was drafted by Evanovich but written by someone else entirely.  Not a single character in the long-running series stayed fully true to form.  Not one.  In addition to that, Tricky Twenty-Two had many ‘factual’ errors in basic things, like where Ranger’s office was, the building size, and also subtle things, like how Steph saw her relationship with Ranger and the fundamental character of both Morelli and Ranger and even Steph’s mother.  It was a reflection in a fun-house mirror – distorted.

As usual, Steph and Lula had their escapades with the ‘Bacon Bandit’ – anyone recall the naked guy who smeared his body with Vaseline?  Yeah, me too.   And Gobbles – a Rider College student who is FTA and his protective frat brothers, a nutty professor, and Dean of Students with a giant grudge supposedly assaulted by Gobbles.  Morelli breaking up with Steph after sex with nothing but, “We should date other people.”  I was surprised to find that by page 55, I had laughed just once.  In fact, I was bored and annoyed.  And became more and more convinced she’s either lost it, her editor quit, or she’s hired a ghost writer.

Naturally, after the highly unlikely plot unfolds (This was less believable than the giraffe running down a main street in Trenton.) and Steph gets in the middle of what could biological warfare (yeah, seriously) we end with – a you guessed it! – car explosion!  (I know, done so often it’s not even amusing anymore.)  Oh, and Mrs Plum tackles the bad guy.  Well, there’s a groundbreaking change.

Tricky Twenty-Two will be hard for old fans to take.  I began reading this series when she published her first book. now I stopped buying them and wait to get a copy from an online book swap site.  I am beyond glad I did NOT waste money on this.  Yes, it was past time for her characters to evolve, but this was not character evolution, it was complete personality transplants.  Tricky Twenty-Two gets a D+ (2.4*) and a strong suggestion to real fans to go reread and enjoy books 1-8.  If you MUST read this get it free.  I’ll pass my copy on fast.

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This is one of the better entries in Ms Painter’s Nocturn Falls paranormal romance series.  The Vampire’s Fake Fiancée has a rather predictable start with Sebastian Ellingham, the eldest, most reclusive, and serious of the 3 Ellingham brothers, learning his sort-of-ex-wife who left him 300 years ago is staying in town and wants to reconcile.  To Sebastian, that means, “She wants a LOT more money.”  Unwilling to seem easily available, the sister of the town deputy – and a Valkyrie – librarian is there for a job interview for what seems to be a dream job as head librarian at the local academy.  Much to a sister’s surprise, Tessa agrees to play the role providing it gets her the librarian’s job.  It’s just a couple of days.

Sebastian’s romancing skills, if he ever had any, are long gone, so his businesslike approach makes Tess feel comfortable and she’s rather surprised at how at ease she feels with him.  They have a trial kiss that’s way more than either expected.  And then get in deeper when what was supposed to be a dinner to prove he had another love, becomes a challenge to allow the ex to live in the mansion and watch them to make sure she can’t ‘win’ Sebastion back.

The pacing is quick, the action mostly light and humorous, and the selfish, self-absorbed ex turns out to want something else entirely than Sebastian.  The ending was good and realistic and I liked both Tessa and Sebastian and enjoyed watching them get more comfortable with themselves and each other.

For a paranormal romance, I give The Vampire’s Fake Fiancée a B (4*) rating.  I bought the ebook for $4.99 and it was worth it.  Print is $10 and since this is not a keeper kind of book, get it at the library and enjoy!

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Gemma Halliday Publishing offered this new release, first in a series featuring female PI, Barb Jackson.  Bubblegum Blonde by Anna Snow is in the same humorous mystery vein as Steph Plum.  It’s a short read, under 200 pages, and it moves fast enough that the many shortcomings get missed.  A few too many.  The it ended with a thud.

First, aside from being prone to the same silly accidents as Steph Plum, I’m not sure I have a clear mental picture of Barb beyond short, busty, blond, and not dumb – though given her actions, I have my doubts.  All the guys but one are hunks, including Tyler Black the detective who apparently falls for her at first sight.  Barb gets hired by

Barb gets hired by he ex-fiancée, Jason King, who is the prime suspect in the murder of the wife of his boss, a powerful agent in town.  Jason swears he was NOT doing the wife (yup, sure), but his jacket and money clip were found in the bedroom.  Barb wants to put the agency on the map for things other than cheating spouses, so she reluctantly accepts.  At this point, her IQ drops and she commits felony illegal entering into the Hastings estate and house to investigate the crime scene because she’s so experienced she’ll find things CSI didn’t!

By golly, she DOES find a hidden compartment in the drawer of a bedside stand – along with a porn DVD.  (Like cops wouldn’t take that!)  Then gets caught my the maid, makes an escape, and gets beaten by a frozen chicken and rips out the seat of her jeans dashing bare butt to her inconspicuous red VW beetle getaway car.  The motel receipts lead her to a small town, a lying night clerk, and a house the victim bought which turns out to be a brothel – one full of hunky guys and horny women.  My goodness, it’s a miracle the police ever solve a crime without her help!  On the way back she gets run off the road and is lucky to live.

OK, just let me say, at this point, the author lost steam and wrapped the book up with a deus ex machina ending that was as improbable as any I ever read.  The bad guy was barely a shadow on the wall, much less a character.  I LOATHE that trick.  It means the author could not think of a plausible way to find the killer.  It’s lazy and insulting to readers.

Oddly enough, this book – short novel – long novella – gets a really high score from Amazon readers.  I am assuming they are not actually mystery fans, just chick lit readers.  Bubblegum Blonde gets a D+ to C- (2.5*) as the first half was almost decent.  Amazon readers give it 5*.  To be honest, it wasn’t worth the $.99 I spent for it.

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Tom Corcoran is the author of the Alex Rutledge mysteries based in Key West expands his to add Southernmost Aristocratic Investigations featuring his friend Dubbie Tanner and former street person Wiley Fecko in Crime Almost Pays.  They guys share a house and in home office, but Wiley is too soon off the streets to be fully at home in Dubbie’s spare room.  Kim Salazar is a local taxi driver and something of a love interest for Dubbie.  Alex is their friend and sometimes crime scene photographers for the cops who is involved with a homicide detective, the same detective that gets mixed up in what becomes a perfect example of “no good deed goes unpunished.”

It’s Tuesday night and Sloppy Joe’s has as many tourists as always, but Dubbie spots a good looking young woman at the bar who seems to be getting too drunk for what she had – and 3 Hispanic men around her, chatting her up and waiting.  The whole thing looks like they slipped her a roofie.  With the help of the bouncer, Dubbie gets her out and Kim, who was driving that night, helps get her to his place and settled on the sofa.

Morning brings out the nasty side of the woman, Lauren, who thinks everything is his fault and he’s kind of glad to see the back of her – and her multiple passports and the guys who were starting to look more like kidnappers than rapists.  When he sees Harpoon, the bouncer, he learns the 3 men sounded like they were Cuban and from the east end of the island.  Then Lauren leaves money and asks him for his professional PI help and Dubbie and Fecko are butt deep in murder, Cuban military criminals, and a lying client.

Corcoran is a Key Wester, photographer, buddy of Jimmy Buffett, and Mustang enthusiast.  His writing is the classic brisk, PI style of short sentences, quick exchanges, and fast pacing.  If you’ve read his Alex Rutledge books, this is the same style,  He knows Key West inside and out and his knowledge and love for the island with all its warts comes through.  The story has his trademark twists and turns and keeps readers guessing.  The ‘Homeland Security’ agent becomes quite a character himself.  The extra twist at the end is completely unexpected.

I give Crime Almost Pays a solid B (4*) rating.  I broke my cardinal rule on this one and spent $5.99 on the ebook and it was worth is.  I’ve missed Tom Corcoran and classic style of mystery writing.  He is now self-publishing.  Get the ebook if you like classic style PI stories, especially Florida-based ones, despite the price.  Yes, I’m a sucker.  You could try your library, but most won’t carry such a niche author.

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The last review for this installment and another book I enjoyed more than expected.  I bought the ebook of Boundry Lines at $4.99.  I read book 1 where ‘Lex’ Luther, the sole survivor of an attack on her platoon in the Mideast learns she’s a ‘Boundry Witch’, one who works between life and death.  They’re rare and mostly feared by other witches.  While the local head of the coven tries to be friendly and her one daughter is a close friend to Lex, the other witches are very unwelcoming.  Made worse by the fact that Lex works for Maven, the head vampire in Colorado.

Lex just returns from LA where she tried to learn about her magic (apparently that’s a novella 1.5 or something I missed, so there seems to be story gaps to me) and she immediately notices something seems ‘off’ about the magic in Boulder.  Then there are these unexplained attacks on humans, werewolves being driven to attack the borders, and an ancient creature – somewhere between a land Nessie and worm-snake – and only Lex can kill it, but she needs to heal her mind.

Let’s just say the plot of too convoluted to go into here, but the three key elements are the behavior of the werewolves, the appearance of a long dormant monster, and Lex getting all her memories back so she can fully use her witch powers and the fact that Maven was key to locking down the coven’s powers after a supernatural war between the wolves, vamps, and witches years ago.  And, of course, her niece (a rare magical null) is a piece of the puzzle.

Olsen’s world building sometimes defies logic, but the book was much better than book one, moved key character development along, and began laying more groundwork to flesh out this patchwork world.  Boundary Lines gets a C+ to B- (3.5*) from me and a read if you like Olsen’s work, but it’s not the best UF out there, so a series that can be safely missed.

 

 

 

October 26, 2015

Frustration and Satisfaction: A Mixed Month of News and Books

You know, sometimes all you want is a good book, one that can hold your interest with characters you like and find interesting, good writing, well-paced plotting, and maybe some fun along the way.  Then life comes along and gives you lemons and you realize that had enough lemons to make you forever hate what used to be a favorite flavor.  Yeah, it’s been like that.  It’s “Does the author really think readers are THAT STUPID?”  Or, “OMG, not another witless heroine who has more perils than Pauline!”  In the midst of the sea of mediocrity, suddenly, something good.  Well, by comparison to the banal that has afflicted you.

You start counting down to when the next BIG release is due, the one you’ve been waiting for for over a year ……. and then you get an email from Amazon’s Customer Service:

AGAIN!  IT’S DELAYED AGAIN!

Hello,

We’re writing about the order you placed on XXXXXXXXX. Unfortunately, the release date for the item(s) listed below has changed, and we need to provide you with a new delivery estimate based on the new release date:

O’Malley, Daniel “Stiletto: A Novel”
Estimated arrival date: June 14, 2016  (For those keeping track, that about 18 months overdue.)

Then, after screaming yourself hoarse, you get ANOTHER DAMN EMAIL!

Hello,

We’re writing about the order you placed on XXXXXXXX. Unfortunately, the release date for the item(s) listed below has changed, and we need to provide you with a new delivery estimate based on the new release date:

Jones, Darynda “The Dirt on Ninth Grave (Charley Davidson Series)
Estimated arrival date: January 12, 2016

Then it got EVEN BETTER!

Thank you for shopping at Booksamillion.com, xxxxx! We have an update for you on your order #xxxxxxxx.

Qty Item # Description
1 9780451474834 Killer Takeout
Status: Advanced Order Item – product will ship when released.
1 9780451477767 Between a Book and a Hard Place
Status: Advanced Order Item – product will ship when released.
1 9781250077370 Rocked by Love
Status: Advanced Order Item – product will ship when released.
1 9780425282014 Take the Monkey and Run
Status: Advanced Order Item – product will ship when released.
1 9780425258941 Vanilla Beaned
Status: Advanced Order Item – product will ship when released.
1 9780451473448 Moss Hysteria
Status: Advanced Order Item – product will ship when released.

SO I go to Amazon and check the titles and get my original order and …….. EVERY SINGLE BOOK WILL BE AT LEAST 3-6 months LATE.

But wait, we’re not done!

Thank you for shopping at Booksamillion.com, xxxxxxxx! We have an update for you on your order #xxxxxxx.

Qty Item # Description
1 9780756408275 Legacy of the Demon
Status: This item is no longer available and has been cancelled

And this book shows still available with the SAME ISBN on Amazon, so I have NO idea WTF is going on!

OK, at this point, publishers are getting their very own voodoo dolls and I’m buying bigger pins.  Seriously, how many books does this make that have been delayed for MORE THAN A YEAR?  Suzanne Johnson stated she’d finished the next book in the Sentinels of New Orleans series before Pirate’s Alley was published and it had been with her publisher for SIX MONTHS and she’d had no feedback.   Come on people.  Surely publishers can get their butts in gear and writer’s need to stop doing so damn many conventions and do what made them famous – WRITE.  Yes, I understand there is a need to promote yourself and your books, but Kalayna Price laid off her Alex Craft/Grave Witch books for so long, WHO CARES ANYMORE?  It’s been YEARS since the last one because she was too caught up in the whole fan-con thing and lost herself – not to mention her fans and the whole damn plot.

So yeah, I’m getting really frustrated.  I know that authors have family and health issues, life happens and writing takes a backseat, but come on people.  Three sentences on your blog should be within reasonable limits.  Instead, MONTHS pass and blogs do not get updated.  Not even a FU!  To this day, I have no idea what happened to Madelyn Alt.  Her publisher, agent, and family never said a word.  She just stopped putting out books.

Many authors go public with their issues.  Vince Flynn did when he diagnosed with metastatic prostate cancer.  His death was not a shock though it was sad that a man so young and apparently healthy could die so suddenly.  Others just leave everyone wondering.  Vince Flynn was famous enough that his death and the decision to have Kyle Mills carry on the series (good choice, by the way), was public info.  Other authors, like Rob Thurman, got covered by her fans when she was seriously injured in a car accident.  Scott Lynch has health issues that impact his ability to write his Gentleman Bastards series (I waited 3 years for The Republic of Thieves).  I get that.  I understand, but this chronic delay thing is getting old.  So old, I lose interest in authors.

So, those lovely emails from Amazon, while not their fault, did nothing to improve my mood.  I’m glad they keep customers informed.  Books-A-Million is VERY lax about that – as is very obvious in the emails.  Amazon would have provided the new publication dates, not left me hanging.  I’d rather know, even if it makes me unhappy, than be left to wonder what the hell is going on.

But my LEAST favorite thing ……….. publisher’s changing the ISBN of a book that results in an order cancelation and THAT in turn results in me PAYING MORE FOR A BOOK – not because the book author, publisher or title changed, but because the damn ISBN changed.  Yes, that’s happened several times too.  And it drives me crazy.

So let’s just say Hatchette and a few other publishers and several authors have zoomed right to the top of my sh!tlist.

On the upside, most of the books reviewed below I read BEFORE all that good news about publication delays.  A few were actually good reads.  Most were unspectacular and one was very disappointing.  Anyway, here we go.

This latest installment of the Miss Fortune series set in Sinful, Lousiana was not the usual laugh riot that the series is known for, but it is the inevitable plot point that had to happen to move the story forward.  It all starts with Celia Arceneaux’s husband Max suddenly returning to Sinful and having a very public confrontation with Celia in the cafe where he makes it clear that Pansy was ‘no kin’ of his.  While Celia is heartily disliked and has been an ongoing disaster as the mayor, Max’s made no friends with his attitude and airing of very private dirty secrets.

But the morning has another surprise in the form of a tropical storm turned hurricane that’s changed direction and Sinful, while not in the direct path, has to prepare.  The storm blows in more than rain and wind, it blows in $100 bills.  Bills that Fortune believes are counterfeit.  Walter, Carter, and Fortune secure the church door and hide the bills so the folks in the church don’t stampede outside into the storm to get rich quick.  Then a phone call from Harrison changes everything.

With that bill, and the news that Ahmad’s men – and probably Ahmad – are in New Orleans because someone tried to pay for guns with counterfeit money, Fortune is al high risk of exposure.  Only there was no way for her to get out thanks to the storm.  In the end, it’s Harrison who comes to her and she, Gertie, and Ida Belle end up under FBI protection in New Orleans (and getting there is one of the funniest parts of the book).  Fortune goes with Harrison to the big takedown.

The end leaves Fortune still in hiding in Sinful, but with repercussions.  Now many readers were unhappy with how it ended, but it was really the only way the author COULD end the book and still keep the series going.  So be warned, it’s not what you might expect, but trust Jana DeLeon to tie it up in subsequent books.

Hurricane Force gets a B- (3.8*) from me a recommended read for those who like the series.  It advances the overall story arc more than previous books so it’s pivotal to the plot while also telling a story about a Sinful murder.  Had the murder been handled differently, I would have given it a higher score, but it got back burnered for the Ahmad plot line and had a kind of deus ex machina wrap-up.  I bought the ebooks and a print copy to share with my SIL.  The next book is due out in 2016.

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It’s been 2 years since Vince Flynn died and for awhile I thought Brian Haig would be the author to carry on the series, but it was Kyle Mills who picked up the task and he did a damn fine job of it.

The Survivor carries forward the story started in Flynn’s last book, The Last Man (2012), where Rapp is the only one who believes that Joe Rickman’s supposed death at the hands of terrorists never happened.  But Rapp changes that at the end.  In The Survivor, Rickman reaches out from the grave to start leaking CIA information about its most valued assets, even those Rickman had no business knowing about.  So Mitch goes hunting for the person who got the encrypted files with the ‘time bombs’ embedded to stop the slow and painful death of the CIA by endless leaks.

The story takes Rapp back to Pakistan where he unravels the intricate web of internal deceit and coup plans.  The pace and action are spot on and Mills brings all the characters to life without missing a beat.  If you’ve read Kyle Mills’ Mark Beamon books, you’ll see some of the same sly humor crop up in The Survivor, and I realized that his writing style and Vince Flynn’s were enough alike that story seemed to flow seamlessly between the two.

I’m not over-fond of having different authors carry a character forward.  Most must give way to very different styles and perspectives.  Anyone who read The Dragonlance Chronicles knows exactly what I mean.  Different authors see the same character from different perspectives, sometimes so much so, it hardly seems the same character at all.  Mills captured Rapp and the other key characters perfectly, so aside from Mills’ wit making the occasional appearance, Rapp fans should be very pleased with choice of author.  I know I was and I felt the price of the hardcover I purchased from an online bookseller was well worth it.

The Survivor gets a B+ (4.2*) from me a highly recommended read to fans of spy/espionage thrillers.

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A Red Rose Chain is the ninth entry in the intricate and well drawn October Daye series by Seanan McGuire.  Possibly one of the most consistently well-done series currently in progress.  Toby has to venture into a risky area for the new queen with Tybalt, the King of Cats, her squire Quentin and her fetch, May, go to The Silences to try and stop a war.

McGuire is a master of the intricate plot in a kaleidoscope alternate realm of the Fae.  Here, she enters The Silences, another part of the realms, to convince the king not to go to war with The Mists.  But nothing is as it seems.  It rarely is in the Toby Daye books.  The King of The Silences is not who everyone expects, there are wheels within wheels and Toby is supposed to be the diplomat that negotiates some kind of peace.  Not really her forte.  Toby is many things, but not diplomat material.  Probably just as well she is good at digging into anomalies and uncovering plots against her Queen.  She’s even better at risking her hide to make things right and save those she loves.

But will this sacrifice be her last – for 100 years?  The story is too complex to discuss here without too many spoilers, so just trust me on this – A Red Rose Chain is a worthy entry in one of the best UF/fantasy series currently in progress.  Highly recommended.  The book gets a B+ to A- (4.5*) from me and the whole series is strongly recommended for fantasy and UF fans.  For some reason, Amazon heavily discounted this book, so it should be readily available in used bookstores.  I got it from Amazon for under $5 + tax new.

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Perhaps my expectations were too high after the benchmark set last year by Mary Miley (The Impersonator, Silent Witness) in her Roaring Twenties books, or maybe Come Hell or Highball was just as blah as it seemed, but once you get past the clever title and intriguing combination of characters, the whole thing became a yawn.

Come Hell or Highball tells the story of a midwest girl, Lola, daughter of a family with pretensions, who marries well, but unhappily, and is busy burying her late and unlamented husband.  Once back at the mansion, even the house nameplate has changed and she learns fast that her late husband was not really rich, died in debt, and his snobby, patronizing brother inherited everything.  Unwilling to stay another minute, she grabs some clothes, her dog Cecile, and bails in an old Model T with the cook/housekeeper Berta, who also loathes the brother.  They end up in a tiny apartment that used to be her husband Alfie’s love nest and find themselves without funds and need to earn a living.

So, rather unwillingly, Lola takes up the offer from her late husband’s mistress to retrieve an incriminating reel of film and to do that, she must accept an invitation to a house party where everyone will know the truth about her circumstances.

The plot is almost too trite for words, has more holes than a colander, the writing average, and the characters are two-dimensional.  While Lola shows some grit and Berta has a sharp eye for truth, neither character is strong enough to hold this bit of fluff together.  The chemistry does not quite gel and the whole thing gets boring and redundant after 5 chapters.

Come Hell or Highball does make the cut for a 20’s period mystery with a C- to C (2.8*) rating.  Mary Miley’s books are light years better and the Phryne Fisher series far better done.  Plus Rhys Bowen could write rings around Maia Chance in her sleep, so her three period mystery series are ALL far better reading.  Skip this one.  I wish I had saved my money, even though I got it heavily discounted at under $13 from Amazon.  Even used, it will now cost more, so save your money and get it free from the library.

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Book 5 of Lynn Cahoon’s Tourist Trap mysteries was an almost decent read for an average cozy.  Killer Run continues the saga of former lawyer turned bookshop owner, Jill Gardner, her aunt Jackie, and the husband/wife team that act as event planners for the California Mission Society.  Needless to say, the obnoxious wife is found dead at the race (color me NOT SHOCKED) and Jill, as usual, pokes her nose in the investigation.  How she finds time to do that while apparently devouring a diet of junk food (you get all the details – it gets old) and working on restoring her house.

Once again, for a former lawyer, Jill shows a remarkable lack of astuteness about some very basic things.  OK, it’s a cozy, not a serious mystery, but still, some level of believability in a character is required.  More to the point, the author needs to do a better job of plotting.  The only thing missing is a flashing neon sign pointing to the obvious killer.  And for a woman in her 30’s, she often shows a level of immaturity that’s astonishing.  Throwing in extraneous events that do nothing but try and distract from the weak main plot, like blackmail and vandalism, just compounds the basic plotting mistakes.

The victim is so unpleasant you feel no sympathy.  The killer is so obvious, you wonder why you bothered.  In between are distractions that prove pointless and way too many scenes that should have been cut in favor of better character development and plot construction.

Killer Run gets a C- (2.7*) and at $4.61 for the ebook when I bought it for Kindle, over priced.   I suggest giving this one a pass or getting it from the library free.  Like too many writers, Ms Cahoon seems to go for quantity over quality.  This is not a series that’s improving over time.

August 13, 2015

Recent Reads – The Long and the Short of Print and eBook Reviews

Obviously, I can’t write a review of every book I read, so here are some short ones to fill in a few blanks as well as some longer ones for more anticipated books.  All books below were purchased by me from online booksellers.

Better Homes and Corpses by Kathleen Bridge –  Clever title, great location, some original ideas, but in the end, another fairly predictable cozy with too much moodiness and not enough humor to make it likable.  First in a series and gets a C (3*) rating.  For cozy lovers and those who like the scenic areas of eastern Long Island with its rich, famous, and spoiled only.  Kind of tedious and yet another ‘disappointed in love’ heroine.

Grave on Grand Avenue by Naomi Hirahara – Well written and interesting story involving a Chinese cellist, a Hispanic gardener, and a valuable Stradivarius cello.  With bike cop Ellie Rush squarely in the middle of what may or may not be a tangled web.  Far better read than the typical cozy with complex, multi-dimensional characters and good plot.  Book 2 of the Ellie Rush series that deserves more attention and wider readership.  Recommended for mystery fans who enjoy some substance to their characters.  Gets a solid B (4*) rating.

Crushed Velvet is book 2 in the Material Witness cozy series by Diane Vallere.  Yet another shop owner in a small town struggling to make her business work when her new ‘bestie’s’ husband is found dead in the van used to transport Poly Monroe’s shipment of velvet.  It’s a shade better than some, but still lacks the verve that brings cozies up a level to good.  Another largely uninspired C (3*) effort in an overcrowded field with nothing special to recommend it.

The Gargoyle Gets His Girl is book 3 in Kristin Painter’s Nocturn Falls paranormal romance series.  Like book 2, Werewolf Meets His Mate, this one is a mix of light humor and more straightforward paranormal romance.  Not as clever as book 1, but a decent read in ebook.  It gets a C (3*) rating from me because I liked the characters despite the predictable plot.

The Housewife Assassin’s Tips for Wedding, Weapons, and Warfare (Housewife Assassin, Bk 13) by Josie Brown is yet another rather solid entry into this half humorous, half serious tale of independent contract assassin/security agents and the war war against a SPECTER like group of powerful, yet shadowy, adversaries bent of controlling the world – at least the economic portions.  In the middle of all this Donna Stone and Jack Craig are trying to get married with extreme interference of the First Lady, one of their prime suspects.  It’s as well dome as her earlier books blending family drama of teen and child angst, against humor and deadly serious threats.  The ending is another cliffhanger.  One of the better light assassin series out there.  It gets a B- (3.8*) from me and the whole series is a suggested read for those who like the Bombay Assassin and Miss Fortune books.  I have the ebooks, but paperback is available.

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Yes, the author shamelessly pays homage – or just flat-out plagiarized – The Thin Man movies from the 30’s and 40’s.  Murder with a Twist by Tracy Kiely has exactly the same kind of characters, atmosphere, wit, and insouciant attitude of Myrna Loy and William Powell, except here Nic is Nicola, the former cop, and Nigel is the scion of old money and instead of tiny Asta, we have a huge Bullmastiff because, “The man in the pet store said you wouldn’t like the piranha.”

Nic is not exactly welcome in Nigel’s extended family, one of the reason’s they live in California.  But it’s Christmas and they’re in NYC where Nic used to be a detective till getting shot consigned her to desk duty and complete boredom.  Nigel’s Aunt Olive nearly chokes asking Nic to help find Leo, the ne’er do well philandering husband of her niece Audrey, a shy, plain girl about to come into a huge inheritance.

Reluctantly, Nic agrees to help, mostly to watch Olive squirm when Skippy (the mastiff), makes himself at home in Olive’s very formal co-op.

The story does not take itself to seriously, much like the movies were played for character and witty banter, not complex  plot, though the book does have a decent, if obvious, plot going on and a denouement in a restaurant where Nic unravels a whole bunch of dirty family secrets.

Murder with a Twist is the first in the Nic and Nigel Martini series and despite the unapologetic copying of Nick and Nora Charles, it’s actually a fun read.  Or maybe BECAUSE it’s so obviously a borrowed pattern makes it easier to relax and enjoy a nostalgic and entertaining excursion back to a time when mystery and humor blended seamlessly into high society.  It gets a B- (3.8*) and recommended read for anyone who won’t mind the plagiarism of The Thin Man movies.

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Benedict Jacka writes the Alex Verus UF series in much the same style as Jim Butcher’s Harry Dresden or Kevin Hearne’s Iron Druid.   While Harry Dresden is easily the most complex, fully realized of the three characters, the other two are no slouches.  Veiled is the latest entry in the continuing story of Verus, his young mage and adept friends, and his rocky relation with the Light Mage Council and some members who want his dead.

Verus is a Divination mage, one who can see many immediate futures.  Each class of mage has its own gift, some, like air and fire mages are usually battle mages, other choose various kinds of magical police work, mages called Keepers.  And Alex wants to find a way into the Council by becoming an Auxillary to the Order of the Star, the largest group of Keepers handling everyday magic-related crimes.  Caught between his former master, Richard, a powerful dark mage who seems to be staging a comeback, and the treachery of the Light mages, who are just as prone to corruption and greed as anyone, Alex finds himself working for a Keeper named Caldera with whom he has some history.

Alex has to start as a probationary Keeper, one step below Auxillary, but a toe in the door.  That means getting all the crap jobs, including what seems to be a wild goose chase to an automated rail station in a London suburb where all he finds is a focus, a stone or object that mages use to store various things.  No evidence of any other magical events.  But like the tip of an iceberg, Alex keeps digging for information and ends up uncovering a plot involving Light and Dark mages and a vast store of secrets about both.

Like all of Jacka’s books, you have the core mystery involving the immediate problem and the over-arcing plot about Richard and the Dark mages and the conniving and back-stabbing of the Council.  Jacka imbues Alex with a dry wit, an insatiable curiosity. and a very approachable character.  I like Alex Verus and Jacka’s writing, but Veiled has too much rehashing of previous books/plots and makes limited – and predictable – progress with the over-arcing plot.  It gets a solid B- (3.8*) and is a suggested read for Verus fans, but not Jacka’s best.

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Chloe Neill made her name with the Chicagoland Vampires series and Mythos Academy young Adult series.  I like the Chicagoland Vamp books, but they aren’t exactly groundbreakers.  Kind of UF light.  With The Veil, she tries to enter the darker UF genre with limited success.

Lousiana is a favorite location for UF series, everything Sookie Stackhouse (gag) to the Sentinels of New Orleans.  It’s atmospheric, one of America’s oldest cities with past laced with pirates, voodoo, and a character uniquely it’s own.  It all but begs for supernatural happenings.  So Neill chose it to be the nexus of a magical war that was launched against humans by the supernatural world through a rip in the fabric of space and time separating them.  But magic is like an infection and ‘sensitives’ are sent to live in Devil’s Isle, an area of New Orleans where sensitives and supernaturals caught on this side of the veil are kept in isolation.  Being a ‘sensitive’ is a kind of death sentence.  The magic drives them mad and eventually turns them into wraiths who feed on humans.

Claire Connelly is the only child of an old New Orleans family that has run a mercantile store for generations.  She’s also began manifesting as a sensitive with telekinetic power a few years ago.  The city is blanketed with magic sensors, and should she ever use her power, it would be an automatic sentence to Devil’s Isle.  Then War Night, the citywide celebration of the win over the supernaturals, finds Claire leaving her friends and walking home – only to see a young woman fleeing two wraiths – wraiths that seem to be thinking and acting in coordination, something thought impossible.  She uses her power to save herself, but she’s been caught on camera and must run to avoid Devil’s Isle.

Liam Quinn, a bounty hunter, sees the whole thing, but instead of hauling her in, offers her a deal.  He’ll get the tapes erased if she’ll learn to control her magic.  The plot unfolds as one might expect with a blend of romance, magic, and conspiracy.  And that’s Neill’s big weakness in UF.  Her characters are good, but not original, the plot of good, but not breakthrough, and the overall feel of the writing lacks the extra dimension that elevates a book from good to great.

The Veil is good.  But kind of an average good, not in any way remarkable or innovative.  The trope is well worn, decently written and ultimately ordinary.  It gets a C+ (3.3*) and is suggested for Neill fans only.  Not a barn burner.

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Katie MacAlister is back with a new entry in her Light Dragons paranormal romance series, and Dragon Fall is classic MacAlister.  Sharp, witty, banter, sensible women, stubborn males (well they are dragons), curses, evil forces, and a doggie demon named Jim who talks a lot and has no memory of once belonging to Aisling Grey.

Aoife (EE-fuh) Dakar is the daughter of an Irish mother, African father, born in the US and raised in Sweden where her dad was an engineer for IKEA.  Her parents were killed in a car crash a few years earlier and her brother and sister lived elsewhere in Europe, but Aoife was still living in the house her dad built.  She has a rare date to a RenFaire type event, as much Goth as anything, with a man named Terrin.  She sees Terrin killed, then sees him very much alive talking to a man he said was a Black Dragon.  And there’s a ring he gave her, one he said was looking for an owner.  She tells the police about the murder, even the victim apparently being alive the killer who disappeared in a puff of black smoke.  Her brother and sister convince her commitment for a ‘psychotic break’ is the only way she’ll get over her delusions.

Two years later she’s ‘cured’ and out.  Her doctor convinced her she needed to confront her past and go back to the fair to see it was not what she thought.  Against her sister Bea’s wishes, she does and walks away, satisfied she really is cured ….. till she runs something over.  A huge black dog.  She rushes it to a vet, but he seems fine.  She gets home and the dog takes off and when she finds him, he’s sitting by an unconscious naked man on the beach.  He seems more dead than alive and getting an ambulance is impossible, so once again, Aoife has to drag this huge man up to her car and drive him to the nearest doctor that does emergencies.  Funny thing is, the man looks a lot like one of the guys Terrin called a Black Dragon.

This starts a whole string of events that twines prior books and this story together, and the reader needs at least some level of familiarity with her earlier books to understand the plot.   The conclusion lays the foundation for the next installment due in the fall.  (MacAlister often writes in trilogy form)

Dragon Fall is not MacAlister at her best.  The plot was almost painfully contrived in parts and lacked the complexity of her Aisling Grey series, so it came across as MacAlister light, which given her style was still an enjoyable read for a paranormal romance, just not up to her usual quality.  I give it a C+ to B- (3.4*) mostly because I just needed something like this and there was nothing better out there.  For MacAlister Dragon series fans, but with the caveat it not as good as her earlier ones.  If you’ve read none of her dragon books, you’ll be lost for sure.

July 14, 2015

Book Reviews – Various Genres in eBook and Print

Now first a word from Book Addicts Anonymous, or BAA – yes it does sound like sheep.  So, all you book addicts out there who are blaming me for enabling your addiction need sit back and take personal responsibility for your lack of control.  The fact that I’m a Book Addict does not mean you must be as well.  (If you think this sounds like your mother saying, “Don’t do as I do, DO AS I SAY!”, you’re right, it’s exactly like that.)  Just because I set a bad example is no reason to fault me for your personal addiction.  That’s YOUR problem.  I have my own.  Like an American Express card with way too many Amazon charges and towering piles of books to be read.  So deal with it ………… and pass the Cheetos.

Now, it’s been a busy month on the book front.  Let’s get started with some reviews.  And quit hogging the chocolate!

David Housewright is a very reliable and often inspired writer with his McKenzie books.  Here he does very good job with a rather predictable story arc about an ‘amnesiac’ young woman known only as Unidentified Woman #15.  He was there when two people threw her from a pickup and started a chain reaction accident on a snowy road when he stopped to keep from hitting her.  His old cop buddy, Bobby Dunston, asks him and his steady girlfriend, Nina, temporarily take her in when the hospital releases her.  Neither man quite believes her story.  When she disappears with some of his ready cash and 2 handguns from his collection, he and Nina both want know what’s going on.  She let one clue slip, Deer River.  And what might be a nickname, L, or Elle, or El.

Housewright creates a series of characters with a sure hand and begins spinning the tale of a supposedly nameless young woman who might be from Deer River.  As he begins unraveling the mystery that links garage sales to a series of thefts, to Big, the nameless power that has everyone scared, he slowly connects the dots.  He also becomes sure the one thing El isn’t is innocent or an amnesiac.

A highly readable combination of wry humor, action, and a mounting number of dead bodies that spin the mystery out.  For fans of classic PI style mysteries in the vein of Robert B. Parker and John D. McDonald, you can’t beat Housewright.

While not equal to his book, The Jade Lily, Unidentified Woman #15 is still a recommended read.  I give it a solid B (4*) rating and suggested read.  Housewright rarely comes out in mmpb, and the HC, which I bought from Amazon, rarely gets cheap, so if you’re looking for a price break, it will take awhile.  Book Closeouts does offer his titles at excellent remainder prices.  Used book prices tend to stay high as they are not that many available, but do look.  His books are worth the effort for fans of the genre.

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Amazon had a pre-publication price that was hard to refuse, so I bought this one.  I usually wait to get mine through PBS, but with their change to paid membership for full benefits, not easy to do for this author.

Gabriel Allon is about to become a father and head of The Office, what we would call Mossad.  An accomplished assassin and famed art restorer, he is not anxious to go back in the field, but he gets dragged in by a past debt to MI-5 and the young woman he rescued from Russia (The English Girl).  But what really pulls Gabriel back into the field is the chance to catch the man responsible for the bomb that killed his son and sent his ex-wife into life in an institution.

Eamon Quinn, the IRA bomber just blew up the yacht a British princess was on (a Diana clone moved to the current date), he was also the man who got away when a certain SAS operative was sold out as a Britsh spy in the Real IRA, the most violent offshoot of the IRA .  To destroy the peace process, Quinn planted a car bomb in Belfast that killed dozens and injured more after calling in a bomb threat that deliberately had police driving crowds TO the bomb.  Hunted by the IRA and the Britsh, Quinn becomes the bomb teach to terrorists from all over the world, especially the Mid-East.  Quinn’s current employer is a head of state furious at be denied the oil and gas leases in the North Sea he’d gotten the British PM to agree to under duress – the Russian Prime Minister.  Now he wants Britain and Allon to pay for thwarting him.

Allon is wise enough to know he’ll need help, that person is the British hitman who works for a Corsican Don, Christopher Keller.  Keller knows Quinn and has good reason to hate him.  More importantly he knows all the players in Northern Ireland where peace is a very uneasy condition with hate still running deep.  Quinn has worked with Gabriel a number of times, and he finds himself restless enough to agree and go back to his roots, roots he’d left behind in the Mid-East when he was a sole survivor.

The hunt is on and a thin trail of clues is all they have.  Too late they realize that trail was left by Quinn who is leading them into a trap.

A really well-done novel of international spies, intrigue, double-dealing, and three shrewd men playing a chess match with lives at stake.  The English Spy seems to continue the slow transition from Gabriel in the field to Christopher Keller taking the lead.  The one shortcoming is that lack of growth in Keller’s character.  While we get more background on him, he’s still lacking that third dimension that always made Allon an appealing protagonist.  Sill, Silva has done a marvelous and detailed job with the story on many other levels.

The English Spy gets a solid B (4*) from me and a suggested for lovers of spy, assassin, and intrigue novels.  I paid under $15 on an Amazon pre-order and it is current just over that mark, so remains a decent buy.    This author’s book do go mmpb and are usually available in your local library.  At just under 500 pages in HC, the mmpb will probably be around $10 and in small typeface, so take that into consideration.  You will be able to find good used copies before the mmpb is released.

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The first two books in A Lion’s Pride series by paranormal romance author Eve Langlais are both short, easy reads.  The plots are kind of thin and both sets of lead characters lack depth, but that’s not really her forte.   The bright breezy dialog in When an Alpha Purrs is classic Langlais.  Both books have a ‘woman in jeopardy’ element for the heroines, but otherwise they are different.  The heroines are very different people, but the pride males have a lot of common traits.

Arik Castiglione is not only a billion and alpha of his pack, he’s also something of a fashion plate and deeply attached to his perfectly styled mane, which is in dire need of a trim.  Too bad his long-time barber is off on a well earned visit with family and his mouthy niece is his substitute.  Kira is fresh off having her beauty salon burned down by her stalker ex-boyfriend who has gone off the deep end.  So she came half way across the country to her uncle’s NYC barbershop to find a new job and new life.  Instead, she found another controlling male who wanted to boss her around because he didn’t trust he ability.  HER!!!!!!  She was an excellent stylist and he was still wearing his hair like some rebellious teen!  His superior attitude finally drives her to do something drastic – and she expresses her intense displeasure by lopping off a huge hunk of his precious hair and raining down the now unattached hair in front of his face.

Arik, stunned by the temerity of the mouthy hairdresser, waits just a little too long to give chase and loses her on the streets near a fish market.  He vows to get even, especially after his beta teases him unmercifully about his pride and joy hair.  But Arik is surprised to find his planned revenge derailed by his attraction to the impossible woman.  Worse, when he delivers her home to her small apartment there’s a crude threat painted on her door.  Kira plays it off despite being obviously scared, but Arik smells wolf and calls in help from the local wolf pack.  From here on out, the story gets very formula and its brief length keeps and character  and plot depth shallow.

In When a Beta Roars, Arik’s beta, Hayder, is sulking as only a male lion can when he gets asked to babysit a wolf shifter that Arik granted protection in the well-guarded condo complex where the pride lives.  Arabella is the city wolf alpha’s sister, but Arik is the city Alpha of all shifter so even Jerrod answers to him.  Arabella had a miserable mating to a much older alpha wolf of a large clan.  His best feature is he’s now dead.  The worst is all the other males want to fight to make her their mate – with every intention of killing her for the inheritance.  It wasn’t any brilliant deduction, they flat out told her.  Jerrod’s pack is no match for her old one and she knows they’re hunting her, so the safest place to keep her is with a lion pride.

Then Hayder walks in like he owns the place.  Arabella has spent years with her head down and eyes averted to keep the abuse to a minimum.  It was so bad, her wolf left her and she hasn’t shifted in years.  Hayder is having none of that and his when she finally snaps at his bold and arrogant assumptions, he laughs and encourages her.  He seems to enjoy her feisty side.

Hayder is determined and patient.  Arabella is slow to emerge from her shell, but like a turtle, her fiery spirit peeks out more and more as she slowly grows more assured.

Despite the more serious theme, Langlais still manages a light and humorous edge to the romance of an abused woman.  This story had more substance than the slight and airy Alpha book, but remains a short, rather shallow novel, though a better one overall.

When an Alpha Purrs gets a C  (3*) and When a Beta Roars gets a C+ (3.5*) though both get much higher ratings on Amazon.  I bought the Alpha book in print and the Beta book in ebook.  Both are much too short for the price.  The book-length is under 200 pages for each title.  Frankly, at $3.99 the ebooks are overpriced for the length and the $8.99 for print is simply outrageous.  Both are modestly amusing and can be read in a fairly short single sitting.  She’s done better books.

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Kristen Painter is well known for her paranormal vampire series, the House of Comarré, a rather dark and complex series.  Here she takes a very different tone with an upbeat romance about a waitress who accidentally witnesses a murder which she records on her iPhone and finds herself on the run from mob killers.  Evading the people chasing her, Delaney James finds the file of a woman heading to a place called Nocturn Falls, Georgia to marry a man she’s never met or seen.  Well, the man has never seen her either, so it works out all around after she calls the woman from the road to say the arrangement has fallen through.

Hugh Ellingham cannot believe his grandmother arranged for a mail order bride for him through some ‘discrete match-making service’ because SHE wants great-grandbabies.  When he refuses, she threatens to take back the magic talisman that her 300-year-old witch created for each member of her remaining family.  A Duchess in England, she still rules her grandchildren with an iron hand and the threat to remove their ability to walk in the daylight.

Delaney has no intention of hanging around Nocturn Falls forever, even if it is Halloween every day.  It’s kitschy, over the top, and like candy irresistible.  And lordy, Hugh Ellingham’s place is an estate with a mansion!  Talk about out her element!  Yikes!  But her life is depending on laying low and making sure no one followed her from New York.  That means playing the game for at least week.  She just hoped she’d last that long.

Hugh is very drawn to Delaney, she’s sharp, witty, perceptive, and she’s pretty easy to look at, but Hugh had a terrible experience with his wife dying and hundreds of years later, so he’s still resistant to remarrying.  He quickly discovers she’s lying about her identity, thanks to the town’s werewolf sheriff, but the two make a deal – she’ll stay and they can tell his grandmother they are unsuited.  But plans sometimes don’t work out quite as expected.

At 370 pages in print, this lively paranormal romance was entertaining, had sharp dialog, well-drawn characters, and well done, if unoriginal cast.  Like all romances, there are improbable serendipitous events used to progress the plot that are contrived and the characters rather stock, especially the over-bearing grandmother and bitter ex-girlfriend, but nonetheless it succeeded in entertaining and keeping the reader’s interest.

The Vampire’s Mail Order Bride gets a C+ to B- (3.6*) from me.  Buy the ebook for a better deal, but the print book is not over priced.  Nothing like her better known series.

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The Magical Bakery series by Bailey Cates set in Savannah is one of the better cozy series out there – which is kind of damning with faint praise given the level of competition.  Like all cozies, it’s an easy read, but the writing quality, plot, and lively characters are a cut above.  This is the 5th book in the series and the author has kept it interesting so far.

Katie Lightfoot returned to Savannah to live and help her Aunt Lucy and newly retired fireman, Uncle Ben, open and run a bakery.  She a very good pastry chef and learning her craft as a hedgewitch, sometimes called ‘kitchen witches’ because they work with plants and nature to bring healing to the body and soul, is a big part of her life now.  The also believe in the threefold rule, whatever intent you send out into the universe will return to you threefold, so doing evil is highly self-destructive.  She and her Aunt Lucy, another hedgewitch, meet with the coven for their ‘Spell Book Club’.  This month Katie chose the book and it was written by a very young woman who obviously is under the thrall of a much older male poser.

As the conversation turns to other things there comes a pounding on the bakery door and woman calls for help.  She collapses and just manages to tell Katie she’s Franklin Tate’s niece and someone stole his gris gris before her heart stops..  Doctor’s are baffled as they can find no cause for her condition, but Cookie knows something, something from her past in Hati.  But there’s another surprise, Katie thought Franklin Tate dead for 3 months, he’d sent a message to her through a medium  Turns out that Detective Quinn, was once partnered with Tate, someone they once thought was a witch hunter, actually died right here in Savannah in the last couple of days.  What the hell is going on?

Cates weaves a tale centered on voodoo and it’s many flavors as practiced by its different branches.    As Katie dips her toes into voodoo with the reluctant help of Cookie, a Haitian immigrant, they find kind of a mixed bag of skills and willingness to help.  Former boyfriend Steven Dawes comes back for her to meet his new girlfriend, whom Katie thinks is a very manipulative young woman after his money.  She has no idea how right she is, or how deeply everything is tied together.

The plot moves quickly and, like all her books, comes back to the core beliefs of those who practice the craft.  Some very interesting characters in this one that I hope to see again.  Magic and Macaroons get a B- (3.7*) from me and a suggested read.  It’s one of the best paranormal mystery series out there.  I got a deeply discounted pre-release price on Amazon, but the book is now back at $7.99.  Try for Walmart or other discount stores if you want to buy it as Cates is a popular and widely carried author.

May 4, 2015

Quick Reviews and Comments – Mixed Genre Ebooks and DTB’s

Honest to God, if Spring doesn’t get here soon I’m going to go looking for a human sacrifice and a handy cliff to throw them off of.  Of course it will need to be someone older and more decrepit than I am, and I’m not sure how we’ll get to the edge of that cliff given my fear of heights, but what the hell, I’ll work it out if I have to.

Lord, what a disappointment.  Laura DiSilvero has done some excellent, original mysteries, notably Mall Cop and her Ballroom Dance series, but this is a ho-hum me too book group cozy that could have been written by anyone of a dozen authors.  It has nothing really remarkable to recommend it as a read.  From setting, to characters, to plot it was one big generic yawn.

Readaholics and the Falcon Fiasco gets a C- (2.8*) and barely suggested for cozy lovers only.  Her next installments are off the ‘buy’ list.

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I received an ebook ARC of Spider’s Trap, the latest in the Gin Blanco Elemental Assassin series.  Gin is now reluctant head of Ashland’s underworld.  The reluctance to take charge is causing problems, but Gin isn’t comfortable in the role she neither sought now wanted.  But living in the shadows as the feared assassin Spider is no longer possible.  That’s the secondary plot.  The main plot centers around another of Fletcher Lane’s rescues, one Gin was involved in at age 14 – a rescue that is coming back not to get her, but one of the crime bosses that she’s supposed to lead.

Though an interesting story, it had the feeling of a ‘bridge’ book that is not like the more compelling earlier books, but starts the inevitable change to different paradigm for Gin.  Don’t get me wrong, it’s a good read with a decent, if not very original – or intelligent – villain, and her usual good ending.  The best part was the unexpected twist at the very end that sets the plot for her next book and it should be a gem if she works it right.

Spider’s Trap gets a B- (3.7*) and suggested read for series fans.  One of the better, more consistent series out there.  Publication Date is July 28.  NOTE:  Shorter than her earlier books if the ebook and print book page numbering match.

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oracle's secret

OK, this ebook was not on my radar, but it was one of many suggestions offered when I asked for amusing romance suggestions.  Thing is, this wasn’t funny.  It’s more a cross between fantasy and paranormal romance and first book in a series, so no big finale.  The Oracle’s Secret was a decent, rather predictable read, with a good beginning that kind of slipped into average fantasy style ‘us vs. them’ thing.  The big plot shockers weren’t shocking and I kind of forced myself to finish it because I knew there was only one way to end it.

The Oracle’s Secret gets a C- (2.6*) and suggested pass unless you really like yet another story of a heroine having her ‘abilities’ abused by a scumbag lord.  No real standout characters or plot lines, so, meh.  Move along.  Nothing new here.

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The latest Doc Ford story from Randy Wayne White, Cuba Straits, is one of those books you’ll like or it will drive you nuts.  Not because of the plot, but because White has adopted a writing style that’s half reality and half confusing, often bizarre, dreamlike sequences.  It’s a writing style that hard to do well and very hard on the reader as it’s not conducive to the crisp, fast paced storytelling of an action thriller.  It made following the slight plot even more confusing.  Judging by the customer reviews on Amazon, I’m not the only dissatisfied reader.  And frankly, the plot was as gossamer as a spider web, about ‘human trafficking’ – only we’re talking baseball players, not the real horrible stuff like girls for prostitution.  Kind of hard to red line the old outrage meter on that one.

Despite RWW thinking this is his best work in awhile, I’d disagree.  It was more about writing style than content and more about impressing the reader with technique than telling a compelling story.  I give Cuba Straits a D+ to C- and for die hard Doc Ford fans only – and wait for the mmpb or get it from the library.  It’s not worth the price.

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In book 2 of the Housewife Assassin series, The Housewife Assassin’s Guide to Gracious Killing, Donna is asked to become the new BFF of the ‘former’ arms dealer billionaire who just finished building his tribute to excess house in her town.  With Jack still living with her as Carl, her not so dead husband that betrayed her and his country, as head of the sadistic billionaire’s security detail.  Serving Carl with divorce papers may not be as satisfying as just shooting him, but she needs to move on and that means dumping Carl – the real Carl – who now enjoys Diplomatic Immunity.  Damn, just when shooting him would solve the whole divorce problem!

The story is a blend of deadly serious action thriller with a really awful bad guy and lighthearted suggestions from the supposed Housewife Assassin’s Etiquette Guide as chapter headings.  The plot is good as it weaves Donna’s efforts at divorce with her growing horror at what the billionaire really is, to dealing with soon to be ex husband Carl – who does not take getting served divorce papers well.  It gets more interesting when Jack’s big secret is revealed.

Not as lighthearted as the Miss Fortune books or the Lexi Carmichael series, more serious action and nasty bad guys, but still in the humorous vein.

The Housewife Assassin’s Guide to Gracious Killing is not the best thing out there and certainly not worth the price of the print books, but as ebooks, they are entertaining and a nice break from predictable cozies.  My grade is B- (3.6*) and suggested read for fans of lighter action books.  WARNING:  There is one nasty rape scene that might put some readers off.  The series has 10 books so far but I’ve only bought up to Book 4.  I’ll let you know if Carl final bites it.

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Laura Black is a PI working for a sleazy, but highly successful lawyer Lenny Shapiro.  Scottsdale Sizzle, as you might expect, takes place in Scottsdale – in the summer.  (If you haven’t been there then, it’s hard to imagine.)  Her assignment is to help a guy from Chicago find his grandfather’s treasure chest.  No kidding.  The old guy made a fortune in air conditioner patents and in addition to his huge house in Scottsdale, he collected jewels.  Not just any jewels, but ones with a history, owed by famous and infamous alike.  In his last act, Grandpa’s will divided all his considerable land holding and other property between his two grandchildren, a brother and sister who are at best estranged.  Turns out there’s a damn good reason.  Les Murdock is in trouble with the Chicago mob – big money trouble – and he needs the jewels to pay them off and disappear because the FBI want him as witness in a huge criminal case.  And his sister, who is actually a nice person, not a lying con artist like her brother, wants nothing to do with him.

Written in a lively and entertaining style, with not one but 2 love interests, Reno, a police detective, and Maximilian, an under boss of the local mob.  It has good dialogue, well developed characters and a good plot.  I give Scottsdale Sizzle a B (4*) for a light romantic mystery suspense novel and a suggested read in ebook.  A series I will follow.

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