Tour’s Books Blog

May 31, 2016

More Books – Playing Catchup with Short Reviews

SAD NEWS:  Jim Laverne, widower of Joyce Laverne, died suddenly on May, just a few months after his wife of 44 years passed away.  Jim and Joyce were prolific authors of cozy mysteries under a variety of names, paranormal mysteries,  and other books.  Alas, many of their series will never wrap up now, but we have a large collection of books to enjoy in their memory.

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Yes, I read too much.  SIGH.  Here are some short reviews for MORE BOOKS.  Gad.  I’ll need a part time job just to support my habit soon.

The latest in the Novel Ideas series by Lucy Arlington, Off the Books, was a ho-hum effort that was too formula and predictable.   I won the book on a PBS game because I’ve stopped buying the series.  I hate being able to write a plot in my head within pages of starting a book.

Writing quality is good and characters and some depth, but nothing special.  No ‘oomph’ factor.  Off the Books gets a dull C (3*).  Not good, not awful, just blah.

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Melissa F Olsen is one of those decent, yet not exceptional, UF writers that live in the area where their books are good, but never reach rave review territory.  Boundary Born, the third and possibly last or the Boundry WItch series, wraps up the primary story arc of ‘Lex’ Luther, one of the adopted twin daughters of the Luther shoe fortune.  Her twin, Sam, died in an accident and Lex should have died in the deserts of the Mideast, but survived, much to the puzzlement of the military doctors.  Back in Boulder trying to get over PTSD and spend time with her niece, she learns she’s a witch.  Not just any witch, a boundary witch that deals in death.  In book 1, Boundary Crossed, she learns what she and her niece are and the plot to kidnap the child ends up in an unexpected place.  In book 2, Boundary Lines, she battles an ancient magical creature eating random hikers and other poor souls and uncovers a plot to break a compact that ended a war between vamps, witches, and shifters.  In book 3, Boundary Born, she battles yet another problem – someone killing vamps with an ancient form of belladonna.  And it all turns back to Lex’s undiscovered parents – until dear old dad shows up on her porch.  What happens from there is part personal discovery and part action thriller.

Basically, the whole series is about Lex’s finding of who and what she is as well as the evolution of her powers.  I read Boundary Born as a free ARC in ebook and it’s a good read, wraps up a whole bunch of questions, but the series felt unfinished.  Judging by the afterword, Olsen is leaving room to revisit these characters in the future despite saying the series is wrapped.

Boundry Born gets B- (3.6*) from me and read only if you’ve been following the series.

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Book 1 and 2 in the Geek Girl mysteries (not to be confused with the Lexi Carmichael books) and feature’s Mia Conner’s Falls, her hippy parents, mini-mogul grannie she helped make rich and her sex-obsessed sister and brother-in-law who basically get grants to do studies on things sex related.  A Geek Girl’s Guide to Murder starts with some kind of hacking issue that has mysterious emails going to residents in an exclusive gated community of mostly retired folks – including her grandmother.  Despite being well to do thanks to her computer skills setting and running an online store for grandma’s homeopathic beauty aids, she lives in kind of a dumpy place in town and drives to work – to find a huge pick-up taking her space and then some.  The truck and obnoxious owner turn out to be the strangely over-qualified new head of security.

The mystery that unfolds ends up centered around Mia herself.  All the emails setting up fake appointments and such are just a prelude to other events involving her off-beat family and grannie’s all natural skin treatment business.  The ending is a mix of obvious and odd – with more obvious than anything.

In A Geek Girl’s Guide to Arsenic, Grannie’s very business is threatened when police and Ren Faire goers all think the death of a arist is linked to their products.  The ex-security head, real FBI agent, now US Marshall (Yeah, I don’t get that either), so once again, with her family involved, Mia gets nosey and does her own investigation – easy to so when you’re Queen Guinevere and someone burned Grannie’s business set-up at the Faire.  With an endless supply of costumes for various community events where she works, and running the online store for grannie and the IT department for the community, you wouldn’t think mia had enough time meddle in an investigation – but you know you’re wrong.  The resolution is once again an odd mix of good and bad as the victim is revealed as a person in Witness Protection as well as a womanizer and a likable scoundrel (possibly cheat) who pretty much screwed everyone – ummmmm – physically and financially.

A Geek Girl’s Guide to Murder and A Geek Girl’s Guide to Arsenic are both quick, decent reads that try to be too complex and too simple at the same time.  It’s like the author isn’t quite sure where she’s going with all this.  Parts are very well dome and then segues into a side road that has nothing to add to the story or characters.  Despite being fairly decent compared to the paint by numbers cozies out there, both get a C+ to B- rating (3.5*) and suggested reads for those tired of the trite cozy books.  I bought and read both as ebooks.

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The latest installment in the Neurotic Hitwoman series has a LOT going on.  The story of her sister Darlene.  The truth about Patrick, Maggie’s nutso mom once again breaking out of the home, thanks to her criminal father, and Katie having a major meltdown over not having a real mommy.  The Hitwoman and the Mother Load was more about family and friends than Maggie’s part time job as a hit woman.

JB Lynn writes a fast paced book that crams a lot of different stories into a fairly short novel and as usual has a neat hook at the end.  This one is kind of hard to discuss without giving the key plot elements away, but I can talk about Katie acting out at school over not having a ‘real’ mommy and the suggestion both maggie and Katie see a psychologist for counseling.  (Which end hysterically.)  Finding out the truth about Patrick was painful, but seemed inevitable for the last few books so not dramatic.  Angel is taking a bigger role, but that leaves Maggie in a quandary given the fact she does work for his gangster uncle.

The Hitwoman and the Mother Load is solidly plotted, has good characters, and breakneck pace.  It gets B (4*) from me and highly suggested for readers of this series or the Housewife Assassin books.  Purchased as a Kindle ebook.

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I have been waiting FOREVER for the latest Addison Holmes book to be released and Whiskey Tango Foxtrot was a little disappointing given the wait.  Like many ebook series, this suffers from what movie makers would call ‘continuity gaps’, that is mixed up details about people, events, and other things, that tend to be distracting.  The last Steph Plum book was riddled with them, so somewhere editors are not doing their jobs.

The story itself isn’t bad, basically, it’s a very clever con game that Addison isn’t aware of.  She and her Great Aunt Scarlett – who is a hoot and the best part of the book – and Rosemarie try balancing a real case and special assignment as half payment for a tricked out van for surveillance.  I like the surprise ending for the bad guy.

Whiskey Tango Foxtrot gets a C+ to B- (3.5*) because it was sloppy in continuity and plot, but entertaining enough that I could forgive most of it.  Purchased as a kindle ebook.  Like the Neurotic Hitwoman series, this id for those who enjoy humorous mystery.

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The paid or mysteries by Kait Carson features a SCUBA diving paralegal who gets mixes up in murders.  In Death by Blue Water  protagonist Hayden Kent is recovering from a sudden break-up with her live-in boyfriend when she goes diving to clear her mind and instead finds a body caught in a wreck she’s dived dozens of times before.

It gets more complicated when the body turnout to the older brother of her ex and she becomes suspect #1.  Many of the supporting characters don’t get fleshed out much here, but the plot has good twists and turns and an unexpected outcome – rare for a near cozy style mystery A little heavy on the whole migraine thing and SCUBA diving, but very decent first book and a nice departure from the all too predictable cozies.

Book 2, Death by Sunken Treasure, the mother of a friend, and her kind of surrogate mother, Dana Kirby, a museum operator, finds her own son’s body floating in the reeds near the ferry dock as she heads to work on Pigeon Key.  She and her son had a recent falling out and becomes a suspect.  More importantly, her son made a major treasure find and was a very, very experienced diver, so she is convinced, despite the police claiming his pain-killer drug addiction and diving lead to an accidental death.

The sheer number of characters involved make following the plot a bit of a challenge at times as she keeps introducing more and more variables with people and lies that are hard to separate from truth, an ex-wife and ex-boss (who lost his fortune to Mike in a workplace accident lawsuit), now lovers, seeking a share of the treasure, partners telling different stories about what Mike owned and who had title to the treasure – and more deaths – including twice nearly dying herself.

Once again, despite the sometimes rambling plot and overuse of migraines, the culprit is a surprise.  The plot unspools in a choppy fashion and is only tied together at the end, but once again, it was better than the typical cozy and the mid-Keys setting is a big draw for me.

My grades are Death by Blue  Water is C+ (3.4*) and Death by Sunken Treasure is C+ to B- (3.6*).  Since she has to create a whole new base of characters, I will buy book 3 and see how she manages the transition.  Good reads, but not great.  Far better than the typical cozy and worth the ebook price.

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April 27, 2016

New Releases, News, and Mystery Odds and Ends

Well, April came in like it was March and March went out like it was May, so spring is the usual weather potluck in the northern states where we can 4 seasons in 24 hours. We had a rare April snow and my brother got over 5 inches – and was displeased because the 70-degree weather had him putting away his snow blower and plough the week before. (My laughing at him did not improve his mood.)

There is a major bout of angst among cozy readers as the latest ‘consolidation’ of publishers is causing contracts to be canceled and series abruptly ended as authors are notified their sales are too low to justify keeping them.  For anyone who has followed the glut of cozies on the market, it comes as no shock that the buyer pool has been diluted and the publisher’s rationale that they ‘overbought books in that genre’ is probably fair.  Still, a few of the authors have been around a long time, so they were shocked at having the rug yanked out.  The list of about to be deleted authors is growing, so if you’re on FaceBook, check out the Save Our Cozies section.  I’m not on that site, but those who are say many authors are venting their frustration at the short notice.

The whole mmpb market is not considered ‘profitable’ to publishers.  They want trade-size books to be the new paradigm for softcovers as that format’s higher price also had better margins.  That’s why many paranormal series are in that format already.  Romance and cozy mystery still use the mmpb size as their default and a few paperback versions of HC books.  I am more and more often seeing popular hardcovers going to paperback getting released as trade size books, so buying used HC books is actually more economical!  Aside from improving the used book market, I’m uncertain if the publisher’s bottom line see substantial change.  Authors don’t have a whole lot of choice – unless control stays with them and their estates.  Harper Lee required To Kill a Mockingbird mmpb books be removed from sale – and publishers and sellers did so very promptly – but not before I got a cheap new copy!

Books-a-Million is continuing to stumble in online sales.  I dropped my membership in their Millionaires Club because of failure to ship pre-order books, despite multiple phone calls to customer service.  That happened while I was still a member last year and I never did get my book.  And it happened again in March and April, much to my lasting annoyance.  Three days after the new releases SHOULD have been here, I sent Customer Service an email with the details of all the missing books.  They claimed they were ‘out of inventory’.  HUH?  They were released Tuesday I wrote on Thursday and you don’t even have a delivery date?????  I wrote back and told them to cancel every remaining pre-ordered book.  I have a very low tolerance for such incompetence and poorly run business in an age where inventory control is entirely computerized and pre-orders tell you in advance what your demand is.  AVOID BAM! Their sale discounts are not what they were and their service has fallen off badly and only released books in the store where you shop get the MC discount of 10% for in-person purchases, nothing online or for pre-orders.  Their pricing on HC and trade size books was never a match for Amazon, even with additional % off promotions.

Amazon is once again offering random discounts on mmpb books, particularly cozies and si-fi/paranormal/UF series.  Some are as much as 26% off list.  And numerous HC’s have sale points BELOW the ebook cost, including several bestsellers, like Off The Grid by C.J. Box below.  Get them while you can and if you’re Prime, remember, pre-order adjusts prices to reflect the lowest price between your order date and release.

If you’re a cozy fan, be prepared to have your authors migrate to self-published ebooks like so many others have.  They are cheaper, but much harder to pass on as you do print.

On to reviews!!!!! (I started this post nearly 3 weeks ago and forgot I never finished it.  OOPS!)

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Vanilla Beaned is the latest entry in Jenn McKinlay’s Cupcake Bakery series takes place in Vegas where Tate has kind of bullied Mel into licensing a franchise.  The story starts with a bag as the woman who wants the bakery is a stunning showgirl and Mel, thanks to her overweight HS years, has kind of a deep prejudice over that, but her mean girl stunt kind of backfires and she ends up agreeing to take a look at the place.  The realtor who hung back from the girl drama for a smoke opens the door and the place explodes.  The showgirl and hopeful bakery owner, Holly, works with Mel to try and help the two men while waiting on EMTs and the fire department.   Tate and Angie get there just in time to see the end. and Angie convinces Mel to do a tasting at Holly’s house the next day.  Turns out Holly’s glamor was just as much artifice as she said and her baking skills were extraordinary.  With Mel finally on board, the search for a store continues – and so do the awful ‘accidents’.  But who are they trying to hurt, Mel or Holly?

Ms McKinlay does a good job here, much better than her last Library Lovers book.  In fact, this is pretty much her best series for characters and plots both.  I liked Holly and the change of scene to Vegas was refreshing and the Elvis convention amusing and also gives some of the plot a unique twist.

Vanilla Beaned gets a B (3.9*) rating from and a suggested read for cozy lovers.  It’s a reliable series so far.  I paid $7.99+ tax but you can get lots of discounts at any big box or club store with books.

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It seems to me there have been an awful lot of disappointments lately, including Fortune Hunter, Jana DeLeon’s latest entry into the Miss Fortune series.  I don’t think I was 30 pages in when I realized she had allowed the darker side of her writing used for romantic suspense to creep into what is normally a very light and entertaining series.  The change in tone made all the usual humor seem forced and contrived, rather than flowing naturally from the characters.  That was especially true with Ida Belle, Gertie, and Fortune.

The other bad part – no one even died yet and I knew who did it and why.  When a plot is that transparent and trite, it signals a complete lack of caring by the author – or a loss of focus that had her doing reruns of old TV series plots.  I was bored and what few chuckles I had were not really entertaining.  The real kicker?  I bought the ebook and wouldn’t bother with the print because I could bearly slog through it once.  Her previous book, Hurricane Force, was on the bubble but I still liked it enough to have a hard copy.  Not this one.

I might not be a writer, but I know how hard it is to slip from serious and dramatic, to light, clever, and briskly witty.  The carry over made with out of character for the series.  She’ll get one more shot, then I’m done.

Fortune Hunter gets a C- (2.7*) for a dreadful transparent plot and a total change in tenor for the characters and feeling of the book.  Read it if you’re a fan, but try and get the ebook from the library.  Not worth the $6.00  I paid for the ebook.

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And another favorite author bites it with Leslie Langtry’s Marshmallow S’More Murder.  Where is a good editor when you desperately need one.  I don’t what to hammer first.  OK – let’s start with in impossible timeline.  When we left Merry, boyfriend Rex, best friend and co-scout leader Kelly, and Riley, her boss, Merry’s cat Philby just had kittens, Kelly just announced she was preggers, and Riley took off after the dubious vet who  cut the SD card out of Philby’s neck because it something to do with Midori Ito’s death back in book 1.

Fast forward about 6 weeks.  Philby is still nursing the kittens but they’ll be weaned soon.  Kelly, who learned she was preggers 6 weeks ago is due to pop so not in DC with Merry and the scout troop as a prize from the Girl Scout Council for selling the most cookies ……. ever.  (Is it me, or do you see a space-time continuum issue here?)  There she is, at the White House with the whole troop and a missing mom, Evelyn Trout, who stepped in to cover for Kelly and promptly stepped out to the hotel spa leaving Merry to deal with her troop alone.  Good thing the First Lady can manage because the Secret Service guys are close to panic.  But wait!  There’s more!  Riley is missing and she gets a call suggesting he’s in great danger there in town.  So what’s a former spy to do?  Take the troop to the CIA HQ and get some unofficial help from her buddy (and cookie junkie) Maria Gomez.

But wait!  There’s more!  Riley is missing and she gets a call suggesting he’s in great danger there in town.  So what’s a former spy to do?  Take the troop to the CIA HQ and get some unofficial help from her buddy (and cookie junkie) Maria Gomez.  Maria goes above and beyond when she takes time off, moves into the hotel with the troop and helps ride herd on the girls while Merry tries to figure out where Riley is before he dies.

Just to make sure there are lots of loose threads, something is wrong between Merry’s mom and dad and neither is talking.  She goes undercover at the Japanese Embassy while her dad, a respected Senator from Iowa, works his charm on his friend the Japanese Ambassador, and the daughter of Midori is working at the Embassy.  And is mom was ruthless, daughter is certifiable nuts, and the troop is in danger.

While parts of this book are very entertaining and works, the author left so many loose ends it felt like half a story and the obvious issue of Evelyn Trout is not even touched till everyone is safely back in Iowa and the Ito’s are no more.  Time wise, nothing makes a bit of sense.  Story lines are left hanging in space, and the ending is better suited to a 3-hanky tear-jerker.  And why in heaven’s name would a cop who got a restraining order against an old girlfriend give her a key to his house and have her care for the cat and kittens of her arch enemy, Merry?  I had to assume everyone lost the minds.

Marshmallow S’More Murder gets another C- (2.8*).  Honestly, authors cannot make that many basic timeline errors and not get hammered or that many impossible plot line leaps and not annoy readers.  Humor and an entertaining group of girl scouts can only cover so many errors and these were just too glaring.  The ebook was $5.oo and at a slender 218 pages, not worth that much.  Get it as a loaner.  This is another I won’t be buying in print.

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Off the Grid picks up the story of Nate Romanowski where Endangered left off with Nate escaping the hospital and a sleazy FBI agent who almost got him and his girlfriend killed.   In hiding and healing for months, the illness of his girlfriend Sheridan’s mother leaves just enough trail for a NGO to find him.  They want to find the sun of an Arab leader they think has turned rogue -and he and that young man have something in common – falconry.

Once again coerced into helping, in the national interest, of course, Nate ends up back near his friend Joe and does find the man in the video – and as is often the case in Nate’s world, nothing is as it seems – but Nate sort of knew that going in.  The ending alone with the canny and shrewd soon to be ex-governor is worth the read.

I should note this is far less of a mystery than the early Joe Pickett books, it’s more of an action thriller.  If you don’t like how this series has been trending toward a slightly different genre, then you won’t like this book.  Pickett himself stays more true to his earlier character but gets drawn deeper into the gray life that Nate lives and is less than comfortable there.  That is the one part of this evolution I have yet to fully embrace – Joe the family man moving to Joe the reluctant action character.  I have mixed feelings about it, but even Robert Crais evolved Joe Pike and Elvis Cole, so it’s not uncommon for an author to shift to a different style and have characters change over time.  This is book 16 in the series and the move has been gradual, but I think the departure here to put terrorists Wyoming is the whole NGO is a bit of a stretch, but not unbelievable.  Pacing is fast and not every good guy wins.

Off the Grid gets a B (4*) rating from me, but I love action thrillers so I might be more tolerant than some with Box’s segue in style and his inherently suspicious view of NGO’s and other ‘black ops’ security groups.  This is the second time he’s a similar thread in his plot, so if you’re a regular reader, you know .  It is a recommended read with the above caveats.  At around $17 new, wait for a good used copy or borrow from the library unless you’re a collector of Box’s books.

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Double Mint and Double Knot are two latest entries in the humorous mystery series featuring Davis Way.  In Double Mint, Davis and new hubby Bradley, now the General Manager of the sprawling Bellissimo Casino are trying to come to grips with living in a 10,000 square foot voodoo Mardi Gras from Hell palace that was the former GM’s residence – now their’s – and home sweet home it ain’t.  Davis is going crazy with the demanding Bianca Sanders, for whom she works as a body double, just one floor up.  (Her going to the gynaecologist for Bianca is just hysterical.) Not to mention she is utterly convinced As one of the casino’s undercover security people, it’s like having 2 jobs and no life.  And Bradley is trying desperately to undo the damage of the old GM – including locating the platinum coins that they help as part of the casino reserve that were replaced with fakes.  There’s the whole locked room that curious Davis shoots her way into only to find a press and rag paper for a counterfeiting operation that the old GM and now largely senile Casimiro family boss (Bianca’s father) apparently ran.

Ms Archer writes a fast, funny plot with some great twists involving undercover security partner Fantasy, the security muscle, Baylor, and chief, No Hair (Jeremy) and missing events manager Holder Darby, and her ‘not cat’ found in Holder’s empty house that hated Davis but took up residence in the huge GM suite.   Oh, and the handsome guy down the hall in the Jay Leno suite doing the advance work for Dionne Warwick.  He fainted when Davis shot her chandelier.

If you feel a little lost at all the plot lines, that’s just Archer’s style.  Her writing takes getting used to, as she writes in the first person and Davis’s thoughts are often confusing integrated.  Nonetheless, Double Mint was a good read and it gets a B (3.9*) rating from me with the caveat about her writing style.  I read the ebook at $6.99 – which is overpriced.

Double Knot picks up the plot several months later with Davis being pregnant with twins and Bianca panicked by her weight gain due to inactivity and too much delivery pizza.  But the new joint venture casino boat was about to take its maiden voyage and there was a fashion shoot scheduled for the trip, so Davis was off with her ……. mother ….. and Fantasy in an owner’s suite with a butler, maid, and …… Jessica DeLuna, wife of Max DeLuna, the banker Richard Sanders hired to filled the ship’s 50 suites with very high rollers – without doing proper background checks.  Bradley is stuck doing a casino security seminar in Macau, so Davis has no real buffer between her and her mother except Fantasy.  Everyone is issued the latest high-tech handheld to operate everything from elevators to stateroom doors to TV sets and ship communications.  Jessica, who Davis is convinced is after Bradley because she and her hubby Max do not even touch each other, shows up in Davis suite and suddenly all the doors lock, all communications are cut and they have no way in or out because every single device is dead.  They are just close enough to shore that Davis tries to call her sheriff dad in her mom’s antique cell phone, but the connect is so bad, he won’t be riding to her aid.  And No Hair is trapped and tied up deep in the bowels of the ship and can’t help.  What the hell is Max DeLuna doing?

It’s a good read and the way they get out is clever and relies on Davis’ computer skills and a working device.  All the usual ways of escaping are out.  Thankfully, the kitchen is stocked so her mom can do the cooking but can Jessica be trusted and what about the main and butler?

Two plot elements stand out her, one is Davis’s relationship with her mom and an event in her teen years, and Fantasy’s decision to get a divorce because she can’t forgive herself for cheating on her husband.  (It’s all a part of Double Mint, so that’s all I can say.)  The other part is Mom is not exactly what Davis always saw her as ……. and the part where her mother gives ‘marital advice’ to Fantasy is laugh out loud funny.  So is the part where Fantasy uses a priceless metal sculpture to knock a hole in the wall.

Double Knot, like Double Mint and all her other Davis way books has plenty of twists, turns, and unexpected plot developments.  You have a good core story, character growth without too much drama to drag down the general tone, but enough to give it heart, and good ending.  Double Knot also gets a B (4*) rating.   Like Double Mint, it’s $7 in ebook so unless you plan to re-read it, borrow it from your library.

January 29, 2016

New Releases in Print and Ebook Reviews

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

November 23, 2015

Cozy Corner – Reviews of Print and Ebooks

Despite all my good intentions, I keep buying and getting cozies.  You’d think by now I’d learn.  95% of cozy mysteries are complete junk – despite high Amazon reviews.  Lead characters do things that not only flies in the face of common sense but should have killed them so many times I am amazed they live – but NEVER learn.   Then again, ‘insanity’ is defined as ‘doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different outcome’.  It’s widely purported as being said by Albert Einstein.  Who knows?  I just know that occasionally I find something that’s a cut above – though it rarely lasts.  Maybe I’m insane, but without the suicidal tendencies of cozy characters – Thank-God!

So we will venture into the land of the lost causes and hope for the best.

Laura Levine is one of the sharper, wittier cozy authors out there and Jaine Austen series about freelance writer Jaine Austen are generally entertaining.  Death by Tiara is short, but a good read thanks to a strong lead character than most cozy characters.  Jaine gets hired by a woman determined her daughter, a smart, somewhat bookish, pretty girl become Miss Teenage America.  Heather was a beauty queen and wants her daughter to do even more. Taylor, her daughter, wants to read the classics and go to college and eat M&M’s.  Jaine needs to write some lyrics for her to sing during the talent portion of the contest.  Too bad Taylor can’t sing.

Jaine’s reaction to the ‘Amada Inn’ with it’s tiny, shabby rooms and lousy service is spot on, but getting stuck with her cat, Prozac, because her neighbor Lance is going to Palm Springs with the UPS delivery guy for the weekend.  The overbearing stage mother routine wears on Jaine, who keeps her eyes on the money while she sneaks M&M’s to Taylor AND has to have dinner with her detective boyfriend’s parents – who turn out to be rich and snobs.  Then, Amy, the assistant to pageant coordinator Candice, is found murdered, her bashed in with the winner’s tiara.  That’s a lot of things to juggle and Jaine, as usual, gets caught in the middle of events.

Ms Levine does a good job in a slight, yet entertaining book with well drawn, if rather ‘stock’ characters and a heroine who has a gift for getting herself into crazy situations, but with enough backbone to make me like her.  The solution was less obvious than most, but not challenging.  There were still some surprises.  My rating for Death by Tiara is C+ to B- (3.6*) and a suggested read for cozies lovers.  I got my copy through a book swap site, but even used it’s still selling for $10 or more, so get it from the library or wait awhile and get it from a used bookstore.

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Southern mysteries seem to be ‘the thing’ these says with many authors setting them down below the Mason-Dixon Line.  The late Anne George did an excellent series featuring the Southern Sisters, but one more ‘Bless her heart’ and I might gag.  Miranda James also uses sisters, in this case, active octogenarians An’gel and Duckie Ducote in second in a series, Dead with the Wind.  They drive with their young male ward to Lousiana to a home of their cousin, another branch of their old South family, for the wedding of her spoiled, obnoxious, about to be rich granddaughter.

Then Sondra’s new car has a brake failure, which makes no sense and makes Dickie suspicious about motives for wanting the young woman dead.  Then come her wedding day to a man their ward Benjy swears is gay, and Sondra gets ‘swept off the balcony by the storm’ and dies in the fall.  The sisters don’t believe that for one minute and launch their questions when they feel the police have dropped the ball.

As a study in manners as a weapon when properly applied, this is it, but I found it tedious at times, even though An’gel and Dickie were better than normal characters and very Miss Marple-like in their quiet pursuit of the killer.  There was a very good twist at the end, but the studied manners grates on my nerves.

Dead with the Wind gets a C+ (3.2*) rating and I bought at a deep discount from Amazon and it is still cheap in print but the Kindle remains at the publisher price of $7.99.  Get the print or better still, get it from you library.

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The Skeleton in the Closet is book 2 in Angie Fox’s Southern Ghost Hunter series.  (You see this ‘Bless her heart’ trend here?)  It combines yet another paranormal theme, a woman who sees ghosts, and a deputy sheriff who knows who secret.  Angie Fox is well known for her humorous Biker Witch Demonslayer series.  I wasn’t all the crazy about book one, Southern Spirits, but I got this for free from a buddy, so I read it.

On the upside, I liked it better than book one, on the downside, I’m still not thrilled with the series, though it is more original than most.  Given Angie Fox’s far better Biker Witches Demonslayer series, this is a disappointment.

The Skeleton in the Closet gets a C- (2.8*) from me.  Available in ebook and print, buy or borrow the ebook.  Better still, stick with her Dragonslayer series.  I got this free through a book swap site.  It will leave the same way.

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Jenn McKinlay writes several cozy series (The Hat Shop series and Cupcake Bakery series) under this name plus others under pen names.  I generally like her Library Lover’s series, but when this title went to hardcover, I gave it a pass.  Like most cozies, it’s short, uncomplicated, and lacks anything like a real surprise.  A Likely Story should be titled ‘An Obvious Story’.

Lindsey Norris, head librarian in a small coastal Connecticut town serves not just those who live on the mainland, but those who live year-round on the Thumb Islands.  Two of the most eccentric are Peter and Stewert Rosen. Stewert had looked after Peter since he broke his back as a young man leaving him crippled.  Their large Victorian was stuffed with junk and valuables and clutter – and dangerous booby traps.  But when Stewert fails to meet them at the dock to pick up the books, Lindsey and ex-boyfriend Sully – the water taxi captain/business owner – carefully make their way inside and  find Peter dead from a gunshot wound.  They immediately call Emma, the police chief who gets out there and starts carefully investigating only to get caught by a booby trap that sets off a fire.

At this point, you’re about 25% done and all key characters have been introduced and then the story plods to the inevitable conclusion.  You could see it coming from a mile away when Sully tells Lindsey the Rosen family story on the way to the island.

A Likely Story was unimpressive – ok, it was kind of dull and lifeless.  The big surprise from Sully’s competition for Lindsey is so obvious you know what it will be in the opening pages.  I think Ms McKinley is trying to write too many different series and the quality of her plots is degrading as she spreads herself too thin to spend the time she needs to create the subtleties needed to make it work.  Oddly, the story opens with a discussion of Josephine Tey’s Daughter of Time, one of the finest mysteries ever written, yet a surprisingly short book given the complex plot.  Alas, the reader would be better served going back and rereading Tey rather than wasting time and money here.

A Likely Story gets a C- (2.8*) for sheer lack of originality and shallow and putting it out in an expensive hardcover is an insult to readers and a shameless money grab by authors and publishers alike.  At over $13 in print and $12 in ebook, save your money!  This slight book is not worth it and frankly, I’d likely say the same for the $7.99 mmpb when it finally comes out.  If you are a fan, get it from your library.  Mine came through an online book swap site and is heading back out.

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I purchased Cover Shot on a whim when looking through Amazon’s ebooks.  Another shoe obsessed heroine had limited appeal, but at least she was a reporter on the crime beat.  It’s book 5 in a series, but like most mysteries, the over-arching plot that ties them together is pretty slim so reading one as a stand-alone is fine.  Nichelle Clarke is a crime reporter with no major crimes going on in Richmond, but was mystery tweeter who keeps sending her cryptic messages.  She and her detective contact decide to celebrate a slow day with a burger and beer when their dinner is interrupted by an emergency call.  Her detective might be shutting her out, but Nichelle is a woman on a mission – get a story and save her job and that of her Pulitzer Prize-winning boss, Bob.

It’s obvious from the start that LynDee Walker is herself a journalist.  She has an eye for detail, brevity, and pacing that many authors lack.  Her characters are believable, even if the plot elements edged into not quite credible area.   Nicey has a personal stake in all this given her beloved mother is a cancer survivor and the central character is a dead oncologist who was doing experiments the NIH knew nothing about and may have found the holt grail – a cure for cancer.   Possibly mobbed-up boyfriend Joey flits in and out while ex-Kyle tries to get her back, but otherwise previous stories don’t overlap.  The author, like her journalist character, keeps her eye on the story, not diversions.

Nichelle is a strong lead character and the plot, despite some mixed feelings I might have had thanks to decades in the pharma industry, remained believable enough to keep it interesting.  Cover Short ties together two apparently different story lines in an ingenious way and held my interest for the length of the book.  At about 300 pages, that’s actually impressive for a book in this genre – not quite a cozy, but not a mainstream mystery either.  Cover Shot is just a good read.

While some of the over-arching secondary plot elements are unresolved, Cover Shot was a very solid mystery, well plotted, with very well drawn believable characters, and a satisfying conclusion.  It comes in a solid B (4*) rating from me, high for a book in this genre and even more surprising given the whole shoe fetish thing.  A suggested read in ebook at $4.99 on Amazon and available in a grossly over-priced print version of just under $16!  Stick with the ebook!

 

 

 

November 16, 2015

The Good, the Average, and the (YAWN) Dull – books and ebooks

Getting new authors and sometimes old authors can be a real crapshoot. Authors you know need to meet a certain standard, one they set with their previous books. Sometimes the miss the mark – by a LOT. New authors and ‘new’ to you authors are a shot in the dark. You read the reviews and cross your fingers and give them a try. Some good, some are bad, and every once in awhile one is really amazing.

Well, one amazing read came my way, but no new discoveries came through my little paws this month, and a few authors did disappoint and several redeemed themselves.  So here we go:

The Hitwoman Hires a Manny is an ebook and the latest in the long-running Hitwoman series.  This complex story revolves around Maggie bringing her niece Katie home from the hospital where she’s shared a room with the grandson of mobster and her sometimes employer Tony Delvecchio.  She’s also trying to deal with her over-sexed, overbearing Aunt Loretta and Aunt Susan, the fact one keeps having sex in the back room of her ‘corset shop’ and the other is constantly running Maggie’s life.  With Maggie’s dad in witness protection and her mom in the loony-bin, Maggie has never had what anyone could call a normal life.  So taking up Tony Delvecchio’s offer of part-time hitwoman to earn enough money to pay for her niece’s care came when she need it most – but it also came with bigamist policeman Patrick – Tony’s other part-time hitter.  He was a man with 2 families to support and an interest in Maggie that’s way past professional.  Through in Aunt Loretta’s ‘boyfriend’ another WITSEC person hiding from a suddenly paroled killer, a ‘manny’ hired by Aunt Susan without asking Maggie and he’s fresh from the navy, easy on the eyes, interested in Maggie, and a licensed physical therapist – and Agnel Delvecchio, Tony’s non-mob nephew – and BOOM, you have a mess.

A fast, fun, interesting read in a series that’s best read in sequence, though you need not read every book.  It gets a B- (3.8*) from and a suggested ebook read for those who like lighter mystery/romantic suspense.  Purchased from Amazon for $3.99, but a bit short (around 200 pages) for that price, so try and borrow it from the library.

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This book was billed as the next Elvis Cole/Joe Pike novel, but ThePromise was more of a mashup of the Cole/Pike series with the Scott James/Maggie K-9 cop book, then threw in Pike’s friend turned mercenary for the US government, Jon Stone, a nearly absent key character, Amy Breslyn and a client who lies from the start and the whole thing had FAIL written all over it.

The plot is best described as slender and ill-defined.  Cole and Pike had supporting character roles and their normally sharp and witty exchanges were dull and lifeless.  Cole was a shadow of the character as he appeared in the earlier books.  Actually, the POV changed so often, it was like watching 5 versions of one story that ended up like babble rather than an edge of the seat thriller.  You had, Cole, Jon, Scott, Maggie (yes the dog was a narrator), the mysterious ‘Mr Rollins’, and the ‘client’ Meryl Lawrence.  Even the hard nose cop is blah.  I suggest a stiff drink and 2 Advil for the brain whiplash.

For 300 pages I kept waiting for the story to gel – it never did.  I kept waiting for Cole and Pike to morph back into the Cole and Pike readers always knew.  They didn’t.  I waited for Jon Stone or Scott James to emerge as the unifying character and take charge of ……….. something, preferably the damn plot.  Hell, I would have settled for Maggie becoming Sherlock Holmes, but no.  It was a dull and droning story with barely enough life to justify finishing the book.  Even the grand finale was blah.

The Promise was an empty one.  Please do not pick this up expecting the Crais you know from his earlier Elvis Cole books or his more Watchman, an excellent book featuring the enigmatic Pike.  Just not in that class.  Crais is possibly the most reliable writer of mystery fiction out there and this is easily his worst book.  It will sell on the strength of his name, but is so far below his standards it’s a sad shadow of his former self.  Pedestrian plot, shallow, lifeless characters, a ‘victim’ who could not be more wooden, and a villain that was just annoying and boring in equal parts.

The Promise gets a C- (2.8*) from me a strong recommendation that you BORROW DO NOT BUY this book.  I paid just over $13+tax for the hardcover on Amazon.  It was a waste of money.

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Gail Carriger is one of the better Steampunk authors out there, but her series can vary in quality.  I’m happy to say Manners and Mutiny wrapped up her Finishing School series on a high note.  The book picks up with slightly disgraced Dimity, Agatha, and Sophronia back at school after helping Sidheag get back to Scotland and her pack after her grandfather deserts it for attempting a coup.  (Waistcoats and Weaponry)  After a difficult ball at Bunsun’s – the Academy for Evil Geniuses – where each of the 4 most senior girls must play the part of their most opposite roommate, and dealing with Lord Felix Mersey, her erstwhile suitor who betrayed to his father, a leader of the Picklemen, the 3 friends head to London for the holidays.  She has a chance to visit with Soap, the sootie who she had the Dewan change to a werewolf to save his life after Mersey’s father, the Duke, shot him.

Something strange is afoot at the school and as usual, Sophronia is determined to find out what.  All year she and Dimity and Agatha have been putting their finely honed skills to the test and Sophronia is convinced Miss Geraldine’s floating school is key to the Pickleman’s evil plot.  As usual, she’s right.

You really need to read this YA series in order to follow the twisted plot and frequently overwrought prose, carriger’s signature style.  Manners and Mutiny brings our 3 friends full circle and is chock full of big and little surprises and a dash of romance in forbidden young love.  The conclusion is satisfying and story moves at a rapid pace then takes the time to do a bit of wrapping up in an Epilog.  I give Manners and Mutiny a solid B (4*) rating and the entire Finishing School 4 book YA Steampunk series a suggested read even for adult lovers of the genre.  I purchased it for just over $11 on Amazon, but honestly, unless you followed the series, you can easily wait and get a much cheaper copy later or borrow it from the library.  It is not adult ‘keeper shelf’ material.

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I bought this ebook on a whim looking for something different and it got an Amazon 4* rating and ‘One of the Best Self-Published Books of 2014′.  OK – ONE – never trust Amazon ratings.  TWO – Best Self-Published’ means nothing.  For all the colorful cover art, Kelly’s Koffee Shop was a sleeping pill in electronic form.  Lifeless would suggest the characters ever had life – they were barely mannequins.  The dialogue – OMG – awful does not come close.  The whole deal was so drained of color and verve that it felt less exciting than the Walking Dead playing Jeopardy.

I reached the ‘Please, just kill me now and put me out of my misery,’ stage by page 30.  I spoke with a friend who is more of a cozy lover and she lasted only 12 pages.  So there you have it.  No detectable pulse.  DOA.

Kelly’s Koffee Shop is a rare DNF.  Since even a dedicated cozy lover blew it off, I kind of strongly suggest giving this one a miss.  Or buy it as an insomnia cure – but be warned, it might take a while for your brain to recover.

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Let me start by saying my screen name on PBS is Reacherfan, so you know I’m a big fan of the early Jack Reacher books.  This one was not awful, it was just so – ok – YES IT WAS AWFUL!  There, I said it, ok?  Make Me was like Lee Child read John Sanford’s Virgil Flowers book Bad Blood nd tried to find a way to out-gross the incest religion at that book’s core.  GAG.  He kind of did it too and all the people in the town of Mother’s Rest were part of the grand conspiracy.  Make Me ended up a test of the reader’s gag reflex and tolerance for the pointlessly grotesque.  I just wish there had a redeeming reason to all this, but there was none.  At the end, Reacher seemed oddly unaffected by the truly awful people and events.

The book starts out in classic Reacher fashion with randomly leaving a train at a place called Mother’s Rest.  He was curious about how the town got its name.  A woman approaches him thinking he might be the colleague she was looking for and Reacher ends up drawn into her case.  The first 1/3 or so of the book was all predictable Reacher, different town but kind of a copy of the last few books, but an ugly edge creeps in.

After refusing to help the female PI, Reacher comes back and does just that and book takes a grotesque turn.  It’s like Child wanted extreme shock value – which failed – and ended up with just a gross monstrosity of a book that made me feel like I needed a shower when I was done.

A few authors can carry off the truly horrifying stories with a style that makes them dark, yet compelling and engrossing.  This lacked the kind edginess that keeps the humanity in those stories.  While the oddly prosaic monster at the heart of the tale meets a suitably awful end, the fact that Reacher not more affected by it all bothered me.  Such things provoke strong emotions and even soldiers don’t walk again unscathed.

Make Me made me want to gag and I’ve read some very dark and nightmare inducing books.  Lee Child just does not have the writing chops to pull off a plotline this ugly and still keep his characters real and compel readers to the right reactions.  The power of the horror never reached through, it just struck the wrong notes, dissonant and disturbing because it felt like a calculated author’s trick – something I find profoundly annoying.

Make Me gets a D- (1.2*) and a strongly suggested DO NOT BOTHER TO READ THIS GOD AWFUL TRIPE!  And it makes me damn sad to say that about a favorite character.  I got this book through an online book swapping site and left the same way.

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I saved the best for last.  The second book in Ilona Andrews Innkeeper Chronicles was a gem.  Sweep in Peace was one of those rare instances where book 2 of a series is better than book 1 – and since I liked Book 1 that was no easy feat.

Dina DeMille has been running her parents’ inn since they disappeared.  This is no ordinary inn, it’s a place reserved for travelers from other worlds, a sanctuary where there is a symbiotic relationship between the inn and the ‘magic’ its guests bring.  To thrive, an inn needs guests to replenish its energy and magic.  Those who stay there are in turn protected by the inn and the rules that govern the sanctity of the inn and its guests.  The inn will protect itself.

Located in a small town in Texas, the inn is well off the beaten cosmic pathway and has just one permanent – and highly dangerous – guest.  The inn needs more guests and Dina needs the income, so when she’s suddenly offered the opportunity to host the Arbitrator’s peace conference, it seems to good to be true.  It is.  With some reluctance and a fair amount  of dickering, Dina agrees.  No sane innkeeper really wants to host the Arbitrator’s, The Holy Anocracy of Vampires, the Hope-Crushing Horde, and the slipperiest merchants in the galaxies, the Nuan Cee of Baha-Char under their roof at the same time.  And these guests will demand nothing but the best – so Dina needs a chef.  That might be hard given her finances.

The story has more twists and turns than a complicated maze and Dina has to figure out what’s really going on because she becomes convinced of one thing – the Arbitrators lied.

I won’t ruin a good read with spoilers, but trust me when I say if you like this genre that blends Si-Fi with UF this series is a winner.  Andrews did an excellent job of spinning a complex web without allowing the plot to get out of control.  It all worked and all tied together in some unexpected ways and Dina’s solution is both inventive and oddly touching.  Sweep in Peace, like Clean Sweep, is a fairly short book but packed with fine story-telling.  It gets a rare A- (4.5*) from me and highly recommended read.  Do read Clean Sweep first to get the world-building background.  Purchased from Amazon in ebook for $4.99.  I might buy it in print for a much too high price of $11.69  for my keeper pile.  Yes, I enjoyed that much!

 

October 26, 2015

Frustration and Satisfaction: A Mixed Month of News and Books

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

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

AGAIN!  IT’S DELAYED AGAIN!

Hello,

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

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

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

Hello,

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

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

Then it got EVEN BETTER!

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

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

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

But wait, we’re not done!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

September 24, 2015

Reviews: eBooks and Print – New Authors and Old Favorites

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

August 13, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

July 30, 2015

Reviews: New Releases in Print and eBook

Here it is nearly August and parents are busy calculating how long before the kids are back in school and the routine starts again. The kids are trying really hard to forget all about it.  And I’m trying to forget about winter, which is getting closer every day.  Obviously not in time to do anything about the current heatwave.

Books, like life, sometimes come in cycles.  So do book discounts.  I thought Amazon’s Prime Day was blah, but that’s me.  I understand WalMart kicked their butt online, but Amazon will be making this event an annual mid-summer sale for Prime members – expect WalMart to follow.  WalMart requires NO MEMBER FEE and offers Free Shipping (though NOT 2 day) on orders over $35.  They had better electronics options.  Me, I’m a lot more interested in books unless shopping for something I need.  With BAM offering routine discounts on pre-orders and current stock books with free shipping for members ($25/yr), and Amazon offering some deep discounts, I ordered a LOT of to-be-released titles from both companies.  Amazon got all the trade and hardcovers and about 40% of the mmpb’s.  BAM got one large ($100.00+) mmpb order.  Many titles are due out next year and some hardcovers were discounted all the way down to $13-$14.75 – 46% to 52% off on a PRE-ORDER.  Grab when you can.  Discounts can be fleeting and by October they often stop offering them.  Remember, Amazon allows you to cancel any part of an order, BAM does NOT.

It’s not just sales that come in bunches, you’ll get a bunch of good books then a bunch that descend into, “What a waste of money!” territory ….. and you realize ‘boring’ is insufficient to the task at hand and you need to hit the old thesaurus for reviews.  I just want you to know, these reviews are not because I hate the dog days of summer (I do), but because I really hate spending money on books that are tedious and boring.  I sharpened the knives and I’m ready to work.  And it won’t be pretty, but I did save 2 good ones for last.

Here it is, one of two big releases in July and a much-touted hardcover by JR Ward, the author who made a name for herself with the angsty vamps of the Black Dagger Brotherhood.  Pardon me while I yawn.

The Bourbon Kings is a classic “sweeping family epic” replete with stereotypical characters and tired plot elements:

Daddy Dearest (who married the family with the fortune) – Abusive, controlling, hateful, liar, cheat, embezzler, and all around utterly despicable man.  (He probably had bad breath too.)

Absent Mother – Weak, insipid, lame, and a nonentity.  Rather than crawling into a bottle of the family’s bourbon she climbed into doctor’s drugs and lives – if you can call it that – in her bedroom.

Eldest Son – Heir to the business and respected by the board, he was quickly moving into position to take over the family business.  Physically broken by a South American kidnapping (likely engineered by said Despicable Daddy Dearest) who turns alcoholic horse-breeder.

Youngest Prodigal Son – Our ‘brooding reluctant hero’.  Screws clinging deb, leaves deb, falls for head gardener, declares love for gardener, learns deb is preggers, marries deb, leaves for NYC and the sofa of an old college chum where he crashes for 2 years trying to drink himself to death while torturing self for his mistakes.  Oddly, he seems incapable of calling a divorce attorney, so stupid comes in here too, though I think we’re supposed to see tortured hero.  hummmm ………. Apparently ‘stupid’ has a new definition.

Vacuous Deb – Gets knocked up deliberately to coerce youngest to marry her.  Stays at family mansion when new hubby deserts her for a couch in NYC.  Gets abortion to keep her figure.  Is screwing Daddy Dearest and …….. well, some history just repeats itself.

Middle Son – WHO?????

Slutty Sister – Vain, vapid and manipulative and does phone sex while hairdresser works on her, so throw in tacky.  (Or just throw up.  Your choice.) Complete with out of wedlock child at 17 and now a parasite on the family fortune.  Sold to a yucky toad son of liquor distributor by Despicable Daddy Dearest for an advantageous contract.  Realizes family is broke – runs to toad.  Underwear optional.

Daughter of Arch Competitor – In love with broken eldest son and holds mortgage on Bradford family estate.  Juliet to his unwilling, alcoholic, self-loathing Romeo.  These people all need shrinks.

Loyal Head Cook – and the ‘real’ mother to the boys.  Her being taken to the hospital means the Prodigal returns to the bosom of his family.  Oh joy.

Head Gardener – Blond, hard-working, honest, loyal, and a glutton for punishment for hanging around this estate despite a masters in horticulture.  Leaps to conclusions.  Maybe she should have applied to Longwood Gardens and skipped the whole nightmare of ‘forbidden love’.

Assorted hangers on, supporting players, fast cars, family jet.

Missing – Shoulder pads, big hair, catchy, dramatic theme song while panning opening film of dynastic estate, and JR Ewing – who would have at least made things interesting.  (Just a moment, I’m having an ’80’s flashback to Loverboy doing Everybody’s Working for the Weekend and need to regain my sanity.)  Great, now I have an earworm.  OK, so let’s assume you miss the original Dallas, Falcon Crest, and Dynasty, (and I’ll ignore your obvious need for therapy), well rejoice!!!!  You have found your book!  Shallow, predictable, boring, trite, tedious, boring, …… wait I said that, hang on …… insipid, dull, humdrum, and ………….. zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.

OK, there you go, if you have trouble figuring out the plot, you’re a- too young to remember nighttime soap operas, or b – as dull as this book.

Best line in the book:

Preacher to Prodigal Son at Faithful Retainers Church: “We haven’t seen you here in awhile, son.”

Prodigal: “I’ve spent the last two years up north.”

Preacher: “I’m sorry to hear that.”

Redeeming characteristics – it has an attractive cover and Daddy Dearest gets his in the end – but there’s a twist!  (Oh, just kill me now.)  HINT: It sure as hell isn’t Who Shot JR!!!!!!!!!!!!!

The Bourbon Kings is a melodramatic, overwrought, snoozefest and gets a resounding D (2*) and a suggestion that you SAVE YOURSELF!  Go buy something else, I beg you!  I swear I could feel brain cells dying by page 60.  Purchased from BAM and I should have just burned the money.  I could have toasted some marshmallows in the flames.

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If it weren’t for the fact I won Fatal Fortune in a swap game, I would never have read it.  It’s a series I liked and then it just got silly and unbelievable.  That was compounded by author Victoria Laurie getting into a very nasty ego-driven spat with a negative reviewer on Amazon.  Apparently the self-proclaimed psychic failed to predict the huge backlash her unpleasant and threatening comments caused.  It was so bad, she shut down her own blog and left Amazon.  She was lucky to not be sued into oblivion.

Well, after sitting here looking at this damn book for 6 months (I kept hoping it would just move on in another game), I figured I should at least give it a shot.  By page 100 I remembered all the many reasons I stopped reading this series, starting with improbable plots and moving onto seriously idiotic FBI relationships.

Psychic Abby is now married to FBI agent Dutch.  Candice, her best friend and business partner, is married to Dutch’s boss, Brice.  Abby wakes at just after 3AM with a feeling of dread.  She checks her cell and has a cryptic message from a stressed out Candice telling her to nothing is what it looks to be and go to the office and get a file and cash from the wall safe hidden in her closet then HIDE them.  By the time she gets home, she knows something is seriously wrong.  She hides the file and money in a vacationing neighbor’s garage and goes home ………. and starts lying to Dutch, Brice, and the police.

Candice was caught on a very clear garage camera recording getting out of her car shooting a retired physician then calmly driving away.  Now let’s be clear here, lying to a detective in a homicide investigation and hiding evidence, however well intentioned as a friend, is a one-way ticket to criminal prosecution.  That’s why I had to stop reading this series.  It gets worse.  To ‘protect’ Dutch and Brice, Abby leaves her consultant role as ‘profiler’ to investigate Candice.  She as qualified for that as I am as a heart transplant surgeon.  Worse, both men know what she’s doing and let it happen!!!!!  (Hiring standards for the FBI apparently do not include IQ tests.)

You know, there are just so many WTF moments any author is allowed before I ring the bell and yell, “YOU’RE FINISHED!”  Ms Laurie hit that magic number at page 95. I skimmed the rest of book, which unfolded as I had already predicted (Hey!  Maybe I have a future as a psychic!) and the big finale was …………. hang on, I need the thesaurus again ………  mind numbingly mundane!!!!!!!

Fatal Fortune had fatal flaws, mostly in the credibility department and then in the, ‘who gives a crap about these idiots’ department.  As a lightweight cozy, with all the flaws of that genre, it gets a D+ to C- (2.6*) and a suggestion to not bother with this series.  I cannot believe I subjected myself to this witless tripe again.  I read the hardcover, but it is available in paperback and even as a ‘free’ book, it wasn’t worth the money.  To think a tree died for this.  It’s just all kinds of wrong.

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One Mile Under is the half way point between some bad reads and decent reads, an uninspired outing for Ty Hauck.  Ty is basking in the sun being a boat bum in the Caribbean when a message from by an old friend asks to help out his daughter, Hauck’s goddaughter, a Colorado River guide.  Dani Whalen is all grown up and working a job she loves, guiding newbies and tourists on white water rafting trips.  In the middle of a trip, she spies something in the river and discovers an old friend, now a responsible young father and store owner, Trey Watkins, dead in his river kayak.

Dani’s step-father, Wade Dunn, is the small town sheriff, formerly the Aspen police chief till drink caught up with him.  His adamant refusal to investigate what he calls ‘an accident’ gets compounded when Dani learns he’s also hiding something.  Dani asks questions on her own and a not too reliable balloon pilot claims he saw what happened and he’d tell her the next day after his early flight.  Another ‘tragic accident’ kills him and his passengers.

When her Uncle Ty shows up, she finally has an ally, albeit one who initially sides with the sheriff’s version of events.  An extreme sportsman taking that one chance too many.  To satisfy his goddaughter, they head to northern Colorado farm country where the Watkins family still has their farm and find the company who was assigned the license plate Dani got from the park exit camera.  When an attempt is made by two oil tankers to kill him by running him off the road after he talks with the head honcho, Ty knows Dani is onto something.  But what?

This could have been a very suspenseful and interesting story, but read more like a ‘paint by numbers’ version of a great painting, close, but no cigar.  You know who the bad guys are early, you even know WHAT is happening (or this is your first mystery), then after that it’s all ‘follow the money’ and the usual ‘Perils of Pauline’ stuff.

One Mile Under is neither awful nor good, just blah.  It has some really good moments and a decent showdown at the end but was never compelling because too much is obvious at the 1/3 point.  It gets a C* (3.3*) and read only if you’re a Ty Hauck fan.  I bought it used from an Amazon reseller.

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Finally something that was fun, tongue-in-cheek punny, snarky, and just a hoot of a paranormal romantic mystery read are the first two books in the Shift Happens series by Robyn Peterman, Ready to Were and Some Were in Time. (Enas, pay attention here.  These are included for you!)

Essie McGee is hauling ass back to Hung Island, GA on an assignment from WTF (Werewolf Treaty Federation) with her bestie, gay vampire Dwayne.  The opening pages are a hoot and Essie is sassy, feisty, and all around solid character.  But it’s Grannie and Dwayne who keep stealing the show.  Staying with her grandmother, a former stripper, who’s 80+ and looks 40 and acts 20, is never wracking enough.  See her ex, pack Alpha, sheriff, and 6’3″ hunka, hunka of burning love, Hank Wilson, was hell on her nerves.  Plus he still smelled like her mate.  Damn.

Young pack females have gone missing and she’s there to find out what’s happening.  Why can’t Hank back off and stop driving her wild?  Somehow, she manages to work around Dwayne and Grannie’s antics, Hanks unrelenting pursuit, and her own raging hormones, to find the common denominator – a photography studio.  With a helping of Dwayne’s vampire blood, she’s able to not only save herself, but kill bad guys and rescue the other females with help from Hank, Grannie, Dwayne, and the pack.

The HEA has a catch when Grannie reveals some family secrets and we’re off to book 2 with Hank and Essie now a pair of WTF agents and Grannie ….. well, she was a lot more than a stripper.

Some Were in Time picks up at the end of the week long Jamaica vacation that Dwayne cheerfully paid for (300-year-old vamps being the wealthy kind) when Angela, looking frazzled and scared, gives them a new assignment.  Find out who on the council were working with the kidnappers of the werewolf females Essie and Hank just set free.  Of course, she does NOT care that Essie and Hank are trying to arrange their wedding, something werewolves do to keep up the human front.  Dwayne is determined to ‘help’ since is ‘maid of honor’ and can wear a dress!!!!!!!!  And Hank has to convince his older brother, the pack man-slut, it’s time to take up his position as Alpha.  It’s hard to say a lot more without giving away the whole plot of book 1, so just trust me, it’s worth the effort.

Ready to Were is an enlarged novella at 168 quick pages and free on Amazon Kindle.  Some Were in Time is full-length novel at 330 pages, still an easy fun read, and $4.99 in ebook.  Other ebook formats are available through links on the author’s website, some with lower prices.  Both get B+ (4.2*) as good, rollicking reads with solid plots, fun characters, and enough romance to add that extra something.  I got both from Amazon as ebooks.  Recommended.


May 4, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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oracle's secret

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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