Tour’s Books Blog

November 12, 2013

Genre Sampler – Reviews and Comments

Thanksgiving and Christmas are rapidly approaching and, as usual, I’m completely unprepared.  Oh well, we always manage somehow.  The family is small now, and it’s not like adults beyond a certain age actually NEED anything.  Well, other than a winning Lottery ticket.

November and December are both big release months as well, but I have to say, the new releases this month have proved disappointing to me.  As usual, books will be gifted, but that’s been true most of out lives.  In addition, I always haul up a bunch of books by authors my brother and SIL enjoy and let the read away. For many years, my brother an I built a Lincoln Log village on Christmas – starting with an old set his wife picked up at a flea market.  Well, the set grew, and grew, and grew.  A few years ago was our last ‘build’ and it was quite a grand finale.

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We built that whole complex, mostly free form buildings, in about a day and half, working off and on and watching Charlie Chan movies and eating.  But standing for hours was getting hard on my knees and back.  Plus getting out and cleaning up and sorting the thousands of logs to be stored away again was a major project by itself.   Now we work jigsaw puzzles and play cards or Yatzee – and watch Charlie Chan, the old Sherlock Holmes, or other favorite 40’s movies that we saw on TV as kids – and eat.  It’s just more about spending some time together.  It also helps us remember why we live 200 miles apart, it prevents bloodshed and the need to hide bodies.  But before the holidays disrupt my life, I better get on with some reviews.

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Read It and Weep

This latest installment of the Library Lover’s mystery series was disappointing – at least for me.  Read it and Weep was the first book I read from the mass of Nov 5th releases I bought.  Problem is, by page 40 I knew the whole plot and who did it and why.  I know cozy mysteries aren’t exactly the early Ellery Queen books that would lay out all the clues and challenge the reader to solve the mystery, but come on, this was as obvious as a slap to the head.

The local community theater group is putting on A Midsummer’s Night Dream, using as a star a well known actor, Robbie Vine, and friend of the resident semi-retired actress turned director, Violet LaRue.  Everyone is in a dither of anticipation over getting parts, even Ms Cole, the always critical older librarian that thinks Lindsey isn’t up to the level of the former head librarian in Briar Creek.  Robbie is more than a bit interested in Lindsey.  It isn’t helped by Sully having broken things off with her for months to ‘give her time’ without even talking with her about it.  They’re on the outs and Robbie is inspired to chase her, and she’s interested – until he gets poisoned.

In addition to the easy to see plot, the other problem is yet another budding love triangle.  Ms McKinlay did this in her Cupcake series as well.  IS THERE AN EPIDEMIC?  It’s easy to blame Janet Evanovich and her Morelli-Plum-Ranger ploy and Steph Plum’s extended adolescent emotional immaturity, but why is it contagious?  Or just ‘monkey see, monkey do’ writer syndrome?  Are authors so lost in copycat land they are incapable of original thought?  Whatever is causing this blight on cozies needs to be stamped out.  SOON!

Read it and Weep gets a C- (2.8*) rating for predictable plot and even more predictable love triangle.  I am apparently in the minority in this as Amazon reviews are much kinder.  Bought this from BAM for $5.39, but Amazon had it discounted to $4.79.  Its current price is $7.19.  Read if you’re an uncritical fan of generic cozies, but try and get it cheap.

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It’s been awhile since I reviewed a single author anthology of steamy romance novellas.  In the now well entrenched tradition of using Spec Ops military as the the heroes, Cat Johnson offered her rather generic romances using the usual group of male buddies.  If the love triangle infestation in cozies if the fault of Janet Evanovich, then Suzanne Brockman takes the hit for the current inundation of Spec Ops romance in mainstream and smut – even some paranormal.  Everyone from Lora Leigh to Lisa Marie Rice has used them.  Hands down, the most popular heroes in romance.

Red Blooded has 3 novellas originally published as ebooks by Samhain, a high quality smut and mainstream publisher who carries many of the better steamy writers.  Cat Johnson also writes mainstream romance and romantic suspense.  Like all romance novellas, there is no time for complex plots or character development.  More ‘slam bam, thank-you ma’am’ type of sex with the usual ‘struck by lightning’ emotions.  Harmless fantasy that’s well written and highly readable with better than average plots and characters.  Good lunch break or single sitting length stories for romance fans.

Red Blooded gets a C+ (3.5*), which is again well below Amazon.  For novellas, they are cut above.  Still, when Suzanne Brockman hits on all cylinders, as she did in Over on the Edge and Out of Control, she is better than anyone, but those are full length novels, so the comparison isn’t equal.  For pure steamy ex-military, no one beats Lisa Marie Rice’s Midnight Man.  I bought Red Blooded from Amazon for $12.93 and no, it wasn’t worth the price.  If you want to read these, go ebook directly from the Samhain site and think twice about the price – ebook or print – and maybe buy it used.

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Wild Darkness

Lauren Dane is one of my favorite paranormal romance writer’s.  Whether it’s steamy or more mainstream, she is a pretty reliable storyteller.  I’m not that fond of her popular contemporary romances, which I find trite, even if well written.

Wild Darkness is the fourth and final book in her Bound by Magick series that ties in with her Cascadia Wolves and De La Veaga Cat series.  It started off really well with Heart of Darkness, which laid the groundwork for the revealing of Others beyond just the already ‘out’ werewolves.  As a romance involved in a really good plot, it worked well on both levels and it gave the series a strong start.  The focus shifted away from the Magister to the birth of virulent hate groups that wants all Others in the equivalent of concentration camps in Book 2.  By book three, the central plot revolved around DC politics and a weak female president that refused to step into the debate.

Unfortunately, by the time we hit Wild Darkness, the whole over arcing plot kind of fizzles.  Going Under was less than stellar, but laid good groundwork, ending literally with a bang – a bomb in the Senate hearing chamber.  Wild Darkness opens with attacks by hate groups on an Other community, but the focus shifts from action to mostly romance and the whole thing is disappointingly weak.  The ‘big finale’ confrontation is all of 2 pages.  I read through 4 books for THAT?  Unfortunately, while Lauren Dane can start a complex paranormal series, she just does not have the skills needed to bring it to a strong conclusion.  Instead, she writes a romance that pushes the series main plot in the background and fails to give the reader a really satisfying conclusion.  A short fight scene does not work, especially when the main bad guys aren’t even there.  And penetrating their HQ was easy.  Honestly, the whole thing was just lame.

And for the third time, I will deviate from Amazon’s glowing reviews and give Wild Darkness a C- (2.8*).  Bound by Magic deserved better.  I am beginning to understand why she left so many of her series unfinished, like the Charvez Witches and the Cher Chez wolves.  She just can’t write a slam bang ending to her over-arcing plots, she can just end the individual romance parts.  It’s a shame really, because it weakened the whole series and took it off my recommended list.  I bought Wild Darkness from BAM for $5.39 and it wasn’t worth the price.  If you followed the series, read it.  If you haven’t started, give it a miss.

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Mr Penumbra's

Some title’s are irresistible and when this book was in a swap, I took the chance and bought a used copy.  Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore was selected as one of the best books of 2012 – and I’m rather baffled by that.  Yes it was quirky and somewhat interesting, in a nerdy kind of way, but great?  Eh, not so much.  It was, however, original, unique, and mostly enjoyable, if a bit tedious at times.  A ‘Best Book of 2012’?  Lord, I hope not.  In a strange way, it worked, but lacked strong characters.  That kind of left me with ambiguous feelings toward the book.

Clay Jannon is a less than ambitious guy laid off from his job as a web designer and coffee shop clerk and just sort of cruising along, sharing a 3 bedroom place with an uptight corporate landlady and his buddy Neel who works special effects for movies and builds bizarre things in the living room they all share.  He’s job hunting, but the economy sucks and skills aren’t up to Silicon Valley level, so he’s in that uncomfortable in between place.  Then he land’s a job in a very strange bookstore, Mr Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore.  As he works there, keeping detailed records of each person who comes in to borrow a book, Clay gets increasingly bored.

One night a young woman walks in and sees the 3-D model Clay is building on his computer that tracks each customer and every book they’ve checked out in order over time.  He’s certain there is meaning and pattern to their actions and they are really code breakers.  Kat admires his work and offers him a chance to put Google’s data analysis engines to work on a scanned copy of one of the logs that details more of the same data.  Neel makes a replica of one of the log books and Kat and Clay get it scanned and analyzed in minutes.  After he enters all the new data, he still can’t quite see the pattern and in frustration sends his 3-D model spinning – and the many colored lines suddenly form an image.  Mr Penumbra sees it and claims he’s broken the code!  A code he didn’t even realize existed.

Like an onion, layers get peeled away until the final code is discovered.  This quasi-adventure, puzzle, code-breaker, technology meld made a curious story, but not a great one.  Perhaps because, for me, great fiction books requires great characters, not just a layered plot.  No question, the plot was original and on several levels, fascinating.  But ultimately, is was kind of dull without strong, likable characters filled with personality.  Oddly, it reminded me of a nerdy Robert Ludlum book.  Ludlum was always a brilliant plotter, but aside from Jason Borne, never wrote a memorable character.  The action here is more cerebral and other than the quirky Penumbra, none of the players were really memorable, just lightly sketched in enough to do the job.

Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookshop gets a C+ to B- (3.6*) from me.  I can see why critics loved it, since they had a field day with the computer technology vs print book thing, but who really cares?  It was interesting without being engrossing.  It’s in that strange grey area where I neither love nor hate the book, found it oddly appealing, but never compelling.  I can’t really recommend it for anyone other than a person who enjoys offbeat books.  I got my copy used (in perfect condition) from a third party re-seller on Amazon and it’s leaving here this week to a person who won it in a PBS swap.  I’d suggest you borrow it or get it cheap because reactions vary.  The nerd in the family might like it best and it is suitable for teens.

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wicked Autumn

G.M. Malliet hit the mystery scene a few years back with her first cozy in the Ngaio Marsh/Josephine Tey tradition, just not was well done.  Nonetheless, she garnered heaps of praise for bringing back the English cozy in Death of a Cozy Writer – a classic manor house mystery.  She followed that with Death of a Chick Lit wherein she completely emasculated her Detective Inspector St Just.  That put paid to my reading her books until I got Wicked Autumn, the first book in her Max Tudor series, in a book swap.  Really, you’d think I’d learn.

What is it with cozies these days?  The authors talk you to death, drag you through a garden of a character’s personal guilt, beat certain things into the ground, and toss out clues so obvious you want to whack them over the head.  Wicked Autumn opens with the Women’s League planning the Harvest Fayre.  The usual officious and unpleasant woman, Wanda Bratton-Smythe manages to make more enemies, but sees herself as ‘saving’ these poor incompetents from themselves.  Her snide, cutting remarks and generally superior and patronizing attitude have not endeared her to her neighbors.  She may as well be wearing a sign, “Hi!  I’m the victim!  I’m rich, controlling, and obnoxious!  I have a deadly peanut allergy!  Guess how I die!!!!!”

Max Tudor is the local Vicar now, but used to be MI5.  He sought peace and refuge from his former profession and memories of the death of a friend and co-worker.  He refuses to be drawn into the fray in the Women’s League, but knows the complaints are valid.  The day of the Fayre everything s running smoothly.  An oddly excited Wanda disappears and Max goes hunting for her joined by another poor soul Wanda badgered into ‘volunteering’, chef Guy Nicholls.  They do find her, dead on the floor of the village Hall.  Guy starts mouth to mouth to revive her, but Max knows dead when he sees it and pulls him away.  Not just because it’s too late, but because it looks like murder to Max.

Turns out, people had more reason to want Wanda dead than just her personality.  She was also a very rich woman.  Her only child, a son and up and coming artist, was estranged from his parents.  Suzanna Winship, the doctor’s shapely much younger sister was Wanda’s rival and self appointed protector of those Wanda went after the most, like sweet Lily Iverson.  Actually, pretty much every member of the Women’s League hated her.  But the whole plot is twisted around long periods of the backstory on Max and how he came to be a vicar.  By page 124 I was loosing interest.  I finished it, barely.  The killer was OBVIOUS, the why a bit more subtle, but not surprising.

Wicked Autumn gets a C- (2.7*) because the story is told in a choppy and muddled way and lacks exciting characters or any shed or originality.  It’s just dull.  If you’re a hardcore cozy reader, try it if its free, but don’t blame me if it’s just boring.  My copy, thankfully, free from a book swapping site.

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June 14, 2009

BOOK REVIEW: A Royal Pain by Rhys Bowen

If Rhys Bowen was a dancer, she’d be Fred Astaire. Her writing is effortless grace that makes everything around shine with glamor and class. It’s amazing really, how easily you’re drawn into the world and the characters that populate 1932 London – Britain’s upper crust, especially the ne’er do well ones used to living well and suddenly unable to do so on their own due to the depression. From the first page you’re lost in vaguely decadent pre-war London seen through the eyes of the still innocent, observant, increasingly less naïve Lady Georgiana Rannoch.

A Royal Pain is the second book in Bowen’s new Her Royal Spyness series and it’s even better than the first. Not only is there more of a mystery, but Ms Bowen dances Georgie through a tale filled with Noel Coward characters – not to mention a cameo appearance by Mr Coward himself – mixing fictional with real people easily and with her usual attention to detail. Bits of history, like the relationship between Prince George, later the Duke of Kent, and Noel Coward, the communist and fascist party conflicts, and most importantly, the infatuation of her cousin David – know to the world as Edward the VIII – with a notorious American woman, Wallis Simpson. (more…)

May 17, 2009

BOOK REVIEW: Death and the Chick Lit by G. M. Malliet

Having recently read and reviewed Death of a Cozy Writer, G. M. Malliet’s first book, I promptly bought and read her second British cozy, Death and the Lit Chick. Second books can be tough when the first was an unexpected gem. Readers now have higher expectations and will be easily disappointed. The concept, bringing together a group of classic mystery writers with a common publisher, most with moderately successful careers – some of which are on the wane, with the latest ‘chick lit’ mystery mega-hit writer has all kinds of potential. It gives the author a chance to show readers the ‘business’ side of writing, the jealousy, the struggle to stay on top, the fears and politely poisonous envy of newcomer phenoms. (Interestingly, Amazon rankings and Barnes and Nobel rankings are mentioned several times, so do NOT underestimate the importance of the #amazonfail event we just experienced!) The author reinforces the image by drawing parallels with how J. K. Rowling saved Scholastic Press with her Harry Potter novels. So here at Dalmorton Castle in Scotland we have one wildly successfully writer in a stable of ordinary ones getting fêted by their collective publisher at a mystery conference. I do find it curious that in both of her books G. M. Malliet chose to make a mystery author the victim. It would seem being a mystery writer in the UK is more dangerous than being a police detective. (more…)

May 14, 2009

BOOK REVIEW: Murder in the Raw by C. S.Challinor

Ms. Challinor is an American who attended school in England and Scotland and now writes the Rex Graves series of British cozies.  Murder in the Raw is only her second book and the first of hers that I’ve read.  Not having read the first book does create a bit of an issue when trying to work out references to characters in her first novel, Christmas is Murder, especially those related to his personal life.  Several characters in this story were also in the first book that took place in England.  Here we are in the Caribbean on St. Martin where a week ago an actress, Sabine Durand, disappeared and the only evidence is a bit of bloody pareo and a broken ankle bracelet.  The local police presume she was taken by sharks as there is simply no other evidence.  Her friends don’t believe it and call in Rex, a Scots barrister of middle years, for help.  Paul and Elizabeth Winslow own the Swansmere Manor Hotel where Rex solved his first murder.  They feel the locals made little effort to determine what really happened to Sabine and they hope that Rex came solve the mystery or at least bring some closure.

Rex arrives at Juliana Airport after a stopover in Miami to see his son, Campbell, a marine science student.  Just as he’s relaxing, he finds out his luggage is lost, so all he has is his carry-on briefcase.  When clerk asks where he’s staying, he discovers Plage d‘Azure is a naturist resort, so he won’t be needing his clothes anyway.  Funny how the Wilson’s neglected to tell him that! (more…)

May 4, 2009

BOOK REVIEW: Her Royal Spyness by Rhys Bowen

Rhys Bowen is an Agatha Award winner for her Molly Murphy historical mysteries and also writes the Constable Evans series, both period mystery series.  With Her Royal Spyness she tackles a different time period, the early 1930’s, and very upper class – impoverished royalty.  The story is told in the first person by Lady Victoria Georgiana Charlotte Eugenie, known as Georgie, is the great-granddaughter of Queen Victoria and 34th in line for the throne, making her a very minor royal, but a royal nonetheless.  The Great Depression has hit Europe as hard as the US and bread lines and soup kitchens are a common sight.  Georgie’s older half-brother, Binky, the current Duke of Glen Garry and Rannoch has even more financial troubles having the estate decimated by the combined effects of gambling losses by his father, the stock market crash and the death duties on his inheritance.

While sitting on the loo, Georgie overhears Binky and his wife, Fig, discussing a request from Her Majesty, Queen Mary, to entertain Prince Sigfried.  They haven’t the money and frankly don’t want the visitors.  It’s still snowing in Scotland and there just isn’t any way to entertain them with the usual activities like hunting.  The real reason for the visit is to try and get Georgie married off to someone of the right social station.  Knowing full well what the goal is, Georgie, who has no funds of her own, decides to do a bunk to London under the pretense of helping a friend with their wedding. (more…)

April 26, 2009

BOOK REVIEW: Death of a Cozy Writer by G. M. Malliet

Rejoice you fans of classic manor house murders.  Give me an hallelujah and amen!  We have the heir to one of my favorite mystery categories in G. M. Malliet’s Chief Detective Inspector St. Just’s debut, Death of a Cozy Writer.  And it’s about damn time!  Cozy mysteries have become increasingly just too twee, too insipid, too contrived, too self-consciously cutsiepoo for words.  Filled with recipes, crossword puzzles, candle making tips, quilting, dogs, cats, ferrets – jeeze, you name it.  Worse still are some of those amateur sleuths who are really such annoying people you’re rooting for them to be the next victim.

I bought Death of a Cozy Writer because it was a 2008 Best First Novel nominee for an Agatha Award by Malice Domestic, the association of cozy writers, and the reviews were excellent.  If the cast of characters seem familiar, they should.  Everyone of them has been in an Agatha Christie mystery: the aging, rich, nasty, manipulative pater familias; the equally nasty, avaricious, self-centered eldest son with his grasping, greedy wife; the overweight, dowdy, socially clueless daughter who manages on her own; the pretentious, self-adsorbed art store owner son with his neglected but beautiful lady friend, and the alcoholic fringe actor son who knows even his marginal career is giving way to age.  Then there’s daddy’s bride-to-be, unexpectedly a woman of mature years but with a very scandalous background – suspected of having murdered her first husband.

If you’ve read Christie’s Hercule Poirot mysteries this is sounding a LOT like a mishmash of several of those books – and it is.  Christie used variations of these characters and basic plot devices numerous times.  Perhaps it’s why I found myself smiling so often while reading, it was like an unexpected visit with old acquaintances and finding them unchanged.  Some view this book as a send up of the manor house mystery, others as an homage.  Take your pick.  It is cheekily derivative, yet so well done you don’t care. (more…)

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