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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Image result for house of spies daniel silva

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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Image result for call of the wilde jenn stark

 

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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Image result for order to kill vince flynn

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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Image result for foreign agent brad thor

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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Image result for a time to die tom wood

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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Image result for Curious Minds by evanovich

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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Image result for the breakup doctor book

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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Image result for belle chasse suzanne johnson

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.

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.

 

 

 

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.

April 23, 2015

All Genre Reviews – Mostly Ebooks and Some DTB’s

Every time I see my doctor she and I go over my health then end up talking books for an hour or more at the end of her day.  She and I have similar tastes in paranormal, urban fantasy, some romance, romantic suspense – and a very little mystery for her.  It’s fun to talk to someone who reads almost as much as I do – but then she has 3 young boys and a full time job, so I can just barely stay ahead of her.  PHEW!

She also complains I don’t write enough reviews and entertains herself with my old ones.  I’m not sure sure if I’m flattered or frightened by this.  At any rate, I have a whole bunch of reviews for books, e-books, and e-novellas, so let’s get to it!

I got tired of stating where books came from, so unless otherwise noted, I bought them or got the through a book swapping site.

Dakota Cassidy adds to her Accidental series with The Accidental Dragon, a book that’s a lot of fun, in large parts thanks to the ladies of OOPS! who are on hand when a fireman accidentally takes the wrong vial of ‘headache’ powder – and burns down the store owned by his late best friend’s sister.  Mick and Tessa somehow manage to get past the lies they were told and the fact Mick is now part dragon, and in the end Tessa’s bother’s ghost visits them to give his blessing – and ask for forgiveness for the lies her told out of jealousy.

The Accidental Dragon is a classic Cassidy romp with her signature mystery element to add tension.  I’d say a C+ to B- at 3.7* (the whole ‘proving it’ part with OOPS! has been played too many times) and recommended for lovers of humorous paranormal romance.

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So about once a year I have this lemming like urge to jump off a cliff, which in my case is to read a chick-lit book, often by Mary Key Andrews.  Save the Date was classic Andrews – mid-30’s divorced female trying to make it and prove she’s good enough, one or two controlling parents who constantly tell her she’s a failure, sleazy ex-husband, underhanded competitor, handsome man she manages to get crosswise with.  Now if we had a few dead bodies, we could have had a cozy mystery, but Save the Date was just ………..   ordinary.

I had this book on my PBS wish list a long time and saw the ebook on sale for $2.99 and snagged it – and read it that night.    All I can say is thanks God I didn’t pay good money for the damn hard cover.  A scant few hours reading and this unsatisfying bit of fluff was over and I once again wondered why the hell I thought this one would be any different.  GAH!  Girl Scout meeting have more unexpected twists and turns.

Andrews is an excellent writer, but her plots have the excitement of a slowly moving metronome.  The biggest challenge is staying awake.  If you like this stuff, it’s a good example of the type.  If, like me, you don’t, move along.  There’s nothing to see here.  For it’s type, excluding my mind-numbing boredom, it’s a C+ to B- (3.6*), but  for me a D (2.0*) for dull.  Give it a miss unless you’re a real fan, and there are plenty of those.  If there is a God, you should be safe from more of these reviews till 20116.

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Semi Charmed is a book suggested to me as a good entertaining paranormal romance and I have to admit, it was  – as well as one I would never have found without asking for some ideas for my friend.  An indie author using Amazon’s self publishing platform, Isabel Jordan turned out a clever and interesting read with a strong female lead and an intriguing plot.  If it had a short-coming, it was the ‘world’ she created wasn’t fleshed out enough.  Good characters covered that, that it’s not something that stands close scrutiny.  Then again, most romances don’t.

Harper Hall was a seer for Sentry, an organization that slayed vampires that were supposedly abusing and killing unwilling humans.  Then vamps came out and were recognized as a citizen group with rights, Sentry disbanded, and Harper was out of work.  But not free of her ability as a seer.  Not making enough money either since her louse of PI partner ran off to Vegan sticking her with all the bills and customers who don’t want a seer, they want a slayer.

Enter Noah Riddick (and yeah, the whole Vin Diesel thing leaves him plank).  The plot takes off as Harper tries to convince Riddick he and she were meant to be partners.

Part fun, part serious, and a good ending – but she left some loose plot threads.  I give Semi Charmed a C+ to B- (3.6*) and suggested read for those who like humorous paranormal romance.

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OK, I am a huge fan of this series and other than book 1, Royal Street, Suzanne Johnson has consistently exceeded my expectations. You’re expecting snark here, right? Well, yeah, Pirate’s Alley had a few flaws, but the characters, plot, and pacing were so good, I forgave them all. What was noticeably different here was the constantly twisting plot and nearly breakneck speed of the various events. The story spun out so quickly, I felt it could have used a bit of fleshing out in spots.

The story centers on three key plot points:

First – the opening courtroom drama – this is the wrap up of the events that ended Elysian Fields with the attempts on DJ’s life, the alliance between an elf and the vamps, the First Elder’s son’s involvement – and the revenge of Jean Lafitte wants against the vampire who wronged him,

Second – the impact of Eugenie’s pregnancy on the Elves and the whole Prete council. It consumes the plot further along and brings to a head the third major plot element.

Third – The revelations of betrayal and double-crossing of Council members – and the fact the game they play might change players, but none can be trusted.

But DJ isn’t exactly the same DJ from a few years ago, so she isn’t shocked and has become fundamentally suspicious of the politics on the council – especially after an order she finds wrong on every level.

The way each character weighs loyalty and duty against personal feelings, and how these often conflicting demands were balanced by each character seemed to be more defining for DJ and Jean Lafitte than they were for Alex or Jake. A few other major events got short shrift in the headlong race through the ever shifting plot. Quince Randolph remains morally ambivalent character and utterly lacks the pirate’s charm and wit. Major players from earlier books are killed off stage with an astonishing lack of drama, and one changes his allegiance yet again.  Historical undead Truman Capote has a clever walk on.  Plus Ms Johnson added Faeries, the Winter Prince (Christof) – who seems destined for a larger role – and the Summer Prince (Florian), with the elderly queen (Sabine), their great aunt.

A really good read, but not what I was expecting. Better in most respects, except for the fact I felt the author left a lot of story on the cutting room floor, so to speak – like those key character deaths. That bothered me. The small nuances that peppered her earlier books were there at the start, then faded away in favor of the relentless action. It was, regardless, a slam-bang read and the ending had some excellent twists with lots of future plot potential. DJ is maturing much as Harry Potter did, growing into her own potential. She’s a terrifically well done example of character evolution.

A highly recommended series – and yeah, after this installment, still crushing on Jean Lafitte.  Pirate’s Alley is more action and short on humor compared with earlier books.  I give it a B+ to A- (4.3*) and highly recommended read and a MUST for fans of the series.  Due to the price of both the hard cover and ebook, try and get it from the library and buy a used one/remainder for your keeper shelf as the prices come down.

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I suppose it was inevitable that authors would want to cash in on the popularity of Sinful, LA and it’s eccentric citizens.  I just wish the authors had more talent.

Bayou Bubba and Jewel of the Bayou are two completely missable novellas that make use of Fortune, Ida Belle, Miss Gertie and Banana Pudding.  The character names in Bayou Bubba are painfully contrived and wince inducing.  When Fortune almost pulls her gun on the annoying ‘Miss Chance’ (yes, really), I was hoping for gator food.  I never did see any point to the whole mash-up mess, but it was better than Jewel of the Bayou.  Talk about damn with faint praise.  C- (2.7*) and give it a miss.

The plot in Jewel of the Bayou is just pointless and dumb.  And that’s the good part.  There are some good snark examples from Ida Belle and Gertie, but damn, you need plot transplant surgery to make this worth any time – and a better heroine than Gladys.  And a far less improbable ending.  Skip it.  As worthwhile as that stupid missing bloodstone – not exactly a best of breed.  I give Jewel of the Bayou a C- to D+ (2.6*) .

Both novellas are ebook only.  Thank heavens no trees died for these two.

April 7, 2015

A Worthy Read – and Some Reviews

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

September 27, 2014

Mixed Genres – and Mixed Reviews

Well, I’ve been lax this month.  It’s not been an AWFUL month for books, but like most of this year, it’s not great either and I’ve found myself rereading old favorites rather than new releases.  This simply has not been a year for outstanding books.  Some good ones, yes, but nothing great.  Now I know the rabid fans of some writers would heartily disagree, but it’s true for me.   In fact, unlike most years, not a single books I’ve read has grabbed me strongly enough to even consider it for the keeper shelf.  Yeah, I’m getting real picky about that keeper shelf thing.  I keep looking for that next Daniel O’Malley, or Kevin Hearne, or Robert Crais, or Barry Eisler to break into the field and bring a refreshing new voice to any one my favorite genres.  SIGH!

OK, I realize that cozy mysteries will never be barn burners.  That isn’t what they are as a genre, but damn, could we just leave food and shoes OUT OF IT?  And thriller writers, where’s the thrill?  Too many plots read like reworked movie plots.  And UF/paranormal writers, give me a break.  Enough with the whole ‘fairy tale’ jag you’ve been on.  It’s just annoying.  Jeeze.  And please, authors, if you’re going to take that book you e-published in chapters and have it printed, you might want to polish the thing up a bit.

Editing is sloppy, proofreading – jeeze, just forget that, and even calling characters by the WRONG NAME!  You do know Word has a Search and Replace function, right?  So if you change a character’s name, DO IT EVERYWHERE.  Nothing like stumbling across a chapter where there’s an apparently new character who appears from nowhere at 2AM.  Took me a few minutes to start mentally substituting the correct name.

So, in desperation, I’ve been buying old books by new to me authors.  The Matt Royal series by H. Terrell Griffin, Joseph Heywoods’  Woods Cop mysteries, the early books in Clive Cussler, Justin Scott Issac Bell series things like that.  All in all, I’ve felt the move away from traditional publishing with it’s overly long lead times and high book prices, to the more streamlined self-publishing embraced by many authors is a two edged sword.  You often have a better, and faster cycle for new books, but you also have less polished prose and frequently less challenging plots.

I’m not saying there are no good books, there have been many good to very good books, but no OMG this is GREAT moments this year from either traditional or ebook authors.  Not yet, anyway.  We have a few months left.  Let’s hope for a breakthrough.

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Fast Track

Once upon a time, Julie Garwood wrote historical, mostly Regency, romance.  Then she moved to ‘romantic suspense’.  Two problems, she can’t write good suspense and somewhere along the way, she lost that bright, caustic wit that made her early work good.  That leaves the reader with a not very suspenseful book filled with cookie cutter characters in various set pieces with no particular spark, verve, or thrilling plot.  The clothes have changed, the characters haven’t.  All in all, slightly less exciting (and interesting) than Scooby-Doo!  Pirates Ahoy!

In Fast Track, Cordelia Kane has had a near life-long crush on Aiden Madison, the older brother of Regan Madison, one of her best friends. Then Cordie’s much loved father Andrew dies of a heart attack.  She was raised by him, a single father, who went from being a mechanic to owner of a chain of auto repair shops that he sold and retired as a multi-millionaire.  But he was still a blue collar guy and when Cordie started teaching math in a school for at risk students, and they lost their shop teacher, her dad stepped in and didn’t just teach the kids, he mentored them, taught them values, the same ones he’d instilled in his own daughter.  (The funeral is possible the best part of the book, as it’s very well done.)  Her best friends Regan and Sophie come back to Chicago for the funeral with husbands in tow – as well as 2 of the 3 Madison bothers, including Aiden.

Cordie finds a letter from her dad explaining she isn’t his daughter and her mother isn’t dead.  Her search for her mother triggers an unexpected reaction – someone shoves her into the street and she’s lucky to be alive – and even luckier that 2 of her students saw what happened – and her best friends married FBI agents.  In the end, finding her mother is a bit anti-climatic.  A narcissist and spoiled daughter of privilege, she’s horrified to see Cordie, and even more horrified to find she’s with Aiden Madison.

The plot is shallow as a saucer, so are the plastic people that inhabit it.  The big resolution was flat as a pancake, and the HEA – meh.  It took a maximum of 3 working brain cells to read, so it’s a good book for a day when you can’t concentrate.  Forgettable on every level.  I got the book for free thru a book swap site and I’ll pass it on the same way.  Save your money – and those last few brain cells.

Fast Track gets a  C- (2.7*) and yes I know it gets 4.5* on Amazon, but I’m warning you, it’s a big a waste of money.  And even the ebook is way over priced, so wait and read it for free from your library or for die hard fans, buy is cheaply used.  Really CHEAP.

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nights-honor

OK, here we have another kind of romantic suspense, this one done with vampires and things that go bump in the night and it’s a much better read.  Night’s Honor opens at the Vampire Ball on New Year’s Eve.  Those who wish to become attendants of vampires have a fix amount of time to make their case and any vampire interested can indicated they would like to interview that candidate.  Tess, upset by the utter indifference the vamps show the candidates, simply walks out and says, “I’m smarter than anyone else here,” and leaves the stage.  Unexpectedly, she has an interview with none other than Xavier dell Toro, the infamous enforcer for the Nightkynd King Julian.

I’ve seen this book described as a ‘slow burn romance’, which it is, and the main characters are well drawn.  Tess is no fan of vampires, but with a djinn after her, she looking for safety.  Xavier challenges all she thinks she knows about ‘monsters’, especially vampires.  Xavier is deeply drawn to her, but his personal code of honor does not permit him to take it beyond their current status.  She’s part of his household and has one year to become a donor – if she cannot bring herself to willingly allow him to take her blood, she will have to leave.  And slowly she comes to realize he a man of honor, not a monster as she assumed the Elder Races to be, especially vampires.

That’s the good part, the bad part is the increasing annoying references to Malphas, a banished djinn who runs a casino in Vegas.  Honestly, Ms Harrison danced around this for most of the damn book and it was beyond annoying.  Other than her first book, Dragon Bound, and her fourth book, Oracle’s Moon, I’ve had mixed reactions to her books.  I liked the characters in Night’s Honor, but felt she didn’t do them justice with the way she told their story.  I liked nearly 80%, but that other 20% was like a sore tooth that just kept get getting poked.

It’s the bad part that brought down my rating on Night’s Honor to C+ to B- (3.5*).  If you read this strictly as romance, it’s a bit old fashioned, not steamy.  All of her books have the common element of either or both sides presuming to ‘know’ what the other is, and it’s that slow building fascination that and shifting perspective that makes them interesting.  It takes really good characters to make each one unique enough to feel like a different story rather than variations on a theme.

Purchased from Amazon.  Not worth $7.99, so get it used.

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whiskey youre devil

Whiskey You’re the Devil is the fourth installment in the Addison Holmes series is almost good as the 3 previous stories.  Off-beat, over-the-top, and realistic is equal parts, it’s just what quirky, funny mystery should be – almost.  Well, if you’re looking for a substitute for Janet Evanovich that entertains and manages to tell a story, try Liliana Hart’s Addison Holmes and her J.J. Graves mysteries, a somewhat more serious mystery series.  BUT, this entry is a bit TOO over the top too much of the time.  A little Rosemarie goes a long way and frankly, she got on my last nerve.

Addy and detective boyfriend, Nick, are alternately having sex and fighting.  Both are stressed out and Addy’s friend, Rosemarie, self-appointed side-kick, and sex fiend, is implicated in the murder of the owner of sex shop where she bought her ‘defective’ vibrator.  But the victim is a lot more than just the owner of shop selling things usually delivered in a plain brown wrapper, she’s also the former leading ‘lady’ of porn movies and owner of an extensive studio that is still making them right in Savannah.

Even while trying to keep Rosemarie from a total meltdown – and arrest – she’s also investigating her former neighbor ‘Spock’ over the theft of his Enterprise model worth over $100K, the insurance company thinks he lying and hired the PI company she works for to help.  She’s also trying to get ready for her PI exam.  She HAS to score near the top to get a job offer from her BFF, and current boss, Kate.

While the setup was good, Rosemarie’s constant hysterics wore thin quickly.  The solution came out of nowhere, but the Spock investigation was fun and Agent Savage was back on the scene, so that’s good.

I’m not offended by the obvious Steph Plum copycat cast, or even some of the OTT stuff, but the book was not as well plotted as the earlier ones in the series.  I bought the print book for under $9 on pre-order from Amazon and its Create Space self publishing platform.  While the quality of the book itself was good as always, the content was not.

Whiskey You’re the Devil get a C+ to B- (3.5*) from me.  A good read, if annoying at times, it makes more sense to get the ebook or get this used.  No point in rushing.  I do NOT buy Kindle Unlimited because I can only look at an LCD screen so long and then I need the ease of reading paper books, but should you have it, use it here.  I’ll give the series a few more to she which way the plots go – outrageously silly, or back to reality with only SMALL doses of Rosemarie and her near constant hysterics.

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Murder of a needled knitter

If there is a book character I could vote off the page it would be May Dennison, mother to Skye Dennison, a 30 something school psychologist who just married the town police chief, May’s boss, Wally Boyd.  In Murder of a Needled Knitter, Ms Swanson FINALLY got the series mostly back on track, but even on her honeymoon cruise, May shows up.  There is something disturbing about that – both the fact that May would do it and that Skye would not confront her mother and FINALLY tell her to back off.

The books goes well as Skye and Wally finally get time alone to explore their married life and enjoy being spoiled in their suite with the special perks that come along with it, like special dining areas and reserved show seating.  But dining out brings its own drama when they see an unpleasant exchange between a woman and man.  The woman is definition of rude.  She also the ‘expert’ doing the knitter workshops and activities they got an earful about from the knitters gathered at a lookout.  Skye, whose mother is a dedicated knitter, decides to check out the group and finds Guinevere Sterling dying with a knitting needle stabbed in her jugular.

Murder on a cruise ship is not like murder on land.  The security staff is more concerned about keeping guests happy than doing a true investigation.  They have no CSI’s or procedures to secure a scene.  It’s ‘the show must go on’ to the n-th degree.  May is the leading contender for killer, so Skye and Wally get involved and find her BFF Trixie and her workaholic farmer husband, Owen, are on their deck in another suit thanks to a plumbing catastrophe that destroyed not just their inside room, but most of their belongings along with it.

Unlike most of her recent books, Murder of a Kneedled Knitter was NOT a simple, obvious solution that had me tossing the book away by page 30.  The victim was a no brainer even before she first appeared.  While May Dennison is still my candidate for the fictional character I most want to murder, the book was a decent read, despite the annoying parts.  I’ll give it a C+ to B- (3.5*) for being a decent cozy and a major step up for her usual Scrumble River book, but not nearly as good as her Devereaux Dime series.  Purchased from Amazon and frankly over priced.  Buy it used unless you’re a die hard fan – then read and enjoy.

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House Immortal.indd

The first in a new series by an author that I’ve always felt somewhat ambivalent about, got off to a slow and rather confusing start in her world building.  I had the same problem with the first Allie Beckstrom book and was never a big fan of that series, which just never gelled into an exciting story that I could lose myself in.  That’s the same issue I had here.  By page 120, I was getting tired of Matilda (Tilly) Case, her secrets, her world, and the lying people around her, so House Immortal got off on the wrong foot and never quite got back on.

Adding to the confusion that the world building caused, a second plot line involving her brother, a dying House leader who will not let him go, and a group of ‘Immortals’ who keep the peace, but who aren’t actually immortal.  In the end, though the plot itself is as old as time, driven by greed, the lust for immortality, exploitation of everything to acquire greater power.  Unfortunately, the characters are not strong enough to pull it off.  The second half of the book is better than the first, as it transitions into the blackmail, betrayal, and action.  Tilly is a strong character, but too much in the Allie Bechstrom mold.  I wish she had a different set of vulnerabilities.  Still, her strengths are different and one of the most interesting parts of the book.  But the real hook for me – the Galvanized (read Immortal) Abraham is possibly the most interesting character and his interaction with Tilly is the saving grace of the book.

My real problem here is I just couldn’t get excited about the story or really involved with the characters.  Taken on their own, they were interesting, but the various plots just didn’t get going till too late for me to care.  House Immortal gets a C+ (3.4*) rating from me.  If you liked Devon Monk’s Allie Beckstrom, you’ll like this series, especially for fans of Dystopian and Alternate Future books.  But you will have to deal with her strange jigsaw approach to world building and constant rerunning of the whole House thing.   Purchased from Amazon for $7.19, it wasn’t worth it and was overlong.  It gets a higher rating on Amazon, mostly by fans of her earlier series.

July 11, 2014

Paranormal New Releases – Book Reviews

This being prime release months for all kinds of books, a bunch of various paranormal types have hit the shelves.  Now these are not the heavy hitters like May and early June, these are all mmpb type books.  They range from romance to mystery to …….. hard to say.  It’s hot out, so sunning on a beach, by a pool, or staying cool in the shade or a/c, here are few choices for less weighty reads.

vision-in-velvet-200

 

Juliet Blackwell (Julie Goodson-Lawes) writes two series under the Blackwell name, the Lily Ivory Witchcraft series of books about a witch running a vintage clothing store in San Francisco and the Haunted Home Renovation series set in Maine featuring Melanie Turner.  The Witchcraft series start in 2009 and each installment has been good.  This series is a bit harder to slip into an easy category.  The themes are darker and more complex than a typical cozy, yet cozy readers are the target audience.  With A Vision in Velvet, the plot goes very close to UF territory, but manages to just stay inside the lines enough to keep her largely female audience happy.  Perhaps that’s why it appeals to me – the series has less fluff, a strong lead character, good supporting cast, and better writing than the usual lightweight cozy.

Lily is negotiating with a local ‘antiques’ shop owner Sebastian Crowley in her hunt to see the contents of a trunk he’s just bought.  He spins the usual yarn about it making the westward trek back in 1850, so it’s really old.  Lily can ‘read’ clothing and there’s something in that trunk.  Finally, he let’s her look and yes, it’s full of very old clothes, but like a LOT of very old material, it almost crumbles when you touch it.  Nothing here is salable and it all should be handed to a museum with the skills to preserve natural fiber clothing.  But there is a golden velvet cloak with a shattered silk liming that all but vibrates power.  In the end, she buys the trunk – and ends up getting more than she bargained for.

When she gets back to Aunt Cora’s Closet, she finds Conrad, the homeless man who often acts as her store guardian, getting petition signatures to save an old oak from being cut down.  But Con looks worse than usual and complains of bad dreams, even though he and others sleep in the park under that dying oak.  Then a bus load of tourists show up and all Lily’s plans go out the window.  That evening she gets another surprise, Sailor is back.  Her sort of enigmatic boyfriend disappeared after a falling out with Aiden, the most powerful warlock in the Bay area.  Now he’s back, his powers still dampened, but still as sexy as ever.  After a good night enjoying their reunion, Lily heads to Golden Gate Park to see this oak tree ……….. and finds a dying Sebastian Crowley instead.  This brings another man into her life again, Inspector Carlos Romero.

With a cloak that gives her vision of a woman burned at the stake, a dead ‘antiques’ dealer, and Con gone missing, Lily is off investigating the trunk, the family it came from, a supposed curse laid on them, and the abduction of her familiar, Oscar, a globgoyle who appears as potbelly pig in public, by what seems to be a malevolent oak tree.

The plot was rich and complex with the kind of attention to detail on various topics usually missing in cozy mysteries.  A Vision in Velvet gets a B (4*) rating from and the series as a whole comes with a recommended read, this being one of her best entries.  The series need not be read in order, or even all books read.  This can be read as a stand alone without confusing a reader.

Purchased from Amazon and it was worth the price.

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Ghost Seer

One morning Robin Owens woke up and said, “Oh, what the hell, let’s do a paranormal mystery,” without developing any original, colorful, characters, or a clever plot, she then wrote Book 1 of a new series, Ghost Seer.  It was promoted as paranormal/UF, but read far more like a straight forward paranormal mystery, only duller.  The paranormal mystery world would have been a better place if she’d just gone back to bed with a headache and forgotten all about it.

Don’t be mislead by the cover, Claire Cermak, the lead character, is a conservative former CPA that inherited more from her eccentric Aunt Sandra than a whole LOT of money and huge house full of antiques, she inherited the ability to see ghosts and the obligation to help then pass over.  Her sane and sensible mind rejects the fact she has a ghost dog, Enzo, who actually TALKS to her.  And it’s not just apparitions at night.  Driving into downtown Denver becomes impossible as she sees ghosts everywhere.  Unfortunately, Claire herself is as bland as white toast.

Convinced she’s losing her mind (that would have been so much more interesting!), she sees a psychiatrist.  She’s freezing cold all the time, can’t eat, and see ghosts everywhere.  Then she meets Zach.   Jackson Zachary Slade is a deputy sheriff wounded in the line of duty by a drunken former police detective who wanted to shoot his way out of a DUI from a probationary cop under Zach’s training.  He’s left with a permanent limp, the offer of a desk job, and a chip on his broad shoulder.  But the sheriff has another job offer him, down in Denver, with a highly respected private security company.  Since they hire mostly ex-spec ops, what would they want with an ex-cop that needs a cane to walk?  (OK, pity party at 5PM in the bakery.  Bring your own beverage.)

The first ghost to appear to Claire is a famous gunman/outlaw, Jack Slade.  She has to find the ears he cut off the man trying to kill him and return them to where that man died, not by Slade’s hand, but at his men’s hands, by a certain time for him to pass over.  One of the things she must get is a wooden box up for auction in Denver.  As she researches Slade while in a diner, she says his name out loud and a tall, handsome man with a cane walks over – he’s Jack Slade, though he prefers Zach.  There’s no questioning the attraction, but Zack is called back by the head of the security company he visited earlier.  They need him for a job that night.

At the auction, Claire and Zach meet again with his elderly client who is delighted to meet Claire AND Enzo, who she also sees.  Turns out Zach has a ‘touch of the sight’ too, something he’s in denial about as well.  But not in denial about the con man trying to palm off faked ‘antiques’ on Mrs. Flinton, his very nice client.  One look at Zach and his ‘cop eyes’. and the con man disappears. (YAWN!) Claire gets invited to tea.  She finally accepts her gift when a cowboy ghost warns her and Zach about a robbery at a check cashing place just a few doors up.  Despite his cane, Zach gets all three robbers, Claire accepts she sees ghosts and voila – the world is righted.  There’s a sleazy a guy looking for Jack Slade’s treasure and the search for the second ear, but basically, it’s blah.

Taken as a whole, the story lacked zest – oh hell, it was lifeless – SOMEONE CALL THE CRASH CART!  I CAN’T FIND A PULSE!  It wasn’t really original, nor did it have a creative spin on a traditional cozy trope.  (That’s a polite way of calling it BORING!)  Substitute a witch or psychic and POOF, reuse the plot with just a few modifications.  Unimpressive.  It was written well enough, but held not a single surprise in character or plot.  It could have done with a livelier, more spirited (no pun intended ….. OK, that’s a lie) style, witty dialogue, a more observant and acerbic lead character, but Claire was so bland she all but blended with the scenery.  Zach too was kind of straight from central casting.  I never even formed a mental picture of either character.

Ghost Seer gets a C- (2.8*).  It was ok, without actually being particularly entertaining or enthralling or offensive in any way.  I’m certainly not yearning for more, so her next two are NOT on pre-order.  There are better series out there.  Give this a pass.  Purchased from Amazon and not worth the money.

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BETTER HOMES and hauntings

 

Molly Harper takes a break from her vampires and witches in Half Moon Hollow and tries her hand at a paranormal mystery, or maybe paranormal romantic suspense is a better classification, set on a private island just off the coast of Rhode Island.  This is another ghost story, but the difference between Better Homes and Hauntings and Ghost Seer are significant.  Ms Harper builds an interesting and lively cast of characters living on the island to renovate and rehabilitate a family estate now owned by the tech billionaire heir, the only member of the family that went out and made the money prior generations lost.

Here’s the setup, Nina Linden is at desperate for work due to cascading bad luck and identity theft.  Somehow, she wins the contract to redo the Whitney grounds on the private island with the run down mansion that social media billionaire Deacon Whitney is restoring.  His best friend and GQ cover model material, Jake Rumsen, is the architect in charge at the Crane’s Nest restoration, as well as the yacht operator.  The blonde bombshell is Cindy Ellis, a business woman like Nina, except very successful, running a cleaning agency and professional organizer service with the efficiency of drill sergeant.  Now Jake is eyeing Cindy like a kid in a pastry shop looking at his dream cake.  She’s giving him the cold shoulder.  Deacon, as befitting his billionaire status, and the fact he was late, arrived by helicopter.  While Nina was grateful for the job, one she hoped would pull her company out of looming bankruptcy, the catch was having to STAY on the island.  And oh yeah, seeing that woman’s ghost on the window’s walk as the boat approached the private dock.  That wasn’t a Hallmark moment she expected.

Turns out not much was.  Deacon is a geeky guy, but really just a nice super smart man with a deep attachment to Star Wars and what might be a crush on Nina.  Cindy turns out to be smart, funny, self-assured, and planning to get even with Jake for forgetting he dated her twice and ditched her.  Jake is a funny, fairly down to Earth son of privilege who became the best fried of Deacon many years ago and a good architect to boot.  That big catch, they would all live on the property while doing the renovation so Deacon could be sure to have their undivided attention – in the renovated servants quarters they’ll share has another little problem ……. ghosts. Yeah, and the whole ghost thing ……… there was a possible suicide or, ahem, murder that was the cause of the fall of the family fortune and, you know, maybe the ghosts haunting the place.

Where Ghost Seer was all formula, Better Homes and Hauntings did a nice job of folding together multiple story lines with some real creepy bits, enough clever dialogue and smart characters that it was entertaining, though not the same level of amusement as her Half Moon Hollow series.  This is Ms Harper’s first shot at something that could be considered a paranormal mystery with some romance, as opposed to paranormal romance.  There are none of the hysterically funny made-up quotes at the beginning of each chapter, but she keeps things moving and the story unfolding at a good pace.  The characters are likable and entertaining and the plotting solid.

Better Homes and Hauntings isn’t the best paranormal mystery/paranormal romantic suspense out there, but it was very good.  I’m just not sure how her Jane Jameson and Half Moon Hollow folks will react as this is not ‘paranormal’ except for the ghosts, and lacks much of her trademark humor, being a bit more on the serious side while staying light and spritely, rather than laugh out loud funny.  No vamps or shifters or witches.  If someone bought it expecting another ‘Hollow’ story, they are due for a disappointment.  I was a bit surprised when I checked and saw it WASN’T in that series, but I let the order stand.  I’m glad I did.  Ms Harper pulled it off with verve, if not the rollicking style of her other books, and it was still a better than average paranormal mystery/paranormal romantic suspense.  I don’t say this often, but I think she might have been better served to publish this book under a pen name.  Too many readers will be looking for the signature Molly Harper writing style, rathen than what was delivered here, and that will disappoint them.

I’m giving Better Homes and Hauntings a B- (3.8*) and a suggested read, with the clear understanding this NOT one of her paranormal romances, so it should not be compared to them, but to other paranormal mysteries.  The book was purchased from Amazon and is currently selling for $6.29 making it a bargain for prime members.

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