Tour’s Books Blog

November 16, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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July 1, 2014

Quick Review – Short Shots – Assorted Genre New Releases

I’ve been busy compiling lists for people and writing reviews for the PBS Book Blog, I haven’t really had time to do my own damn reviews.  JEEZE.  So here are some short ones on books I read this past month.

Sixth Grave

 

The sixth book in the Charley Davidson UF/mystery series was not up to Jones’s usual high standards.  It seemed to spin quickly, yet advanced the over-arching plot not much all.  It did add a few questions about Charley’s actions at the end when she altered Reyes’ fate, but otherwise, it was not her best stuff.  The usual dual mystery, half of which is a naked ghost who doesn’t talk, and the other half a man who sold his soul to a demon and needs it back before he dies.   A typical day in the life of Charley Davidson.

There is a kind of funny, but predictable, set piece about ‘encouraging Uncle Bob to ask Cookie, Charley’s neighbor, best friend, and business receptionist.  It was the kind of this that was probably drafted as a skit and just placed in a book otherwise short on diversions. All that said, average Darynda Jones is better than 90% of the rest of the UF writers, especially for more female based readers.

Sixth Grave on the Edge earned a B- (3.8*) from me and it remains a recommended series.  I just hope she has a slam bang ending to this series and it doesn’t go the route of never ending.  Love stories, for better or worse, must END, and Jones better be up to the job after all this build up.

Purchased from Amazon for just over $16.

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shattered

This is one of the series that can cast even Jones’ work in the shade, though not like the master, Jim Butcher when he hits all 8 cylinders.  Shattered by Kevin Hearne is his first hardcover release and I expected great things.  I was disappointed.  As is often the case, we have too many cooks – or in this case, too many druids – spoiling what should have been a tightly plotted book.  Instead, Hearne moved his POV from Atticus, to Granuaile, to the Archdruid Owen in rotation.  Unfortunately, he simply he could not establish and maintain a really distinctive ‘voice’ for each character, so the reader had to work out the who and the where each chapter was.  Owen came closest to being unique, but even he assimilated in the modern world in a really unrealistic speed.  Sorry no one does a move of 2000 years in time and not have profound culture shock.

The plot revolves around Atticus’ trying to uncover who in Tir na nÓg is betraying him.  Granuaile is off in India trying to save her father and stop a demon infestation.  The plots barely meet in the end and frankly Granuaile’s, other than trying to establish her as an independent character, was just a distraction to the main plot.

And there is the problem.  The plot is messy, Atticus loses a lot of his strongest character traits, washed out or assigned to these other characters.  Much of the strength in the story telling goes with this bizarre split.  The resulting story is an interesting, fast moving (helps hide the flaws), rather shallow and messy book, that while entertaining, lacked the depth and substance of his early work.

Once again, my grade is B- (3.7*).  It’s a good read but not at the HC price.  Purchased from Amazon.

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The Devil may care

And three cheers for David Housewright, ‘Mac” McKenzie, and The Devil May Care.  Housewright, like Craig Johnson and C.J. Box just holds to his style and character and even when writing something with a less audacious plot than Jade Lily or Taking Libby, SD, he just comes through for readers.

Like Travis McGee, Rushmore ‘Mac’ McKenzie does ‘favors’ and he’s asked to do a gem for the granddaughter of one of Minnesota’s most powerful movers and shakers – find the young man who was courting her and disappeared.  Other than crossing the Muehlenhaus family, again, what could wrong?  Riley Brodin has some rough edges, but she seems a decent young woman, so he gives it a shot and walks into a hall of mirrors and dangerous people, one true psychopath, and a man who isn’t what or who he claims and everyone looking for a lot of stolen money.

The story mixes light and dark in Housewright’s ever readable tale.  Mac is a great narrator, observant, and equal parts dispassionate and deeply affected.  It’s not just about who, but why and plot has plenty of twists and the ending was just ambiguous enough on some things and final on others.

My score for The Devil May Care is B (4.0*) and a recommended read.  his books often are not printed mmpb, so grab a used copy, get the ebook, or borrow it.  At just over $16 for the HC from Amazon, it’s a bit high for a short read, even a really good one like this

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After dead

DING:::::DING::::DING:::::DING – RIP-OFF ALERT!  DO NOT BUY THIS BOOK!

If there is one thing I despise, it’s an author taking shameless advantage of fans with worthless tripe disguised as a book.  Let me detail this paean to greed touted as a series of short stories that tell the tales of the various characters in the Sookie Stackhouse series in After Dead.

As if the boring, self-indulgent, nearly plotless and pointless crap in Dead Ever After wasn’t insult enough, here the author and publisher come with another money grab by – I am NOT exaggerating – turning a few sentences into a claim of ‘stories’ about characters.  Yup, ‘stories’.  This undersized apparent novella length book is 200 pages – but 200 pages of what?  Well, let me break this down:

Page 169 – the letter ‘U’

page 170 – blank

page 171 – 81 words.  the word ‘a’ is used 8 times – 10%  81 words = story

page 172 – blank

page 173 – the letter ‘V’

page 174 – blank

page 175 – 30 words = a story

page 176 – 24 words = a story (I think we’re redefining ‘short story’ here.)

page 177 – 57 words.  the word ‘a’ is only used 5 times.  (She really worked on this one, huh?)

page 178 – blank

page 179 – the letter ‘W’

page 180 – blank (this is the favorite of author an publisher alike.  No wonder they use it so often!)

page 181 – 29 word ‘story’.

GET THE PICTURE??????????????????

My grade for After Dead is F (0*) , two thumbs down and I spit on it for the insult it is.  In a tribute to hubris, the ‘hardcover’ is selling for just over $10, the paperback – some kind of trade size – will discount at $11 and even the stupid ebook sells for just under $10.  Save the money some something important, like toilet paper.  Got it for free from a book swapping site and it’s so awful I’ll just offer it as an add-on for free because I’d feel guilty taking a credit for it.  Obviously, Charlaine Harris does not share my values.

April 20, 2014

Observations on ARC’s and Reviews – MYSTERY WEEK!

Filed under: Book review,Cozy,Mystery review,Tough Guy PI — toursbooks @ 4:00 pm
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I enjoy getting ARC’s of various books, but I can’t say I’m thrilled when I get one with so many type-setting errors it’s nearly unreadable.  One of the ARC’s I recently received was so damn annoying I came close to tossing it several times before I finally had to quit in frustration.  Probably 95% of all words, including contractions, that had a double ‘ll’ in the spelling read like …… ‘usual y the Wel ington’s were kept in a hal  closet’.  It went past distracting and reached serious annoyance when I had to go back and work out what the words really were.  Why would any publisher risk a new author or series with such shoddy work?  An ARC is not for Beta readers, it’s meant for reviewers, many authors in their own right.  Publishers want something good to promote the book, not, “Incomprehensible junk!”

Typos in ARC’s exist.  Hell, they exist in print even in the best hardcover bestseller.  But when every page is so littered with them it’s like trying to read code, that’s not excusable.  After 48 pages it improved, but it was false hope.  Within two pages ‘down the hal ‘ was back.

The author and reader both deserve better.  I simply couldn’t finish reading it with so many errors, mostly because the odd spacing kept disrupting the rhythm of my eyes going across the page.  Authors, please tell you publishers that ARC’s readers are not Beta lab rats.  I know ARC’s have errors and I deal with that.  Heaven knows hardcovers go to print with errors that would have been unheard of 10 years ago, but the material still has to flow smoothly enough that it’s not an endurance contest for the reader to get through it.

That’s a book I’m not naming.  It wouldn’t be fair to the author, but the publisher is Hatchette, owners of Grand Central and Little  Brown and Co, not exactly small houses, and they should know better.

On to the reviews!  And it’s MYSTERY WEEK!

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Sugar_and_Iced-210

Sugar and Iced is the latest in the Cupcake Bakery series, which is kind of a mixed bag.  I liked the mystery part, but all the teenage drama in 30 year olds over their respective love lives drove me nuts.

Mel and Angie find themselves supplying cupcakes to a beauty pageant thanks to Mel’s mom and her best friend Ginny.  Seems to me cupcakes and beauty pageants are sort of mutually exclusive, but the decision to have each contestant create a cupcake that Mel and Angie will then bake and the judges evaluate as part of their score give their presence a little credibility.  Oz, their Goth skateboarding part time help and his girl Goth pal, Lupe, get dragged into this when the two ladies decide that Lupe should enter the contest which has substantial scholarship money as a prize.  Lupe might put magenta streaks in her hair and wear the whole Goth black and piercing thing, but she’s smart as a whip and accepted at Stanford, if she can find the money to go.

Now a word of warning, once again a judge dies.  Yes, it’s happened before in her books, but this time, the shrewish judge, an original ‘mean girl’ is under the cupcake display table in the hotel lobby.  Enter the handsome cop, Manny, ex-fiancee waiting patiently for Mel to come around ‘Dear Joe’, and slightly sleazy but handsome lawyer, and Angie’s lifelong love, Tate is back at the bakery doing business plans for expansion – something Mel is opposed to.

Naturally Lupe, who rec’d outrageously low scores from the now dead judge, becomes the leading suspect, so Mel and Angie one again meddle in police business.

The mystery plot was good, though it stretched credibility at times.  Mel’s personal issues are more of a distraction than asset to the story, at least for me, though other readers seem to like it.  The big denouement isn’t a shock, but what happens afterwards has a personal shock for Mel.

Sugar and Iced is a good, but not great, cozy mystery.  It gets a C+ to B- (3.5*) from me which is lower than most reviews on Amazon.  If this is your favorite genre, then this series is above average, even though I had a sense of déjà vu with over half the plot.  I got this book for $7.19 from Amazon.  I sent it on to a PBS (Paperback Swap) friend.  Free is the best, but try for a used copy.  This is not a keeper.

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Death_on_Eat_Street

J.J. Cook hit the ground running with the Sweet Pepper Fire Brigade mysteries and with Death on Eat Street, the latest in the crowded field of foodie mysteries.  J.J. Cook is a pseudonym for Jim and Joyce Laverne, the prolific husband and wife team that does  the popular Missing Pieces mysteries among many others.

Zoe Chase has a dream and she quits her boring job, gives up her expensive condo and buys a run down diner and a food truck to fulfill her dream of owning her own restaurant like her eccentric Uncle Saul.  Her mother, a lawyer with political ambitions, and her dad, the head of the investment bank where her supposed fiancee works, don’t agree with her choice, but her dad is quietly more supportive.  Even worse, she dumps fiancee Tommy Lee – who has been cheating on her anyway.   Times are tough for Zoe and she’s living in the diner with an overweight cat and soon a woman who needs a job and is a natural at selling her deep fried biscuit bowls.  With the help of an strange, but nice guy from the shelter, Ollie, she starts getting her food truck business on track.  It means less food for the men’s homeless shelter, but on bad weather days, they still do well.

That’s when things deteriorate.  Someone tries to rob her.  Her brake lines are cut on the food truck, there’s a public fight with the owner of another food truck – who is then found dead – and now everyone seems to think she has something valuable that the dead food truck owner had.  She hasn’t clue what that something is, but someone if willing to kill for it.  Her defense lawyer is handsome, but a bit shabby and seems a little beaten down.  But life has not treated him well either and he fits right in Zoe’s band of misfits.

Death on Eat Street had more pluses than minuses.  The plot revolving around some missing valuable is old as time and who did was obvious to any mystery reader, but the characters were interesting, from pushy divorced parents to the ragtag group of friends that Zoe acquires.  Like a lot of first books, establishing the backstory of characters takes up time and detracts somewhat from the flow.  Overall though, it was above average.  I’d give Death on Eat Street a low B- (3.7*) and a suggested read for cozy lovers.  Not as original as I’d hoped, but there’s not much new ground to cover in the foodie mystery field.

I bought this book from Amazon for $7.19 and will pass it on thru PBS.

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Second Helping for Murder

 

 

A Second Helping on Murder is the second book in the Comfort Food series by author Christine Wegner.  Wegner has published numerous Harlequin romances, so this is a departure, but her Harlequin roots show through.  The first book in this series, Do or Diner, I have not read, so I wasn’t quite prepared for this simplistic mystery.  I don’t hold cozies in high esteem, but many are enjoyable and a choice handful rise above the generic formula and become fine additions to any mystery read’s ‘Books I Read’ list. A Second Helping is down at the other end, Books I Could Have Missed.

The story takes place in a realistic town of Sandy Harbor, NY on the southern shore of Lake Ontario.  All the states bordering the Great Lakes, or any other large lake away from major cities, have similar small towns with summer homes and rental cabins where people go to enjoy the country air, cool evenings, lake sports, and the slower pace of small town life.  Come winter snow season, they head south.  That’s what Trixie Matkowski’s Aunt Stella did when her husband died, and Trixie, who was fresh off a divorce from her cheating husband bought the place and started life over as a 30 something diner chef and owner of about a dozen well maintained rustic cabins used for summer rentals and one 24 hour diner where managed the night shift cooking.

The town is in something of an uproar over the discovery of the remains of a 16 year old girl who went missing one summer back when Trixie was an awkward child.  She had nothing but good memories of the older girl who befriended her when she needed it.  But with the diner and her first guest arriving insisting on Cabin 8, the cabin where the ill fated Jacobson family was in when Claire went missing.

As usual, Trixie, who apparently does not have enough to do running both a 24 hour diner and a dozen rental cabins, decides she owes Claire enough to investigate the 20+ year old murder.  Deputy Ty Brisco might be a handsome, slow talking cowboy relocated up north, but her was also a sheriff’s deputy, so she’s wary ……. and he isn’t a local.  Then there’s another death, the strange man renting Cabin 8 is shot and killed in the cabin – and cancellations come in on the cabin rentals.  Naturally, Trixie gets involved.

If you don’t figure it out in the first 50 pages, you’re losing your Nancy Drew badge.  The book is short, the plot simplistic and predictable, the characters unoriginal.  A Second Helping is essentially a dull read.  At the $7.19 I paid at Amazon, it was also a waste of money.  Typeface is large, so word count per page is short and the whole thing can be read in a couple of hours – if you last that long.

A Second Helping gets a C- (2.7*) from me.  It’s a Harlequin romance with bodies.  The score is that high because Ms Wenger captures the atmosphere and character of those small summer lake towns really well, even if her characters and plot are lame.  You can safely miss this one.

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bone deep

Randy Wayne White is the author of over 20 Doc Ford novels.  His books have made the tiny islands on Sanibel and Captiva famous.  A former local reporter, former fishing guide, and current resident of the islands in Pine Island Sound, White sets his books in area and in countries he’s come to know well over the years, including much of the lesser known Southwest Gulf Coast of Florida.  And now he’s an investor (NOT OWNER) in three restaurants (one on Sanibel, and newer one on Ft Myers beach, and the most recent one up on Captiva (2013) named for his iconic character, ex-CIA agent, marine biologist, and Sanibel resident, Marion ‘Doc’ Ford.  The above photo is him in front of the Original Doc Ford’s on Sanibel holding his latest book, Bone Deep.  I confess that Doc Ford’s has been a favorite of mine since the restaurant opened years after the books started hitting the NYT Times Bestseller list – and more years after I had to hunt them down in on-island book stores that White had to deliver to himself.  By 1990 I’d been a frequent visitor to Sanibel and Captiva for a few years and was delighted to discover a local writer who did good mystery/thrillers.  Sanibel Flats, The Heat Island, The Man Who Invented Florida, and Captiva are not to be missed by any lover of John D MacDonald.  After that, things get dicey.

By the time The Mangrove Coast hit the shelves in hardcover, thanks to a new publisher and some badly needed promotion, I was able to buy his books easily up here in the Northeast.  Doc Ford and his hippy, pot smoking, peace loving genius side-kick, Tomlinson (the name of the Sanibel Police Chief and friend of White’s) are once again enmeshed in problem that seems simple, but never is.  Some of the locations on Sanibel, like Dinkin’s Bayou, are made up (though it’s located in Tarpon Bay according to the map in the books, the location of the marina where White used to work as a guide.), but he loves researching Florida and folds in the history this with the eye of a newsman he once was.

In Bone Deep, the mining of phosphorous in Florida, a controversial business like everything these days, and the illegal fossil hunting and dangerous trespassing that thieves do to recover fossils in the mining areas, is really interesting – and one of the things I like about White.  The story opens with Doc getting pulled into the hunt for two Native American carvings by a Crow Indian friend of Tomlinson’s.   He agrees to take them to a private island for some touchy feely sweat lodge drum ceremony, and he goes off to talk to the aging scion of a once rich family that owns mining concessions in the state.  In the end, he’s dragged into the dangerous underground trade in rare fossils.  Who knew???  The story is one of family and betrayal, and greed, old sins, and new.  Is the carving taken from the dead collector’s house and the taken from the thief by the Doc what the crazy killer is after, or something  else he has – or the psycho THINKS he has – that was stolen from the home of the illegal collector.  And what’s going on with the stepson and his buddies at the phosphorus mine?  The two separate yet co-joined mysteries make for strange bedfellows.

As always, White excels at capturing the atmosphere of Florida, especially the islands, but Bone Deep is a choppy read and frankly, the plot just didn’t work for me.  Disjointed when it needed to spool out seamlessly.  It seemed to be confused and jumbled rather than clean and sharp.  Was this about the fossil thieves, the psycho killer, or the missing Indian artifacts?  And throwing in confusion about his relationship with Hannah was more a distraction than addition to the plot.  Instead of a tasty fusion, we had a messy mashup.  A book that starts strongly then seems to just spin like a dervish.

Despite the fact that I love the character Doc Ford, I simply cannot overlook the short-comings of Bone Deep.  Plus the ending was too Twilight Zone.  Bone Deep gets a D+ to C- (2.5*) from me, but do NOT let that deter you from reading his excellent early books.  I got Bone Deep through Paperback Swap and I will pass it along to another reader.  In truth, White is at his best when he does clean, direct, fast paced stories with few side tales, and gets messy when he goes for the multi-thread stories that need to be cohesively woven together.  His clean, spare writing style just seems to work best with equally clean, spare, tricky plots rather than sprawling story lines.

And should you ever find yourself on Sanibel Island with the best shelling beach in North America, go have lunch at Doc Ford’s.  Try the Yucatan Shrimp, fish tacos (very mild salsa typical of Central America) with black beans and rice, and carrot cake brushed with 151 rum.  And if you have a driver, try a flight of rums to discover a world of tastes as complex and varied as any good Scotch.

 

February 12, 2012

Recent Reads – A Mixed Bag of Brief Reviews

I’ve been hauling in deliveries from Amazon almost daily – like a true book addict looking for fix.  I have no defense, some authors are ‘must have’ even at hard cover prices, and many trade paperbacks would take forever to get through a book swapping site, then there’s the lure of the 4-for-3 promotion that extends to unreleased titles on pre-order.  What can I say, I’m just weak.

For the first time in awhile, I read some erotic romance.  With so many of the ebook authors moving from small press publishers to major print houses, I ended up trying 3 new to me authors at Siren.  Keep in mind, the current popularity of m/m, f/f, and BDSM books cuts way back on what I might read.  Not opposed to them and many good ones have m/m or BDSM elements, they just don’t have a lot of interest for me.  With what I did buy, the results were not encouraging.  In print, yet another anthology came up, meh!, another a cut average thanks to good wring – and there were two winners – Cipher by Moira Rogers and Jory Strong’s Inked Magic!  YEAH!!!!!   I had other winners too –  in the mystery category Boca Daze by Steven M. Forman, in the historical cozy category The Cocoa Conspiracy by Andrea Penrose, and in the noir Urban Fantasy category Aloha from Hell by Richard Kadrey.

First up are the Erotic Romance ebooks and print books:

  • Title:  Cowboy Commandos Seduce Their Woman (Wyoming Warriors 3)
  • Author: Paige Cameron
  • Type:  Contemporary erotic romance
  • Genre: ménage
  • My Grade: C (3.0*)
  • Rating:  NC-17
  • Length and price:  Short/ Category Novel – under 60,000+ $5.99
  • Where Available:  Available online at Siren
  • FTC Disclosure: purchased through an online publisher bookstore

I know, the title should have been a dead give away.  I bought it anyway.  Actually, it was the pick of the litter, even though the shopworn plot has one used so many times, by so many authors, it embodied trite.  Still, the characters had some personality and  for a short novel, it managed a beginning,  middle, and end.  The sex was OK, but not really pulse racing. (more…)

January 23, 2010

Book Review: The First Rule by Robert Crais

My apologies for being missing in action.  I’ve been experiencing computer difficulties and two of my electronic babies are in the shop – one with a hard drive issue and one with a virus.  So I’m on a new, rather stripped down model, trying to carry on.  SIGH!  Please be patient while I get these issues resolved.  Thanks!

  • Title: The First Rule
  • Author: Robert Crais
  • Type:  Action thriller mystery
  • Genre:  Avenging crusader
  • Sub-genre:  Joe Pike kicks ass and kills bad guys
  • My Grade: B- (3.8*)
  • Rating: PG-17
  • Length and price: Full novel.  80,000 words for $26.95 and sold at significant discounts most places
  • Where Available: Anywhere books are sold
  • FTC Disclosure: Purchased from online bookstore

I’ve been a fan of Robert since he first published The Monkey’s Raincoat way back in 1987.  Long time.  Crais wasn’t one of those writers who regularly churned out a novel every 9 to 12 months.  At first, it would be 2 to 3 years between books.  It seems nearly every book he’s ever written, whether an Elvis Cole or one of his free-standing novels, gets multiple nominations for various book (more…)

May 29, 2009

BOOK REVIEW: Alexandria by Lindsey Davis

Alexandria is the 19th outing for the intrepid Marcus Didius Falco. Davis writes in the first person and Falco is our amiable and sardonic guide. The wryly witty Falco has grown assured and comfortable with himself over the years. He’s married now and the father of 2 girls with a third child on the way. His wife, Helena Justina, is the daughter of a Roman senator and he greatly respects her and her intelligence. The story of his private life with Helena – she was married when they first met and loathed each other on sight – tells so much of Roman life. I highly recommend reading all the books – just the story of Falco and Helena will make it worth your while. Now, as his personal life has become that of a settled man, a father and a husband, the mysteries have also changed. The last few have seen him and his little family traveling outside Rome to places like Delphi in Greece.

As the book opens, Falco, his little family and his restless brother-in-law Aulus are arriving in Alexandria, still the most valued center of learning in the ancient world. They intend to do some sightseeing and try and get Aulus accepted into the Museion. Rumor says Falco is also here on Vespasian’s errand, (before anyone goes running to check, the year is 77AD, about 100 years after the death of Julius Caesar) and more than one person is worried by his presence. Falco’s very real vacation plans get sidetracked when the Head Librarian of the Great Library, Theon, a dinner guest at his uncle’s house the previous night, is found dead at his desk in a locked office. (more…)

March 6, 2009

BOOK REVIEW: The Nymphos of Rocky Flats by Mario Acevedo

The lurid title of this first book in Mario Acevedo’s vampire detective series made me curious enough to give it a go. It kind of reminded me of the titles of Craig Shaw Gardner’s Cineverse series. This book, though, is an off-beat black humor, paranormal, noir-mystery. Acevedo has an unusual resume – an attack helicopter pilot in the first Gulf war, an engineer in civilian life, then an IT professional, then teaching art to prisoners and finally a published author. His off the wall stories are not for everyone. Take a bit of Jim Butcher’s Harry Dresden, some of David Boreanaz’s Angel, and a dash of Terry Pratchett’s humor and Raymond Chandler’s Phillip Marlowe and you have this rather bizarre hybrid. Tough to be neutral about it and you’ll like it or it will leave wondering, “What the hell?” And oh yes, it isn’t XXX material. Actually, I’ve read his 3 books, The Nymphos of Rocky Flats, X-Rated Bloodsuckers, and Undead Kama Sutra, in the series and none get much beyond PG-17 to maybe NC-17.

It’s the Second Gulf War and despite the president’s, “Mission Accomplished”, Sergeant Felix Gomez and his platoon at fighting fedayeen guerrillas south of Karbala. In the nighttime mission Gomez mistakes a 12 year old girl as the enemy and kills her while the platoon takes out the rest of her family. Gomez, stricken by what has happened, wanders off, inexorably drawn to a room with a man who asks what he wants. In his guilt, Gomez says he should be held accountable. Punishment is what he is given – he is made into a vampire.

Chapter 2 finds Felix, after a medical discharge, working as a PI in Denver. A request for help and $20,000 from an old college roommate and friend, Gilbert Odin, a manager at a government installation, send Felix to Rocky Flats Closure Project – formerly a nuclear weapons facility. Gilbert has a very unusual problem. An outbreak of nymphomania among female employees. Every man’s dream, right? Maybe not. In no time at all nymphomania becomes the least of the problems.

Now, the title might lead you to think that the nymphos play a major role, but you would be wrong. An array of mythical and paranormal creatures put in an appearance. Even aliens. You know – the flying saucer crowd. Not even Gilbert is who he seems – and why does he smell like cabbage?

The story moves at a fast pace, but some of it is aided by all these ‘vampire powers’ that Felix has which gets a bit irritating at times. Acevedo also tends to hit all the notes from X-Files while he’s at it. Not a whole lot of new ground here, but a moderately fun ride. The story is no match for the far more complete, realistic or tightly plotted stories of the Dresden Files by Jim Butcher. Felix is a likable character and his first person narration has the kind of one-liners you’d expect from Robert B. Parker or Robert Crais. It’s the plots that need some work. In my opinion, X-Rated Bloodsuckers, about the porn industry, is better and I’d call it a C+ to B-. Undead Kama Sutra gives “Sexual Healing” a whole new meaning and it’s also a C. The fourth book just released, Jailbait Zombies, will determine if Acevedo has the right stuff to grow and improve as a writer from merely OK to really good. Certainly the potential is there and this series has a lot of promise if the plots tighten up and there are fewer ‘magical’ answers and more plausible ones.

My Grade: C

Who would enjoy this book: Fans of X-Files, Angel and Buffy the Vampire Slayer TV shows. Harry Dresden fans are doomed for disappointment.  The rating for this book is NC-17

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