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.

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June 11, 2015

Hot Off The Press

This installment is mostly recent releases of ebooks and DTB’s in various series and one that can be viewed as a stand alone, and a few ebooks.  I’ve noticed I’m gravitating to more humorous mystery in ebook than paper.  Only a few series are worth the cost of a print copy for my bedtime reading.  And since it’s summer, I will also tell more about Reacherfan Groundhog and Trey Dupress – their first major adventure – Murder at The Myrtles Plantation.  It’s a long story that had many authors about half written by me and then I edited the tale into a finished product.  I’m doing another polish and then I’ll post installments during those lazy summer months.

But right now, it’s all about books.

Many times I’ve said how good this series is and how creative and funny Darynda Jones can be spinning multiple story lines at once.  I supposed that’s why I was so disappointed in Eighth Grave after Dark.  Jones set the bar high and held it there through seven books – then she wrote this.

Eighth Grave has several issues – first was the stagnant setting.  In the other books, Charley was moving around, checking on things.  Her she’s near her delivery date for Beep and essentially trapped in an old nunnery on hallowed ground to keep the Hellhounds from killing her and Beep.  Second is the rather insubstantial mystery plots that run thru this book.  ‘Kit’ Carson is working on a serial kidnapper/killer case involving an old lover’s niece.  There’s nothing there, just ordinary data checks.  Next is the crying nun’s ghost and what she wants. (Jones always runs a ‘live’ mystery in tandem with a ‘ghost’ case.) And then there’s the elephant in the room – Beep.  And there was the whole Beep’s birth scene, not to mention the sob story from the evil step-mother explaining her DECADES of bad behavior.

Now al lot of information is finally disclosed in this entry, but it’s done without excitement or tension.  But the worst part – and I mean ‘throw the book at the wall’ annoyance level – is the ending.  I won’t spoil it for you, but I sat there yelling “WHAT?  WTF IS THIS CRAP?” at about 3AM when I finished it.  I just hope none of the neighbors heard me.  Between her father’s ghost and his not believable tale, to “You really don’t remember!” – I wanted to set the book on fire.  Since this was about the over-arching plot of Charley’s existence that’s key to the whole series, it’s unforgivable.

OK, my seething anger aside, the book was far from her best effort.  Tension levels were off, the whole pregnancy plot kind of fizzled, so did the wedding, and bland ‘mysteries’ that could have been solved by any armchair Nancy Drew, resulted in the kindest description of this effort as LAME – and the ending insulted the intelligence of the readers.

Eighth Grave After Dark gets a D+ to C- (2.8*) from me.  It is nowhere near the quality of the first seven books and the ending has me wondering if I want to pay the HC price for the ninth book that’s already on order.  Fans will love this book despite all the plot, the data dumps, and character issues.  Try and get it cheap because it’s far from her usual quality.  My copy is off to the next owner in Hawaii.

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Cold-Burn-of-Magic-final

Cold Burn of Magic is the first book in Jennifer Estep’s latest young adult series.  Young Adult is a very hot market for paranormal writers as The Hunger Games and other proved.  Her previous YA series, the Mythos Academy books, I never read, so I can’t say how they compare, but here, her 17 yr old female and 19 yr old male leads acted more like adults than teens.

Lila is a 17-year-old thief who is stealing a necklace to order for her sort of friend, mentor, and fence, Mo.  We catch her as she eludes guards armed with swords – why not guns and swords, but apparently only swords.  Like her Elemental Assassin series, people here often have ‘Talents’.  And like her Spider assassin, Lila has two talents.  She is also a high school student trying to avoid getting put back in the foster care system.  After school, she heads for Mo’s pawn shop and ends up getting in the middle of an assassination attempt on the heir to one of the two most powerful families, Devon Sinclair.

Lila’s interference saves Devon’s life and forces her to change her own and take a job as his bodyguard.  Lila hates the Sinclairs because her mother died as a result of protecting Devon years earlier during a chance encounter in the park.  Now here she is doing the same thing and risking exposure of her rare Talent to people powerful enough to rip it from her.

The plot of Cold Burn of Magic is basic and had limited tension.  At just over 300 pages in trade size, it was a very fast, easy read.  Too many of the ‘world building’ elements had common ground with her Elemental Assassin series, and Lila was a bit too much like Gin Blanco – tough, talented, independent, and shrewd – and the setting just adds ‘magical’ creatures to the list.

While not impressive, Cold Burn of Magic is suitable for young adult readers while having just enough substance for many older adults.  I give it a C+ (3.3*) and suggested read if you can find it cheap.

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I admit that Craig Johnson is a favorite mystery author and Walt Longmire is a marvelous character, so I am predisposed to love his writing and sly wit.  Dry Bones delivers plenty of entertainment but is far from his best mystery.  Johnson’s biggest weakness is the emotional elements between Walt and his daughter, home to visit with his granddaughter.

At the heart of Dry Bones is the discovery and ownership of a huge T Rex skeleton found on disputed land and a dead Native American found by Walt’s enigmatic friend Omar while out fishing.  Danny Lone Elk’s status in the tribe means no autopsy can be performed, but Walt is convinced the old man was murdered.  Caught in the middle of the dispute between the tribe, the family, the discovery of the bones, and the state, Walt also has to deal with his exhausted, cranky daughter and granddaughter.

Johnson creates characters that seem so real that you feel you know them, but Walt’s emotional disconnect from his daughter is on full display.  When the call comes about her husband, Vic’s brother, Walt is, as always, tied up with the case.  Fossils of T Rex skeletons sell for big bucks (Johnson acknowledges he used the fight over another fossil as his inspiration here, so if that seems familiar, that’s why.) – money all different parties are claiming.  And murder is usually about money – only this time, not from the auction of the skeleton.

While I figured out who did it early on, Johnson’s writing and characters made the story too entertaining to put down.  The ending had a very clever twist.  “Save Jen!”

I give Dry Bones a C+ to B- (3.6*).  My SIL who also read it, voted it higher, but I’m tougher on books than she is.  We both liked the ending.  A short read, it really isn’t worth the nearly $20 discount price, so wait any buy used or borrow from the library.  My copy went right to my brother and SIL and then off to the book swap games.

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In the latest installment of the Lexi Carmichael series, No Woman Left Behind, Moffet opens with a hysterical scene where a nervous Lexi is trying to explain to Slash why having dinner with her parents will be a disaster.  The part about her father looking at them and knowing they were having sex, including that ‘innovative maneuver’ he did on the table cracked me up.  But dinner is interrupted by gunshots and Lexi and Slash are drawn into a battle of wits with arch villian Broodryk from No Test for the Wicked – a man she defeated and deprived on millions of dollars.

Xavier is in a Greek hospital fighting for his life and twin, Elvis Zimmerman, is being held captive by Broodryk and only Lexi and can play the game to free him.  From a private chat room, Lexi finds she must swallow her fears and go to Africa to get the next clue.  Broodryk wants to play on his home turf.

Slash and Lexi fight about her going, but she feels responsible for what’s happened to Elvis and if she doesn’t play his game, he’ll just kill him and kidnap another person, maybe her brother or mother.  She knows even with SEALs and the help of Grayson, the CIA analyst, she probably won’t live, but off she goes.

There are several hysterical scenes – the one finding Gray and ‘Hands’, the SEAL sniper team leader, in flagrante delicto while running from a ‘spider’ and then the tandem jump from 12,000 feet with Hands are both priceless.  The plot has tension and wit and is just a damn fun read.

No Woman Left Behind gets a B+ (4.3*) from me.  Available ebook only and worth the price.  This is a fun series.

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Boundary Crossed

Book one in a new series my Melissa Olsen, Boundary Crossed was offered free in the Prime First plan on Amazon.  Can’t beat free, so I gave it a shot as ebook.

Allison Alexis Luther ‘Lex’ to her Army buddies, spent two tours in Iraq until she walked out if the desert after an IED got her squad in the Humvee.  The Army gave her an honorable discharge and funny looks, because she should have died.  Now, the only living child of the Luther family, second largest employer in Boulder,CO, is a night clerk at a convenience store building a floor display in soda 12 packs when she hears a young couple debating diaper sizes.  When she goes to help them, she sees the baby is her niece – and the couple has kidnaped her.  She screams for the other clerk to call the cops and proceeds to use her best combat skills against them.

Something strange happens in the fight and even though she gouged out the mans eyes, he seemed to grow them back.  Badly wounded, Lex dies.  Again.  Then 4 more times in the OR, but each time she comes back.  She wakes in the hospital getting the same strange looks she from the Army doctors.  Her world goes sideways when ‘Detective’ Quinn comes in to question her and she relates everything to him.  Then she feels the same pressure on her mind she felt from the kidnapper.  Quinn tells her she’s a witch, so does a young man name Simon, who is also a witch.   he’s a vampire Welcome to the brave new world.

Finally grudgingly accepting the whole witch thing, she seeks protection from the vampire ‘dominus’ for the state.  Her niece is a null.  The story centers around Lex’s slow acceptance of her power and the fact most witches hate and fear her – she’s a Boundary witch, or death witch, with a special affinity for vampires, since technically, they’re dead.

In print, the book is just about 300 pages.  It’s a fast, easy read and the UF world building minimal since it all happens here and now.  Lex is an interesting character, but only she and Quinn are well-developed.  The supporting cast is minimal and kind of sketched in.

Boundary Crossed gets a C+ (3.3*) from me.  Not essential, but give it a try if find a cheap print copy or buy the ebook.  At $5, the ebook is pricy for what you get.

April 7, 2015

A Worthy Read – and Some Reviews

Where are all the worthy reads?  You know, the ‘good books’, the ones that are hard to put down!  Yeah, they are kind of thin on the ground.  Sometimes I feel like a broken record saying ‘same old same old’, ‘average’, ‘not great’, and all those other trite phrases that tag a read that was a classic C student ordinary.

The thing is, what I deem a ‘worthy read’ is only worthy to me.  Like music, art, and even movies, we all want something different.  I’m probably NOT the target audience for many authors, but more and more women cross over into what was formerly ‘male reader’ territory – action thrillers, assassin, and spy novels.  James Bond has many female fans even as every young male dreams of being, “Bond.  James Bond.”  (Preferably in Sean Connery’s lilting voice.)

Barry Eisler recognized the value female readers brought – after all, women buy and read more books than men – and even attended the Romantic Times annual convention.  Women are discovering Craig Johnson, Lee Child, Brad Thor, and many more.  Some, like me, read them from book 1, but I’m a fan of thrillers.  Even I don’t read everything.  Take Dystopian, (I feel a Henny Youngman, “PLEASE!” coming on here.) a genre I just don’t much like, yet I generally like the Sandman Slim books by Richard Kadrey.  I don’t like ‘chick-lit’, women’s lit, 97.9% of historical romance, or almost anything that ever won the Booker prize.  I’m a proud troglodyte and happy reader of what used to be called ‘pulp fiction’.

Yup, I slum with the mystery, thriller, si-fi/fantasy, and paranormal writers.  Bottom of the literature food chain.  So, my idea of a ‘worthy read’ has no redeeming social value for anything other than good entertainment for the length of the book and to hell with all the high moral character and ‘profound social insights’.  I’d rather laugh or get so engrossed I can’t put the book down.   After all, no one ever had wet dreams about Theodor Dreiser’s books.  Ian Flemming ……….. well please.  James is drool worthy and guys get skimpily clad hot chicks.   I don’t know about you, but that works for me.

Thank heavens for a few reliable authors!  Good books might be hard to find, but authors C. J. Box and Craig Johnson have stayed steady and dependable – and not gone off trying to create 5 other series with co-writers to make the ‘great money grab’ that’s become so popular.  Box’s Endangered is reviewed below – and dubbed by me a ‘worthy read’.

But even proven and consistent authors have lemons and one that seems to have slipped into a predictable pattern can suddenly break free and do a very original book.  One of the most reliable mystery writers – a man with limited output and almost every book nominated for some award is Robert Crais.  His Elvis Cole and Joe Pike are great though the last 2 Joe Pike ones were weaker than his Watchman.  Crais’s next book is due out this fall.

Author style differs a lot as well.  The late Tony Hillerman was one of the most atmospheric and evocative mystery writers I’ve read.  He breathed life into modern Navajo society and gave us a chance to see through other eyes.   William Kent Kruger is profoundly lyrical in his prose – sometimes to the detriment of his plots.  Gail Carriger has a unique over the top style that worked very well with her Parasol Protectorate series, but she lost her touch with the two latest books.  (Prudence is reviewed below.)  That’s the problem with stylized writing, an author gets so wrapped up in style, they lose sight of other things.  Her sharp humor is markedly missing of late and without it, the style is just annoying.

Randy Wayne White has been a curious author to watch.    His early Doc Ford books feel so different from his more recent ones on many levels.  He’s always researched heavily and that shows, but his characters and plots suffered after hitting the New York Times Bestseller list.  Doc Ford became everything he didn’t want to be and quit the CIA to avoid.  Tomlinson, his hippy, erratic, headcase friend became almost a caricature of himself.  The writing, often narrated thru Tomlinson’s drugged haze, has that soft focus dream-like quality that’s confusing and irritating by turns.  It makes his books heavy slogging.  I’ve always thought action thrillers needed a clear, crispy style to succeed completely, so I find the combination of angsty hero and soft-focus prose combined just kind of annoys the reader.

Molly Harper is another is another paranormal romance writer who can really hit it home, but again, her most recent didn’t work.  The review is below.  Daniel O’Malley used some pretty unique writing tricks to pull off his first book, The Rook, an extraordinary amalgam of styles.  His second is due out this summer, so let’s see if he can sustain the quality – always a difficult task.  First books carry no expectations, second books do.  Shelly Laurenston has an offbeat sense of humor and a way with strong female lead characters that most paranormal authors couldn’t pull off.  For all that, her books are lightweight reads, but they are amusing and very entertaining.  Her most recent is set in the world she created in The Gathering and is titled Unleashed, due out 3/31.  We’ll see how she does.

And unfortunately, I – and by dint of reading this blog, YOU – will be subjected to more of my, “average”, “OK, but not special”, “not awful” reviews.  SIGH.  Just be glad you aren’t reading all the books too!

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Endangered is the latest installment of the Joe Pickett series by Western mystery writer C. J. Box.  It opens with an interesting look at the slaughter of sage grouse, a small, flightless bird that mates and nests in the spring and ends up being a major plot point.  As Joe documents the slaughter of a lek, he gets a call that a girl resembling Alice, his adopted daughter, was found badly beaten in a ditch by the road.  Alice ran off with bull rider Dallas Cates in a previous installment, and Dallas, with a history of abuse, is suspect #1.  Joe abandons the slaughtered birds and heads for the clinic to arrive as a Flight-for-Life helicopter is about to take his wife Marybeth and daughter to a medical center.

Left behind, Joe gets involved with the sheriff department’s investigation, which takes a strange turn, pointing the finger at not the Cates family, but a survivalist.  The sage grouse twins get short shrift as Joe and his youngest daughter try and manage on their own.  A second story line involving Nate Romanowski gets woven in and eventually the two meet in an unexpected manner.

Tautly written and satisfyingly complex, the plot spins evenly to multiple conclusions that ultimately are very satisfying as they tie together various plot elements.   Endangered is a ‘worthy’ and recommended read for all mystery fans, and particularly western mystery fans.  I give Endangered an A- (4.5*) and a recommended read.

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Molly Harper is a favorite author and I was really looking forward to this book.  Too bad The Dangers of Dating a Rebound Vampire fell flat.  Gigi, the younger sister of Iris, the lead character in The Care and Feeding of Stray Vampires (a really entertaining read) has been hired by the Vampire Council to help develop software to help the undead trace living descendants.  If her job works out, she’ll have employment after graduation the next year.  Iris is against the decision despite her having turned vampire herself.

She no more than starts her job when she’s assaulted by a vampire on her way to her car.  Nikolai Dragomirov is the tall blonde she kept catching glimpses of over Christmas, only now he seems to want to kill her and drain her blood.  She meets him with her brother-in-law Cal and challenges him on their history – of which he remembers nothing.  Way to shatter a girl’s ego.

So the story goes and it could have been great, but Nikolai never becomes a well rounded character.  Gigi carries the story and Nik is little more a love interest cutout.  Curses by a witch and an evil co-worker all figure in, but the book lacked the kind of spirited dueling between the leads that her other books had, in large part hindered by Nik’s condition and Gigi’s youth.  Without that repartee, the whole thing felt flat and the ending was predictable.

The Dangers of Dating a Rebound Vampire gets a C (3.0*) from me and is on OK read.  Get only if you’re desperate for a Molly Harper fix.  It’s not much, but the best you’ll get.

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Slayed on the Slopes is the second installment of the Pacific Northwest series by Kate Dyer-Seeley.  It picks up new journalist Meg Reed as she starts her second assignment for a feature article at Northwest Extreme, the online magazine she works for.  Having spent the summer training with the volunteer Crag Rats rescue team to get over her fear of heights, Meg feels ready to tackle the start up of a new group of extreme winter sports guides called Ridge Rangers being created by a tech millionaire and with several of the Crag Rats she knows looking at working for him.

As you might guess the obnoxious, drunk, rich, sneering, a-hole boss ends up dead.  GASP.  The guy did everything but wear a tee shirt saying “TODAY’S VICTIM”.  Then Meg goes out looking for the knucklehead and finds Henry instead.  There’s plenty of suspicion to go around.  Amazingly (color me stunned – NOT), the good old Sheriff from book one is with her grandmother at the main lodge for the same wedding Meg will attend and as the only available law enforcement, he’s investigating.

Despite all the predictable crap. this is actually a decent read in large part because the author winds in a second plot line about Meg’s dad, a discredited investigative journalist.  That ends up way more interesting than the primary mystery and is not resolved, but turns into an over-arching plot line.  Seems cozy writes are taking their cues from the likes of Darynda Jones and her wildly successful Charlie Davidson series, though none can duplicate that sharp wit.

Slayed on the Slopes gets a B- (3.8*) from me and a suggested read for all cozy fans.  Not as lighthearted as some, but overall, a cut well above average.

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Gail Carriger is back with her next series featuring the daughter of Alexia Tarabotti and Lord Maccon, an alpha werewolf, Prudence (Rue to everyone), is the only metanatural in Empire and the adopted daughter of vampire Lord Akeldama.  Lord Akeldama gifts her with an extravagant dirigible – and an assignment – go to India a secure his tea samples and find land where he can begin cultivating the highly desired plant.

Rue assembles her teams, including the son and daughter, and her best friend Primrose, the children on the Westminster Hive Queen of vampires.  Naturally, the son of Professor Lafoux is here as well.  Despite the cast, the exotic locale, and all the potential of the plot involving weremonkeys, the book is flat and dull.  The spirit and knife like wit in the Parasol Protectorate is missing and Ms Carriger seems rather at loss as to how to give a 20 year old the maturity to carry off a persona similar to that of Alexia.  Answer is, she can’t, or at least she didn’t.

A disappointment, especially after her very average Waistcoats and Weaponry installment in the Finishing School series.  That two mediocre books in a row.  The lack of wit and charm is not unnoticed by her fans, though many seem ready to overlook it.  I assume the ‘bargain price’ has something to do with the weak first book, a critical piece of getting followers for a series.  She needed a home run and got a base hit.

Prudence gets a C+ (3.3*) mostly for 2 characters, Spoo and Miss Sekmet.  It is not a must read, but isn’t an avoid.  I suggest waiting for the mmpb as $7.99 is still more than this is really worth.

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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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.

 

April 1, 2014

Not so April Fool!

Filed under: Caper,Mystery review,Western Mystery — toursbooks @ 4:20 pm
Tags: , , ,

april-fool-22v

 

OMG, it’s April already and not single sign of buds on the trees or even the forsythia.  Damn.  While the winter has been long and cold here, it’s still active in places like Minnesota where they’re still dealing with new snow.  I’d be ready to kill the weatherman or myself at this point.  At least this past weekend was just torrential rain for us.

Yeah, it’s April Fools Day.  While I do enjoy some of the elaborate and clever tricks people play, I was never one for April Fool jokes.  So relax, they won’t start here.  No, April 1 was always my personal start date for Spring.  Some years it would come early and some years, like this year, it seems very, very late.

Spring is when every day we look out and the world looks different.  Flowers peek out of the ground, trees bud, shrubs seem to erupt into bright colors almost overnight.  Daffodils that just sprung up a few days ago all seem to suddenly pop open.  Every day my SIL gives me the ‘crocus report’!  Spring is colorful, cheerful, and much needed after a long winter of dreary days.  We start getting restless to get outside and do things.  Where I used to live, I’d take a week’s vacation from work to get the gardens ready – clean out all the leaves, fertilize, correct the pH, dig in soil modifiers and lots of dried manure.  We had a lot of garden space and it took a lot of time between spring when we’d get ready and fall when we prepped it for winter.

I’m no longer able to do that kind of heavy work and I miss it, and I miss my gardens, but life changes and we move on.  I still enjoy looking at all the beautiful gardens folks create – and relax knowing I won’t have to do the digging and the weeding and ………… well, the million other things all gardeners do.  I do love watching the annual parade of colors as one after the other ornamental trees and shrubs do their once a year beautification show.  The are a welcome sight.

Another welcome sight is the brightly color mysteries that arrived today.  But before I settle in for the latest Cupcake Bakery mystery by Jenn McKinley, I need to review a a couple books, mysteries that are as alike as chalk and cheese.

Stone Cold

C.J. Box writes both the Joe Pickett mysteries and stand alone thriller/suspense type books.  Here in Stone Cold we have Joe, the ultimate straight arrow, chasing his friend Nate Romanowski, a man with a past.  Nate, a complex man, a good friend, and a lethal killer, finds himself questioning a path he chose and now doubts.

At the end of Breaking Point, the previous Joe Picket book, Joe quit thanks to the new Director who is a ‘bambi hugger’ and willing to lay down for political gain and throw Joe under the bus while doing it.  But Joe has a friend in high places, namely the governor, who gives him a special job and now that marker has come due.  Of course the governor threw him under the bus years back too, so it’s not like they’re close friends.  Much to Joe’s everlasting disgust, he’s to fly to Cheyenne in the morning for a ‘special assignment’, one that will have him helping the FBI with what looks like an elaborate murder for higher scheme, and it also looks like Nate may be involved.

Woven into the action packed story of a rich, successful man who disappears into near anonymity, and is rumored to run an assassination business, is the more basic tales of Joe’s adopted daughter wanting to run off with a rodeo star with a history of abusing women,  his eldest daughter worrying about a student on her dorm floor displaying all the signs of being a potential ‘lone gunman’, including obsessively playing first person shooter games, and Joe again trying to save Nate, not just the man, but his soul as well.

Box writes a layered, complex, interesting story that moves at a breakneck pace from the opening scenes with Nate hunting and killing a parasite of a businessman to a literally explosive ending with creepy results, and a tragic, but seemingly inevitable conclusion to the isolated college student who in the end, was not what they thought.  The various plot elements weave in and out at always at the nexus is Joe Pickett, a Game Warden with a gift for finding trouble and the tenacity and strong moral code of an old time lawman.

Stone Cold is a really good read.  Maybe not his best, but his most nuanced.  The one drawback is the really bad guy escapes and likely will not be made to answer for his crimes.  The more obvious theme is is all about things never being quite what they seem, but they are in mysteries.  They rarely are in the best mysteries.  Stone Cold remains a very satisfying, engaging read in one of the most solid series currently in print.  It is highly recommended to hardcore mystery fans, especially followers of Craig Johnson’s Longmire books, Steve Hamilton’s Alex McKnight books, or Willim Kent Krueger’s books.

Stone Cold gets a B+ (4.3*) and recommended read.  I got this book thru an online book swap site and I will pass it on.  It is currently just under$20 on Amazon, so try and get this through your library.

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The Chase

It’s hard to even put a book like The Chase into the same set of reviews as a C.J. Box book.  It’s like reviewing McDonald’s after discussing haute cuisine.  The Chase could not be more different, and other than sharing the same general genre of Mystery and Thriller, they have exactly ZILCH in common.

Book 2 in the Fox and O’Hare series is, if possible, even lighter and less substantial than The Heist, which is saying something given the fluff level of The Heist.  One thing you have to remember is Goldberg is a scriptwriter and Evanovich has reverted to her ‘humorous romance’ roots, so substance is in short supply.  It’s fun, fluffy, superficial, the plot is on the level of a ‘made for TV’ movie, or maybe just a one hour episode in a series.  So is the dialogue and the cast of characters.  The Chase is another caper style mystery in the same vein as ‘White Collar’, which it shamelessly copies.  Not one of the great caper books that has more twists and turns than hedge maze, nor is it Dortmunder, or Bernie Rhodenbarr, or one of Ross Thomas’ many wonderful books, no this is just some harmless fun caper story.  A bagatelle.  Short, fast, and don’t look too closely or you’ll see the flaws book.

Fox and O’Hare are after really big game this time, a corrupt former White House chief of staff who runs a virtual private army mostly on government contracts.  And buys stolen art with his less than clean money.  He’s also like all massive egoists, anxious to be feted as hugely successful and noteworthy.  The entree is making his elaborate Florida mansion the feature of a TV show.  A show that gives Nick the cover he needs to grab the bronze the Chinese government is demanding be returned by the Smithsonian.  You’d think stealing an art treasure from a paranoid man who has his own army would be enough, but no, that’s too easy.  Finding out the one on display is a fake was a bummer.  Even worse, some well meaning museum official gave it to the Chinese billionaire before Fox and O’Hare could switch it out for the real one, and it’s locked up in a nearly uncrackable safe in the secure belly of the Chinese billionaire’s A380 that’s hard.

It’s shallow, devoid of deeper meaning, character growth, or any over-arcing qualities.  It reads at a grade school level and has as much substance as cotton candy.  But it is amusing, largely harmless, and is over with in record time.   The Chase gets a C- (2.8*) and a strong recommendation you get it FOR FREE SOMEHOW, because seriously, it’s not worth more than $2-$3.  I got The Chase thru a book swap site and it will move on the same way.  If you miss it, your life will still be complete.

 

September 1, 2013

eBook vs Print and Some Mystery/Thriller Reviews

I just had three lessons in ebooks vs print books.  The first was Elysian Fields by Suzanne Johnson, third in the Sentinels of New Orleans) which I had read as an ARC ebook (twice) and then got in print and read again (twice).  The second was Inferno by Dan Brown which I only had in print.  For the record, I bought Elysian Fields on a pre-order through BAM.  Inferno came to me via Paperback Swap and it’s already leaving next week, though I did end up with 2 copies – one from a swap and one from my wish list which I forgot to cancel.

So what lesson did I learn?  Well, I enjoyed Elysian Fields in ebook, obviously, I read it twice, but reading it as a print book was a very different experience.  I felt more involved and when I was done, more satisfied than with the ebook.  It will even get a higher rating, and not just because all those minor proofing errors got cleaned up, but because I quite literally experienced the story differently.  Result – print book was superior all around for reading satisfaction.

The next was Heart of Venom by Jennifer Estep, the latest in the Elemental Assassin series.  I read it as an electronic ARC as well, and bought the books.  Oddly, I found less of a difference in how I experienced the story.  That could be the more straightforward ‘action thriller’ style of the series, or the difference in writing styles.  I’m inclined to think it’s the straightforward and fairly uncomplicated plot.  I noticed those books I liked best as ebooks were all very much in the same vein – uncomplicated plot lines, so I could just enjoy the characters.    While certainly not the intricate, multi-layered, cast of thousands book, written with flowing, complex prose and a demanding vocabulary, that say one of Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time books is, Ms Johnson does write a more layered and complex story and atmosphere and characters require greater attention.  And yes, the writing style, syntax, and vocabulary will slow down my reading speed.  Some writers are worth savoring – William Kent Kruger may not write the best mysteries, but they among the most lyrically written.  And that works better for me in print.

Now Inferno, is a different story.  Part of the problem is the fact that Dan Brown is a complex plotter, but lousy character author and as a writer, not the most skilled in his turn of phrase.  In that he’s much like the late Robert Ludlum.  This makes staying involved in one of this maze like stories a challenge.  But there was a bigger problem – the book itself.  It weighed a ton.  I switch hands when reading, holding the book more often in my left so I can turn pages with my right.  This isn’t usually an issue – or it wasn’t until two things happened:  1) I developed arthritis in my thumbs and, 2) I broke my left wrist 2 years ago and had a plate implanted to stabilize the bones.  While the recovery from the break was excellent given my age, the wrist is just not as strong as it was and like most broken bones, sensitive to the weather.  So reading big, heavy books is actually quite taxing to the wrist and hand, which makes for an uncomfortable situation and shortens the attention span.  Add to that Dan Brown’s less than enthralling writing skills and it was a long, slow, oft interrupted slog.

Now keep in mind, I own a Kindle that I hardly use.  I downloaded the software to my laptop and read on it instead.  Why?  I have an older Kindle and it’s a PIA to use and heavy to boot.  Heavier than a paperback, but not as heavy as a hardcover.  I just found the short page length annoying.  Actually, that’s pretty much true of ALL ebooks.  Fewer words per page.  It makes keeping a train of thought going harder.  With a book, you see two pages at once and do not have to think about changing pages every 225 words.  It keeps breaking the story’s flow.

So yes, I will still buy ebooks, but truth is, they are less than 10% of my book purchases.   The experience with Elysian Fields showed me why.  Trow away books, like romance, and even basic plots like Heart of Venom, ebooks are fine and cheap.  Book you want to sink into – for me it’s paper – DTB (dead tree book).

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Inferno

Dan Brown hasn’t written many books, but that could be because of the amount of research he puts into his plots.  Like Robert Ludlum, Brown relies on the compelling story of a puzzle being unraveled to avert a crisis, not on any character development, though each book does have character elements as the underlying motivation.  The other reason might be the fact that his books are really LONG – just shy of 500 pages in hardcover.  Not as long as Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time epic fantasy books, but for a thriller, it’s a long book.

With Inferno, Brown steps up to bio-terrorism plate, an area usually explored by action thriller writers with former Spec Ops heroes battling their way to the truth.  But Robert Langdon is no soldier and uses his odd eidetic memory and his vast knowledge of history, art, and symbology to unravel clues to avert some kind of global disaster.  Only this time his memory is failing for the first time in his life – thanks to a bullet wound to the head.  He wakes up in a hospital in Florence, Italy, a city he loves and knows well, but the last thing he remembers is being in Cambridge at the Harvard campus several days earlier.

What follows is classic Brown …… fast, filled with exquisite detail, and often tedious.  And not one single outstanding character leaps off the page.  Langdon has three dimensions in large part thanks to Tom Hanks.  The nerdy academic who unravels complex clues.  Though why these brilliant villains always leave these trails of breadcrumbs has always baffled me.  Kind of like James Bond villains who always screw up because their gloating.  A brilliant scientist leaving a trail even though he leaped to his death to avoid revealing anything?   hummmmm

Anyway, let us accept the master villain left these arcane clues only a master scholar could follow – bring on Robert Langdon.

WARNING:  Spoilers below

What’s right with Inferno:  The pacing is fast, and Langdon thinking he’s averting a global bio-terrorism plot gives it an edge.  The armed men chasing him do too.  As usual,

What’s wrong with Inferno:  The ending.  It fell flat in the last 75 pages.  All the tension built up over 400 pages as Langdon races against time to prevent a disaster and the solution was a classic WTF moment.  Unfortunately, for the reader, it was also a “WTF did I just waste my time on this?”

As a thriller reader, the dénouement after such – well sort of – breathless journey to avert the disaster was EPIC FAIL.

The other huge problem was the lack of any aftermath for an event of this magnitude with economic, social, religious, and political consequences.  Two scientists walk off into the ‘brave new world’, Langdon flies home, and ………… That’s it?  What about what happens when the world finds out?  What happens to fertile females?  Will they be made into baby factories under control of the government?  Jeeze, talk about a disaster.  Someone didn’t think this through – including Dan Brown.  No wonder he just threw Langdon on a flight home.  I would have run from that mess too.  The author just ignored the ramifications of the event completely.  Astonishing.

Inferno gets a D+ (2.3*) from me in large part due to the ending.  I know his legion of fans will hate me, but come on, he did NOT think this through.  He just abandoned the whole thing in an abstract, professorial way.  It did not register with the man.

Thankfully, I got Inferno through Paperback Swap.  Free is the only way to go here unless you are die hard Langdon junkie.  Then but a CHEAP used copy.  This is no keeper.

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the-english-girl-daniel-silva

Will this 13th outing be Gabriel Allon’s last mission?  We’ll see.  Here Allon is minding his own business at home in Israel restoring a Bassano when he gets a visit from the ‘the old man’, the legendary Ari Shamron.  Seems something has happened in the UK and Graham Seymour is calling in a favor.  An English girl, late 20’s, vacationing in Corsica with friends has disappeared.  This is no ordinary English girl, she a rising star in the PM’s party – and his very secret mistress.

The kidnappers have made contact – but strangely, no demands.  Gabriel finally agrees to go help, not as assassin, but as an investigator.  He hears the story first from John Lancaster, the PM with his ‘power behind the throne’, Jeremy Fallon.  From all outward appearances, Madelyn was a middle class success story, a beautiful, brainy young woman who caught the eye of party powers and was raised thru the ranks, getting groomed for an eventual run as an MP.  Her disappearance in Corsica is even more mysterious as no ransom demands have been made – just notification to Lancaster they have her.

Gabriel goes to Corsica to see the local Don who makes his money in olive oil and contract hits, and ask to borrow one of his assassins, an Englishman, former SAS thought to have been killed in the mid-East – and a man who was once contracted to kill Gabriel and didn’t.  The two men began the investigation all over again – and starting with a picture of Madelyn at a table with an unknown man, they begin trying to piece things together.

All the elements are there for a great story, yet somehow, it didn’t quite cut it for me.  It was obvious they knew Gabriel’s personal history and they also knew entirely too much about things that were known by only a few, and had Gabriel not been so lost in his cycle of personal angst, he would have seem it.  I guess that’s the part that annoyed me.  Allon is known for his ability to puzzle out motives, yet he failed to do confront a key one for a long time.  Perhaps, Gabriel’s concession to age and the need for a new man to take his place in the field – and who he apparently tries to recruit at the end, was the single most interesting part.  It looks like the baton may be passing to a new lead character, and someone who is interesting and enigmatic too.

The English Girl is not quite up to DeSilva’s usual standards, but is a good read.  I give it a B- (3.7*) and a recommendation for fans, but only in mmpb.  The HC is over priced.  My copy of The English Girl came through an online book swapping site and will leave the same way.

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breaking point

Like Craig Johnson’s Walt Longmire series, C.J. Box’s Joe Pickett books went a long time unnoticed outside hardcore mystery readers.  Not anymore.  Longmire and Pickett have a lot in common, especially a bone deep respect for nature and the fundamental kind of survival instincts that keep a man alive in the unforgiving wilderness.  They also have the fierce independent nature that is typical of Westerners, tough, self-reliant, men that enforce laws but respect personal freedom and the land itself.

Box incorporates a lot more aspects of government intrusion into citizen’s lives and in Breaking Point he used an actual lawsuit and Supreme Court ruling as a springboard for his plot.  One of Joe’s friends is former black ops man Nate Romanowski who was featured in his last book Force of Nature, (not my favorite) and since disappeared.

The story opens with two armed EPA enforcement agents driving from Denver to deliver a cease and desist order on a man in Wyoming.  The Corp of Engineers man who is supposed to meet they and go out to the land with them is aghast at the order and the person they plan to serve it on.  In the end, both officers are dead and buried under a berm of dirt.

Joe’s out riding a line of watering trenches set up so wildlife stays away from domestic herds to get water.  He sees a cut fence an follows it to a camp where local builder Butch Roberson is.  Butch is a real outdoors type, but something about their whole encounter feels wrong.  Still, Joe heads back and then gets the call about the murders.

Over on Butch’s land, new sheriff and paraplegic Mike Reed is doing all the right thing to keep evidence and crime scene conditions in tact with a loud, obnoxious, and obviously self important EPA Juan Julio Batista shows and has the FBI claim jurisdiction.  Reed is not about to be bullied by some high level desk jockey and tells him to get a court order and get out of his crime scene.

Now Joe is only a game warden, but even he knows something here isn’t right, and it’s more than 2 dead agents and an over-reacting desk jockey who starts calling Butch a terrorist.  As his new boss keeps caving to the increasingly outrageous tactics of the feds, Joe goes and hunts for Butch – and the fools he’d taken hostage when they’d tried capture him – said fools including the former sheriff who sent Mike out into a surefire armed confrontation that put him in the wheelchair – all because Mike was running against him in the election.

McLanahan, the former sheriff, with his ego and an ax to grind ends up one of the hostages trying to show up Mike.  But it’s when the EPA idiot calls in a drone strike with a Hellfire missile kills the wrong man and sets off a monumental forest fire that thing go really south and pushes Joe to find out what the hell is REALLY going on here.  And Butch has most of the answers.

Box spins a tight, well written mystery and has his usual twist at the end, a twist that puts everything into perspective and puts the real motives behind the whole incident that led to the deaths of 2 agents, firefighters, and other people, into perspective – and it all started long ago with a lover spurned.  An innocent man willingly goes to jail to protect another.  That part I saw coming, the rest I didn’t.

Box does have an ax to grind with the high-handed tactics of the EPA thanks to what even the US Supreme Court calls a ‘badly crafted law’ that Congress has no interest in fixing.  That does not control the story, which is more about hubris, long held grudges, and people who use connections to screw others, in addition to the abuse of federal authority – a favorite theme of writers who live out west.  It also sees Joe quit his job, a job he loves, but can’t do thanks to the weak management caving to what he sees as highly illegal and ethically and morally questionable tactics.

Breaking Point is just a really good read on several levels, but there is no question political points are part of the story and Box has some strong views that did not make Joe step out of character, but remained within his own well established ethical boundaries, a lesson some other authors should take to heart.  Breaking Point gets a B+ (4.2*) from me and a recommended read.  I got Breaking Point through an online book swapping site.  Buy a discount copy as the current online price is over $18.  This is a series to read!

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