Tour’s Books Blog

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.

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.

October 22, 2014

October Reviews – Mystery Week!

I love fall, but it came much to early thanks to a drought.  After several years of wicked fall storms and epic floods, this year we haven’t had anywhere near enough rain.  The trees behind my place turned in September and peaked just as October arrived.  Usually it’s the 3rd week of October before peak color on those trees. Now it’s not even mid-month and they’re nearly bare.  Too many months with nothing green except the pines now lay ahead.  God, I hate winter!  I hate the cold, the snow, the cold, the ice, the cold, the short days, the cold………  I HATE COLD!  I’m not sure how my parents managed it, but they had a son who is apparently part polar bear and a daughter who is part hot house plant.  My poor brother sweats (Really, like beads running down his face when he does any work at all.) when I’m up at Christmas and keep the thermostat up even while bundled in layers of sweaters and fleece.  That’s the price of being family.  He’s learned to live with it a few days a year.

It’s already dark so early, the nights seem endless.  The light was noticeably  different in July and now, the sun is in a very different part of the sky, light slanting and a different color.  It is nice to live in the country with hills.  Nice color, and very scenic drives everywhere.  Unfortunately, that means folks taking day trips in the area to ‘see the color’.  It’s much worse up by my brother in the Berkshires.  This weekend the roads will be packed with ‘leaf peepers’.  The historic main street of Deerfield with it’s beautiful houses dating back to early 1700’s is over run with tour buses.  He’ll drive down on a beautiful day during the week, often taking his 1912 Buick roadster, and should be park, even for a few minutes, crowds will gather around his brass age car as it it were another museum attraction.  Soon, he’ll be draining the radiator and crankcase and putting the car up for the winter.  He’s already been bringing in wood for the stove.

October new releases have mostly arrived and still nothing amazing.  SIGH!  Where is that gem of book by a new author?  Apparently very well hidden.  But, let’s see what’s been passing through my hot little hands.

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The Impersonator

New author with a new series and award winner from the Mystery Writers of America, The Impersonator by Mary Miley made it’s debut last year in hardcover and I got it this year in trade paperback shortly after its release.  I bought the next book in the series, Silent Murder.  The Impersonator has a fascinating historical setting in the 1920’s with its lead character part of a vaudeville act.  Throughout the book, the author slips in tidbits about many acts that later became famous on the screen and much later on TV.

She calls herself Leah Randell, but for this act she is known as Carrie Darling.  She was raised in vaudeville and made her own since her mother died years ago when she was 12.  Small and youthful looking, she can still pass as a teen despite her 24 years.  She sees a fat man in her show several nites running. Luckily, the other older members of the ‘Seven Little Darlings’ stick together, even though they’re not related, so when the fat, old man calls her Jessie, she isn’t alone.  But ‘Uncle Oliver’ is insistent she and her two friends dine with him at the best hotel in town.  That’s where he makes his pitch.

Jessie Carr was his niece and would now be 20 years old.  She ran away from the family estate in Oregon after her parents died and her aunt came to live there with her 4 children to raise her.  Her own family had been disinherited because of the wayward nature of her husband, so despite the fact her sons were Carr’s, they stood to inherit nothing if she appeared by the age of 21.  That birthday is fast approaching and her ‘Uncle Oliver’ needs to gain access to the Carr fortune – or at least some of it  Then along came Leah, a dead ringer for her cousin.  So he’ll train her to be Jessie and she can get rich, then he can get a small share of the family fortune his sister married into.

Initially, Leah refuses.  The act breaks up and finding work is hard.  Eventually, she agrees to impersonate Jessie Carr.  Oliver trains her in everything from correct fork and spoon to who is who in the family, where she lived as a child, the lawyers managing the estate, etc.  Then the accidents start.  The boarding house she lived in burns down.  She feels like she’s being watched and switches trains and hotels – and the hotel she was booked in has another ‘accident’.  Oliver feels she’s being sensitive.   Then she passes the first test, Oliver’s mother, Jessie’s grandmother, and the family lawyers.  Arriving at the ‘cottage’ in Oregon, the real fear starts.  Her two male cousins had spent the last nearly 7 years expecting to inherit, now Jessie is back and they want her gone.  As in dead and gone.

And suddenly, the book stalls.  It loops between a small town and the isolated ‘cottage’ with her creepy cousins and their sweet mother.  A ‘cowboy’ shows up and becomes part of the gang, but he’s not creepy, he’s cute.  Unfortunately, I knew what happened by page 120.

The Impersonator has very strong beginning, a stalled middle that was meant to build tension, but basically just looped because physically, it could go nowhere, and then it had a good ending that seemed a bit rushed with revelations about family all coming at once.  It was a good read, but not great.  Had the middle of the book paced as well as the first 100 pages, it would have been great, but the isolation, though authentic, had limited opportunities for characters and plot twists.  You can only do so much with running a car into and out of a small coastal town.

The Impersonator gets a C+ to B- (3.6*) from me mostly due to middle of the book and the rushed pacing at the end with one surprise after another.  The killer is anticlimactic, but the rest is good.  As an historical, Mary Miley does a great job of capturing the period and the character of Leah/Jessie.  The book is certainly well above the usual crop of new authors.  Ms Miley is a former history professor at the U of V, and worked at Williamsburg, so she has a sound background for the kind of research into vaudeville and period settings here and it shows to great advantage.  Enjoyable and you can speed read the middle.  I bought the second book in the series set in early Hollywood.  Looking forward to it.

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One Potion in the grave

Heather Blake writes two paranormal cozy series, the Wishcraft series that I’m not fond of and Magic Potion series that I like.   One Potion in the Grave is book two of the Potion series and as enjoyable as book 1.  Hitching Post, Alabama is one busy small town with Senator Calhoun’s son getting married this weekend at Carly Hartwell’s mother’s chapel.   But there’s another surprise for Carly, her old friend, Katie Sue Perriwinkle has come back to town after leaving to get away from her greedy relatives.  Katie Sue cared for grandfather and younger sister when her Momma moved out and her sister married and left.  Turns out, granddad was a shrewd investor and his estate was several million dollars.  After fighting her mother in court and winning, Katie Sue took off and got her MD, living in the big city in a gated community.  She was known as Kathryn Perry now and at a B&B operated by one of Carly’s aunts.  She’s here for the wedding ……………. and to make trouble for the Calhoun’s, a dangerous family to cross.  Carly’s ‘spidey sense’ is screaming danger all around her old friend.

As if that wasn’t surprise enough, the bride to be, beauty queen Gabi Greenleigh, comes in looking for a love potion for her groom.  And her cousin, with whom she has the beginnings of a relationship, Delia, stops in.  Just a day for surprises – including her cranky aunt having coffee with her mom’s arch competitor and looking mighty friendly ………. and conniving.  Kathryn has her room ransacked at the B&B, then she’s found dead and the groom is a prime suspect.

With verve and lively characters, Ms Blake keeps the story rolling and Carly involved in investigating her death.  When the younger sister she tried to gain custody of lands in the hospital on life support, she starts to look at who benefits ……….. and finds two different answers.  The answers were given away to any mystery fan in a scene well before the big denouement.

One Potion in the Grave is a good paranormal cozy read.  Ms Blake writes well, but I like this setting and group of characters more than her Wishcraft books set in Massachusetts.  I give One Potion a B- (3.8*) and suggested read for any cozy lover.  The series deserves more fans than it has garnered so far.  I got it for just over $7 at Amazon and I’m passing it along to a PBS cozy fan.  Like most cozies, an easy, fast read, but with much better than average plot and characters.

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the skeleton takes a bow

The Skeleton Takes a Bow by Leigh Perry, book two in the Family Skeleton series, is another amusing story featuring Sid the skeleton, one of the livelier skeletons out there, and often a hoot.  Playing Yorick in Madison’s high school production of Hamlet (which, according to Richard Armour is Twisted Tales from Shakespeare, means ‘little ham’), and Sid is ready and willing to play his part.  Sitting in Madison’s locker during the day is like Nirvana for the busybody skeleton.  Dr. Georgia Thackery, adjunct professor at the local college reluctantly agrees.  Then Madison does what too many teens do.  She got busy, left school and forgot Sid’s skull in the prop room.  Mother and daughter go back, but no answers their banging and they leave Sid for the night.  And what a night it was.  Sid overheard a murder.

The fun begins when Georgia gives in and allows Sid to investigate.  Then it seems an unrelated natural death from pancreatic cancer of fellow college adjunct seems to somehow be related.  Despite two anonymous calls to the cops, there’s no evidence of a crime or a body.  At least only her very practical sister thinks she’s nuts.  Soon, strange letters from a foundation that has to internet presence or apparent records starts cropping up all over.  Then the two start tying back to a powerful local politician.

The book moves along quickly and Sid is by turns funny and occasionally a drama queen.  He certainly has a personality.  It will be interesting to see where the author goes with this when Georgia’s parents, both tenured faculty at the college, come home from their sabbatical.  I give The Skeleton Takes a Bow a B- (3.7*) for a good cozy read.  Funny and a bit fluffy, but kind of what a cozy should be.  I bought this from Amazon for $7.19, which to be honest is a bit high.  Try and get it cheaper.  Cozies don’t exactly make the keeper shelf.  And for true laughs, try Richard Armour’s Twisted Tales from Shakespeare.  It remains one of my favorite humor books and the more you know his works, the funnier it is.  Available used, but not as an ebook.

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Children of war

In book 7 of the Bruno Chief of Police series, Children of War, Martin Walker once again takes readers on a sad journey into France’s past, this time to Algeria.  Published in the UK, it is not due out in the US till 2015 under the title The Children Return.  I purchased this from The Book Depository in the UK, a company started by a former Amazon employee and now owned by them.  They have free worldwide shipping via media mail, but waiting 10 to 2 weeks beats waiting 10 months for the US publisher.

The book opens with the brutal torture killing of an undercover policeman that Bruno knew well.  The manner of his death takes him back to years he served in the French military in Algeria and later in Sarajevo.  Such brutality seems so out of place in the bucolic French countryside where the grape harvest is starting and people still largely in the old way.  But the world stops for no one, as Bruno well knows, and all he can do for his colleague now is find the killer.

This book introduces a new love interest for Bruno, an American, and like all his love interests, she is badly injured.  As usual, he’s cooking, watching out for his investment in a winery, and training his new hound.  But the mystery is darker and more gruesome than the early books and it deals with a less than stellar bit of French history in North Africa.  Even worse, the bad guy is smart and lives.

This little patch of bucolic French countryside does seem to have the highest violent crime rate outside St Mary Mead where Miss Marple lived.  Unfortunately, this entry in the really good series was a little too dark to be enjoyable.  That level of gruesome torture/murder, while accurate for what it portrayed, is not an easy or entertaining read.  When juxtapositioned with the country village life in St Denis, well, it was hard to understand how anyone could compartmentalize to the extent that Bruno did.  Still, the nature of the crime is what drives everything that comes after, so it was essential to the plot.

By now, Walker has established a pattern to his Bruno books and it’s a formula he follows here.  Mixing ordinary village life with the plague of fighting off the encroachment of the larger world, the simple pleasures of living against the greater backdrop of violence and dark deeds.  As usual, an ongoing character has a secret in her past that gets revealed and dealt with by the truly evil man at the center of all this, as does another issue, again tied to this man, tying up the seeming disparate sub-plots.

Children of War gets a B- (3.8*) because the darkness of the crimes seemed to overwhelm the rest of the story and frankly, I wanted the bad guy D-E-A-D, preferably in some horrible way.  A good mystery, but far more in the noir genre than traditional mystery.  Will I buy his next book?  Yes, but if he continues down this grim path, I might hesitate on future ones.  My copy has moved on to someone in PBS through a swap.  Mostly, Bruno fans are women and this book was not aimed to please those readers.  As a devout action thriller/spy- assassin book reader, I found myself a bit put off.

May 31, 2014

Finding the Right Book

Have you ever had one of those spells when no matter what you try and read, you just can’t get into it?  I get them now and again, and the past few weeks or so have been awful, I put down at least 10 different books.  Then I do what I usually do and go back and read a book I’ve read before and liked.  Well only a few of the books I rec’d this month could catch and hold my interest.  The rest ……………. BORING.  OK, maybe boring to different degrees, or maybe a character really annoyed me, or maybe the writing annoyed me, but damn, I just kept putting down book after book thanks to complete disinterest.

Finally, Amazon dropped new releases I’d been waiting for and one hit the spot, two were kind of ok, and finally, Craig Johnson saved me with his new Walt Longmire.  Suzanne Brockmann proved yet again she can write over 500 pages and still say nothing memorable.  I swear her last good book was Out of Control way back in 2002.  SO, here we go with a VERY mixed bag of reviews by a cranky reader ready to throttle the next cozy writer who makes the killer so obvious they’re all but wearing a neon sign.

Do or Die

Epic romantic suspense that wasn’t all that romantic or suspenseful.  Do or Die is the first book in a new series, Reluctant Heroes.  It starts with a jewel heist at a consulate, where our hero takes a cache of jewelry stolen from Jewish families by the grandfather of the current slimeball and getting sold to an equally scummy foreign diplomat.

Fast forward 2 years.  Two lawyers visiting a maximum security prison to see Ian Dunn, former Navy SEAL, former possible jewel thief – or maybe Robin Hood – and security expert.  Either way, he’s not interested.  Too bad, he’s sprung anyway.  Now he has to make sure the crime boos he did a deal with knows he isn’t out for spilling any secrets.

In her now usual convoluted fashion we have a gay romance (gay son of a Cuban gangster is married to Ian’s brother and they have a daughter that needs protection).  Ian somehow gets his old team together and we have guns fights, chases, threats, desperate battles – all the usual stuff.  Ian get his girl, his brother his ‘wife’, and we have  Détente with the new crime boss.  YAWN.

Do Or Die gets a D+ to C- (2.5*) and a suggestion you give it a miss.  Forgettable.  Thank heavens I got this for trade through a book swapping site.  It’s a 500+ page sleeping pill.

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A Tiger's Tale

A Tiger’s Tale, Book 2 in the Call of the Wilde series featuring a psychic ex-vet that is now an ‘animal behaviorist’ was as good as author’s first, Woof at the Door.  This time Grace Wilde is dressed for an important fundraiser where her sister is auctioning off her services as an animal behaviorist, so she dressed to the nines when she gets a call a teenage girl is missing from a big cat rescue operation and there’s a tiger in distress.  Grace chooses to help the rescue and the tiger in the pouring rain.

But it turns out everything isn’t quite what it seems.  Brooke’s mother and step-father seem matched and fed-up with a difficult teen.  But the family cat tells a story of abuse.  In dragging her sexy almost boyfriend, police crime scene investigator Kai Duncan into the problem of the missing girl, he ends up in trouble.  But she and Moss, her half wolf hybrid, are determined and they find Brooke hiding, and they find a killer, and an all to too clever donkey helps save the day.

A Tiger’s Tale get a B- (3.8*) from me.   The plot was a little predictable, but the characters, human and animal, are so well done, it was just a good read.  Nothing outstanding, but what a good cozy should be.  Buy, borrow it, or get it used, but cozy lovers should give this series a try.  Purchased from Amazon and worth it!

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death of a mad hatter

And speaking of cozies, book 2 in Jenn McKinley’s Hat Shop series came out this month – Death of a Mad Hatter.  Dotty Grisby is well ……. dotty.  Her husband died and she wants to throw a fundraiser in her garden to add a wing to the hospital in his name.  She is convinced he was away on business …… for 30 years.  Actually, he was living in Italy with a much younger mistress and simply abandoned his family.  She’s also convinced Vivian, Scarlet’s cousin the hat design guru at Min’s Whim’s, the hat shop the two inherited from their aunt, is in fact her old friend ‘Ginny’, their deceased aunt.  She wants the theme of the party to be the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party from Alice in Wonderland.  Viv is already right on board with designs.

But Dotty’s three daughter’s have a different view, one that’s a bit bitter, as their useless brother just inherited the entire estate and they got nothing.  Daddy Dearest is not high on any ‘wonderful person’ list, and neither is their snotty brother Geoffrey.  With a lot more verve and a larger then usual cast, Ms McKinley makes the surreal events seem almost normal, in a slightly off-kilter way.  Who did it and why was not obvious and was well done.

Death of a Mad Hatter gets a B- (3.7*) rating from me and is a suggested read.  The one downside is Scarlet’s tendency to be childish and petulant about Harrison, their account – and it turns out, business partner.  Her childish fits annoyed me.  Otherwise, it was a good book with a few neat surprises at the end.  Purchased from Amazon and worth the money.

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slightlyspellbound-200x323

It’s be awhile since Kimberly Frost published her last Southern Witch book.  Halfway Hexed was way back in 2011 and she’s done 2 books since, but unrelated to this series.  Berkley republished her first three books in mmpb and finally published Book 4, Slightly Spellbound.  And now I’ve kind of hit a wall.

I really enjoyed books 1 to 3 of this series and I had very high expectations for books 4, instead, what we got was variation on a theme that’s gotten OLD.  Tammy Jo Trask has discovered why her magic never quite worked – she’s half Fae.  Unfortunately she’s all indecisive and fickle too.  Against years of being told to avoid Bryn, she not only stops avoiding the powerful warlock, she starts sleeping with him.  And well, she also keeps sleeping with her ex-husband too and Bryn will just have to understand.  SERIOUSLY?  Someone set off the alarm – we have a CODE RED – DINGBAT ALERT!

And really, how many immature, stupid decisions does one person get to make before you just haul off and smack them with a skillet?  Tammy Jo is a a poster child for stunted emotional and intellectual growth.  Incapable of learning from REPEATED mistakes, always excusing her bad decisions (now it’s the fault of her ‘fae nature’ as opposed to too few functioning brain cells) and wandering around like a child failing to make any effort to become astute, insightful, or take responsibility for handling what life is throwing at her.  GROW UP AND GET A FREAKING BRAIN!  And learn how to keep it!

You know, I was really looking forward to this book.  What a MAJOR disappointment.  Slightly Spellbound gets a D+ to C- (2.5*) from me and only readers with a much higher threshold for dimwits should read this books.  Purchased from Amazon and what a waste of money.

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Craig-johnson Any Other Name

 

Well, if there is a reliable author out there, it’s Craig Johnson.  In Any Other Name he tells another complex Longmire type tale of corruption and greed and all those good old-fashoined All American past times.  Lucian Connally, Walt’s old boss and his fried, asks Walt to help and old friend of his when her husband, a police detective working cold cases, commits suicide.  It’s not Walt’s jurisdiction, but as Lucian says at the beginning, once you turn him loose, he’ll run the case till he finds the truth and nothing can stop him.

Walt is working against the clock.  His daughter is due to have a baby and he’s going to be late getting to Philly to greet his first grandchild.  But the obnoxious cop who now has cold cases hates Walt on sight.  The Campbell County sheriff knows Walt, but something is off.  Everyone wants this to be suicide and the more Walt learns, the less it seems like it was suicide.  In the end, you have all of Walt’s help from Absaroka County up in Campbell helping him do what the Campbell sheriff should be doing.  And as usual, the big man stirs up a hornet’s nest and turns over enough rocks to find what folks are working so damn hard to hide, and it’s ugly.

Johnson’s writing lends itself well to usually cold and lonely parts of the US (it’s always winter in his books, or so it seems), and Walt is no hayseed sheriff.  He’s shrewd and great student of human nature, especially the dark side.  While this may not be the best book in the series, it’s still better than 99% of the crap out there.  At barely 300 pages, so not as long as most of his books, which might explain why some areas seemed a bit too lean or slightly disjointed.

Any Other Name gets a B- (3.8*) and a recommended read, but wait for a library copy or used book.  I paid just over $16+tax, it’s at the top of the price range.

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This month saw the last of my aunts pass away.  Now before you get all sad and feel like saying, “Sorry for your loss” – trust me, that woman was no loss.   There was a scene with my dad and after that my brother and I no longer existed to them.  When my mother got sick, not a call, or a card, and aunt and her sister (OK technically another aunt) were childhood friends of my mother’s before she ever married their brother.  When mom died, they walked into the funeral home wearing black and crying.

Now I have to stop here and admit I have a temper.  A really, really bad temper.  I am normally a very good natured, affable person who enjoys laughing and likes talking to people, but I do not suffer fools gladly and something like that is like tossing gas on a fire and I go from calm to ‘I’m going kill them’ in about 10 seconds flat.  My all time favorite Great Aunt Lil stopped me from getting up and throwing the out (wouldn’t let go of my arm and would kick me in the ankle if it seemed like I was going to go after them).  I’m kind of sorry she did.  She kept saying, “Stay calm, don’t cause a scene.”  Oh did I want to cause a scene.  But I behaved and managed, barely, to be civil, but I know my look screamed, “DROP DEAD!”  Why is there never a voodoo doll handy when you need one?

That happened 40 years.  Yup, 40 years and that is still crystal clear in my mind.  Now the last one is dead.  My brother, in an uncommon show of wisdom and good sense, urged me to go home rather than stop at the funeral home to see my cousins.  I think he realized I might very well break into a chorus of “Ding dong the witch is dead, which old witch, the wicked witch….”  Or possibly try and drive a stake thru her heart, put garlic in the coffin, or ask if anyone had remembered to call an exorcist.  You know, just to be sure.  At any rate, I was the one local cousin who wasn’t there (the two dead ones were excused).  I do believe the two cousins who really know me fairly well, breathed easier when my brother showed up alone.

But despite all this history, this was a changing of the guard.  She was the last aunt or uncle on either side of my family.  Now my cousins, brother and I are the ‘oldest ones’.  EEK!  Damn.  I should be wiser, and have more gray hair, and be able to offer sage council.  Then again, that would go so against my character, my brother might commit me for being possessed.  He understands my yelling at the TV during football games telling refs to, ‘Eat dirt and die, you scum-suckers.”  He also is immune to my breaking my sentences to scream obscenities at another driver and then calmly finish what I was saying.  It’s taken him decades to reach this point without even taking any medication.  It was probably best that we didn’t stress our relationship too far.

So mom, if you’re listening, you asked ……. well yelled, 40 years ago, “There’s just the two of you!  Can’t you get along?”  It’s taken us some time Mom, but we’ve learned to manage to avoid situations where one of us wishes to assault the other … mostly.  Unless he does that damn channel surfing thing.  But I can usually make it out of the room before the urge to kill overcomes me.

 

March 30, 2014

Life Gets in the Way – and Book Reviews

You know really, you’d think at my age life would not keep getting in the way.  That’s for the young.  Well, apparently, the problem is more universal than I thought.  Nothing dramatic, just everyday living seems to fill up the day.  I have no idea how people have time to get bored.  I always seem to have something to do – and plenty of stuff I push off till the last minute – mostly because I hate doing those things.  I am a master of procrastination!!!!!!  It’s an art form.

The one thing I get impatient for is the next book in a series.  Yes, I know I already have too many books, thank-you for reminding me.  I DO NOT CARE!  I want certain series and I want them NOW!  Unfortunately even authors are at the mercy of the publishers.  Now Jana Deleon solved that problem by becoming a publisher and her latest Miss Fortune book hit Kindle and Nook this past week.  You guessed it, I bought it the day it was released.  I’ll buy a print copy when one becomes available.  I also checked with Suzanne Johnson, author of the Sentinels if New Orleans series, which was less than thrilling news, the publisher is delaying the release till first quarter next year.  ARGH!  Look, I know the fall is when the coffee table books sell, not fiction, but come on.  It will be almost 18 months between releases.  That is so damn frustrating.  Then Daniel O’Malley, author of the fabulous UF book The Rook, has his follow up written and going thru rewrite now.  Again, maybe next year.  Yes, I did yell at my computer when I read that.

In the mean time, cozy authors are churning 2 to 3 series every year with new books in one or the other every few months.  The stories are so formula that they seem to become the equivalent of those trashy series romances that get churned out every month.  Too many cozy mysteries are just landfill waiting to happen.  Unfortunately that’s become true in a lot of UF as well.  Still, there are bright spots and I found a few this month, so here we go!

Indexing

Indexing takes its title from the ATI (Aarne-Thompson Index) used to codify fairy tale manifestations.  No seriously, that’s the core premise of the book.  Too bad I found it boring as hell.  Seanan is one of my favorite authors.  Fresh, original, clever, and complex, she does first rate urban fantasy.  I was expecting something just as good here as her October Daye series, but I got a weird story that I simply could NOT get into with characters that were more irritating than fascinating.  I will say this, it was original, just not remotely believable and kind of seriously annoying.  Now that said, I do feel I must add I am in the minority here.

The reviews are overwhelmingly favorable on Amazon.  I am surprised. The basic premise is some people are born who are capable of fulfilling the role of a character in a fairy tale – like Sleeping Beauty or the Pied Piper – or the evil witch.  There is this whole organization, ATI Management Bureau, that exists to disrupt any fairy tale manifestation that begins unfolding.  Not sure how you hide all this from Homeland Security, NSA, the CIA (yes, not in the US, HA!), FBI and the NYPD, but OK, let’s give that a pass, even though this is supposedly a government agency and therefore not entirely SECRET.  Still, how many Sleeping Beauties and Prince Charmings are there?  Apparently too many. Now understand, I did not read the serial installments of this story, so I started the book with zero knowledge of what to expect.  As a result, the whole thing came over as episodic and choppy, rather than a smooth, continuous story.  In addition, I simply didn’t care about the characters.  I found the plot annoying rather than interesting and by the end I just wanted it OVER.

If you’re a fairy tale fan, perhaps you’ll like this more than I did.  If you aren’t, be advised to give it a PASS!  Indexing is about one of the characters trying to take over the plotline because she feels she’s been marginalized.   At that point I would have said, “Go for it!  Anything to end this!!!!”  It took longer than that.  Too long. Indexing gets a C- (2.7*) and in fairness, no I do not recommend it.  Again, if you like fairy tales, this may just the book you’re looking for, so go and enjoy.  It’s currently selling for under $9 on Amazon for print and $4 for Kindle.  If you really want it, buy the Kindle version.  Otherwise, just wait for remainders.

******************************************************* Disenchanted

Lynn Viehl has earned a rep in the UF and fantasy field, not one of my usual authors, but this Steampunk book looked more up my alley than her others so I grabbed the print version.  Like Indexing, Disenchanted & Co originally sold as an installment ebook.  There the similarity ends.

Charmain “Kit” Kitteredge is a debunker of all things magical in the city of Rumsen in Toriana (sort for Victoriana, the name of the US in this alternate history where we lost the Revolution and remained a colony of England).  Orphaned as a young teen, she’s had to make her own way, and polite Society was less than kind to her, so she is disinclined to take any commission from their members.  They are both fickle and dangerous.  But a second wife prevails upon her to investigate her husband whom she is convinced is cursed or possessed. Lucian Dredmore, a Deathmage, becomes involved in her investigation as does police Chief Inspector Thomas Doyle, an old childhood friend whom she meets again after many years.  Both Lucian and Tommy have more than professional interest in Kit!  Kit is also very friendly with an eccentric inventor (is there any other kind?) who lives in the sub-basement of her office building and treats her like a favorite niece.  And in the midst of all this, Kit begins believing in magic herself, because it’s the only way to explain what’s happening.  But when a spirit appears to her, she isn’t sure if she’s going mad, or it’s real …… but she trusts the spirit enough to hand over a cursed stone that spirit then destroys.

Soon Kit is held captive by Dredmore and she’s appalled to find herself very attracted to the man.  She knows he’s just trying to keep her safe, but Kit is an independent woman and has no intention of allowing him to control her, even if her client’s husband is doing his best to destroy her and her fledgling business. The story weaves in various plots, creates different races, and ends with a not quite believable sequence where Kit steps thru time to thwart an invasion with Dredmore. Overall, Disenchanted & Co worked, though I found the denouement a bit like that idiot ‘dream sequence’ in Dallas many years ago.  That was the weakest part of the book, along with developing the characters of Kit’s two closest friends, a madame who runs a house of ill repute, and the leading modiste in Rumsen.  Rumsen itself seems to be San Francisco.

I bought Disenchanted & Co and the second book in the series, The Clockwork Wolf, from Amazon for $7.19 each.  I felt I got my money’s worth.  It’s is recommended for fans of the Parasol Protectorate, with the caveat that Carriger’s books are better.  Still, Viehl did a good job with Disenchanted & Co and it gets a B- (3.7*) from me and higher marks on Amazon.

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And here we have another Steampunk style mystery, this time featuring the niece of Sherlock Holmes.  A Study in Silks is the story of a not quite Society girl who is too shrewd and observant living in her best friend’s house with a wealthy family that is several levels above her own place in society.  In this version of Victorian England, it is not the titled aristocrats who rule, but the ruthless ‘Steam Barons’ who control everything, including who does and does not get power to their homes and businesses.  Cross one and you will ‘go dark’ and be shunned, no matter your title. Evelina Cooper is well aware she lives with Imogene’s family on sufferance.  A connection to Sherlock Holmes is hardly enough to lift her into society.  But when a murder occurs in the family home, Imogene gets involved.  And here’s the rub, this book is a ‘new adult’ level read, not a mature adult read.  Romance and plot stay pretty much PG-13 and lose some potential.  But even within the confines of the ‘new adult’ format, it works fairly well.  Not as dark or detailed as a standard adult story, but satisfying enough for most mystery fans.

Evelina also has to hide the fact she has magic.  People with magic are quickly put to death, as the Steam Barons fear and hate them. Magic can have no place in their society ruled by invention.  This places a further strain on the plot as Sherlock Holmes is the most rational man to ever walk thru mystery stories and he fits rather poorly into this world.  Then again, they had Sherlock defeating the Nazis in WWII in the movies and people bought into that so …… eh, deal with it Holmes fans. Given her magical gifts, her less elevated place in society, and rather precarious position in the household as Imogene’s friend, her relationship with Tobias, the son of the steam baron, is doomed from the start.  Involving her Uncle Sherlock and Dr Watson was likely ill advised, especially when someone tries to kill him.  The ending is not really an ending, it merely points to a man we knew to be the bad guy from the start.  (Shades of Moriarty.)

A Study in Silks was ok.  I will say my fellow mystery readers seemed to like it far better than I did, possibly because I get impatient with young adult/new adult stories that seem to have angst.  I don’t like the whole angst thing no matter how it’s done.  I give the book a C+ to B- (3.5*) rating and say it was good, but not as good as many others out there.  Purchased from Amazon for $7.19 it’s a long book, so I suppose it’s worth it, just not to me.

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Swamp Team 3

I broke my own rule on what I’ll pay for an ebook and bought this one for $5.99 the day it was released.  Swamp Team 3 is the fourth book in the Miss Fortune series by Jana Deleon.  Fortune Redding is a CIA assassin with a huge price on her head and an informer in the CIA who set her up with an insane arms dealer in the mid-east.  Now she’s in hiding in wacky Sinful, Louisiana posing as her boss’s niece, Sandy-Sue Morrow, a librarian and former beauty queen.  She immediately became friends with two elderly women, Ida Belle and Gertie, who run the Sinful Ladies Society and turn out to have been Counterintelligence in Viet Nam.

In three weeks in Sinful, Fortune has had more than her fair share of excitement – and interaction with hunky Deputy Carter LeBlanc.  Tonight, however, is a first.  He asked her out to dinner and she said yes.  So Gertie and Ida Belle show up early telling Fortune she needs a ‘day of beauty’ to ‘girlie up’, which is really odd given these two know next to nothing about it.  And so the farce begins.  After many false starts and nearly having her house burned down by Gertie (who refuses to wear her glasses), Fortune and Carter finally get off to dinner………. in New Orleans. Dear God, what will she talk about for 2 hours?  How to kill someone with a Q-tip?  Just as panic is setting in, Carter gets a call that sends them both back to town.  Someone set fire to Ally’s house.  Ally is the first and only female friend her own age that Fortune has.  Naturally, Carter’s admonition she let him handle this falls on deaf ears.

The plot is interesting and more of a mystery than than usual, but with plenty of laugh out loud moments.  Ally is staying with Fortune until its safe for her to go back to her own house.  Her neighbor, a nut case, sics a bobcat on Fortune, Gertie, and Ida Belle when they sneak in his yard.  There are mob guys from New Orleans, a stalker, and always Cater catching them doing things they shouldn’t.  The end is cute.

Swamp Team 3 is a fast and furious romp, not to be taken too seriously.  It’s as frothy as a romantic comedy movie, and about as deep.  The characters are good, and the plot was better than average, pacing is good, and the ending good as well.  I like the Ally character and she doesn’t get quite a co-star role, but at least a bigger part than in the earlier books.  If you enjoy a good humorous mystery, get the book.  My grade is B- (3.8*) and hope that Ms DeLeon picks up some of the assassin elements from the start of the story in Louisiana Longshot in the next installment.

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Dead_Between_the_Lines

Denise Swanson writes the Scrumble River mysteries, that tend to annoy me, and the Devereaux Dime series, which is turning into a better than average cozy series.  Dead Between the Lines is the third book and has a plot that folds in an element of pop culture. A man who is the real author of a book like ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ under a female pen name and made a fortune, even though he hates it and does not just wish to dominate women, but abuse them as well, is speaking to the book club about a volume of poems he published that takes shots at women and small town life in a bitter and denigrating way.

Dev left her high powered life and moved back to her hometown to look after her grandmother who is in the early stages of Alzheimer’s.  Now she’s trying to make ends meet running the dime store, playing hostess to various clubs and serving them refreshment (for a fee, of course), and making gift baskets, each uniquely themed.  This is the first time she’s had the book club in and the guest speaker is an obnoxious, misogynistic poet who thinks all women should be ‘taught their place’.  The book club all but runs him out – but he’s sure to collect his fee – and Dev says good riddance.   Only it wasn’t.  His body is found out back the next day.

Once again, Dev lands squarely in the middle of a murder.  And just as squarely between her high school boyfriend, Dr. Noah Underwood and US Marshall Jake Del Vecchio.  The plot is above average, the pacing and action better than usual, and the ending satisfying as few cozies are.

Dead Between the Lines is well written, the characters are well developed. and the pacing never lags.  Dev is used to taking charge and making decisions, but doesn’t get absurd.  Both Noah and Jake are well done and Dev’s relationship with the men works at the moment, but can’t go on that way indefinitely.  Dead Between the Lines gets a B(4*) rating and $7.19 is at the high end of what it’s worth.

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Resistance Man

Martin Walker writes on of the better foreign mystery series with his Bruno, Chief of Police books.  The Resistance Man is the 6th book in the series and like the others, this one folds together current crimes with those of the past.  In this case, it’s the story of a massive theft of gold and currency from a German train as the Occupation is ending and Germans are leaving and the Resistance strikes one of its most effect blows.  What happened to all that money and gold has been speculated for decades, but the French have always taken a worldly approach to life and chose not to look to closely as suddenly rich Resistance fighters after the war.

The natural death of an elderly man, a missing women, a gay couple beaten and robbed, a crime at a foreigner’s house where antiques and art were stolen, and some questionable dealings in a company all seem unrelated.  The theft gets top billing because the Brit is very politically connected – and a ‘former’ spymaster – who might not be all that former.  And an academic writing a book about France’s nuclear arms program finds her source documents missing.

Woven into this series of seemingly unrelated events is Bruno’s final acceptance of the vast gulf between himself and Isabelle, the ambitious woman he cares for, and as always, all the little details of life in the quiet French countryside that is changing slowly into the modern times.

One of the things I like about Martin Walker’s books is the way he makes them work on several levels at once.  He effortlessly weaves in history, slice of life atmosphere of the Perigord region of France, the life of Bruno and his fellow villagers, and the over-arcing mystery of the crime that has been committed – crime that always sees its roots in the past.  The Resistance Man does that very well indeed.  He does it with respect for history, the characters, and the plot.

The Resistance Man gets a solid B (4*) from me and a recommended read for mystery fans or those who enjoy their mysteries with more substance than fluff and with a decidedly foreign flair.  I bought the hardcover from Amazon for about $20, which is steep for a relatively short book.  Wait for the paperback – likely tradesize, or borrow it from the library, but do give this excellent series a try.  Walker has made a few minor missteps in his books, but taken as a whole, he’s done excellent work that’s well worth reading.

August 7, 2013

End of Summer Reviews and a View on Author Popularity

I wrote a review of Fifth Grave Past the Light for PBS’s (Paperback Swap) book blog  You think opinions like mine mean nothing, or at least I think that.   Maybe my doctor, who has similar tastes in UF/paranormal might listen, and my brother and sister-in-law who have come to trust my taste in mysteries, action thrillers, and romantic suspense, listen to me, but otherwise, no.  I have twice now recommended additional reads when doing a recent review on PBS, either in addition to a good book or in lieu of a not so good one on the PBS Blog.  I am gratified to see the wishlist for River Road and Royal Street by Suzanne Johnson growing.  I know my doctor bought the ebooks to read while on vacation.  It’s hard for good authors to get noticed, so I try and wave a flag to fellow readers when I can.

Years ago, I read a news column on the internet about buying ‘airport books’.  At the time, I was doing a lot of domestic and international travel myself, so airport bookstores were my savior more than once.  Action thrillers tend to be big sellers in airports because of how many business men look for some mindless entertainment during layovers and flight delays.  The columnist talked about several authors, but missed two fairly new ones – well, new at that time.  As it happened, he included an email address and I sent him a recommendation to read two new authors – Barry Eisler and Lee Child.  Eisler has already released two books in his John Rain series and Child had only Killing Floor out in the Reacher series.  The columnist wrote back, he’d never heard of them, but would give them a try.  He wrote about them some time later.  Yes, even small voices get heard.  It’s why I write this blog, and why I try and promote reading in general.  And every so often, I get rewarded with a friend trying a new genre, my SIL calling, laughing her head off over the old Sharyn McCrumb books I told her to try, and my doctor passing on to her staff a UF book I loaned her and telling me she LOVED Harry Dresden.  I even got a chat board friend to read the Charley Davidson series by Darynda Jones!  (She just yelled at me that number 5 better not be the end.  I assured her it wasn’t.)

For years I read Craig Johnson’s Walt Longmire books and all but had to beat my brother into trying them.  Now he and his wife read them, so do his friends in Vermont.  When Longmire hit A&E all his books saw a big jump in wish list number on PBS.  I even got them reading C.J. Box and David Housewright!!!!!  I feel like I should have a soapbox on the corner of Hyde Park to promote overlooked books and authors.

Justified or not, authors get famous and their names on the covers generate sales.  Thing is, often there are BETTER authors, but never having gotten ‘the big break’ their sales are much more limited and they remain known only to hardcore readers of a specific genre, not supermarket self types who grab the latest Jayne Ann Krentz or James Patterson – or (I cringe saying this) Fifty Shades of Gray (insert dramatic retching sounds).

One of the benefits to playing in swaps is getting books by authors you’ve never heard of, but someone you trust said, “READ THIS BOOK!”  It’s how I found Colin Cotterill, Phillipa Bornikova, Patrick Rothfuss, Martin Walker, Dayanda Jones and many others.  So when a friend you trust says, “Try this book.  It might start slow, but it’s worth it.”  Give the book a try.  I find about an 80% or better agreement with folks who like similar authors.  There are some great authors out there that deserve more notice and some seriously over-hyped average writers who are long past their prime.  (Evanovich, Harris, and Higgins all come to mind)  Amazon helps, but friends help more.  There is no better way to shed the stress of the day than by getting lost in a good book.  And having someone become a new fan of a favorite author makes reading so much crap (and man, there is a LOT of crap out there) all worthwhile.

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Well, I’ve been in a Reading Challenge on PBS trying to whittle down my Mt TBR and I did a fair to middling job of it.  Doctor’s appointments and fatigue brought on by getting used to new drugs have slowed me down a bit.  Here are some quick reviews of books I recently read, some new releases, some old ones sitting and waiting for me to get to them for far too long.  As usual, a mixed bag of paranormal, mystery and UF and very mixed results as well.

You Cannoli Die Once

Another foodie cozy entry by a new author – Shelly Costa.  Ms Costa does have some short stories and such published, but this is her first mystery novel.  You Cannoli Die Once is another in that circle the Earth conga line of food mysteries, this time centered around a family owned Italian restaurant, Miracolo.  You have the usual mix of zany friends, an eccentric grandma, a dead body, a handsome cop, and a nosy female – in this case, a chef.

While I enjoyed the mystery part, I found when I was done, not one character stayed with me as 3-dimensional person.  They all were sort of generic personalities, bit players that never gained any substance.  I even forgot their names.  And therein lies the problem.  The story arc might have moved quickly, with plenty going on – maybe too much going on – but there was no character development.  No chance to really connect with anyone in this too large cast of characters.  End result was an OK book, but with nothing memorable – good or bad.

I’m giving You Cannoli Die Once a C- (2.8*) rating because of the forgettable characters.  The plot was OK, though not original.  I might try book two, but if things don’t improve, this is a series I’ll forget.  I got You Cannoli Die Once through a book swapping site.

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I bought The Devil’s Cave book from Book Depository in the UK, owned by Amazon, simply because they published it nearly a year ahead of the US publisher.  In the end it made no difference, it sat on Mt TBR for all this time and I finally got to it because I put it on the Reading Challenge list.  Why did I wait so long?

The Bruno Chief of Police series is one I seem to always enjoy, and this one is no exception.  While Martin Walker never quite hits the best of breed, he is consistently very good and captures the Perigord region of rural France and populates it with memorable people and an atmosphere that almost palpable.  Tony Hillerman had that gift with his Jim Chee and Joe Leaphorn books.  Colin Cotterill has it with his Dr Siri books.  Even when parts of the story stretch the readers credibility, it’s still a pleasurable read.

The Devil’s Cave combines a little Satanic ritual, with a naked dead body floating on the river, with a questionable investment scheme, some shadowy Mid-Easterners, a too slick and glib young promoter and local domestic violence.  Perhaps the stew has just a few too many elements, but the end result is satisfying – even if Bruno seems a little too competent at EVERYTHING.

In the end, The Devil’s Cave gets a B- (3.8*) from me, mostly because of the over busy, not quite credible plot with the con-men investors.  No one leaves due diligence to a cop rather than an experienced banker.  Recommended for fans of the series, but try and wait for the paperback.  My book was a hardcover size book, but with soft cover, typical of UK publishers.  I paid less that US price, about $14.00.

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                                                          boyfriend from hell                                             Damn Him to Hell

This is another book that got lost in Mt TBR and book two in the series was delivered last month, so I figured I’d better sift it in gear.  Boyfriend from Hell was actually fairly good.  Imaginative, original, but not quite there with the characters or the world building.  The end result was a bit choppy and confusing as neither Tina nor the reader knows what’s happening with Tina’s suddenly having these ‘powers’ – and getting ‘rewarded’ for sending souls to hell, with things like great hair and a leg that is no longer partly crippled.

Since book 2 was sitting there, I read that immediately and ………………… wow, disappointment time.  Many series start slowly, Sentinel’s Of New Orleans is an example, and other is The Rift War Saga by Raymond Feist (And no, I have not forgiven him for naming a key character ‘Pug’.  That almost killed the story and the book.  Plus it served no useful purpose.), but book two just stalled.  I get the feeling Jamie Quaid isn’t sure where to take this, so she spun the wheel in place.  And she did so with more choppy plotting and confusing scenes.

I give most series a 3 book limit, unless they’re so awful I can’t even finish book 1.  I’m not sure I’ll buy 3 in this one.  Boyfriend from Hell gets a C (3*) rating and Damn Him to Hell gets a C- (2.6*).  This is a series that can be skipped.

Both books were purchased from online booksellers for $5.99 and $7.19 respectively.  If you feel you must at least try these books, get them as cheaply as possible.  Not worth the money or your time.

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Biting Bad

So this hit the house yesterday thanks to Amazon’s ‘release day delivery’ program – which BAM DOES NOT DO – and naturally, I read it first thing.  Well of course I did.  I like the Chicagoland Vampire series and this was no exception.  Like many series, this one coasts a bit now and then for much of the book, and Biting Bad did that a series of well timed assaults happen against three very different targets – a blood bank that supplies vamps, albeit very quietly, Grey House – one of the three Houses in Chicago, and the third attack is far more personal – it’s on Merit’s grandfather’s house.  Merit and Jeff, the nerdy shapeshifter colleague of her grandfather’s barely manage to save him.

Through all this, the GP – the governing vampire group that Cadogan House quit, has declared them essentially enemies of all vamps and any dealing with them with be an act of treason.  But when Grey House is hit, it’s Cadogan that comes to help and gives them temporary shelter, while House Navarre does nothing AND refused to offer the homeless Gray House vamps even temporary shelter.  (If you just missed the signal on the story arc for future books, well shame on you!) So despite the GP’s outlawing Cadogan, the Grey’s stay there.

But vampires are the drama queens of the supernatural world, and close proximity of two houses leads to conflict, which is nothing compared with what happens when Harold Monmonth, the GP vamp with hate on for Eric and Cadogan House shows up, kills two humans and ends up dead by Eric’s sword.

The story line is complex and weaves in Mallory’s redemption struggles, Merit’s father’s angling for control over a vampire house, even though he’s human, McKitterick’s real goal, and the internal conflict that the potential of his success has for many vamps.  It was an interesting twist, but kind of X-Men plot stealing.

Biting Bad was a good read, a bit shorter than usual, but packed with action.  It wasn’t the best book in the series, and the pot twists weren’t as original as her previous books, but then the flack Ms Neill took over the Eric story arc might have made her more cautious, which is unfortunate.  I was cheering her on myself for her daring and her clever resolution.  Still, it remains very entertaining and a cut above average.  Biting Bad gets a B- (3.8*) from me because the Harold Monmonth and Navarre House bits deserved more attention and a bigger part in the story, and in part because McKitterick’s end didn’t feel like an end to me and some things do need to end.

Biting Bad is a must for Chicagoland Vampire fans  My copy was $8.82 + tax on Amazon pre-order, but the price is $9.00.  It was $12+ the other day.  Amazon does that a LOT.  Very annoying.  I got my money’s worth.  This series is one that needs to read in order to follow the plot lines.

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Hunters-Rise-21

Shiloh Walker began her Hunter’s series way back in her Ellora’s Cave days, so anyone expecting another x-rated paranormal will be disappointed.  If you’re looking for emotionally tortured, angsty lead characters, well, Ms Walker seems to specialize in that, so you’re in luck.  Hunter’s Rise is another book that has languished on Mt TBR for a long time.  Now I remember why.  Not a big fan of angst, even well done angst.

Toronto is a werewolf without a past – or least no childhood he could remember.  He’s also one of the best Hunter’s, but is too independent and too much an alpha to take order’s well, even from an Alpha Vampire.  Sylvia James is a vampire assassin for hire who picks and chooses her jobs very carefully.  She specializes in helping abused women, but trying to con her turns into a huge mistake for a greedy young wife who doesn’t want to waste her youth waiting for her rich, elderly husband to die.

The Hunter and the assassin cross paths looking for a murderous vampire and a child prostitution ring.  Eventually, the trail leads the to where both must face their pasts, Toronto to remember and come to terms, and Sylvia to finally find the strength to face the monster that created her.

Paranormal romance for the angst lovers out there and like most of her work, well written.  Not my thing, but still, well plotted and with strong lead characters that get over their PTSD a bit too easily, even if Toronto does take longer.  Hunter’s Rise get a C+ to B- (3.5*) from me because I found the plot too predictable, but Shiloh Walker fans will be happy with the book.

Hunter’s Rise $5.99 on the now defunct 4-for-3 plan at Amazon.  It should be readily available in used book stores.  Her earlier Hunter books were partly republished since, but no new ones in this series.  Ms Walker is now mostly publishing her steamy romantic suspense series and novellas in various hot anthologies where she goes back to her ‘lady smut’ roots.

June 26, 2013

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

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

vinceflynn

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

Death Taxes and Hot Pink

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

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

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

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

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

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the-heist-cover

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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mayhem-at-orient-express

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

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

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

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

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

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SNEAK PREVIEWS: Two Urban Fantasy Novels

Elysian Fields

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

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

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

Free ebook ARC

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Heart-of-Venom-625x1024

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

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

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

Free ebook ARC

November 11, 2012

Sandy Was Here, Voting, and a Few Reviews

Yup, I live in the Northeast in Bruce Springsteen’s home state, but away from the coast.  Our ‘sand’ here is on the beaches by one of our lakes, if at all.  But living in a rural area has it’s pluses and minuses.  I can stay in touch with the world on my chat boards where we have members from the UK, Norway, the US, Australia and more, just on out one little thread.  On my book swapping site, it’s US only and lot of us live in what the Weather Channel is fond of calling ‘The Megalopolis’.  Well, Sandy was like something from one of their ‘It Could Happen Tomorrow’  episodes.

We were lucky here.  We lost power in my complex, except for a few units in a bizarre pattern.  I kept mine and was clueless about the fact that 80%+ of my neighbors were without.   The pump on the well switched to a generator which lasted (thank-you so much) for the 8 days it took to restore power.  I lost phone, internet, and TV – right in the middle of Monday Night Football.  (insert loud scream) As I said, I was lucky.  I was also bored.  Turned out, you kind of get sick of watching movies.  Then I watched episodes of Magnum PI on my laptop and played computer games. ………….. And I read.  Yup, I know you’re shocked.  Typical week I read 4-6 books.  In 6 days I read 11 books.  And one thing I did NOT miss – political ads.

For many days, my news came via my brother who lives up in Western Massachusetts.  It wasn’t till Friday that I really sat down with my neighbor and learned what happened locally.  I thought we’d done OK, but the town is still without water and power – and that means no heat in some VERY cold temperatures – in many area.  Schools were closed all week (no heat, water, or lights).  Over a week later some people still weren’t getting mail delivery because their streets are blocked with downed trees and wires as crews from all over the country came into the state to help.  But Tuesday the sun was shining, the sky a cloudless blue, and folks flocked to the polls in town to vote.

Funny, it’s a right we take so lightly,often less than half of eligible voters actually bother to vote.  Did you know, in some countries it’s against the law to NOT vote?  You get fined.  And you better not do it twice.  I learned that from my Aussie friends on the chat board.  Here we have a right that people die for, and have our voters ignore it.  My mother, an American History teacher, must be turning in her grave.  If I learned nothing else, it was if you don’t vote, SHUT UP BECAUSE YOU’RE PART OF THE PROBLEM.  I voted.

Sandy was about the worst storm, including blizzards, that’s I’ve seen in my life.  I was inconvenienced, but warm, dry, and with plenty of food and electric, I had no real complaints.  It was sheer luck.  The roads were blocked by downed power lines and trees, so even though I had the good sense to fill my gas tank before the storm, I wisely stayed stayed off the roads and let the emergency crews do their work.  Good thing, because there was no gas available in town and we still have only one station open off and on.  Sunday my neighbor needed to pick up her daughter from the hospital about 20 miles away, but she was low on gas and rationing had started and she couldn’t buy more, so I drove her and her SIL down to pick up her daughter.  Lines at the open stations weren’t as bad as they had been, so the rationing was already helping – just not around here due to the continuing power outages.  It was my first look at the real mess in the area, and it wasn’t good, but already things were improving – except along the coast.

As a child, I went ‘down the shore’ at least once each summer.  I can remember sitting in the rocking chairs on the wide veranda of the Seaside Hotel in Ocean Grove where my grandmother would vacation, then walking down the boardwalk to Asbury Park and playing endless games of skeeball in an amusement building called ‘The Casino’.  It had those claw machines, a beautiful old carousel that I just loved, and my beloved skeeball.  On the way, we’d pass the place with the salt water taffy machine in the window.  It fascinated me to just watch it work.  (It still does.  LOL)  Years ago the Northend Hotel that marked the border between Ocean Grove and Asbury Park was leveled.  So was the Old Homestead Restaurant that sat on the pier at the edge of town.  The roller-coaster fell into ruin as Asbury Park went downhill in the 60’s.  Springsteen immortalized this slide with ‘My City of Ruins’ which became famous when he later sang it for the live 9-11 concert in Sept 2001.  One of his early album covers shows the Casino in the background as he leans on the boardwalk railing with beach and sea behind him.

But the Jersey shore lived on, and prospered and eventually even Asbury Park came back somewhat, though it’s now a very different town.  Others, like Ocean Grove seemed almost unchanged.  Spring Lake, a beautiful, and very wealthy community, was had hit hard.  Like many other places it played home to an array of historic homes 100 years old give or take a few years, built when folks fled the heat of cities for the cooling shore breezes.  Houses with wide covered porches with awnings where you could sit and enjoy the breeze off the Atlantic.  Atlantic City morphed into a casino mecca – and not the harmless nickle kids games I played, but gambling casinos.  I’ve never been in one.

Once my internet was back and I saw the photos of communities on Long Beach Island, towns line Seaside Heights and Breezy Point in Brooklyn, the extent of the damage really registered.  Yes, North Jersey is a mess, and towns along the river suffered greatly, but seeing whole towns wiped out was sobering.  I have always believed that a certain amount of good natured whining is allowed – snow storms (heaven knows we get plenty of those), things like the Halloween Storm of 1991 (AKA The Perfect Storm), Hurricane Donna in 1960, and others have come our way.  Life goes on, but many lives change forever – and some, tragically, end.  Nature isn’t kind, and never was.  Not since Katrina had I seen this kind of devastation, and even though Sandy was a MUCH weaker storm, it hit the most populous part of the US.  And that could change history, in more ways than one.

With Election Day just a week after Sandy, folks were still in shock in the hard hit areas.  There were a lot of lives in ruins out there, homes gone forever, irreplaceable family photos washed away or lost to fire.  People left with nothing, not even a roof over their head.  Voting for them was a test of will, and act of sheer determination.  All these people left in dark by Sandy voted on paper ballots by flashlight.  I’ll give Gov Christie this, he has done all he can to give the affected folks a way to vote.  Regardless of the outcome will be, I strongly believe we should always participate in state and national elections.  On this Veteran’s Day, it’s the best way to give thanks to the men and women who sacrificed so much for freedoms, especially our right to vote.  Thank a Vet today.  The price of freedom is paid in blood.

Now, this is a book blog, so allow me to get to a few book reviews.

Fourth Grave Beneath My Feet by Darynda Jones – A- (4.5*) This installment of the highly original Charley Davidson series missed a A for one reason, suddenly Reyes was willing to share a lot of information about where Charley came from and her history before being born as Charlotte Davidson.  It was just too pat and too easy.

The story opens with Charley suffering PTSD from the assault and torture she suffered by the supposedly dead Earl Walker, Reye’s step-father and childhood tormentor – and the man he was in prison for supposedly killing.  Now Walker is really dead, Reye’s is free and hates her, her father had her arrested, supposedly for her own protection, and they’re not speaking.   Being betrayed by Reyes, her father, and tortured by a man supposedly dead has left her with a serious case of agoraphobia, and no office, so it’s not like she has anywhere to go anyway.  So insane purchases from TV shopping networks fill her day – and her apartment, until a case comes to her door.

Charley has another problem.  There are a series of bank robberies and even though the robbers wear masks, there’s something so familiar about them!  A young woman comes to her with a bizarre story of being stalked and terrorized – something that’s been happening since she was a girl of 5 and he father remarried.  Dragging her sorry butt outside is a special hell, but Charley starts to investigate – and finds another step-mother from Hell, like her own.

Charley also decides to give Reyes a bill for all the work she did to get him free – $1 million.  Reyes sister claims he has $50 million, he says he broke and he’s doing cage fights – but they’re more than that.  Demons are taking over humans – special humans.  Humans that can ‘see’ – demons can steal their bodies and Reyes is killing them to kill the demons.  It’s Charlie they want.

As always, Ms Jones spins a lively, very readable story.  Reyes suddenly revealing a lot of information about Charlie and where she came from, her cosmic history – well, that was annoying to have a data dump like that.  Why had he with held it all so long?  Was the sole purpose for the sudden openness to lay the groundwork for future books?  Not sure I bought the whole thing, and it kept the book from an A rating.

Is Fourth Grave Beneath My Feet worth  $14-16 at discount?  Kindle is $11.99.  Well, it is an excellent read in the series, so for any series followers, the answer is yes.  Otherwise, give it some time and pick it up used or at the library.  At 320 pages, it was a quick and easy read and a bit short for the price.

Popped Off by Jeffery Allen is the second book in a stay at home dad mystery series.  Deuce is a soccer dad to his wife’s ambitious attorney.  When the entire treasury of his daughter’s soccer league is stolen, along with all the trophies the girls will get, he gets dragged into looking for their errant league president.  Using his association with a dwarf PI (politically incorrect humor got childish at times and made Deuce seem petty and mean), Deuce finds a cousin in a gambling casino – who also embezzled money.

Unraveling the trail for money, illegal gambling, and enterprising sonority sisters selling smuggled Viagra on campus to horny undergrads is amusing, but shallow.  I really enjoyed parts and parts were a turn off – especially the whole sex thing with his angry wife, which was weird and creepy.  The story was only half believable.   The solution forgone.

Is Popped Off worth $7.99?  Nope.   At C- (2.75*), I’m glad got my copy for free through a book swapping site and it has since moved on to a new home.  A very lightweight read that is amusing for the most part, but has many annoying sections.

The Crowded Grave by Martin Walker, his 5th book in the Bruno, Chief of Police French countryside mystery series, finds the author once again weaving history, both ancient and recent, with modern murders and potential terrorism.  It’s spring in St Denis and Bruno finds himself embroiled in something more serious than a PETA member letting ducks loose, though he’d like that resolved with a minimum of fuss.  A representative from Spain’s anti-terrorist group is there because a Spanish and French minister will be signing new agreements at the local castle and Bruno finds himself being assigned as the local defense expert.

As with all of Martin’s books, there are many sub-plots.  Bruno’s sometimes lover and local B&B owner, Pamela, is back in Scotland with her semi-estranged mother in the hospital with a serious stroke.  His former lover is the leader of the security detail for French Intelligence Service and the attraction is as strong as ever, an old friend has made an historic discovery of a prehistoric burial at a local excavation, while one of the professor’s students finds a much more recent burial – a body dating back to Spain’s ‘Dirty War’ against the Basques and other groups, many of whom were assassinated in the south of France.

The author immerses the reader in village life and the unique pace of daily living in rural France, a life that is being eroded away, but traditions still clung to by in villages throughout France.  Part history lesson, part slice of life, and fully entertaining, with well planned plot and a writing style that is descriptive, atmospheric, and evocative without going over the top, The Crowded Grave was an excellent read.

Is The Crowded Grave worth $14 or so at discount?  I bought a like new copy thru an Amazon reseller for $11 with shipping.  Loved it and thought it worth every penny.  So try for a well priced used book or wait on the paperback, which will take awhile  as it was just published in the US in July.  There is a notation in the front that this edition differs from the UK edition and earlier publications.  No idea how the text had changed.  My grade is B+ (4.2*) Recommend for mystery readers who enjoy enjoy Colin Cotterill and Tony Hillerman.  They do not have to be read in order, though it helps a bit, it isn’t essential to following the plot.

Black Lament by Christina Henry is Book 4 in the Black Wings series.  One of the more original series in the crowded paranormal/UF market, Christina Henry created a unique character in Maddy Black, who got married, pregnant and widowed in in the last few chapters of Book 3 to her love – Gabriel.  Book 4 picks up immediately after Gabriel’s death.  Maddy might be Lucifer’s granddaughter – many generation removed – but it was her father Azazel, Lucifer’s rebellious son who killed Gabriel.  Now Maddy will return the favor and kill him if she can.

Maddy needs protection now that she’s pregnant with Lucifer’s many great-grandson’s and Azazel is still after her.  Of all people to send her for protection, Lucifer sends Nathaniel.  He’d betrayed her, tried to rape her, generally followed every order that Azazel gave, but he fled Azazel’s court and Lucifer is making his protecting Maddy his act of atonement.  Needless to say, he’s not exactly welcome.  Then attacks start happening.  Attacks that smack of Fey.

Angry at Maddy for killing Queen Amarantha.  Even though the queen broke Fairies own laws, Oberon and Titania want payback.  SO Maddy decides to take the fight to them.   Actually, that all she does in this book, is fight.  First the Fey, then her father Azazel, and finally her own Agency – which suddenly seems not so impartial and benign as it did.

The book felt like 3 short stories strung together linked only by threats to Maddy and her unborn child.  She seemed almost a different person, suddenly very violent and powerful.  The interesting supporting characters that made the stories feel complete were little more than walk on parts here.  Filled with action, but no character or soul.

Black Lament gets a C (3*) rating for it’s lack of heart, an important element in the previous books.  Is it worth $7.99?  Not really.  I got mine on the 4-for-3 plan from Amazon, so I paid $5.99 and read it in a few hours.  Like all her books, it’s fairly short.  It was also a very quick and easy read, since it lacked depth and complexity.  It is, however, important if you plan to continue the series, so try to buy a cheap used copy.  This is a series that needs to be read in order to make sense.  The earlier books are better.

Tart by Lauren Dane is one of her loosely related contemporary erotic romances.  Set on Bainbridge Island Washington State, this installment has Juliet ‘Jules’ Lamprey running her bakery and sharing space with her friend and caterer Mary while they get ready for the wedding of their close friend Gillian.  They decide to incorporate local produce and other ingredients whenever possible, so Jules heads out to see an elderly widower who runs and farm and meets up with his grandson, a former high school crush, Gideon Cater.

Gideon came back to Bainbridge after successfully starting and running a ranch with his former brother-in-law.  His divorce made it impossible to stay on the land, so he sold his share and knocked around the world for a few years.  His grandmother’s death and yearning to get back to the land brought his home.  Jules was a major bonus.

Cal Whaley was his best friend in high school and is now the local lawyer.  Cal swings both ways, but is a serial monogamist.  Jules has had a major crush on him since they were kids, but she and Gideon get together and she has no intention of letting Cal get in the middle.

As you can imagine, Cal and Gideon get together with each other and with Jules.  Lots of m/m sex, m/f sex, and various combinations of m/f/m sex held together by a fairly slim plot.  Of it’s type, well written, even if the characters lacked originality.  I could have written the dialogue in my head.  Dane is a favorite of mine, but I find her contemporary books rather short on plot and long on trite and predictable.

Best part – the friendship between the women.  The least believable, the easy way everyone, except Jules brother Ethan,  accepts the triad.  My grade for Tart is C+ (3.5*) – though it gets 4.5* on Amazon, so it’s a matter of personal taste.  Is it worth about $10.00?  No.  Just not enough substance, but if you want a hot contemporary read, it’s a good choice.

May 29, 2012

Waiting Rooms and Emergency Exits

What is about the Month of May?  Isn’t it supposed to be ‘The Merry Month of May’?  The big May Day, Cinco de Mayo, and Beltane celebrations at the start and ending with the long Memorial Day weekend that signals the unofficial start of summer.  Last year I celebrated by falling and breaking my wrist, followed by implant surgery when the damn thing broke in the cast.  This year it’s the Festival of the Dentists.  Honestly, it’s not only getting old, it’s getting damn expensive.

A crown falls out.   No big deal, just get it re-cemented.  Nope.  Apparently, the cement was stronger than the tooth, took a chunk with it, and it’s root canal time!  Then probably a new crown.  What had been a nothing dental visit became $2500 in minutes.  But wait!  There’s more!  The tooth with the root canal has developed a problem!  Now it’s antibiotics and wait and see if they need to do the root canal AGAIN.  (Which, by the way, costs nothing.)  So drink lots of fluids and take clindamycin and see what happens.  But wait!  There’s more!  While continuing with the whole ‘soft food’ thing, something goes ‘CRUNCH” and a different crown falls out!  Now this one already had a root canal so no problem.  WRONG AGAIN.  Apparently bacteria got under the crown and the tooth rotted.  Now I see the oral surgeon, get the root extracted and start the process of an implant.  Figure another $5000.

BUT WAIT!  There’s even more!  My doctor tells me my blood work came back showing a problem.  So they do it again.  And again.  Now I have fun with specialists looming on the horizon too.  This week alone it’s will be 3 different dentists and 1 doctor.  I’ve been stabbed, drilled, stabbed, glued, stabbed and soon I’ll have stitches from tooth removal – after being stabbed with a few more needles.  Wow, the excitement is more than I can stand.  Oh, the antibiotic?  It’s one of those that has the delightful ‘risk of death’ that can occur MONTHS after finishing the drug.  No way to tell.  Another miracle of modern medicine.  Basically, The Merry Month of May SUCKS!

This leads me to ‘What to do While Being Bored in Waiting Room’.  Well, read is the obvious answer.  And not those aged magazines (unless you foolishly forgot a book!)  Staying focused can be tough when listening to the whine of dentists drills or the non-stop droning of some heath network on the doctor’s TV.  (Wow, that’s a way to make you feel positive.)  So, here are some quick reviews of some recent reads:

As the Crow Flies by Craig Johnson is the latest Walt Longmire mystery, and another very good entry in a first rate series.  Set out in the remote areas of Montana and Wyoming, the books are evocative and wryly humorous, and filled with unique characters.  Walt and his best friend, Henry Standing Bear, are trying to the ‘wedding planning’ for the marriage of Walt’s daughter, Cady, and less qualified pair would be hard to find, especially since Walt has trouble decision making.  But the real problem is the fact on the rez where they reserved the spot for the wedding has been usurped by a tribal member who is running a in depth language program.  She won’t budge.  Henry and Walt end up hunting for another spot – and end up seeing a woman fall from a cliff clutching something – a baby who survives.

Walt isn’t in his county, he isn’t even in his state, so the investigation lands in the untrained hands of an Afghan war vet suffering PTSD, a big chip on her shoulder, and perpetual mad on.  Watching laid back, shrewd, Longmire try and teach patience and people skills is worth the price alone, especially when he is so damn inept with his own daughter.

As the Crow Flies get’s two thumbs up.  FYI – – A&E will be showing a multipart series based on Johnson’s books called simply Longmire.

The Dark Vineyard by Martin Walker is book two in the Bruno Courregés series set in the wine making French countryside.  Walker captures the attitudes and perspectives of typical rural France and it’s reluctance to chance their traditional was of life.  It’s also about wine – and the emotional attachment artisans have vs. the business of the mass produced wines – and the fears surrounding anything to do with genetically modified crops in the sensitive vineyard area.  The mystery is not as well done Bruno, Chief of Police, but remains a cut above the usual, but not in the same league as Dr Siri series by Colin Cotterill.  I got my copy through a book swapping site, and I have to say that buying it would depend on price, but I’d suggest used or get it from the library.

Blue-Blooded Vamp by Jayne Wells is supposedly the last of the Sabina Kane novels and it did have a decent wind up.  Yes, things were left unsettled, but nothing major and let’s face it, life does not get neatly tied in a bow.  Sabina is after Caine – the Biblical Caine who is the original vampire.  Caine is after Lilith, who left his psychotic butt and fell in love with the demon king of Irkalla, Asmodeus.  (Talk about questionable taste in lovers!)  Of course the road to retribution isn’t easy and Sabine has all these ‘tests’ she must pass to become the Chosen so she can slay the one who cannot die, Caine.  It was a good read, and a good ending to a sometimes uneven series.  I’d give a B- (3.8*) and a definite buy for fans of the series.  My opinion, there are better series out there.

Captivated by Lauren Dane, the latest in her futuristic Phantom Corps series, was a disappointment.  This is one series I keep hoping will live up to her considerable storytelling skill, but one that keeps falling short.  Maybe it’s the lame heroines, or the angsty, predictable plots, but try as I might, I just don’t like the books.  While Captivated had a better ending than most (and I can only hope it’s the end of the series, but she left an escape hatch), overall, it was more than half tedious.  I can take just so much ‘wounded dove’ crap and I’m at my limit.  Unlike her female leads in the de la Vega Cats series, Witch’s Knot series, or her Cascadia Pack series, her female leads are rather blah.  Yeah, there was steamy sex and lots of m/m action, but after that, it was weak and the writing had trouble holding my attention.  I just couldn’t connect with the characters.

Obviously, I’m in the minority here in giving it a C+ (3.5*) rating.  The Amazon reviewers raved.  I yawned.

OK, that’s all I have time for now, but once all my tests are done and the dentists are finished – and I’m languishing in poverty – I’ll have more books for you.

April 25, 2010

Short Reviews: Mystery, Erotic Romance and Paranormal Reviews

My apologies for slacking off on reviews the past few weeks.  I’ve been reading a lot, but too busy with life to get here as I should.   Here are a few books worth mention.

Well reading I’ve been lately has been quite a mixed bag – erotic romance, mystery and paranormal.  I’ve also had mixed results, as usual, but a couple worthy entries – one erotic futuristic and one mystery.

  • Title: The Forgotten: Discovery
  • Author:  Kaitlyn O’Connor
  • Type:  Futuristic erotic romance
  • Genre:  Human discovers cyborgs;  cybogs discover themselves and sex
  • Sub-genre:  Science fiction with a touch of ménage
  • My Grade: B  (4.0*)
  • Rating:  NC-17 to XX
  • Length and price:  Full length novel; about 90,000+ words for $7.99
  • Where Available:  ebook available at New Concepts Press
  • FTC Disclosure:  purchased book from publisher’s website (more…)
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