Tour’s Books Blog

September 13, 2017

And Even More Binge – Short Reviews

My apologies for not posting.  I’ve been suffering fatigue and just kind of digging out of it slowly.  Yes, I’m still reading, actually more ebooks than print lately.  Why?  Well, publishers have consolidated, ruthlessly cut authors and series, no longer give a series a chance to develop a following and delay publication dates 18 months or more except on big name bestsellers.  On top of all that, they raised prices and reduced quality of everything from the paper itself, to the crappy proofreading and editing.  No wonder authors have turned to self-publishing.  Earlier this year, cozy mystery writers had contracts canceled and whole series dropped.  Now si-fi, fantasy, paranormal, and dystopian are getting the same treatment.  Action, espionage, military thrillers and many mysteries, from humorous to noir have gone ebook.

Looking at my Amazon purchases, I found I ordered more non-book merchandise than books.  Five years ago, the first Tuesday of the month meant UPS had sacks on boxes at my door.  Now a get maybe 2 books a month, 4 in the high release months.  Having moved from quality packaging, Amazon now also save money using padded envelopes, except the books often arrive with creased covers and scuffing thanks to Amazon and the PO abuse.  When I spend $20+ on a book, is it too much to ask for a dust jacket that’s NOT TORN?  A trade paperback with a bent, creased cover?  Can the damn publishers not use recycled tissues for paper so thin I can see the print on the back of the page and despite great care, the fragile paper rips just turning a page?  Better still, can they find printers who don’t leave blotches of link like mini-Rorschach tests all over the pages – often causing those frail thin pages to glue themselves to each other?

God knows ebooks are the prototype of bad proofreading – not to mention authors who seem unable to exercise even minimal self-discipline in CONTINUITY ERRORS – but they aren’t $20, either.  I get a lot of them through Book Bub on sale for $0.99 to $2.99 and a lot of free books.

The big downside of ebooks is the fact most authors choose a short novel length.  That might be what ebook readers prefer, but it often leaves the characters and plot wanting.  Certainly, Golden Age mysteries were largely short novel length, with Josephine Tey’s The Daughter of Time being one of the finest mysteries ever written and one of the shortest.  Christie’s books were all shorter novels, especially her best early works.  Same for Hammett and even Chandler.  But today’s writers are simply not in that class – or even close.  Today’s writers lack the skills of compacting paragraphs of atmosphere into a single sentence.  “It seemed like a nice neighborhood to have bad habits in,” from Chandler’s The Big Sleep tells you more that paragraphs about the setting and the atmosphere in a modern book.

But bemoaning the loss of mystery’s Golden Age is a bit pointless.  Today’s books reflect the taste of modern readers and the fact they want easy, entertaining diversion – and apparently a limited vocabulary.  Not many authors can command a wide audience other than a handful of big names that run more on the reputation for their past works than their often mediocre, formulaic current novels.  Still, even ebooks have good, bad, and indifferent authors, so let’s see what we have for July/Aug mysteries.

PS:  No, I have not lost my fondness for UF and paranormal, but most paranormal now seems to fall into mystery or romance genres.  Pickings are lean there too.  Some authors have nothing new out – due to the whole publisher issue or the fact they’ve just hit a dry spell I can’t say.  I do have a few for the next print book reviews group.

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Image result for mud run murder leslie langtry

The newest entry in the Merry Wrath series is decent but choppy and frankly, not that credible, but still a fun read.  Mud Run Murder is decent as an ebook, but try and borrow it unless you’re a hardcore fan.  SHORT book.  C+ to B- (3.7*)

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The Never Say Spy series books 1 to 10 that I binge read:

Image result for never say spyImage result for never say spyImage result for never say spyImage result for never say spyImage result for never say spyImage result for never say spyImage result for never say spyImage result for never say spyImage result for spy high (never say spy 9)Image result for spy high (never say spy 9)

OK, this series is set in Canada and involves a cross between a spy series, near future virtual reality, and a book keeper who is mistaken for a deep cover spy.  It has humor, heart, twists, turns, excitement, and some interesting takes on the James Bondish style send-up mixed with serious stuff.  Each book, while part of an overarching story, is complete unto itself.  Aydan Kelly, the woman who insists she’s a book keeper (which she is) is a terrific lead character, but would be more believable as someone 10 years younger.  Book one, Never Say Spy, is free and ebook.  Give it a try.  I enjoyed the series a lot.  The books ranged from C+ to B (3.6* to 4*)

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The House of Spies, the 17th book in the Gabriel Allon series, was the usual 500+ page tome by Daniel Silva.  What it wasn’t was great.  In fact, it barely made good.  With a cast of ever character you can think of – and some extras, an episodic style, and no really solid lead, it limped along in Mediocreville.  Completely miss-able.  Get from the FOL sale or borrow it.  Read the HC version – it was cheaper than the ebook.  C- (2.8*)  Not impressed by a usually reliable author.  Retire Gabriel, please.

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How a really good series can cause an author to rush out a book before it’s time.  Call of the Wilde is a very short book.  Yes, it’s action packed because the author doesn’t take the time flesh out any of the many individual elements and it all becomes messy in the headlong rush to the big finale in London.  Let’s do, not think.  Never a good plan.  Loose ends all over.  The rush had predictable bad consequences.  Not as well done as the earlier books.  Unpolished and fragmented.  My score is a C (3*).  Had Ms Stark taken the time to just breath deeply and THINK, it would have been light-years better – and 50-75 pages longer.

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Image result for the preacher ted thackrey

An interesting concept, a former Episcopal priest turned war vet turned professional poker player/trouble shooter.  The Preacher was a book I wanted to like.  It had all the anti-hero elements.  It was dull, predictable, occasionally tedious, and just blah.  The Preacher gets called into some dusty torn in New Mexico by and old seminary friend to find out what’s wrong.  How he does this playing poker only works because the poker players are what’s wrong.  As sere and dusty as eastern New Mexico.  I was frustrated at wasting my time on this.  My score C- (2.8*) and give it a miss.

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Image result for bring the heat ga aiken

OK, a favorite author – G.A. Aiken/Shelly Laurenston and a favorite series, the Dragon Kin.  Bring the Heat was a sure bet – sort of.  Now Branwen the Awful is a great character and so to is Aiden the Divine, what didn’t work do well is the choppy plot.  You’ve got Annwyl the Bloody in Hell, the dragons wiping out the followers of the blind god,  and Brannie and Aiden escorting Keita to poison another dragon queen because he son was kidnapped and murdered while under the Dragon Queen’s care.  Anyhoo …… the scene switching is not unusual, but the story isn’t smooth or as interesting, which is a shame as Brannie is one of my favorite characters.  My score is C+ (3.3*)

 

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November 11, 2016

A Last Post and Then – A Long Break

I suspect you’ve noticed I’ve been posting less these last few months, in part due to repetitive computer issues and in part due to issues with my eyes.  Like most folks my age with light eyes I’ve had cataracts for years.  These last few months saw a marked changed in my vision and it is difficult for me to work on the computer for any length of time.

Yes, I am getting surgery on both eyes, but I have to wait for openings which put’s it out later than I had hoped.  Still, it will be good to get it done.  Hopefully, it will be drama free and mark the end of a very expensive year of car repairs, extensive dental work, multiple trips to the computer place (where I was mistaken for an employee), and ending with eye surgery.  Could have been better, could have been worse.

I’ve been on a spy/assassin/action thriller binge with multiple authors in various formats.  I belong to Goodreads and I occasionally post (in fits in starts) in two groups, The Orion Team, a group for fans of action thriller/spy/espionage type books and the VERY large Mystery, Crime, Thriller group.  I am almost never around the fantasy and paranormal groups I belong to.  The latest Mitch Rapp book, Order to Kill by Kyle Mills who took over for Vince Flynn and did a really spectacular job of The Survivor, the previous book in the series is reviewed below.  By comparison, I found Order to Kill …… well, average or slightly above.  My comment brought out Ryan – self-styled ‘The Rappologist” – a Mitch Rapp superfan who runs a blog dedicated to Mitch Rapp who took exception to my views.  So I did something I rarely do, I sent an email to the author, Kyle Mills.

Now I email my many political representatives and office holders in DC and tell them off or agree with them (can’t remember the last time that happened) and sent the email expecting ‘Thanks for writing’, canned reply of a similar nature.  But lo and behold, within a few hours Kyle Mills replied himself.  And not some rote response, but a thoughtful look at what books of his I liked and how I loved The Survivor, but not Order to Kill.  A part of his response was:

“My impression of the Rapp books is that he is a bit of a superhero.  Realism is less important than the fact that he be the master of his universe.  Part of that is shown through his actions and part is through the deference others show him.  Further, because The Survivor leaned toward the cerebral (in the context of the series) I wanted to do more of a pure action thriller this time out.”

I thought about his reply awhile and about what books I liked best and those that ended up annoying me and came to the conclusion I do prefer the cerebral thriller.  There’s plenty of action, but the characters are more nuanced, flawed, and human, so more relatable.  See, even a thriller teaches us something about ourselves.  And kudos to Mr Mills.

On to the reviews!

PS – Belle Chasse by Suzanne Johnson, the next in the Sentinels of New Orleans series is due out next week.  If I have a moment, I’ll post a short review before surgery.  Happy Holidays!

NOTE: All books purchased by me unless otherwise noted.

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Order to Kill has Rapp back in Pakistan works with the team of ex-Seals to locate the now mobile nuclear missiles the Pakistani Army is playing dangerous games with.  Then he is pulled away when the wife and son of the Louis Gould, the man who tried to kill him, are in jeopardy.  Apparently, the safe home in South Africa is breached by ISIS rebels led by a low-level Russian thug.  Rapp saves the day (of course) but feels this urgent need to get back to Pakistan.  He sends the mother and son to his house the one he’s he’s finally finishing so many years after the death of his first wife.  The best line in the book is the interior decorator who is increasingly frustrated by his non-responses to texts about things like countertops and threatens him with pink Formica if he doesn’t reply.

Then we go off the rails.  Mills’ Putin clone orders his best assassin to kill Rapp.  And the ‘Rapp is Superhero’ song begins.  It’s annoying beyond belief.  Everything in Pakistan will fall apart if Rapp is there and without him their operations are crippled?  Seriously?  He’s the ONE man who can see this and wreck the ‘big plan?  Maybe he should check with the Johnny Carson estate to see if his Carnac hat is available for sale.  All Rapp was missing was a clingy body suit and big red ‘S’ on his chest.  I just took what came next as shallow, predictable, and kind of tedious in that like a romance novel, the ending was never in doubt, just how he got there.  You couldn’t even hate the competent Russian assassin, who was just doing a job.  We can hate ISIS, but big deal.

What’s missing?  Well, there’s plenty of action and the pacing is excellent.  Mills knows his way around writing a thriller, but in trying to imitate Flynn’s later works where Rapp is less human and more a cartoonish, shallow, always right, he lost the nuance that he brought to The Survivor, what I thought was one of the best books in the series for some time.  That he deliberately changed the style to better match Flynn is precisely why I found myself annoyed with it.  I’d grown tired of Flynn turning Rapp into an almost inhuman superhero.  I did like Grisha Azarov, the Russian assassin and he has some potential for future books as he manages to get away from both Rapp and Russia.

If Mills sticks with this ‘superhero’ approach, I’ll likely quit buying after the next book.  It’s like a good, but unsurprising action movie rather than an intellectual challenge with action an integral part.  Plus Rapp is getting too old to be fully credible in plots that are all about physical challenges without the redeeming factors of human error or character flaws.  To his credit, he did leave Rapp with the widow and child now living in his house and not knowing how to handle things.

Order to Kill gets a C+ (3.4*) rating for me and will be loved by dedicated Rapp fans – 70% of whom gave it 5* on Amazon.  I found it tedious and annoying and actually a step back from the far better book, The Survivor.  There are far too many of the ‘James Bond’ superspy genre out there.  Shallow and to me, ultimately unsatisfying.  Read it if you are a Flynn fan.  I’m sure you’ll at least like it as it is was well written and paced and you like the ‘avenging crusader’ style of thriller.  If you’re NOT a huge fan, borrow it from the library, buy it used, cheap in about 6 months (or less as remainders are already down to $10 including shipping on Amazon) or hit the FOL sale in about 2 months when they start removing extras from their shelves.

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Scot Harvath, like Mich Rapp, is getting a bit long in tooth (this is book 16 to Rapp’s 15th – but Flynn’s death caused a break in time before a new author was selected) to be the only guy to do the job again, and again, and again.  Like Kyle Mills and Vince Flynn, Thor brings a sense of realism to his settings and action, but Foreign Agent lacked the originality of his earlier books and like Rapp, Harvath has become a bit too much – though Thor is giving him more humanity and a strong sense of his mortality.  The series is suffering from character fatigue.

Harvath, like Flynn, chose to go the route where action takes priority over over character and complexity of human nature.  The plot becomes the story and characters are stoically going through the motions of playing out scenes.  I give him credit for slowly developing the self-realization of his and the fact this cannot last.  Still, it’s almost cut a paste in parts from prior work.  Not a patch on Black List, which was excellent, one of his best.  This can be a trap when the protagonist must start confronting in changes age brings and the equally harsh realization that they want a life beyond the endless action, beyond being responsible for the whole world.

And it is that humanity, the flawed person, that makes characters go from good to completely memorable.  And it’s that element of the plot that raises a book from decent read to amazing.  Now you can do that with some other elements like he did with Black List, but that made the PLOT great, not the characters.  Here, the plot cannot push the book from average to amazing.  It’s a decent plot – and like Kyle Mills, he mixes Russians and ISIS are the antagonists against whom Harvath must match wits and killing skills.  But here the Rissian involved with ISIS is not an apolitical professional assassin like Mills’ Grisha Azarov, but a nutcase who hate Americans.

Again, no question Thor knows the area, the techniques, technology, and keeps things moving, but he’s at the ‘fish or cut bait’ point with Harvath.  Made a few books more, but his character is too old and fire that drove him is changing.

Foreign Agent gets a C+ to B- (3.5*) and will be a huge hit with action thriller fans.  It shows less prescience and tension than Black List, the book I now judge his others by.  Like all books in the action Thriller genre, the price on remainders drops like a stone pretty fast and you can get a HC new book delivered from an Amazon reseller cheaper than the paperback.  Or go buy it at the FOL sale or borrow it from the library.  It wasn’t worth the HC price, but I share this series, like the Rapp series with my brother, so off to him it goes.  Print only.  He and amy SIL do NOT do ebooks.

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Victor the assassin is back with another excellent installment.  Unlike characters like Rapp and Scot Harvath, Victor is a true anti-hero.  An assassin for hire with a certain code, the first priority being his own survival.  He trusts no one and leads an existence devoid of human ties.  But he keeps his promises.

A Time to Die finds Victor on a train to fulfill a contract for MI6 as part of deal they made.  But he’s not alone.  There are other assassins out to get him.  Someone has put a price on his head.  But Victor now has his focus divided between Rados, the worst of the many Balkan war criminals and mass murderers, now a crime boss, and those who are hunting for him.

Patience and attention to detail are what have kept Victor alive when most other assassins would have sought retirement and refuge.  But it also means someone sold him out and it can only be one person – the middleman who acts as the go-between Victor and is clients.  No time for that now, now he must find a way to dig deep enough into the criminal underground to find Rados who has evaded all who have sought to bring him to trial for war crimes.

It is a wonderfully twisted knot of a killer seeking to kill a killer while another killer is trying to kill him and the target that Victor ends up close nearly gets to live …….. but he seals his fate by causing Victor to break a promise.

Assassin novels are very different from ones where the protagonist is a hero fighting for a cause or belief and someone who has made his life about the art of killing and going unnoticed.  Victor is gray, he has limits, a personal code, but is morally flexible on some things.  He does not kill unnecessarily nor is he any kind of patriot.  Just a killer.  Complex and fascinating in his own way.

A Time to Die poses some interesting perspectives on the nature of true evil.  One of Tom Wood’s best and most mature from a plot and character perspective, with plenty of action and twists.  It gets a solid B (4*) and a highly recommended read for fans of early John Rain books by Barry Eisler, Solo by Jack Higgins, or Shibumi by Trevanian.  I’m not sure why this series is not more popular.  It’s really well done a Victor makes a wonderful anti-hero.

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Image result for tokyo black by andrew warren

I bought the ebook, Tokyo Black by Andrew Warren, the first in the Thomas Caine series, from Amazon through a Book Bub sale and figured I’d give it a try.  Tokyo Black is about an ex-CIA covert operative who got set up and is getting set up again by the same man.  Using an alias, he’s lived a comfortable and quiet life in Thailand’s resort area doing minor smuggling of designer knockoffs.  His partner sets him up with a narcotics rap and he lands in prison.  His was out is an ex-lover who needs him to some work in Japan, part of his old territory before things went sideways in the Mideast.

This setup moves quickly into the story where Caine is in Japan where he uses a favor owed him by a Yakuza boss to try and find out what’s going on.  Unlike most spy novels, this thriller is more tied to organized crime than national secrets or terrorist groups.  Sort of The Godfather meets John Rain – and I hope that didn’t give away the ending, which was well done.

The story is a really good, fast-paced read but not nuanced as I like my thrillers, just a personal preference in style.  Caine is a really good character and it will be interesting to see where this goes as he ends up agreeing to work freelance for the CIA.

Tokyo Black gets a solid B (4*) from me.  For lovers of the John Rain books, Gray Man series, and the Keller books by Lawrence Block.

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From well-crafted thrillers to mystery fluff with as much substance as meringue.  Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing inherently wrong with fluff when it’s well done, which this is not.  In the tradition of Clive Cussler, Tom Clancy, and James Patterson, we add Janet Evanovich, aging doyen (75 years old) of the increasingly awful Steph Plum books (once favorites of mine, 14 books ago), cooking up ways to ‘expand the brand’.  God, the money machine runs on her name.  The books are mostly written by her co-authors, but it is HER name that sells them.

Curious Minds is mildly original, very choppy, meant to have this brilliant and eccentric lead character (a copy of the TV series version of Elementary, except Emerson Knight has none of the flaws and is a LOT richer) and the ever reluctant female in the late 20’s trying to break into the financial world who is assigned to keep him as a customer of the financial house.  Riley Moon is the reluctant sidekick in his plans.

This is supposed to be funny, and apparently, some people found it so.  But a decade’s old scheme to replace the gold in the US Federal Reserve in NYC with gold plated tungsten while moving the actual gold elsewhere is not only improbable, it makes no sense how Knight works it out.

Curious Minds has a few really amusing throw-away lines, but it was so choppy and jittery, it got annoying.  Though it got 3* from me on GoodReads, it’s really a D+ to C- (2.6*) effort.  I know the style was deliberate, but that did not make it less annoying.  Riley is too young for her years and lacks the maturity to make this pairing work, so she comes off a dimwit with multiple degrees from Harvard, an unlikely combination.  I found it frustrating as the concept was good, it was just not well done.  For Evanovich fans, none of this will matter.  For anyone else, give it a miss or get it free or really cheap somewhere.

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Oh dear God, why do I do this to myself?  I hate chick lit and buy the ultimate chick lit ebook because of the reviews.  On the upside, I got it super cheap, on the downside, about half way through I gave up.  It was that or throw up.

OK, a psychologist learns her building is being demolished and the two weird people she shared the practice with both knew and had new jobs.  She’s left holding the bag with even her file lost.  (The improbability of all this boggles the mind.)  So she starts a column called The Breakup Doctor with the help of the friend she was counseling when the demolition started.

She starts getting clients and missing the fact that she also missing all the signals her own romance is about to hit the rocks.  All that was missing was a flashing neon sign.

At a quarter of the way through, I’d had enough.  It’s mildly amusing, annoying, and beyond belief – with amusing being only 20%, 50% annoying and 30% not remotely believable.  The Breakup Doctor gets a DNF since I couldn’t make myself finish it.  The writing was solid but the characters everything I loathe in chick lit.  Unless this is your thing, (please, don’t tell me, I’ll just cringe) give it a miss.  If it is your thing, it gets 4.5* on Amazon, but they tend to overrate these things.

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OK folks, it came election day and I read it all that day.  I did vote first.

Belle Chasse picks up soon after DJ and Jake make good their escape from the trial Zarkovi  – with the help of Christof Winter Prince, Jean Lafitte, René, and Adrien – getting Eugenie out at the same time.  The are now in Old Barataria at Jean’s home.  Alex stayed back to get the inside scoop on the Council.

The pace is quick as Faerie descends into civil war with the queen on her deathbed.  Eugenie’s sister is killed by vampires – but who did it?  Rand, the elf father of Eugenie’s son, the or the wizards?  Then a group of vampires attack Lafitte’s home in Old Barataria and end up paying the price as the gang arrives back before they can kill any but the undead.  Then a strange woman arrives who turns out to be her cousin Audrey, Lennox’s daughter.  They a young ally to get holy water and take messages.

Then the war the war in Faerie goes bad as Florian kills their aunt and claims Christof is to blame seeking help from the council, help denied by Zarkovi.  With the holy water and her staff, they get to eavesdrop on the council meetings.

The ending is fast and furious as Zarkovi grows more desperate to prove himself.  Old loyalties die hard, but we also lose one of the characters I really liked, so it kind of sad.

Suzanne Johnson did a really good job in keeping this series fresh and interesting and action packed.  Belle Chasse ends on a very surprising note.  Only downside, the book was pricey for a trade sized hardcover just barely over 300 pages.  I give Belle Chasse an A- (4.8*) but a big negative on cost.  Borrow it from the library or wait for a few months and get a used one.  Even the ebook is overpriced.

May 31, 2016

More Books – Playing Catchup with Short Reviews

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

January 29, 2016

New Releases in Print and Ebook Reviews

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

October 26, 2015

Frustration and Satisfaction: A Mixed Month of News and Books

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

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

AGAIN!  IT’S DELAYED AGAIN!

Hello,

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

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

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

Hello,

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

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

Then it got EVEN BETTER!

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

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

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

But wait, we’re not done!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

September 24, 2015

Reviews: eBooks and Print – New Authors and Old Favorites

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

August 13, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

July 30, 2015

Reviews: New Releases in Print and eBook

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Middle Son – WHO?????

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Best line in the book:

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

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

Preacher: “I’m sorry to hear that.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


July 14, 2015

Book Reviews – Various Genres in eBook and Print

Now first a word from Book Addicts Anonymous, or BAA – yes it does sound like sheep.  So, all you book addicts out there who are blaming me for enabling your addiction need sit back and take personal responsibility for your lack of control.  The fact that I’m a Book Addict does not mean you must be as well.  (If you think this sounds like your mother saying, “Don’t do as I do, DO AS I SAY!”, you’re right, it’s exactly like that.)  Just because I set a bad example is no reason to fault me for your personal addiction.  That’s YOUR problem.  I have my own.  Like an American Express card with way too many Amazon charges and towering piles of books to be read.  So deal with it ………… and pass the Cheetos.

Now, it’s been a busy month on the book front.  Let’s get started with some reviews.  And quit hogging the chocolate!

David Housewright is a very reliable and often inspired writer with his McKenzie books.  Here he does very good job with a rather predictable story arc about an ‘amnesiac’ young woman known only as Unidentified Woman #15.  He was there when two people threw her from a pickup and started a chain reaction accident on a snowy road when he stopped to keep from hitting her.  His old cop buddy, Bobby Dunston, asks him and his steady girlfriend, Nina, temporarily take her in when the hospital releases her.  Neither man quite believes her story.  When she disappears with some of his ready cash and 2 handguns from his collection, he and Nina both want know what’s going on.  She let one clue slip, Deer River.  And what might be a nickname, L, or Elle, or El.

Housewright creates a series of characters with a sure hand and begins spinning the tale of a supposedly nameless young woman who might be from Deer River.  As he begins unraveling the mystery that links garage sales to a series of thefts, to Big, the nameless power that has everyone scared, he slowly connects the dots.  He also becomes sure the one thing El isn’t is innocent or an amnesiac.

A highly readable combination of wry humor, action, and a mounting number of dead bodies that spin the mystery out.  For fans of classic PI style mysteries in the vein of Robert B. Parker and John D. McDonald, you can’t beat Housewright.

While not equal to his book, The Jade Lily, Unidentified Woman #15 is still a recommended read.  I give it a solid B (4*) rating and suggested read.  Housewright rarely comes out in mmpb, and the HC, which I bought from Amazon, rarely gets cheap, so if you’re looking for a price break, it will take awhile.  Book Closeouts does offer his titles at excellent remainder prices.  Used book prices tend to stay high as they are not that many available, but do look.  His books are worth the effort for fans of the genre.

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Amazon had a pre-publication price that was hard to refuse, so I bought this one.  I usually wait to get mine through PBS, but with their change to paid membership for full benefits, not easy to do for this author.

Gabriel Allon is about to become a father and head of The Office, what we would call Mossad.  An accomplished assassin and famed art restorer, he is not anxious to go back in the field, but he gets dragged in by a past debt to MI-5 and the young woman he rescued from Russia (The English Girl).  But what really pulls Gabriel back into the field is the chance to catch the man responsible for the bomb that killed his son and sent his ex-wife into life in an institution.

Eamon Quinn, the IRA bomber just blew up the yacht a British princess was on (a Diana clone moved to the current date), he was also the man who got away when a certain SAS operative was sold out as a Britsh spy in the Real IRA, the most violent offshoot of the IRA .  To destroy the peace process, Quinn planted a car bomb in Belfast that killed dozens and injured more after calling in a bomb threat that deliberately had police driving crowds TO the bomb.  Hunted by the IRA and the Britsh, Quinn becomes the bomb teach to terrorists from all over the world, especially the Mid-East.  Quinn’s current employer is a head of state furious at be denied the oil and gas leases in the North Sea he’d gotten the British PM to agree to under duress – the Russian Prime Minister.  Now he wants Britain and Allon to pay for thwarting him.

Allon is wise enough to know he’ll need help, that person is the British hitman who works for a Corsican Don, Christopher Keller.  Keller knows Quinn and has good reason to hate him.  More importantly he knows all the players in Northern Ireland where peace is a very uneasy condition with hate still running deep.  Quinn has worked with Gabriel a number of times, and he finds himself restless enough to agree and go back to his roots, roots he’d left behind in the Mid-East when he was a sole survivor.

The hunt is on and a thin trail of clues is all they have.  Too late they realize that trail was left by Quinn who is leading them into a trap.

A really well-done novel of international spies, intrigue, double-dealing, and three shrewd men playing a chess match with lives at stake.  The English Spy seems to continue the slow transition from Gabriel in the field to Christopher Keller taking the lead.  The one shortcoming is that lack of growth in Keller’s character.  While we get more background on him, he’s still lacking that third dimension that always made Allon an appealing protagonist.  Sill, Silva has done a marvelous and detailed job with the story on many other levels.

The English Spy gets a solid B (4*) from me and a suggested for lovers of spy, assassin, and intrigue novels.  I paid under $15 on an Amazon pre-order and it is current just over that mark, so remains a decent buy.    This author’s book do go mmpb and are usually available in your local library.  At just under 500 pages in HC, the mmpb will probably be around $10 and in small typeface, so take that into consideration.  You will be able to find good used copies before the mmpb is released.

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The first two books in A Lion’s Pride series by paranormal romance author Eve Langlais are both short, easy reads.  The plots are kind of thin and both sets of lead characters lack depth, but that’s not really her forte.   The bright breezy dialog in When an Alpha Purrs is classic Langlais.  Both books have a ‘woman in jeopardy’ element for the heroines, but otherwise they are different.  The heroines are very different people, but the pride males have a lot of common traits.

Arik Castiglione is not only a billion and alpha of his pack, he’s also something of a fashion plate and deeply attached to his perfectly styled mane, which is in dire need of a trim.  Too bad his long-time barber is off on a well earned visit with family and his mouthy niece is his substitute.  Kira is fresh off having her beauty salon burned down by her stalker ex-boyfriend who has gone off the deep end.  So she came half way across the country to her uncle’s NYC barbershop to find a new job and new life.  Instead, she found another controlling male who wanted to boss her around because he didn’t trust he ability.  HER!!!!!!  She was an excellent stylist and he was still wearing his hair like some rebellious teen!  His superior attitude finally drives her to do something drastic – and she expresses her intense displeasure by lopping off a huge hunk of his precious hair and raining down the now unattached hair in front of his face.

Arik, stunned by the temerity of the mouthy hairdresser, waits just a little too long to give chase and loses her on the streets near a fish market.  He vows to get even, especially after his beta teases him unmercifully about his pride and joy hair.  But Arik is surprised to find his planned revenge derailed by his attraction to the impossible woman.  Worse, when he delivers her home to her small apartment there’s a crude threat painted on her door.  Kira plays it off despite being obviously scared, but Arik smells wolf and calls in help from the local wolf pack.  From here on out, the story gets very formula and its brief length keeps and character  and plot depth shallow.

In When a Beta Roars, Arik’s beta, Hayder, is sulking as only a male lion can when he gets asked to babysit a wolf shifter that Arik granted protection in the well-guarded condo complex where the pride lives.  Arabella is the city wolf alpha’s sister, but Arik is the city Alpha of all shifter so even Jerrod answers to him.  Arabella had a miserable mating to a much older alpha wolf of a large clan.  His best feature is he’s now dead.  The worst is all the other males want to fight to make her their mate – with every intention of killing her for the inheritance.  It wasn’t any brilliant deduction, they flat out told her.  Jerrod’s pack is no match for her old one and she knows they’re hunting her, so the safest place to keep her is with a lion pride.

Then Hayder walks in like he owns the place.  Arabella has spent years with her head down and eyes averted to keep the abuse to a minimum.  It was so bad, her wolf left her and she hasn’t shifted in years.  Hayder is having none of that and his when she finally snaps at his bold and arrogant assumptions, he laughs and encourages her.  He seems to enjoy her feisty side.

Hayder is determined and patient.  Arabella is slow to emerge from her shell, but like a turtle, her fiery spirit peeks out more and more as she slowly grows more assured.

Despite the more serious theme, Langlais still manages a light and humorous edge to the romance of an abused woman.  This story had more substance than the slight and airy Alpha book, but remains a short, rather shallow novel, though a better one overall.

When an Alpha Purrs gets a C  (3*) and When a Beta Roars gets a C+ (3.5*) though both get much higher ratings on Amazon.  I bought the Alpha book in print and the Beta book in ebook.  Both are much too short for the price.  The book-length is under 200 pages for each title.  Frankly, at $3.99 the ebooks are overpriced for the length and the $8.99 for print is simply outrageous.  Both are modestly amusing and can be read in a fairly short single sitting.  She’s done better books.

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Kristen Painter is well known for her paranormal vampire series, the House of Comarré, a rather dark and complex series.  Here she takes a very different tone with an upbeat romance about a waitress who accidentally witnesses a murder which she records on her iPhone and finds herself on the run from mob killers.  Evading the people chasing her, Delaney James finds the file of a woman heading to a place called Nocturn Falls, Georgia to marry a man she’s never met or seen.  Well, the man has never seen her either, so it works out all around after she calls the woman from the road to say the arrangement has fallen through.

Hugh Ellingham cannot believe his grandmother arranged for a mail order bride for him through some ‘discrete match-making service’ because SHE wants great-grandbabies.  When he refuses, she threatens to take back the magic talisman that her 300-year-old witch created for each member of her remaining family.  A Duchess in England, she still rules her grandchildren with an iron hand and the threat to remove their ability to walk in the daylight.

Delaney has no intention of hanging around Nocturn Falls forever, even if it is Halloween every day.  It’s kitschy, over the top, and like candy irresistible.  And lordy, Hugh Ellingham’s place is an estate with a mansion!  Talk about out her element!  Yikes!  But her life is depending on laying low and making sure no one followed her from New York.  That means playing the game for at least week.  She just hoped she’d last that long.

Hugh is very drawn to Delaney, she’s sharp, witty, perceptive, and she’s pretty easy to look at, but Hugh had a terrible experience with his wife dying and hundreds of years later, so he’s still resistant to remarrying.  He quickly discovers she’s lying about her identity, thanks to the town’s werewolf sheriff, but the two make a deal – she’ll stay and they can tell his grandmother they are unsuited.  But plans sometimes don’t work out quite as expected.

At 370 pages in print, this lively paranormal romance was entertaining, had sharp dialog, well-drawn characters, and well done, if unoriginal cast.  Like all romances, there are improbable serendipitous events used to progress the plot that are contrived and the characters rather stock, especially the over-bearing grandmother and bitter ex-girlfriend, but nonetheless it succeeded in entertaining and keeping the reader’s interest.

The Vampire’s Mail Order Bride gets a C+ to B- (3.6*) from me.  Buy the ebook for a better deal, but the print book is not over priced.  Nothing like her better known series.

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The Magical Bakery series by Bailey Cates set in Savannah is one of the better cozy series out there – which is kind of damning with faint praise given the level of competition.  Like all cozies, it’s an easy read, but the writing quality, plot, and lively characters are a cut above.  This is the 5th book in the series and the author has kept it interesting so far.

Katie Lightfoot returned to Savannah to live and help her Aunt Lucy and newly retired fireman, Uncle Ben, open and run a bakery.  She a very good pastry chef and learning her craft as a hedgewitch, sometimes called ‘kitchen witches’ because they work with plants and nature to bring healing to the body and soul, is a big part of her life now.  The also believe in the threefold rule, whatever intent you send out into the universe will return to you threefold, so doing evil is highly self-destructive.  She and her Aunt Lucy, another hedgewitch, meet with the coven for their ‘Spell Book Club’.  This month Katie chose the book and it was written by a very young woman who obviously is under the thrall of a much older male poser.

As the conversation turns to other things there comes a pounding on the bakery door and woman calls for help.  She collapses and just manages to tell Katie she’s Franklin Tate’s niece and someone stole his gris gris before her heart stops..  Doctor’s are baffled as they can find no cause for her condition, but Cookie knows something, something from her past in Hati.  But there’s another surprise, Katie thought Franklin Tate dead for 3 months, he’d sent a message to her through a medium  Turns out that Detective Quinn, was once partnered with Tate, someone they once thought was a witch hunter, actually died right here in Savannah in the last couple of days.  What the hell is going on?

Cates weaves a tale centered on voodoo and it’s many flavors as practiced by its different branches.    As Katie dips her toes into voodoo with the reluctant help of Cookie, a Haitian immigrant, they find kind of a mixed bag of skills and willingness to help.  Former boyfriend Steven Dawes comes back for her to meet his new girlfriend, whom Katie thinks is a very manipulative young woman after his money.  She has no idea how right she is, or how deeply everything is tied together.

The plot moves quickly and, like all her books, comes back to the core beliefs of those who practice the craft.  Some very interesting characters in this one that I hope to see again.  Magic and Macaroons get a B- (3.7*) from me and a suggested read.  It’s one of the best paranormal mystery series out there.  I got a deeply discounted pre-release price on Amazon, but the book is now back at $7.99.  Try for Walmart or other discount stores if you want to buy it as Cates is a popular and widely carried author.

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.

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