Tour’s Books Blog

March 16, 2016

Who is your favorite……….?

I’m on a number of Good Reads forums where this question invariably comes up? What’s your favorite book? Who is your favorite author? What’s you favorite series?

You know, that hard to say because even in a single genre you have sub-groups and then mashups and …….. well, you get the picture.

But it got me thinking about some of the best reading  – mostly because my doctor needed some ideas for books that she and her sister, someone with very different taste in tropes, would like.  That’s not easy.  I have very strong ideas about what makes a book memorable.

I looked at some lists of the ‘Greatest Historical Fiction of All Time’ and most made me cringe.  I thought Wolf Hall was – meh.  So did my brother.  Now Anya Seaton’s Kathrine – yeah that was brilliant.  George MacDonald Fraser’s Flashman was there as well, and though I loved it – and the series in general -not sure it belongs.  Many choices were written long ago, like Tolstoy and Charles Dickens A Tale of Two Cities (Oh, just kill me now.  I hate Dickens.)  I, Claudius by Robert Graves, I can kind of get behind that one.  The Name of the Rose by recently deceased Umberto Eco was not that good for me despite it often being named to the top 20 of the mystery genre as well.  Most of the others, not so much.

It seems when I was growing up there were many great choices for historical fiction.  Thomas B. Costain was at the end of his career, but for a man who didn’t start writing till his 50’s, he did some remarkable work.  His 4 book non-ficion history of the Plantagenet kings starting with Henry II to Richard III is just excellent.  Then he wrote The Black Rose, later made into a film starring Tyrone Power, Jack Hawkins and Orsen Wells.  Set in the time of  The Three Edwards (the third book of is Plantagenet history) it is just a great historical adventure read.  For my brother, Dumas’ Count of Monte Cristo will always be a favorite along with Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes.

But my favorite historical fiction these days tends to run to mysteries and SteamPunk – which is any alternate history paranormal genre often done with a mystery trope.  But in plain old real world history, I was impressed by Mary Miley’s Roaring Twenties series, The Impersonator and Silent Murder (the better of the two by far).  A third book is due this year, and another complete for 2017.  A history major, she writes very well and has created a terrific character with Jessie Carr blending in real life people in Vaudeville and silent movies.

Agatha Christie was married to an archeologist and spent a lot of time in the Mideast and other locations.  This led her to write Death on the Nile, Murder in Mesopotamia (set at an archeology dig site), and Evil Under the Sun (movie filmed on various island locations off Spain, but the book is set on an island off of the south of England) set in the 20’s and 30’s as part of her Poirot series.  In retrospect, it’s amazing how good she was with plots that involved various ‘isolated’ groups as well as standard locations.  She was light years better than the typical cozy writer of today.  She also wrote one true historical mystery, Death Comes at the End, set in ancient Thebes.

Lindsey Davis sets her Falco series in Vespasian’s Rome and is a favorite for me.  She aged  out Falco (which was overdue) and his daughter, Flavia Alba has taken up her father’s private informer business.  John Maddox Roberts, better known in the fantasy genre, wrote his terrific SPQR mysteries set at the time of the rise of Julius Ceasar.

A big favorite among historical fiction fans is the adventure series Outlaw Chronicles that’s a spin on the legend of Robin Hood by Angus Donald.  They can be hard to find as he no American publisher, but I get them used or new from Book Depository, an Amazon-owned company, in the UK.  Best read in order, Outlaw is book 1 and The King’s Assassin is the most recent publication.  The last book in the series is due out next year.  His following is a mix of male and female readers, so give his stuff a try.

Bernard Cromwell is most famous for his Sharpe’s Rifles series that was made into a BBC series starring Sean Bean as Sharpe, but he writes non-fiction including Waterloo: 4 Days 3 battles 3 armies.  Jeri Westerson is another British author who sets her stories around a disgraced knight, Crispin Guest.  Described as Medieval Noir mystery, it has the same edgy sardonic humor as Lindsey Davis and John Maddox Roberts.  Book 7, Silence of the Stones, was just released in Feb, but all mysteries, the main story arc wraps up in a single novel, but to follow the origins of the lead character, read the first few in order.  Two other reliable historical mystery fiction authors are Ruth Downie who writes the Gais Ruso series set in Roman Britain, Gaul, and Rome.  The other is Rosemary Rowe who uses Roman Britain for her Libertus series.  Both can be expensive and hard to find, but are available.  Like Angus Donald, most are published by Severn House and no US publisher picks them up, hence buy used, get ebooks, or get it from your library.

Tasha Alexander does the Lady Emily mysteries set in Victorian London and throughout Europe.  (Her husband is English born action thriller author Andrew Grant.)  Deanna Raybourn has two series out – her famous Lady Julia Grey, which I was not crazy about until book 4, Dark Road to Darjeeling.  I really liked that one.  She’s started a new series featuring Veronica Speedwell, a female physician in London.  Like the Julia Grey series, it’s set in the 1880’s.  It is sitting on Mt TBR.  Set in Regency England are the Sebastian St Cyr books by C.S. Harris.  I tried the first few and was bored, but friends like them.  Too angsty for me.  Anna Lee Hubler’s Lady Darby books are a big favorite of my sister-in-law while my brother loved loved Steven Hockensmith’s Amlingmyer Brothers Holmes on the Range books set out west in the late 1800’s.  He ended the series at the famous Chicago Exposition.

Rhys Bowen has three series, her Evan Evans, Molly Murphy, and Her Royal Spyness.  I know the Molly Murphy series and liked quite a few, but prefer Her Royal Spyness, even though her lead character, Lady Georgiana, can get on my nerves, but Ms Bowen does a nice job weaving real people though her stories – from Noel Coward, to Edward VII (her cousin), to Charlie Chaplin.  Her prose really is a pleasure to read.

Historical mystery is a rich and broad genre moving across thousands of years and lots of fine authors.  Pick a period and you’ll likely find something.  Here are some other authors you might enjoy:

Will Thomas – Barker and Llewelyn series set Gaslight London; Collin Cotterill – Dr Siri series set in 1970’s Laos;  Laura Joh Rowland – Sano Ichiro series set in Edo in 1600’s Japan; Ellis Peters – her famous Brother Cadfael series set in 12th century England (also a BBC series); Gary Corby – Nicolaos series set in ancient Athens/Greece in 460BC; C.J. Samson – Matthew Shardlake, a lawyer, in mid-1600’s England; Carol Nelson Douglas – Irene Adler, opera star, in mid 19th century Europe; Alex Grecian – Murder Squad set in late 1800’s London (but a bit uneven in quality); Dennis Wheatly – Roger Brook special agent for British PM Pitt late 1700’s to early 1800’s.

There are simply too many to name and more all the time.  Those who like both historical fiction and mystery – like me – are delighted at the growth in this area.  Like all other genres, some are good, some not.  Find one that suits you and enjoy!

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December 23, 2014

In Retrospect

Filed under: Editorial,Favorite book,General,Musing on life — toursbooks @ 5:59 pm
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Looking back on this year in books – and life in general – I have to say things were neither as good as I hoped, or as bad as I feared.  I lost two friends – granted, they were people I came to know and like well over the internet, but I still felt their deaths keenly.  But I’m getting to that age where losing people you know is more common, and in many ways, more expected.  But over all, 2014 wasn’t a bad year.

The same can be said for 2014 for books.  There were a few truly awful books, some serious disappointments, a whole bunch of BLAH, a few really good ones, but nothing that reached the level of ‘OMG YOU MUST READ THIS BOOK!’  In a way, I’m spoiled.  I read enough that those rare, truly original and exciting books come along too infrequently these days.  The ‘me-too-ism’ of the movie and TV worlds has always been around books.  Now it’s epidemic.  The worst are the ‘Fifty Shades of Gray’ clones.  While some are far better written, they are still trading on the mad rush of ‘mommie porn’ fans for more of the BDSM genre.

Laine Moriarty was kind of a respite from that, but her ‘chick lit’ books have an alarming sameness to them and after 2, The Husband’s Secret and Big Little Lies, I was done.  Alyssa Maxwell had promise with her Gilded Newport historical ‘high society’ mystery, but ultimately missed the mark.  A success was Mary Miley’s Roaring 20’s mysteries, with her second book being better than the first, a rare occurrence.  I know Gone Girl was the hot book in swaps early this year, but honestly, I could not get into it all and gave up.  It was just a tedious story about people I didn’t really like.

Yes, there was a ‘worst book of 2014’ – and despite some stiff competition, Charlaine Harris’s After Dead: What Came Next in the World of Sookie Stackhouse.  The title was longer than some of the ‘chapters’.  It was an all around money grubbing disgrace of absolute twaddle that would shame any respectable author, but not Ms Harris – who appears to love money more than her fans.  Certainly she doesn’t have any respect for them, but has hubris and arrogance aplenty.  A crap book at an inflated price by an author who obviously disdains her fans.  That’s a trifecta that’s hard to beat.

Some series fizzled, others got killed by publishers, one cozy series was resurrected when another publisher picked it up after a 3 year hiatus.  Welcome back to the Passport to Peril books.  Others moved to self publishing.

Readers were inundated by memoirs from former politicians, ex-spec op military, and various ‘celebrities’ (pardon me while I gag.).  The Monuments Men, which had all kinds of potential for a great read, was an over long, deadly dull book and I gave up on after 100 pages.  Despite the all-star cast, and ‘artistic license’ taken with history, the movie was lackluster too.  An oldie but goody, The Path between the Seas:  Creation of the Panama Canal, 1870-1914 by David McCullough and the newer Lost in Shangri-la The True Story of a Plane Crash into a Hidden World by Michael Zukoff both got thumbs up from my brother, a harsh judge of such things.  1776, also by McCullough, is a favorite of his.  I enjoyed My Planet: Finding Humor in the Oddest Places by Mary Roach, a collection of short articles written for various publications on a wide range of topics over the years.  It had all her usual irreverent, but gentle, humor when looking at the human condition – her own included.  For my brother, he felt none of the books I sent about economics and such measured up to his gold standard, The Forgotten Man: A New History of the Great Depression by Amity Shales.

He and I both enjoyed a number of mysteries and action thrillers and he was especially happy to have Will Thomas once again turn his hand to the Barker and Llewelyn mysteries set in Gaslight London in Fatal Enquiry.  He also loves the Crispin Guest Medieval mysteries by Jeri Westerson, with Cup of Blood published this year.  My sister-in-law began them too and much to her surprise liked them a lot.  (Told her she would, but it took some browbeating on my part to get her to give them a shot.)  Like a few others, this series moved from a traditional publication house to CreatSpace, the self publishing platform.  She also started the Lady Darby mysteries by Anna Lee Huber with A Grave Matter, a book I won in a swap game.  Another swap find that found favor was the Joann Ross series set in 1950’s Scotland by A. D. Scott.  She and I both love the Miss Fortune books by Jana DeLeon and Gator Bait will come up with me for Christmas, but that one I get back.  She also likes the Meg Langslow series by Donna Andrews and I’ll take up Duck the Halls for her as well.  Both are just light reads, and I think the Miss Fortune series is better in some respects.

Neither my brother nor my SIL will go anywhere near anything with vampires, werewolves, dragons or other paranormal/UF/fantasy books get shipped out to PBS members without a stopover at their house.  But Walt Longmire, Joe Pickett, and ‘Mac’ MacKenzie all stop at their house before entering the PBS bookswap world.  Author’s Craig Johnson, C.J. Box, and David Housewright all released really good books this year, Any Other Name, Stone Cold, and The Devil May Care were all quality reads, even though none blew me away.  I also have their 2015 releases on pre-order.  Action thrillers are for my brother, and his favorite this year was Clive Cussler and Justin Scott’s Issac Bell books, all set in the early 1900’s.  He enjoyed The Bootlegger so much, he asked me to order the others in the series through PBS.  My SIL did the same with the A.D. Scott books and also loved Silent Murder by Mary Miley, set in 1920’s Hollywood.

I’m finding cozies are getting on my nerves more often than not and I’m losing any semblance of patience with stupid and illogical lead characters and author’s who skip even the most basic research.  Action thrillers can do the same thing when they get so far afield it’s like watching a cartoon of real life.  Last Year’s The Third Bullet by Stephen Hunter was one of the more thought provoking, and Brad Thor seemed to predict the whole mess with the NSA in his book Black List, so action/spy thrillers can be more than just mindless entertainment, like action movies have become.

In the paranormal/UF/fantasy genres, several series ended and waaaaaaay to many installments of books in series have been delayed, some by a year or more.  The Reap the Wind by Karen Chance, was due out last month and is scheduled for release Nov 2015 – a YEAR LATE!  The follow-up to The Rook by Daniel O’Malley, Stiletto, is now out in June (had been Jan), and Pirate’s Alley by Suzanne Johnson is currently scheduled for April release, even though she finished it in 2013.  And traditional publishers wonder why readers start hating them.

On time and on the mark were Darynda Jones with 2 installments of her Charley Davidson series, Jennifer Estep with 2 installments of her Elemental Assassin series, Jim Butcher with another Harry Dresden book, and a whole lot of books by authors that aren’t in that kind of class.

Keri Arthur’s three Spook Squad novels, Memory Zero, Penumbra, and Generation 18 – pretty good reads, were all published by a small press, Imajinn Books and now Dell republished them as mmpb’s this fall at far more reasonable prices.

Possibly the most original and interesting series that came out between Nov 2013 and this year as a complete trilogy is the Paradox series by Rachel Bach, Fortune’s Pawn, Knight’s Honor, and Heaven’s Queen.  A space opera with fantasy additions that is a worthy read.

The usual reliable authors did decent work, but none stunned.  Author’s seem stuck in a rut.  I think that’s why I’ve read more ebook series this year.  The print authors are all kind of running out of steam, especially the cozy mystery genre.  Still, I am ever optimistic and have hundreds of dollars in pre-orders placed for 2015.  Let’s hope it delivers more memorable books that make it to the special spot reserved for the best of breed – on my bedside reading pile.

Let me wish all of you a Merry Christmas – or just Happy Holiday, if you prefer – and hope that you have enjoyed your reads in 2014 and let me know if you find something you think I need to try.  I do like referrals!

santa-sleigh_1780995a

I tried to get a ride up to my brother’s house, but Santa said insurance did not permit passengers.  Damn insurance companies.

October 31, 2014

Potpourri – Mix of Paranormal/UF/Fantasy and Mystery, or Something

I read a fair amount of paranormal.  Some are just great, like the shifter romances by Shelly Laurenston or Molly Harper’s Half-Moon Hollow series.  And UF is is a favorite, especially Charley Davidson books by Darynda Jones, as are several others.  Steampunk is a much abused sub-genre still in need of a really great, defining series beyond Gail Carriger’s uniquely stylized books.  Fantasy tends to get blended with UF and often starts UF and moves more heavily into fantasy.  The defining attribute of UF is, of course, a city setting.  This clashes a bit with the looser interpretation most readers put on it by defining things that are more of a mystery or romance/romantic suspense as UF, even when the setting is either fantasy or suburban.  Two series that tend to be treated that way are Kevin Hearne’s Iron Druid series and Seanan McGuire’s October Daye.  Even Jim Butcher’s Harry Dresden, the archetype for UF, makes that transition.  And that series is list on the major mystery reference site as well!  It gets very difficult to tuck books into convenient genre niches.

Fantasy is something we all tend to think of in terms of Hobbits and dragons and Middle Earth.  Certainly epic fantasy is whole worlds imagined, yet the characters are understandable in human terms.  But equally often fantasy has its roots in legends.  Myth based fantasy is popular – just ask former mystery writer Rick Riordan.  Some authors like Patrick Rothfuss and Robert Jordan have made their mark in pure epic fantasy while Lois McMaster Bujold wrote her wonderful Vorkosigan saga as a space epic.  Frank Herbert’s Dune series can be read on several levels, but honestly, I lost interest.  All these are honest fantasy.  And where the hell do I put Harry Potter?  An argument could be made that Bujold is Science Fiction, but she is less about technology or theory and more about saga.  Yet again, she could fit both descriptions, where Larry Niven is solidly Si-Fi, as was most of Arthur C Clarke.  True Si-Fi is not as common today as Science Fantasy/Epic Fantasy.

It’s not just paranormal/UF/Fantasy that has niche problems, even mystery has issues.  I am as guilty as the next one in classifying an historical by a modern reference.  That’s how “Falco is like Spenser in a toga,” became how I explained Lindsey Davis’ books.  The writing has the cheeky, irreverent  ‘Spenser’ vibe going, while Davis takes meticulous care with historical bits.  How else could I explain it?  We try and give things less well know a common reference.  Mystery readers have almost all read something of the Spenser series, so it’s relatable.  Like calling a book, “Perry Mason in periwigs.”  The reader immediately puts it in context as a legal mystery set in the UK.  Assuming they know what a periwig is, which these days is assuming a lot.  LOL  You want to really bend your mind?  Go to the Mystery Writers of America website and you’ll find authors like Sherrilyn Kenyon, Katie MacAllister, and Lorilei James in the same listing as Rhys Bowen, J.A. Jance, and Brian Freeman.  Dear God, what is happening out there!  heheheheheheheheheh

So, identity of genre is tough these days.  We have ghosts and skeletons and wizards and suicidal shop keepers ……………. well, pretty much everyone hanging out their shingle in the mystery area.  You know what?  If it’s good, who cares?  Certainly Darynda Jones doesn’t and neither does James Patterson.  So sit back and read what-ever-you-want-to-call-it.
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The Winter Long

I might not have liked McGuire’s Sparrow Hill Road, but The Winter Long was a very good entry in her October Daye series.  The world of October Daye was not easy to get into.  I struggled with book 1, started getting into book 2 (Rosemary and Rue, A Local Habitation) and by book 3 (An Artificial Night), I was hooked.  It isn’t often I’ll put up with a series that doesn’t grab me immediately, but I’m glad I did.

October is now a very different character from book one.  In part because her blood has changed, and in part because she’s physically evolving into more of her Fae self.  She looks less human now, and in a fit of self-realization, knows she THINKS less human as well.  But Simon Torquill, twin of her liege and the man who turned her into a fish 14 years ago and stood laughing as she almost died before getting to water …….. and lost her husband and daughter who thought she’d deserted them ………… is back – and at first she’s scared witless.  But that Toby is not the Toby who stands today, as Simon soon finds out.  And no one from those earlier books is what they seemed.

The Winter Long is a story about revelations, betrayal, growth and change – and self assurance making all the difference.  It takes Toby’s world and turns it upside down.  Fundamental truths were lies and the lies were not what they seemed.  It’s a tour de force for McGuire and she does it very well indeed, making all the changes believable.  And that is the beauty of this series, you can never quite tell what’s real.

The Winter Long scored a B+ to A- (4.5*) for the quality of the characters, plot, and writing.  It did not answer everything, so whether it is the start of new story arc, I can’t say, but it may well be.  The book is long, and the story satisfying.  The October Daye series is excellent and I don’t know why it isn’t more widely read.  Perhaps it’s the sheer complexity of the world building.  Like Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time, this series is more demanding than the typical easy overlay of supernatural on the human world.  That takes effort from readers.  Also, it lacks the brisk humor of say, Charlie Davidson, a character that at her core, more understandable than Toby, and who uses humor to relieve the sometimes terrible things she experiences.

The Winter Long is highly recommended but the series needs to be read in order to understand the world and the characters.  With this book, it’s essential to have read the early ones.  Purchased from Amazon and worth every penny.

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I'm dreaming of an undead christmas

A holiday novella by Molly Harper picks up the story of the younger sister from The Care and Feeding of Stray Vampires.  I’m Dreaming of an Undead Christmas takes place several years later, with Gigi now well into her college years and her sister Iris fairly newly converted to a vampire by her hunky husband “Cal” Calix.  As Iris tends to do, she going overboard trying to give Gigi a perfect Christmas, not like what they had, but what all the movies show.  Gigi just wants to be home and enjoy, but Iris is determined.

Keeping in mind this is a novella, so by definition a lightweight story, it was really very good.  At first.  Gigi also does something unexpected, she applies for a job with the Vampire Council.  Thing is, once a human goes to work for the Council, they can never leave.  So Gigi would essentially become an indentured servant.  Iris was NOT going to like that.  Plus Gigi has another problem, breaking up with her high school boyfriend who has slipped firmly into ‘friend’ territory.

The candy making scene was a complete howl and had me in tears.  Unfortunately, the story didn’t end so much as run out of gas shortly there after.  I literally looked for the rest of it, wondering what the Hell, that couldn’t be the end?  It was.  I was very frustrated.  I felt like I didn’t get a novella so much as the discarded opening chapters of a book that will be done later.  Man is that annoying.

I’m Dreaming of an Undead Christmas gets a C- (2.7*) because of that frustrating non-ending.  Right up through the candy scene she had me.  Then she blew it big time.  I got I’m Dreaming of an Undead Christmas as a free ARC.  I believe ebook will be released in Nov this year for $1.99.  Consider what I said about the ending before buying.

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Seventh Grave

YEAH!  Rejoice you Charley Davidson fans,  Darynda Jones and Seventh Grave and No Body does not disappoint!  Charley is pregnant and still out doing her thing – just with Reyes standing there watching like a hawk.  For good reason, the 12 hellhounds are after her.  Seriously after her.  Even Charley is nervous, just not nervous enough as far as Reyes is concerned.

As usual, Charley has multiple deaths to deal with.  First FBI Agent Carson (first name Kit) wants her help on a cold case – a multiple murder at a summer camp in the mountains outside Albuquerque.  But even the ultra-professional SAC, as Charley calls her, has trouble keeping her eyes on the road and off the hunk in her backseat.  Charley understands.  She has trouble herself.  The problem will be the spirits at the campground.  Ghosts often talk to Charley and Carson knows nothing of what she really is.  That all goes south when they get there and it becomes apparent the campground was used as a body dump and the ‘slaughter’ of the folks opening the camp happened because the killer was seen.  But then Charley is seen as well, by the Hellhounds.

They get back to the bar that Reyes bought from her dad and he shuts her out of a conversation with a TV reporter.  In a fit of pique, she takes her lunch to her office to find a priest waiting for her.  Seems the Vatican has been watching her and now he wants Charley to investigate apparent suicides that leave notes, but seem …….. wrong.  First Charley has to check with Rocket to see if they’re dead.  Talking to the dead savant who records each death means getting into an asylum she owns, but Reyes has padlocked it without her knowledge – or permission.

In addition to this, she has a dead man who needs his insurance to get to his family, the TV reporter with the crush on Reyes, and her dad has gone missing and her evil step-mother won’t help her do anything and her teenage BFF’s ghost is giving her endless crap.  Oh yeah, and she’s pregnant by Reyes and hasn’t clue about raising a child, so she starts small …………. with a goldfish.  It does not go well.

As usual, the book mixes humor, tension, violence and death all in liberal measure in that bizarre combination is has become the hallmark of this series.  I am endlessly amazed at how well and effortlessly Ms Jones pulls it off.  Seventh Grave and No Body has Charley growing as a character and evolving into what she will become.  The print copy carries a short bonus chapter from Reyes POV on the changes in Charley as she grows into her power.  He drops some hints about where she’s going, but if you bought an ebook, borrow a print copy to read it or just read the few pages in the book store.

Seventh Grave and No Body gets a rare A (4.7*).  It made a lot of evolutionary progress, which the overarching plot needed at this point.   Highly recommended, but it will appeal more to women than male readers given the style and humor.  Seventh Grave and No Body was purchased from Amazon for just over $16.  Like all her books, it’s not very long, but is a great ride.  Chapter 15 has a GREAT heading.  ENJOY!

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Gator Bait

Currently just available as an ebook, Gator Bait is book 5 in the Miss Fortune series of humorous mystery/romance books set in Sinful, LA.  Shorter than her previous entries, it still satisfies, although the plot is simpler than most, especially books one and two.  Her ‘Banana Pudding Dash Redux’ scene was a hoot as was Gertie in her red prom dress and cammo undies.

It’s almost election day in Sinful and Celia Arceneaux just announced she’s running for mayor …… in tomorrow’s emergency election.   While Ida Belle, Gertie, and Fortune were all prepared, they weren’t prepared to find Celia CHEATING on the Banana Pudding Dash!  But Fortune is a quick witted as she is with her feet and grabs two hot dogs, tossing them so the two big dogs loose down the street see – and block Celia.  But her next toss lands in Celia’s oversized bag and the dogs are worked up.  She won’t drop the bag and they won’t let go.  And with a couple of hot dogs, Fortune earns the enmity of the possible future mayor!!!!!!

Then Deputy Breaux grabs Fortune and drags her into the police station for some very odd questions.  Carter just called in.  He was being shot at, but Breaux had no boat and had to wait on one.  Fortune didn’t have that problem.  She, Gertie, and Ida Belle just ‘borrowed’ one (Walter’s of course) and sped out to the island where she and Carter had dinner the night before.  His boat is sunk and no sign of a body, but Fortune dives into the water to save him, if he’s there.  She does and Carter, who has been shot, lands in the hospital with short term amnesia about what happened between their date Saturday night and being shot.

The story then is two prong, about Celia and the election, which takes a back seat to Carter’s problem … especially when someone sneaks in wearing a ski mask trying to reach his room with a needle full of a deadly drug.  One only used in hospitals.  But Fortune has more HUGE problems.  She knows one of the ATF agents, but luckily he didn’t recognize her as the CIA assassin he’d met years ago.  Second, any check on her ID by a government agency will completely blow her cover.  Finally, Director Morrow has been injured in a suspicious accident.  Her time in Sinful might end with, but she couldn’t let Carter die, so at least it’s on her terms.

With her usual verve and style, sharp dialogue, and fun characters, Jana DeLeon creates another frothy bit of fun that doesn’t take itself too seriously.  Gator Bait is fast, funny, and a good read it gets a B- (3.8*) from me..  It’s currently $5.99 for the Kindle and Nook editions and will likely be in print soon, but given it’s short length, and the fact the Kindle price will drop in a few weeks, I’d go with the ebook here.

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Queen of hearts

In Queen of Hearts, Lady Georgina Rannoch sets sail with her mother, a famous, and oft married, stage actress, Claire Daniels, former Duchess of Rannoch, so ‘Mummy’ can get a divorce in Reno to keep German industrialist Max happy and her money flowing.  Now I must say, by page 60, I was ready to scream over ‘Mummy’ and ‘Golly’.  How many times can one character use those two words before they’re like fingernails down a blackboard?  GAH!  I soldiered on and was treated to a mediocre mystery that wasn’t mysterious and a ‘fly by’ overview of Hollywood during the early 30’s when ‘talkies’ were still new.  Obviously Darcy was there, along with incompetent maid Queenie, and a cast of characters that includes Charlie Chaplin and a loud, brash, over-bearing Hollywood producer – a Sam Goldwyn stand-in – with a ‘girlfriend’ who Claire knew when they were coming up through vaudeville, Stella.

On broad the Berengaria, a priceless ruby is stolen from an Indian princess.  Georgie helps none other than Darcy, for whom she was pining, to try and find the culprit.  While at dinner at the Captain’s table, Sam convinces Claire to let a stand-in wait the mandatory 6 weeks in Reno for the divorce while she goes to Hollywood and makes a film with him.  Naturally, the flattered Claire agrees, even though the film, the story of Phillip of Spain, Queen Mary, and Queen Elizabeth has nothing at all to do with history. They land in New York and quickly head to Nevada, and beat a hasty retreat from dusty, small town Reno to glamorous Hollywood and the Beverly Hills Hotel where Goldman has put them up in a 2 bedroom bungalow.

The scene moves to ‘Alhambra II’, the over-the-top mansion Sam is building in the foothills.  It huge, tacky, tasteless and typical of the era.  In addition to Charlie Chaplin (he has a walk on, not a real part) and a few other ‘names’, mostly she borrows real characters, changes their names, and then moves the smaller group to Alhambra for the murder.  Since Sam had ‘victim’ all but tattooed on his forehead, it’s no big shock who dies.  Actually, the whole book was shock free and kind of ordinary.  It was just barely enough to keep me reading – though ‘Mummy’ and ‘Golly’ did cause moments of wanting to inflict great violence on a harmless book.

Claire has a one night stand with Charlie Chaplin, of course.  Georgie and Darcy don’t consummate their ‘love’ – again.  Queenie is inept, quits, and comes back at the end.  The sheriff is out of central casting.  In fact, the whole  thing was a B movie in print.  Shallow, superficial, and ultimately, unsatisfying.  And I LIKE a lot of B movies!  Stuck in neutral with largely 2 dimensional characters and plot, the charm of her earlier work was notably absent, as was the ‘mystery’ part, as ‘Who Done It?” (a 1942 Abbott and Costello film, and one I LIKE!) was far to obvious.

Queen of Hearts gets a C- (2.7*) from me.  Rhys Bowen usually writes well, but this effort was lazy and lackluster at best, even for fans of the series.  Wait for a cheap paperback or get it at your library.  I bought mine from Amazon when it is now $2 cheaper than when it shipped.  Sales and ratings reflect the blah quality of the book.  My copy has moved on through Paperback Swap.

July 16, 2014

Beach Reads 4 – International Part 1A – Historical Fiction/Non-Fiction

Filed under: Favorite book,General,Historical fiction,non-fiction — toursbooks @ 2:33 pm
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Historical fiction is not what it used to be.  There were a lot of truly excellent authors writing in this genre when I grew up, now, not so much at all.  Many historicals are romance or mystery, and some are really well researched and written, but most aren’t.  But really well done true historical fiction is a glorious treat.  Well written non-fiction is just as good.  These take place in the same regions as I just covered for mystery and romantic suspense.

Asia/Southeast Asia – You cannot even think about historical fiction or even modern fiction in Asia without thinking of James Clavell.  Sho-gun is his most famous, but Tai Pan and Nobel House are just as good, though completely different.  By the way, his first book was also made into a movie …………… King Rat, a WWII prisoner of war camp drama.  Another gem is Mika Waltari’s The Wanderer, one of 2 books on Marco Polo worth a read.  The other one Gary Jennings’, The Journeyer.  And for those who love non-fiction, Jon Krakauer’s Into Thin Air about the tragic assault on My Everest.  It’s short, but great.  And who can forget M.M. Kaye’s The Far Pavilions set in India, and for non-fiction, The Peacock Throne: The Drama of Mogul India.  (By the way, M.M. Kaye wrote a number of mysteries set in India, Asia, and Africa as well.)  And for those who love the period, The Raj Quartet by Paul Scott.

Australia/New Zealand– You MUST read The Thorn Birds if you’re heading this way.

Mid-East – Naturally for anyone traveling to Greece/Turkey, Mary Renault’s books are a must, especially her 3 book series on the legend of Theseus (The King Must Die, The Bull from the Sea, The Last of the Wine) and her 4 books following the short, but dramatic life of Alexander the Great.  Non-fiction is C.W. Ceram’s Gods, Grave, and Scholars.   Separated into easy to read, discrete sections, you can learn about the excavations of Troy by amateur Heinrich Schliemann or Howard Carter’s vindicating success in the Valley of the Kings in Egypt.  Each tale is told almost like an adventure, and each is separate.  Great for beginners or people with limited, specific interests to certain periods or locations.   Ben Hur was a book by General Lew Wallace long before Charleton Heston’s great abs and legs made it an award winning movie.  (That raft scene where he rescues Jack Hawkins wearing just a loin cloth is burned my memory banks.)

Africa/North Africa – The first book I think of is The Egyptian by Mika Waltari.  It was banned in Boston (Who knows why.  They were all nuts.), but it’s a great read.  For non-fiction that’s short and painless, in addition to C.W. Ceram’s book above, read a reprint of The Discovery of the Tomb of Tutankhamen by Howard Carter himself.  (Yes, a copy sits on my keep shelf along with the Ceram book.)  Also, an easy intro to all of Egyptian historical sites is Leonard Cottrell’ s The Lost Pharaoh’s.  The Assyrian by Nicholas Guild is also recommended.  For Africa in general, Wilbur Smith’s excellent family epics and stand alone historicals  are good fiction choices.  And if you’re looking for a fun, fluffy romance, try Loretta Chase’s Mr Impossible set in 1800’s Egypt.  And for a mystery that combines historical sites and dead bodies, Janice Hamerick’s Death on Tour, or the classic Christie book, Death on the Nile.  

Ancient Greece and Rome – This overlaps heavily with the Mid-East thanks to Alexander in Greece and Julius Caesar in Rome.  The Bull Of Minos by Cottrell weaves the story of the excavations of Heraklion with the legend of Theseus that Mary Renault spun into such a brilliant book.  (Her Mask of Apollo is another book that captures a different facet of Greek life many years after the legendary Theseus.)  Once again author Leonard Cottrell tells an easy to ready story behind the non-fiction account of the Minoan civilization and what is thought to be their capital city on Crete.  A larger Minoan city has since been unearthed on Santorini, but is not nearly as well known.  C.W. Ceram does a more professional job, but Cottrell is more accessible for those with only a passing interest.  For fiction, well, there’s a HUGE number of books to choose from.  Robert Harris wrote Pompeii to great acclaim, but I found it so-so.  I’m pretty harsh on judging historical fiction.  Mika Waltari again comes through with a brilliant book of the people who settled what is now Italy long before the Romans, The Estruscan.  He also wrote The Roman.  The downside is his books are VERY hard to find and so far have NOT made it to ebook.  See if your library has a copy of any of his works.  Actual print books are very valuable.  I, Claudius by Robert Graves became one of the first BBC series that garnered a strong US following on PBS, thanks to the sex and nudity.  Ah, those Romans were a randy bunch!  Seriously, any good book on ancient Rome, from Thomas Costain’s The Silver Chalice to Kate Quinn, to Ursula K LeGuin, to Conn Iggulden, give it a shot.

I would also highly recommend Edith Hamilton’s books on Greek and Roman Mythology: Timeless Tales of Gods and Heroes, and her non-fiction The Roman Way and The Greek Way.  If you are touring any of the ancient sites in either country, this helps a lot to understand and enjoy what you’re seeing.  Looking at the excavated graves of Mycenae that Schliemann thought to be those of Agamemnon and Clytemnestra, is a lot more meaningful having read Ceram’s and Hamilton’s books.

July 13, 2014

Beach Reads 3 – International Favorites Part 1

Filed under: Favorite book,General — toursbooks @ 3:47 pm
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Time to cruise the world looking for some fun, well written books set outside the US.  Now try and keep in mind, I’m only selecting books/authors that I’ve read, and hopefully still available, but there are many more out there.  You know, I started this thinking I could do the world in a single sweep, and I was doing pretty well …………….. until I hit Europe.  I’m breaking this into two parts, maybe 3, because Europe will have that many books and in far more genres than what’s here.

Asia/Southeast Asia – Number one on this list is ex-pat British author Colin Cotterill with his surprising Dr Siri series set in Laos in the 1970.  Just trust me on this one.  It sounds like a bummer, but his characters are so well developed you want to meet them for drinks at Raffles in the Long Bar.  You cannot talk Asia/Southeast Asia without talking about the best assassin series, Barry Eisler’s John Rain books based initially in Japan.  Not the OTT stuff of James Bond, but so rich in detail it’s like being there.  To be honest, it’s almost impossible for any author to measure up to the these two, despite the fact they could not be more different in their style or characters.  John Burdett and Timothy Halliman do very different series set in Thailand.  Shamini Flint sets her Inspector Singh books all over SE Asia, but the good inspector is based in Singapore.  Laura Joh Rowland does the well researched historical Sano Ichiro books set in the Edo period of Japan.  James Melville wrote the wonderful Inspector Otani series set in modern Japan, and naturally, there is the classic mysteries written before WWII featuring Mr Moto by John P. Marquand.  Judge Dee books, read long ago by me, are also historical and written Robert van Gulik based on a real historical character.  Written in the ’40’s to 60’s when books were a lot shorter than today.  For Romantic suspense, try Anne Stuart’s Ice Blue and her Fire and Ice.  Both have deep Japanese connections and are excellent romantic suspense type reads.

Australia/New Zealand– There are quite a few Australian mystery authors, mostly ones I’ve never read, but the Inspector ‘Boney’ (also ‘Bony’) Bonaparte books by Arthur Upfield remain in print featuring the half aboriginal detective.  Given the deep prejudice that existed against aboriginals at the time he was writing, they are remarkable books and he wrote them for nearly 40 years, starting back in the late 20’s and ending in the 60’s.  For fans of classic mysteries, this series, like Judge Dee, are a MUST READ.  Republished now and then.  Another book set largely in Australia is romantic suspense author Ann Maxwell’s (AKA Elizabeth Lowell) The Diamond Tiger.  One of her best books and it features a LOT of research on how the diamond market worked before the huge Canadian find broke the stranglehold of the cartel that stood for over a hundred years and still controls the majority of the diamond market today.

Mid-East – Well, more a hot bed of spies, intrigue, and assassins rather than mystery, there are still a surprising number to choose from.  John Land’s Ben Kamal, Johnathan Kellerman’s Daniel Sharavi, Batya Gur’s Michael Ohayon, and Matt Beynon Rees’ Omar Yussef Sihran.  The most famous author is obviously spy novelist Daniel Silva with his Mossad assassin Gabriel Allon series, but they actually take place all over the world, though largely in Europe.  In Turkey you have Jason Goodwin’s Yashim Togalu series that started with the best selling book, The Janissary Tree.   For classic mystery readers, Eric Ambler’s The Mask of Dimitrios (also sold as A Coffin for Dimitrios).  This was the book, written way back in 1939, that hooked me on foreign mysteries.  Like his more lighthearted caper book, Topkapi (The Light of Day in print), it too became a movie.

Africa/North Africa – Well, this is a lot of territory to cover, so I’ll just hand pick a few.  In South Africa, newspaperman turned author James McClure wrote the Tromp Kramer police detective books that accurately depicts the racist environment of the period.  If you can’t deal with it, skip the series.  Malla Nunn has won awards for her Emmanuel Cooper series.  Botswana is home to Mme Precious Ramotswe, not my favorite at all, but very popular.  Paul Doherty (real name Anna Apostolou) sets a number of series here in ancient Egypt.  Elizabeth Peters (Barbara Mertz) has her popular archaeology, amateur sleuth Amelia Peabody books set in the Egypt of the 1880’s to early 20th century.  The early ones are the best, especially when precocious son Ramses is young.  Peters is a trained archaeologist, so her details are both accurate and enhance her stories.

Ancient Greece and Rome – There are three or 4 key authors here that need to be separated from all the modern authors.  First is Gary Corby, fairly new to the mystery scene, he sets his books in the Golden Age of Pericles in Greece.  Steven Saylor hits best seller lists with what I consider a somewhat uneven series featuring Gordianus the Finder.  Again, Paul Doherty does several series and stand alone Roman mysteries.  But of all the writers in various periods of Ancient Rome and Greece, two stand out for mysteries, Lindsey Davis with her Falco books and John Maddox Roberts with his SPRQ series.  They are just the best of breed and highly recommended.  Both authors are very historically accurate.

 

 

April 25, 2014

Meandering Around the Past and a Look Ahead

So I’m sitting here listening to Julia Migenes sing Habanera in the movie version of Carmen (Placido Domingo played Jose, and may I just say he was a handsome devil who is, even now, a good looking guy) and thinking my tastes in music are almost a bi-polar as my taste in books.  I’m not much better about movies, except for one universal truth, I try and avoid horror and the ‘deep’ stuff.  Oddly enough, I do like Shakespeare, but I’d rather break a leg than endure Death of a Salesman or Brothers Karamazov.  And forget about Ingmar Bergman, I’d really rather watch Some Like It Hot or The Magnificent Seven.

So what does all this have to do with books?  Well, books get made into movies ………… OK, SOME books get made into movie, others just lend their title to some dreadful claptrap that bears little or no resemblance to the source material – like Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan series and (shudder) what was done to One Shot by Lee Child so Tom Cruise could play 6’5″ blond, blue-eyed Jack Reacher.  Oh, just kill me now.  And occasionally, current events echo the past in an eerie fashion.  The death of 13 Sherpas on Mt Everest made me think of Jon Krakauer’s Into Thin Air, a great book about his own tragic experience on Everest.  Short, and much criticized by others on the mountain at the time, it reads as compellingly as great fiction.  Apollo 13, a movie that was based on another real life event was also so well done, viewers were tensely waiting to see what would happen, despite knowing the ending.  In both cases, the story was history, yet we become so involved in the telling, it’s as if it were all fresh.  And that is the gift of the best non-fiction.  Not just facts, telling an enthralling story.

My mother was a history teacher and so was her best friend.  They taught in neighboring towns and both taught primarily American history II – Reconstruction to modern times.  And both would teach summer classes, sometimes extra credit ones for smaller topics.  I was driving them both to school one summer morning (so I could have the car, of course) and Anita says to Mom, “Yesterday I was talking about WWI and really selling the whole story to this one kid who just looked bored and I noticed the guys that were supposed to be painting the windows were just sitting there listening to me.  I never knew I was such a ham!”  Mom laughed and said, “The best history teachers are all hams!”

I probably heard Mom say, “How can anyone find history boring?  It’s OUR story?  It’s great!”, a hundred times, and she really meant it.  And if you get a good teacher, it is.  Unfortunately, really good teachers are rare, especially ones that want you to love their subject as much as they do.  Well, good movies and good books – memorable ones that stand the test of time – are pretty rare too.   I’ve seen Macbeth many times, everything from college productions to the Royal Shakespeare Theater.  I still like it.  The first movies I bought for my dad when I got him a VHS player (remember those?) were Some Like It Hot, She Wore a Yellow Ribbon, African Queen, and Casablanca.  If I had to pick the best movie ever, yeah, Casablanca.  No fancy sets – in fact, they’re kind of cheesy.  No great special effects.  Actually, other than squibs for guns, none at all.  But a cast, story, dialogue, direction, and acting to remember.  It also makes me realize what crappy movies they make these days.

So I got to thinking about the best books I ever read and realized that the list changes over time.  Not just because something new is better, but because, in retrospect, the book I thought was so great did not hold up over time.  So from time to time, we need to revisit our lists, and update them – and actually reread the books we on our lists.  One example is Plum Island by Nelson DeMille, a book I thought terrific.  I got a copy for my brother about a year ago, and he was ‘Meh, it was ok.’  Now he and I usually have very similar tastes in the mystery/thriller genre (Except he does not deal well with characters that are neither good nor bad, and the ending is ambivalent.)  So I went back and re-read the book myself.  He was right.  It was good, not great, and had not aged as well as it should.  I also re-read Sphere of Influence by Kyle Mills and realized it had held up much better over time for an action thriller.

My other problem is separating ‘the best’ from ‘my favorites’.  Favorites tend to have a lot of humor for me.  Wiseguy PI’s, humorous assassins, off-beat romance.  No, not great books and certainly not great literature, just best friends.  And ‘Favorites’ books tend to land on my bedside table.  I like a lot of books, but not many well enough to re-read them again and again over the years.  I can admire movies like All the Kings Men and Chariots of Fire, both best picture winners, but I’d rather watch Death on the Nile with Peter Ustinov or The Great Race, with Jack Lemon chewing the scenery as Professor Fate and Natalie Wood looking great in Edith Head costumes while Tony Curtis plays ever competent, sparkling white hero.  No where near the perfection of Some Like It Hot, but it does have the best pie fight ever filmed.

I figure we all pick ‘the best’ wrong now and then.  The best picture of 1941 was How Green Was My Valley.  Sounds ok, right?  It’s competition is was tough – everything from The Maltese Falcon (my favorite) to Suspicion, a Hitchcock gem.  But the real kicker?  Passed over was the film widely regarded as “The Best Movie Ever Made” – Citizen Kane.  Yeah, we really do all get it wrong.

Same is true of books.  Winning awards may, or may not mean anything.  Barry Eisler’s brilliant John Rain series won one award.  Lee Child’s Jack Reacher series has multiple nominations and awards, some deserved, some not.  Robert Crais’ Elvis Cole and Joe Pike books are almost ALL nominated and many won a whole host of awards – and they deserved it.  And some of the lame cozies that win awards just baffle me.

Great movies, great books, and great food are very personal tastes.  My brother hates wine, he’d rather have soda.  He wants simple food, not some complicated thing.  He’ll eat Cheez Whiz.  (Yes, I just flinched writing that.)  We both like dates stuffed with Skippy peanut butter and rolled in granulated sugar, something we learned to make in Kindergarten.  We also both like Jersey wieners – hot dogs steamed then fried in deep fat till the skins are crunchy (and split a bit), get slapped on fresh bun, mustard, raw onion, and smothered in a weird meat sauce that half gravy, half God knows what (and please don’t tell me!).  Heart attack on a plate.  I like good wine and really appreciate great, but not pretentious, food.  No, I would not spend a dime on ‘molecular cuisine’.  Seriously, food is a science experiment?  GAH!  I can watch a favorite movie so many times I can do the dialogue.  And I can re-read a book till the poor thing all but falls apart.

Top of my list of rereads is Agnes and the Hitman by Jennifer Cruise and Bob Mayer.  It didn’t get a great review from me the first time I read it, but it just stands up to time.  Stand By Your Hit Man by Leslie Langtry hits this list too.  Part of her Bombay Assassin series, it was also one that did not impress at first, but again, has stood up to time.  Louisiana Longshot by Jana DeLeon is another funny assassin book that has created a whole fan club for its characters as well as homepage for Sinful, Louisiana, the setting for the books.  The Rook by Daniel O’Malley is there as well.  It was great on the first read and is still great.  It has some of the BEST lines ever.

“This should be a pleasant little interview. All I have to do is put on my scary face.”
“You have a scary face?” Ingrid sounded skeptical.
“Yes,” said Myfanwy indignantly. “I have a very scary face.”
Ingrid surveyed her for a moment. “You may wish to take off the cardigan then, Rook Thomas,” she advised tactfully. “The flowers on the pocket detract somewhat from your menace.” 

Seriously, how could I not love this book?  By the way, the second book is tentatively scheduled for 2015 and the proposed title is Stiletto.  It will pick up where The Rook left off.  River Road is my most re-read of the Sentinel of New Orleans series by Suzanne Johnson.  Hounded, by Kevin Hearne makes this list too.  And for paranormal romance, The Accidental Vampire and Single White Vampire, both part of the early Argeneau books by Lynsay Sands.

The most re-read mystery?  Lullaby Town by Robert Crais.  That’s followed by Janet Evanovich’s Steph Plum books 1 to 7.  After that, meh and after 13, I barely made 1 read.  And Raymond Chandler.  Yes, I have a lot of classic mysteries and I re-read them – and realize just how much we’ve dumbed down our books.

By the way, all those books make good beach reads……….. except maybe The Rook.  That one is a bit hard to put down.

So, with spring FINALLY rearing its colorful head, we can start picking our next reads.  On order and top of my TBR when they hit the door?  Sixth Grave on the Edge by Darynda Jones, the latest in her excellent and original Charley Davidson series.  Next up will be Shattered by Kevin Hearne, his latest Iron Druid book, first hard cover, and the one where his old mentor is brought back, Arch Druid Owen Kennedy.  YEAH!  Skin Deep by Jim Butcher’s latest Harry Dresden, and Hidden by Benedict Jacka, and Alex Verus are on the list too as is a new series by Seanan McGuire, Sparrow Hill Road.  It will be August before the next Spider book is out by Jennifer Estep, Promise, Promise.  Better Homes and Hauntings by Molly Harper is due in June.

On the mystery front, a new David Housewright, The Devil May Care, and a new Craig Johnson book in his Longmire series, Any Other Name will hit my hot little hands soon.  Yeah, there’s kind of a dearth of good mysteries.

Keep reading and revisit those old favorites and see if you change your mind too!

July 5, 2013

Murder Can Be Fun

I was playing in a swap on PBS and asking various trivia and riddle questions (good thing I had the answers on the riddles, because I SUCK at riddles) when I realized I was thinking a lot about my favorite films.  Of course there are some classics like The Maltese Falcon (My question was ‘It’s ‘The stuff dreams are made of.'”) and Casablanca – cheesy sets and all, it’s a brilliant movie – possibly the best movie ever.  But I love my comedies.  AFI loves doing lists of greatest actors, movies, comedies, etc.  I often find myself disagreeing with them totally, but one I was in full agreement with, the best comedy of all time – and it opens with a gangland slaying a la the St Valentine’s Day Massacre.  The film?  Some Like It Hot starring Jack Lemon, Tony Curtis, Marilyn Monroe and a host of famous character actors from the 30’s and 40’s, like George Raft, Joe E Brown, Pat O’Brian and Nehemiah Persoff. On the run from mob hitmen, Lemon and Curtis dress in drag and join an all girls band on its way to play at a Florida resort.  The script, acting, and direction are nothing sort of brilliant.  And it comes full circle when the gangsters have a meeting at the hotel when our two musicians in drag are playing.

Then there are the deliberate over-the-top send ups of all the 30’s and 40’s mysteries based on famous fictional detectives in literature and film written my the award-winning playwright Neil Simon – Murder by Death.  It skewers The Thin Man, Sam Spade, Charlie Chan, Miss Marple, and Hercule Poirot in a broad farce that is NO match for the quality of Some Like It Hot, but is a fun thing to watch for mystery lovers.

Just as not all mystery films are serious, neither are all assassin film filled with CIA or covert ops people being serious about national security – or just killing for money, some are pretty funny.  Think Grosse Pointe Blank or REDS rather than Day of the Jackal (the original, not the awful remake).

Do I like a good laugh with action?  Yup, so here are some good beach book options …………..

Agnes and the Hitman by Jennifer Crusie and Bob Mayer – stand alone novel

This book was the second collaboration between Jennifer Cruise, a PhD, occasional college instructor, and full time writer, and Bob Mayer, a West Point graduate, former Green Beret, and military action thriller writer.  This off-beat story is a classic blend of humor, action, and mystery set in a sleepy southern town that somehow became to home to a couple of Jersey mob guys, and slightly cranky food writer named Agnes.  One of the mob guys has a nephew …………. a hit man, but for the US Government.  Well, he wants his nephew to ‘take care of his ‘little Agnes’ because she might need protection from some old mob guys.  But what about the guys that need protection from her?  Agnes has some ………….. anger management issues – and a way with heavy skillets and sharp meat forks.

The cast is large, the story complex, hitmen abound, and ending has lots of surprises.  It took me awhile to warm up to this book, but once I did, I fell in love with the quirky characters and far from traditional romance.

Getting Rid of Bradley by Jennifer Cruise – stand alone

Before she teamed with Bob Mayer, Jennifer Cruise wrote what I always thought of as one of her best books, Getting Rid of Bradley.  Like most of her books, except the two she did with Mayer, its short.  And unlike her other books, this one had a mystery woven into the plot.  A case of mistaken identity has the heroine hitting the cop (a plain clothes detective) with a bag filled with high school physics books (she’s a teacher who just had her divorce to Bradley finalized.) when he grabs her in an alley when someone shoots at her.  She thinks he has a demented hero complex.  He thinks she’s nuts.  It’s a short, breezy, fun read perfect for the beach and available in ebook, though print can be hard to find.

The Bombay Assassins Series by Leslie Langtry

Here is a series that kind of defines quirk.  I mean, how many times do assassins try and put together a marketing plan in PowerPoint to get more government jobs because freelancers are undercutting your costs?  Starting with ‘Scuse Me While I Kill This Guy, where an average, car-pooling suburban mom has a contact on a guy guarded by the really hot guy she wants to get to know.  But my favorite is Standby By Your Hitman which has reclusive inventor Missy Bombay shipped off to a cheap Canadian knock-off of Survivor to kill an international arms dealer masquerading as a contestant.  Problem is, the guy she’s given doesn’t seem like a bad guy, and there’s this bartender that really interests her – a LOT, and her twin sons show up and tell her they aren’t sure the ‘vic’ really should be the vic!  Some of the scenes have me laughing hysterically even when I reread the book.  Guns Will Keep Us Together is another good one.

Unfortunately, Dorchester was the publisher of these books, so the Bombay series is mostly out of print, but they are available as Kindle ebooks and and are good beach reads.

Miss Fortune Series by Jana DeLeon

Another refugee from defunct Dorchester us Jana DeLeon who has written a character I fell in love with – ‘Fortune’ Redding, a CIA assassin.  She kills the brother of an arms dealer using the heel of her Prada Shoe and ends up with a huge bounty on her head.  Her boss is convinced there’s a leak in his office that blew her cover, so she shipped off to Sinful, LA as her boss’s niece – a librarian and former beauty queen.  Talk about not fitting the role.

Louisiana Longshot starts the story, but my favorite line is in book 2, Lethal Bayou Beauty, when her former partner Harrison is yelling at her for killing two people (one with a knitting needle!), “Jesus H. Christ!  You’d be less conspicuous as a Wiccan Hooker in Salt Lake City!”  Funny and a good plot to boot.

The John Ceepak Series by Chris Grabenstien

This series feature ultra-straight-arrow and former MP John Ceepak as the new detective on the force of a fictional New Jersey beach town.  Grabenstien was a comic, so his writing has a light hand that he deftly mixes with some very dark plots.  Each title is named for various amusement rides, like Tilt-a-Whirl, Rolling Thunder, and Fun House.  He captures the Jersey boardwalk perfectly and anyone (like me) who has spent time in various NJ beach towns will feel right at home.  The series is kind of hard to come by and it does help to read them in order, but each is a stand-alone and told from the perspective of Ceepak’s ‘partner’, a young local Ceepak has taken under his wing, Danny Boyle.

These are great beach reads and good, if light, mysteries.  Like most series, some hold up better than others, but anyone who associates the shore (in Jersey, we go ‘down the shore’) with carousels, taffy shops, hot dogs, roller coasters and boardwalks lined with food stands and trinket shops will be happy to get lost in these fun mysteries.

Never published in mmpb, they can be bought used on Half.com and other book sites and ebooks are available.

If you want to watch a good movie with a great script, wonderful directing, and some fun acting, see Some Like it Hot.  Then enjoy the lowbrow comedy with Jack Lemon chewing the scenery as Professor Fate, Peter Falk as his henchman Max, both playing the dark foil to Tony Curtis’s The Great Leslie in The Great Race, loosely (very, very loosely) based on the real New York to Paris car race of 1908.  It features not only Edith Head costumes on the comely Natalie Wood, but the best pie fight ever filmed.

Now go and enjoy your summer.  It’s all about FUN!

June 26, 2013

Murder, Mayhem, and Magic – Sad Goodbyes, and Sneak Peeks of To Be Released

Death really does come as the end, to paraphrase Dame Agatha Christie.  For some it comes too soon.  As anyone who reads my blog knows, Vince Flynn is one action thriller author I read.  Even when his books got average, he remained as solid choice for CIA assassin reads.  At the age of 47, Vince Flynn died June 19th from prostate cancer.  He was open about his 3 year battle with the disease, so it was not a shock to his fans.  I had hoped he would be one of the lucky ones and beat the odds.  He has two releases scheduled for this year, his latest Mitch Rapp book and a collaboration with Brian Haig (which I have on pre-order).  If they both go to press, they might well be his last, though I expect another author will continue his Mitch Rapp series.  I shall miss all the stories Vince Flynn had yet to tell.

vinceflynn

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New releases mean the most recent chapter in favorite series, a whole new series by a favorite author, or maybe a new author or two.  The first Tuesday of every month is usually the big release day.  June is about an average month for me.  You get a decent number of cozies (most of which I ignore), some traditional mysteries (YEAH!), the annual glut of ‘beach reads’ – AKA ‘Women’s Fiction (a genre I avoid), the usual crop of historical romance (read one, read most), and a wide range of science fiction and fantasy (a favorite).  So, here are some reviews.

Death Taxes and Hot Pink

The fifth book in the Tara Holloway series, Death, Taxes, and Hot Pink Leg Warmers, brings a few changes and resolves some personal relationships from the earlier books – and puts, Tara, Nick – the hunky co-worker she taking for a test drive for a relationship, Tara’s friend Christie, the DEA agent she became friends with in book one, Death Taxes and a French Manicure.

In Death, Taxes, and Peach Sangria, Brett Ellison and Tara decided their relationship needed a breather so they both had a chance to explore the feeling they’d had each developed for other people.  It was a lot more mature than Stephanie Plum’s bouncing between Ranger and Morelli.  They would meet in a month.  The only ground rule, no sex with the other person during the month.  Nick and Tara were finding that hard, but managing.  I liked the way Ms Kelly handled this whole thing.

The ‘Lobo’ is back at work running the IRS Enforcement office and Nick and Tara go under cover with Christine and another DEA agent at a ‘Gentleman’s Club’, thanks to inside information from one of the ‘girls’.  But Lu also wants Tara to go to workout with her at the health club so she can lose the weight she packed on after her cancer surgery, chemo, and quitting smoking.  At the same time Tara and her old partner Eddie and handling a case with local prosecutor on a mortgage/builder scam four men were running for years – and not paying taxes on any of it.

And that’s the problem with the book.  It has so many different plots running concurrently it gets a bit fuzzy.  It lacks a clear focus and the building tension of solving the crime.  This fault was compounded by a piece of stupid by Tara at the very end.

Death, Taxes, and Hot Pink Leg Warmers was good, but not on the same level as the earlier books in this series, a series I happen to really like.  The best I can do here is a  B- (3.7*).  If you can get it cheap or through a book swap site, read it, but it’s not one you need to run out and buy.  I bought this book on Amazon for $7.19

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the-heist-cover

OK, call me a sucker, but I had to try this novel.  Intended as a first in a series, Janet Evanovich has gone the route of Clive Cussler and James Patterson and teamed with another writer for this first ‘caper’ style story in what is intended to be a series.  Now caper stories have had some excellent practitioners over the years – notably Ross Thomas, Donald E Westlake, even the redoubtable John Sanford writing under his real name of John Camp did this style with his Kipp books.  When you say ‘caper’ books, most people immediately think of things like Ocean’s 11 or How to Steal a Million, two movies that are examples of how capers run.  Caper novels being basically con jobs – and like any good con, even the reader should not see the final plot twist.  In the hands of the masters, like Thomas and Westlake, they move at a breakneck pace and have more twists than a pretzel factory and the ending is usually brilliant and completely unexpected.  In the hands of Evanovich and Goldberg, it runs predictably and at half speed, lacking much of the punch of a Thomas or Westlake book, but it remains an enjoyable and fast read – and one of the best things she’s done for some time now – which is kind of damming with faint praise.

The basic plot of straight out of the TV series White Collar with the female lead taken from Castle and stuck playing the Peter Burke role.  Seriously, you have tough, no nonsense, FBI agent Kate O’Hare rather than an NYC detective ‘Kate Beckett’, and a ‘Neal Caffery’  clone name Nick Fox.  Really.  O’Hare and Fox.  SIGH!  Yes, you even have the sexual tension between the tough cop ……. ummmm ……. FBI agent and the con man ……… wait, yes, Kate Beckett does Neal Caffery.  Damn.

Now, before Evanovich fans start sharpening their knives and light the torches, I would like to say I actually LIKE White Collar and Castle.  What I don’t like is the feeling of a wholesale rip-off of characters for this book.  That’s just insulting.  The bad part is, it will most likely be popular too.

Kate has been after Nick Fox for ages and finally has him, too bad the man is shrewd as well as slick.  He gets out on bail, flees to Mt Athos on Greece (no women allowed) and hides out as a ‘priest’ supposedly studying the culture of the Mt Athos monastic life unchanged since Byzantine times.   Kate is a former SEAL (REALLY????  The authors even apologize for this egregious breach of credibility by saying ‘there should be female SEALs’) and her dad Jake a former Sec Ops Marine.  They team up and get to Greece so she can take a highly illegal flight over Athos and parachute in to drag Nick out.  But it isn’t just Nick waiting in the hut, it’s her boss AND a Deputy Director of the FBI.  She and Nick are about to be partners in some highly illegal plans to get fugitives back to the US.  Their first target, a investment banker who ran off with $500 million in his clients money.  (Piker.  Even Michael Milken did better than that with junk bonds in the ’80’s!)

And the con is on.  Because they have to get the man’s location from his high power attorney – a former prosecutor turned defense lawyer.  Then it’s off to Indonesia with Kate posing as an heiress who is about to be stranded off just the right island to get their man.

All in all, tension is minimal, the con is actually pretty straight forward, action is blah and the characters 2 dimensional.  A fast easy read that was mildly entertaining, but actually not as well done as the plots in White Collar.  Evanovich needed a more experienced hand in the genre than Goldberg’s, one that could create the kind depth and complexity this book begged for.

The Heist with lightweight, pleasant, fluff that barely makes a C (3*) grade despite the reviews on Amazon.  If you want to read a funny caper novel, try The Gunseller by Hugh Laurie or any of the Ross Thomas books (even if they are a bit dated) – The Seersucker Whipsaw, Briarpatch, The Money Harvest, even his last caper book – and far from his best, Ah, Treachery!  These are not series books, so read his caper novels in any order.  There are 13 all together apart from the three series he also wrote.  Or try one of the Dortmunder books by Donald E Westlake.

I bought The Heist for about $15.50 from Books-a-Million.  It wasn’t worth it.  If you’re a HUGE Evanovich fan, get it from the library or buy the paperback.  It’s about 3 hours of mindless entertainment with some laughs and no real tension or surprises and less originality than the TV shows it so shamelessly copies.  It’s worth maybe $5 tops.

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mayhem-at-orient-express

Mayhem at the Orient Express is a first book by Kylie Logan.  Set on an island in the Great Lakes, the story centers around a group of 3 female neighbors with petty grievances that have driven the local magistrate to distraction.  To help his librarian wife keep the grant money that runs the town library, he sentences the women to a book club.  The one enthusiastic member is a local widow and fishing charter captain.  Chandra Morrisey is a new age, aging hippie, with a cat that pees in Bea Cartwright’s brand new B&B’s flower beds.  She traded Manhattan for an isolated island, so Bea isn’t about to let some cranky locals spoil her plans, not when she already has her first guest.  Kate Wilder is a no nonsense winery owner who opposed the B&B wanting the land it sat on for a small park.  Only Luella Zak, the local fishing boat operator was at the meeting willingly.  As a first book, the unwilling group agreed to read Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie – not knowing an April snowstorm would find them kind of reliving it.  First they had to escape the ‘discussion group’ and all 4 women ended up at the new Chinese restaurant, Orient Express, for Peter Chan’s orange chicken.  Only problem is, Peter is dead, stabbed with his own knife.  The police finally let them go and the skid home to their respective houses.

When Bea renovated the old Victorian (a work still in progress), she installed a back-up generator.  She was about to bless that piece of foresight.  Out of nowhere, a huge April blizzard moved in cutting power to many places – including the homes of her annoying neighbors who end up seeking refuge at the B&B.  So Bea has all her bedrooms full to overflowing with guests and residents without heat or light – including the sheriff – Chandra’s ex-husband – and his handsome deputy.  Thank heavens Meg, the young woman she hired to bake for her, was one of the ones she took in, because Bea wasn’t much of a cook.

The one thing the 3 squabbling neighbors and the friendly and down to earth Lu have in common besides a love for Peter’s orange chicken is a tendency to be curious.  Like search the rooms of her off-island guests curious.  The best part of the book is watching these very different women slowly find a way to get along and work together and sort of like each other.  Yes, many elements are a rip off of Christie’s book, but more like a homage and it does work, especially in light of the late season storms we saw in the area this year adding to the credibility.

Who did the killing is actually obvious, the whys were not, and the solution not as unique as Christie’s.  Like most first books, a lot of time was spent developing the backstory behind various characters, especially Bea, who remains deliberately vague in her history.  The mystery is OK, but watching the women was the real entertainment.

Mayhem at the Orient Express gets a B- (3.7*) from me and a suggested read for lovers of classic style cozies.  Purchased online for $7.19

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SNEAK PREVIEWS: Two Urban Fantasy Novels

Elysian Fields

Elysian Fields, the third book of the Sentinel’s of New Orleans series, is due out in August and I got an ARC of the ebook.  YIPEE!!!!!!!!  Kudos to author Suzanne Johnson.  She does some expected and unexpected things with her characters and really puts her young wizardress, DJ (or Drusilla to Jean Lafitte and her grandmother), thru a lot.  This is the best new UF series since Kevin Hearne’s Iron Druid books hit the shelves 2 years ago.  More importantly, this series is one of the few that made the jump to my keeper shelf.

Starting just a few weeks after the end of River Road, the plot runs at a breakneck pace from the opening chapter with an investigation into a serial killer.  DJ’s problems with the elves are a lot more serious than the Elders realize.  There’s an old ax murderer on the loose, possible called up by a necromancer, and DJ is on his list, and the vampires have alliances and whole other game going on – one that could end with another Wizard War.

I won’t give a full review here, but buy this if you can, or make sure your library does.  Even though I read the ARC I left my order for the book in place.  I want a print copy for my shelf.  I know changes can happen between ARC’s and final print, but usually nothing major, especially thing close to the release date.  Elysian Fields will likely get a B+ (4.3*) and is a highly recommended series from me for fans of the Iron Druid, Grave Witch, and Elemental Assassin series.

Free ebook ARC

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Heart-of-Venom-625x1024

YES!  Your favorite assassin is back with a special tale to tell – one that centers around not Gin Blanco, but her closest friends Sophia and Jojo, the dwarf sisters that have been family to her since Fletcher Lane took her in after Mab Malone killed her family.  What was supposed to be a ‘girls day’ at Jojo’s spa turns bloody, with Sophia kidnapped, Jojo shot and Gin unable to intervene without getting them all killed, even her sister Brie.  First she has to get to a healer to save Jojo, then she has a sadistic half dwarf/half giant and his even more sadistic sister to hunt down.

Owen is back, struggling to make amends for his behavior after realizing Gin had no choices in what she did to his ex-fiancee.  Gin isn’t falling over herself to get him back, cautious of the hurt he caused her before.  She is what she is, and if he can’t live with that, she might always miss him, but she isn’t taking any crap or making any apologies about her life.  That is a strength I do like to see.  And with the focus on Sophia and Jojo, and the flashbacks to when Gin was just training with Fletcher Lane, makes for an all around good read.

After several very formulaic books, Heart of Venom was a welcome shift to the history of the dwarf sisters who have played such a big role in Gin’s life.  It has an interesting ending too, with the promise of a new underworld figure, Mab Malone’s heir.  My grade is B- (3.8*) and a must for Elemental Assassin fans and recommended read to those who read f UF in general.

Free ebook ARC

March 4, 2013

Urban Fantasy Week

Why is it that many Urban Fantasy (UF) books are released around the same time?  Maybe it’s just the series I read run in bunches.  Anyway, this seemed like my week for UF.  Some good, some WTF moments, and some leaving me wanting more.

Maybe I should take a moment and explain just what good urban fantasy (UF) is – and isn’t.  Look it up in Wikipedia and it will tell you it’s ‘define by place’, namely an urban setting.  To me, it’s a little broader than that, but yeah, setting come into play.  Jim Butcher’s Harry Dresden series is usually considered a perfect example of UF, yet he uses true fantasy worlds in addition to urban setting through his series.  Usually the territory of science fiction writers, and occasionally cross-over mystery writers, the surge in women readers has lead to a kind of subset to the typically noir UF.  It’s romance writers and lighter fantasy writers that are now pushing the sales in UF.  And that translates into a style that is less Lawrence Block’s Matt Scudder and more Tess Gerritsen’s Rizzoli & Isles – and maybe a bit of Janet Evanovich’s Steph Plum thrown in.  Tough women, but female leads and with a more romance, or at least emotional turmoil – and often using the two guy choice plot device – tiresome, but frequent.

So I have 3 UF’s and a paranormal romance for you this week.

Black City

Black City by Christina Henry is the the fifth book in the Black Wings series with lead character Madeline Black, former Agent of Death, escort of the newly departed to the doors that lead to the afterlife.  She is also many time great-granddaughter of Lucifer, widow of Gabriel, mother-to-be, and budding slayer of evil.  She’s high on the hit list of Tatiana, Queen of the Fairies, because she publicly diminished Oberon her king.  She also in the Agency’s hit list, even though they stripped her of her wings, because she’s causing havoc.  And what Maddy is turning into has her guardian gargoyle concerned she’s headed for ‘the darkside’ of her power.

Maddy destroyed Azazel, her father, and thought she destroyed his experiments, vampires that had been given the blood of angels so they could walk in the sun.  But suddenly thousands of vamps storm into Chicago in broad daylight laying waste to the human population in downtown.  The Agency refuses to intercede, they only escort the spirits of the dead, they won’t stop the slaughter even though they have the means.  Maddy does all she can, but it’s not enough.  Then Therion, King of the Vampires offers the humans a deal, he’ll call off the killing if they hand over Maddy Black.

Now Maddy has another enemy to run from, all the damn bounty hunters out to get her.  And all the while dealing with her ever cunning grandfather Lucifer and the capricious Puck.  In getting through yet another attempt by Tatiana to kill her, by capturing J.B. her former boss, a Fairy king and someone who loves her, she also reveals to Tatiana’s son his true father – the same father that Nathaniel has.  And discovers how and why Lucifer has been a ‘naughty, naughty boy.’  And the price he extracts from Maddy for his aid.

For a fairly short book, Christina Henry packs in a lot of story, mostly about how ambiguous good and evil, right and wrong, can be, while continuing to grow Maddy’s powers.  Entertaining to be sure, with a huge cast of characters, but lacking the power, depth, and detail of really great UF.

Black City was purchased from Amazon for $6.00 with the 4-for-3 discount.  My score is B- (3.8*) and recommended for fans of the series.  Since all books in this series are short, try buying them used or borrow them.  A good series, fast, easy reads, and entertaining without the kind of rich complexity that Jim Butcher or other UF authors have.  It is, however, sufficiently original and well dome to worth the time and effort to find and read the whole series.  Books should be read in order as each ends with a ‘cliffhanger’.  Fans of Kitty Norville and Cassie Palmer will enjoy this one.

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Dead Letter Day

Next up is Dead Letter Day by Eileen Rendahl, which unlike the earlier books in the Messenger series, was released in the more reasonably priced MMPB size.  Good thing too, because this was a strange read.  It isn’t often you read a UF book that leaves you wondering if there will be recipes in the back, like many cozies have.

Paul, the boyfriend of Melina’s friend, Meredith, and kind of the cool ‘uncle’ she never had who helped her get used to the whole world of Arcanes for she was a messenger, has gone missing.  Meredith is beside herself with worry and even Mel is concerned.  Concerned enough she approaches the pack Alpha, Chuck, to ask if he knew anything.  Werewolves were not generally a friendly bunch, but she Chuck got along.  Like many Arcanes, he was very long lived, so that meant moving himself and his pack to a new location every 10-20 years.  They were coming due for that move.  Paul was important, but whether he would move or stay with Meredith, remained a question.  Beyond that, Chuck was worried – especially about the strange reports of werewolves in a kind of half shift that real werewolves never had.  They had been seen by ‘Danes, mundanes being the word used for those with no arcane ability.

Mel’s boyfriend, Ted Goodnight, is a cop in the Sacramento police department and being the good guy he is, he helps Mel question the people who reported the sightings.  No question, something very strange was out there and it had bitten a cop who was now in a psych ward obviously half infected.  Mel ends up back with Chuck telling him the not so good news, because the werewolves would to get the guy out before the next full moon, just in case.  In investigating Paul’s cabin with a helpful werewolf, she finds a strange silver web mounted between two sicks set like trap in the word behind his house.  No one knows what the hell it is or who could have made it – though it was obviously meant to hurt or disable a werewolf.

Now all this sounds good, except through it all, is woven a major plot line involving Mel being pregnant and mother/daughter relationships, and the meaning of family – the whole teary eyed thing.  Even the solution is all about mother and children -in a twisted, disturbed way.  Honestly, at times the whole feel of the book was not UF, but paranormal cozy.  And one more family meal and I would have been screaming.  Half way through I was pretty fed up and to be honest, the plot involving the missing Paul and who was involved was obvious.

Dead Letter Day was kind of tedious and dull after a decent start.  The whole storyline felt less like it was evolving characters and plots than it was changing tracks altogether, and not in any good way.  This was never a strong series, but this entry was weak and very predictable.

My grade for Dead Letter Day is C- (2.8*) and not recommended for anyone but die hard fans.  I paid $6.01 in the Amazon 4-for-3 pre-order pricing and I consider it a waste of money.  If you must, try for used copy or borrow it from a friend.  This series might just have a fork stuck in it – it’s toast.

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River Road

From the bad to really good with the second installment of the Sentinels Of New Orleans, River Road, by new author Suzanne Johnson.  Her mature and well developed writing style is no doubt the result of her long background in editing and publishing periodicals.  But what I like the best is her characters.  Book 1, Royal Street, introduced Drusilla Jaco, DJ, a wizard of the Green Congress with some elven blood – and the daughter of a man she always thought her mentor, not her father, Gerry.  With his death in the final battle in the Beyond, DJ became the only wizard Sentinel in New Orleans.  It was a big job made bigger by the fact that Katrina, Rita and Gerry had combined to tear down many of the boundaries between this world and the Beyond.

Book two picks up the story three years later.  New Orleans is recovering, but still has vast areas of nothing but ruins.  And lot of trouble with things that are crossing the Boundary – and one of them is the charming and handsome pirate, Jean Lafitte.  DJ owes him big time, having promised almost anything for help during the Katrina crisis, and now he’s called her.  With some dread, DJ goes to Lafitte’s suite at the Monteleone hotel and learns he needs her Sentimental skills to resolve a problem between mer-clans in Plaquemines Parish.  He is in business with the Delachaise clan who are having trouble with another merclan who just came into the area.  Like the Delachaises, the Villiers have no love of wizards, but someone or something is poisoning the water and before a clan war starts, someone has to figure out what’s going on – and that someone is DJ.  He also wants to cash in on her extravagant promises – Jean Lafitte wants a dinner date with her.  Now all she has to do is tell her co-sentinel, FBI agent and shifter, Alex Warin.

DJ and Alex have kept a professional distance for the last 3 years.  Not only is he co-sentinel, he makes more money and isn’t even a wizard, two facts that chafe DJ no end.  And there’s the little fact that he and Lafitte get on like oil and water – and they can’t even kill each other.  What Ms Johnson delightfully refers to as a ‘homicidal stand-off’.

The visit to Plaquemines includes a stolen Corvette (Lafitte’s work, of course), a tense and difficult meeting with the heads of the two clans over lunch – mers apparently have prodigious appetites for seafood – and an excursion to the area with the contaminated water – where Villiers is waiting with a shotgun and a very dead body.  Now DJ has angry mer clans giving her just days to figure out what’s going on with the water, she also has two dead Green Congress wizards, both killed with knives.  And a date with a pirate.  And one with Alex’s cousin Jake, a Afghan war vet who got caught in the battle in Beyond and turned loupe garou – a notoriously unstable type of werewolf, who’s taking her to dinner and the a performance by a famous Cajun musician.  Oh, and a date with Alex where she has to pretend to have been his girlfriend for the last 3 years – and she has to meet his formidable mother.  Life was easier when she had no social life.

It gets more complicated when DJ performs a ritual that would be frowned on to get the water problem solved.  And it gets even worse when the boss for the North American wizards shows up and rather hesitantly informs her the elves know she has a staff, the one she named ‘Charlie’, made by their elders – and it isn’t some ordinary staff.  But it has ‘chosen’ her and can only be used by her, at least as long as she lives.  Isn’t that just dandy news?

Ms Johnson weaves her tale with a sure hand, and despite a few minor flaws, this story was so readable I could not put it down.  In fact, I went back re-read the book, not something I do often.  Her humor, characters, atmosphere, world building, and plot combine to make a highly recommended read.  Besides, I think I have a crush on Jean Lafitte.

River Road gets a rare A- (4.5*) from me.  As a series, Sentinels of New Orleans gets a strong recommended read for any UF fan, especially those who liked early Sookie Stackhouse and Harry Dresden.  I bought the book through an Amazon re-seller as new for $10.00 for the hardcover.  Trade paperback will be published June 25 and is currently discount priced at $10.19.  My copy is destined for my keeper shelf, next to Jim Butcher’s books.

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Immortal Ever AFter

Well, from one extreme to another – the next book is Immortal Ever After, #18 in the Argeneau Vampire series by Lynsay Sands.  What can said about this book?  Really good beginning. ………… hummm……… OK that’s about it.  Thereafter, the operative word is ‘trite’, maybe ‘boring’.  Yes people, he suddenly tastes food and likes it a lot!  A rogue is out to get her back.  She thinks vamps aren’t real.  Can he convince her they’re ‘lifemates’?  If it all sounds familiar, it should.  Different villain  same story.

That’s it.  As boring as most Regency romances, and filled with past characters who make brief appearances, mostly for no apparent reason other than the author wanted them there.  A plot as predictable as sunrise and characters that lacked, well, character.

OK, before the Argeneau vampire lovers come and try to stake, allow me to say that I re-read Single White Vampire just before I read  Immortal Ever After.    No comparison.   Yes, there are some highly contrived plot elements in SWV, but it’s the characters that stand out.  Valerie and Anders are just variations on her past 3 books.  Valerie had a lot of potential, but frankly, 10 years in a relationship and never getting a commitment?  Seriously, what sane woman would do that?  Especially an educated and apparently independent woman she is portrayed as?  Anders just is not a strong character.  he rather bland.  That true of far too many of Ms Sands males lead.  Lucern, Lucian, and Victor stood out the most for me.   The Accidental Vampire was fluff but fun and really lively and entertaining.

Valerie is captured and held in a tiny cage in the basement of an old house.  Six other women are there as well.  Once a day food is given them.  After the first week she realizes the food is drugged and dumps it rather than eat it.  Then her day to be ‘chose’ rolls around and plays drugged until she can attack the henchman she nickname Igor.  Despite years of martial arts training, it isn’t til she drives a broken piece of wood into his heart that she can escape.  She calls 911 for help and leaves the line open when she hears the ‘master’ drive into the garage.  Weak from blood loss and lack of food, she climbs out the window and manages to crawl to a bush.  That’s where Anders finds her.

Enforcers monitor police calls and immediately went to house.  They got there after the police, but wiped their memories and sent them away.  In addition to the six women in the basement, one already dead and the other dying later, they found a pile of dead bodies, all female.  They had a rogue, and a bad one.

The one thing missing was ‘Igor’.  Apparently he too was a vampire and saved by his ‘master’.  The rogue had chosen his victims carefully, women with no families or local friends to miss them.  It’s how he stayed hidden for so long.  But he wants Valerie back.  She’s ‘his’.  Apparently, he’s not only a rogue, he’s also an egomaniac and not real bright.  The fact that Valerie gets captured again does speak well for the Argeneau’s or her.  Actually, everyone was acting dumb.  It must have been contagious.

There are several plot disconnects, like a ‘Renaissance portrait’ and the guy was a WWI soldier who was accidentally turned.  And frankly, not a lot of excitement, mostly just dull to ‘meh’.

Immortal Ever After  was weak entry in an uneven series and profoundly missable, so save your money.  Not recommended despite the high rating on Amazon.  My grade is D (1.8*) and let me tell you, I don’t do that often.  If you need an Argeneau fix, go read The Accidental Vampire.  This was another Amazon purchase under now gone 4-for-3 program and about $6.oo.  $5.90 more than it was worth.  Unless you are a die hard fan, and willing to tolerate drivel, skip it.

January 22, 2012

Tour’s Books – Best of 2011 (and some of the Worst) – Part 1

Filed under: Editorial,Favorite book,Musing on life — toursbooks @ 11:29 pm
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Looking back on 2011, it was a year that had some great new writers, quality work for well established one, some real lemons, and a downgrade in overall quality of books.  So here are some personal opinions on books I read – and I’ve read a lot, but a far cry from all the new books in 2011, so feel free to chime in with your Best and Worst of 2011.

Best New Author

Kevin Hearne!  What a pleasant surprise.  In a sea of ‘me too’ UF/paranormal books, along comes an author with a lead character that’s a 2,000+ year old Druid that looks like a 20-something hippie and runs a bookstore herb shop in Tempe, AZ.  And even better, his very amusing sidekick is an Irish wolfhound that he’s taught to speak mentally with him.   Hounded, Hexed, and Hammered make it as the best first 3 books I’ve read in a long time.  Engaging, amusing, exciting well told tales.  YEAH!!!!!!!   The fourth book is on order!

Worst Mystery in a Series

Smokin’ Seventeen by Janet Evanovich.  Stick a fork in it, this series was toast awhile back, but this entry was a complete disgrace.  Whole paragraphs came from previous books and there wasn’t an original thought in 300 slight pages.  The whole Morelli/Steph/Ranger thing is took a twist that was insulting to the characters and fans alike.  Poor plot, worse concept, and a total waste of money and time.

Best Action/Thriller Series Division

Kage: The Shadow (A Connor Burke Novel) by – John Donohue is an unexpected choice in a year when Barry Eisler brought back his brilliant John Rain character.  Sentiment aside, Donohue just wrote a better book.

Runner Up: Buried Secrets (Nick Heller, Bk 2) by Joseph Finder – A relentless thriller that combined multiple plot twists and it’s fair share of not quite credible moments, but held up well overall.

Biggest Disappointment – tie:  Soft Target by Stephan Hunter – Wow, what a letdown!  This lame story had nowhere to go from the outset and generated no real tension or surprises.   It’s only positive was it was short.

Bad Blood (Virgil Flowers) by John Sanford – What a predictable bit of tripe this was.  Sanford relied on the shock value of incest to cover an otherwise nearly plotless book.  Waste of time and money.

Best Entry in Ongoing Series – Paranormal/UF

The Hour of Dust and Ashes (Charlie Madigan, Bk 3) by Kelly Gay  Some authors manage to keep things interesting and write complete stories yet keep an ongoing plot moving without looping endlessly.  Kudos to Ms Gay for her quality work

Runners-up:  One Salt Sea (An October Daye Novel) by Seanan McGuire – This is a series that seems to get better with each book.  McGuire is another author that has produced consistent, quality work.  Brava!

Kill the Dead (A Sandman Slim Novel) by Richard Kadrey – Sandman Slim might have been over hyped in 2010, but Kill the Dead, book 2 in the series, was excellent.

Biggest Disappointment:  The Fallen Blade by Jon Courtney Grimwood – This was one of those books that was just plain annoying.  Despicable people, dumb plot, badly paced and simply incoherent in places.  What a waste, yet hyped by it’s fans.

Best Cozy Mystery

Wow is this a crowded field these days with all kinds of cozies out there.  About the only genre that releases more books per month is romance.  I have to admit I’m not the world’s biggest fan of the bulk of this genre, but there are some exceptions.  I actually find myself with multiple winners in a range of sub-genres.

Traditional Cozy

Ink Flamingos (A Tattoo Shop Mystery) by Karen E Olsen – I love this series.  It’s off beat, well written, interesting and amusing.  Ms Olsen created a terrific character with tattoo artist Dee Carmichael.  Read them all and enjoyed every one of them!

Runner Up:  Death by the Dozen by Jenn McKinlay – Everything a cozy should be, and an amusing behind the scenes look a cooking contest with a group of thinly veiled Food Network characters.  An unexpected pleasure.

Best New Series – tie

Die Buying by Laura DiSilvero – An interesting heroine, ex military police woman with partial disability, and a good story.  An all around out of the ordinary read.

Death, Taxes, and a French Manicure by Diane Kelly  Another really good read with an ensemble cast and good lead character who works for IRS!!!!!!  Is there a less likely heroine?  It works on every level.

Runners Up: Quickstep to Murder by Ella Barrick – This unlikely candidate was a surprise for me.  Entertaining, with a good mystery and a look into the world of competitive dancing.  Don’t know if the series can hold up, but book one was a good start.

Death on Tour by Janice Hamrick – Set to a lightning tour of ancient Egypt, where nothing is quite what it seems, the book works.  the characters are not as fresh or original as the others, but it’s an Edgar nominee and was a good read.

Paranormal Mystery

Baited Blood by Sue Ann Jaffarian – Vamps that are not warm and cuddly, a couple of humans, and a LOT of dead bodies.  It all added up to a good, if darker than usual, read.

Special Mention:  Ghost a la Mode by Sue Ann Jaffarian – this book was written in 2009, but I read it last year.  It blew away the usual paranormal claptrap that’s swamping the market.  A cozy and a paranormal that’s still an intelligent read.

Best Traditional Mystery

Rogue Island by Bruce de Silva – A first novel by a newsman, this story about corruption and death in Rhode Island was a really good read.

Runner up:  The Lock Artist by Steve Hamilton – A brilliant piece of literature and an Edgar winner, but so stylized it’s a challenge at times.

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