Tour’s Books Blog

February 14, 2017

I’m BACK!

Yes, you have all been awaiting my return.  Or maybe not.  But I’m back!  And we the good, the bad, and OMG what the hell were they thinking?

I’m happy to report I can now see again – with both eyes.  Yes, it’s true.  You CANNOT see through cataracts.  I must admit to a certain feeling of persecution as my very blue-eyed dad never wore sunglasses and died at 85 cataract free.  My OLDER brother has hazel green eyes and also never wore sunglasses – and he’s CATARACT FREE!  Both spent/spend a LOT of time outdoors.  I have worn sunglasses – expensive polarized glasses – for decades and I’m the one with cataracts.  Gene pool lotto sucks.

Still, thanks to modern surgery, getting cataracts removed is stupidly expensive, but easy.  It’s the inability to see, and double vision, before, the two different focal points between, and the waiting on the healing to get results and news reading glasses, which I still need.  Then I have to get my driving confidence back.  It’s so nice that street signs are no longer blurry even wearing my distance glasses.  The downside, I might have the beginning of age-related macular degeneration, so add one more vitamin to the mix.  If you’re over 60, it’s actually a good idea.  PreserVision AREDS2 by Bausch & Lomb are recommended and I got mine on Amazon.

Between surgeries (2 weeks apart) I really couldn’t read much and frankly reading before had become a challenge.  But I’ve been playing catchup and plowing through print and ebooks.  So hoping you all had excellent holidays and are ready to check out what new – or at least new to me – in books!

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Big type, easy reading, mindless, predictable plot, short book.  Perfect for getting back in the game with my brain still in neutral.  Turbo Twenty-Three was better than her last book – which I remain convinced was written by someone else.  That’s it, that all the good to mention.

Evanovich is stretching her reader’s credulity more and more with each book as they get more and more like an I Love Lucy episode – but less funny.  Let’s face it, it’s tough to be Lucy and Ethyl packing chocolates, but she gives it a shot in an ice cream factory.  Sorry, that’s just visual comedy she can’t quite pull off.  Vaguely amusing is about it.

The plot is just painfully obvious, the trip to Disney was pointless except to give Ranger and Steph a reason to climb into bed.  And Ranger was insulted in the last book and this one she insults Morelli.

The eternally young Steph Plum has grown old, tired, and retreads dialogue and plots till you’re just so damn glad you got it through a book swap site and didn’t pay a dime is it a relief.  Frankly, a dime is about the fair price.

Turbo Twenty-Three gets a D+ to C- (2.5*) for a waste of perfectly good paper.  If it takes more than 3 hours to read, try staying awake more.  I know it’s kind of a snoozefest, but it’s fairly painless and you won’t be wincing at the continuity errors like those in her last book.  Highly missable and get it from your library.  Buying this is a waste of money.

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The new young adult Steampunk series by Shanna Swendson is a new genre for the humorous fantasy romance author.  Rebel Mechanics is the series and the book title is All is Fair in Love and Revolution.  Verity Newton is the ‘daughter’ of a Yale University professor who knows she’s not his own.  She is very well educated at 17 and gets a second class ticket to New York City to find a job as a governess.  In this world, England has kept hold of the colonies and conveniences are supplied by their ruling class, magisters, magic users who are titled and act pretty must like all aristocracy.  After being turned down for every job she interviewed for, she finds she must go into the heart of the magister area.  Much to her surprise, she is offered the job, complete with room and board.  Her charges youngish uncle bears a striking resemblance to the gang that held up her train and stole the crown’s money.

These improbable coincidences plague the book’s setup, including the way she meets the Mechanics. The plot is largely simplistic, Mechanics vs. Magisters, as the audience is young adult, and the prose matches that.  The pacing plods along at times and seems to race to cover her bald spots.  Verity is no fool and figures out both sides of the game but is now caught in the web while being governess to the grandchildren of the Duke who rules the city.  Set in 1888, it combines some historic elements with her Steampunk NYC, but at limes seems lacking the verve that make the best book have a sense of life.  I was always outside the story, never really engaged.

All is Fair in Love and Revolution gets high marks on Amazon, where I bought it for under $7 (but buy the ebook or borrow from the library -this is not a keeper).  Despite that, the best I can do is C- (2.8*)  It’s short and fairly fast read for an adult and not a struggle for kids 11 and up.  Not as well imagined as some of the recent Dystopian books and certainly no Harry Potter.  An uninspired read.

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Poison is the New Black is the most recent entry in the entertaining humorous mystery series Eat, Prey, Die by Chelsea Field.  In this, Izzy and her neighbor, overactive senior Etta, get involved in proving the innocence of Mr Black, the legbreaker who threatened Izzy in book one about paying off her ex-husband’s debt to some mob loan shark.  Turns out, Mr Black is just a family man trying to make a living after losing his job, house, and life savings caring for a sick wife and exceeding bright daughter.  Etta, convinced Izzy is a ‘honey trap’ for some secret government agency – not a Shade, a paid food taster highly trained to detect poisons, is convinced they can prove the cops are wrong.

She also has the assignment from hell, being a Shade masquerading as a PA to one of the obnoxious ‘Housewives of Beverly Hills’ type who is competing with other backstabbing females for a position in the annual nude calendar.  Apparently, poisoning the competition is a well-established tradition, all the while maintaining that brittle civility that masks bone-deep loathing among the rich and useless.  Another Shade – one that hates Izzy, is also on the job for another club member.  She makes Izzy’s life miserable.

Worse, her honey, the taciturn Connor, has become even more remote and she about ready to throw in the towel on him – except she needs access to his security company to help Etta and Mr Black.

Altogether a fun, fast-moving story that includes the Christmas short Taste of Christmas.  The author balances the 3 plots lines rather well, with a few bobbles here and there, but mostly dead on.  A good entry if a solid and entertaining series, one I recommend to anyone who enjoys a light, humorous mystery with well-done characters.

Poison is the New Black gets a B- (3.8*) and is recommended to fans of the Miss Fortune series, Whiskey Bayou series, and the Davis Way series.  I purchased the ebook online.

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We go back to Reacher’s past in the Military for this installment in the series, which was an improvement over the usual trope he’s kind of exhausted.  Night School is set in 1996 and takes place mostly in Europe.  It opens with Reacher finding himself sent to ‘school’ with just 3 other men, each coming off an equally highly successful case, one from the FBI and from the CIA.  Someone is trying to sell something for $100 million dollars – who, where, and what are the questions.  Lee brings back Sgt Neagley, who has made several appearances in the Reacher books past and present.

Each man in the class is briefed by members of the National Security Council.  This premise is off to a weak start and frankly, the plot is lame in many ways.  A high-level Iranian asset is at risk and these guys putter around Hamburg, but Reacher becomes convinced a murder in Hamburg is tied to the deal and does his usual off-grid independent routine with Neagley’s help.

The story complex, yet oddly flat and lifeless.  The bad guy – yes military – is no genius yet seems to defeat all the systems.  Even he is two-dimensional.  Yes, there are the usual fight scenes, yes, Reacher gets laid – and not by Neagley.  Yes, the day is saved.  And the whole thing was lackluster with occasional reminders of how good Child can be when he really tries.

Night School gets C- (2.8*) from me.  It good enough for a plane read or an evening’s diversion so long as you don’t ask for too much.  For fans only and borrow it from your library.  My copy of Night School came through the PBS book swap site and will go back out the same way.

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One Fell Sweep is once again one of the most original books I read in months.  Ilona Andrews’  Innkeeper series, of which this is book 3, just gets better and better.  I count it one of my top 5 series.  Unlike some, there is no over-arcing plot that must be advanced.  Each book is a complete story, the characters and secondary plot lines might move on a bit, that’s about it.

Ilona Andrews (a husband and wife team) started this series online on the author website.  A practice they continue.  But the final published book gets rewritten and polished and occasionally changed a bit.  You want to know how much I liked it? I bought the ebook AND the print book.

Dina DeMille’s Inn has been quiet since the ‘peace’ conference she hosted, but the sense of someone brushing her boundary wakes her and she goes to her balcony to find Sean, an alpha strain werewolf and neighbor/sort of boyfriend, is out and about.  He feels uneasy.  And they both soon know why.  A boost bike screams down her road, turns and comes back.  She hits it with EMP that kills the bike.  She and Sean just manage to hide the bike and it’s alien rider before her neighbor gets there.  Her anger at the disturbance is real, but when they get inside and she starts on the Ku rider, it’s lost when he gives her a necklace and a note with coordinates – to a hellhole in the Holy Anocracy – Kahari.  There’s nothing she can do but call Lord Arland Krahr, Marshall of House Krahr for help.  And she gets it – and him and his ship to take them to ‘the anus of the universe’ to get her sister Maude and niece Helen.

As usual, the rescue is the beginning and Arland is taken with Maud and decides to stay at the inn for a much needed ‘retreat’.

The story that unfolds is rich, complex and has multiple plot lines involving a race near the brink of extinction, the Hiru, seeking her help and in return offering her the chance to ask the Archivarius one question about her parents – who disappeared along with their Inn.  But they bring with them another race that declared a holy war on them for no know reason generations ago.  It’s the Hiru’s last chance at survival and the Draziri’s chance at reaching paradise.  Between them stands Dina, her Inn, Sean, Maud and daughter Helen, Arland, the ever-cunning Caldenia, Orro the drama king chef, and Wing the small Ku on a hero’s quest.

With a great story, humor, grief, fighting, adventure, and a touch of romance, this quirky group is as real as any characters you’ll meet.  One Fell Sweep earns an A (4.8*) rating and the whole series is highly recommended to lovers of original, well-plotted and written urban fantasy.

November 11, 2016

A Last Post and Then – A Long Break

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

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

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

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

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

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

On to the reviews!

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

NOTE: All books purchased by me unless otherwise noted.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

December 28, 2015

Ebook Binge – Who Done It?

Yeah, I’ve been on a binge reading marathon of ebooks, mostly light mystery, some novellas – mostly paranormal, and a smattering of (GASP!) paper books!   I’ve also been sick off and on (When I miss football games, I’M SICK!  But at least there was no oral surgery, thanks heavens.) and I find when I am sick, I don’t do well reading new stuff, so I go revisit old favorites – books I’ve read so often that I can start on any page and pick up the story just fine.  I think everyone in the family rereads good books.  Of course, we all have our preferences, but generally rereads are not edge of the seat thrillers simply because they don’t ever get as thrilling as they were the first time around – no surprises left.

I have a friend out in California who handles entry and pricing for her library’s FOL – something that is an ongoing thing, not a monthly event.  It includes all types of media, books, CD’s, DVD’s, etc.  She says she’s noticed a significant decline in donations over the last few months, even among their most reliable contributors.  We talked about it and wondered if it was due to the increasing use of ebooks or a decline in the number of books published in print each month.

We both noticed a sharp fall off in getting new books at bargain prices and escalating prices on ebooks.  We’ve also noticed more and more mass market paperback authors switching to self-publishing, following some big name authors who have promoted that route.  There’s good reason – the author keeps more from each book sale than they do when writing for traditional print houses.  Just 2 years ago I’d be getting 10 to 20 new print books a month.  Now that’s down to less than 10 even in big release months, like September.  She also noted publishing schedules show fewer books per months on certain imprints.  She’s mostly a mystery reader with some fantasy and paranormal thrown in, so she’d be less aware of romance, but I checked that category for a new release for a PBS game and was shocked at how few titles were getting released that month.

Now I read print books are staging a comeback of sorts.  Not sure about the truth of that, but I can tell you publishers are cutting series that don’t make a certain sales level really fast.  The traditional 3 book deal is now a 2 book contract with the author.  Whether this is cost driven or market driven or both, I just don’t know, but the long delays in getting print books to market are NOT helping traditional publishers keep their customers.  Sometimes those delays are the authors themselves, but other times it’s a publishing business trying to reduce staff till they can’t turn the work around in a timely fashion.  Not even for hot authors.  Only the traditional NY Times Bestsellers get that treatment.

The other trend I’ve noticed is that with the exception of a few authors, books are getting shorter – especially self-published ebooks.  A typical cozy mystery runs 275 to 320 pages.  Self-published light mystery runs around 200 pages to maybe 275 max.  Instead of a page count, I’d like Amazon to provide me with the word count of the book.  That way  I know exactly what I’m paying for.  That’s especially true for the many novellas authors publish, some of which have maybe 18,000 words while others have 35,000 words and both are the same price.  Ebooks are not always a good value.  And the price of the print versions has jumped almost 20% this year!

So be warned, ebooks are not as cheap as they were unless you’ll wait a long time for a deal.  And overall, the number of books getting printed is dropping noticeably.

That said, let’s take a look at what I plowed through this month.

OK, here we have 10 full novels and 1 longish novella.  From the top.  As a whole, this series would fall under Romantic Mystery more than any other sub-genre.

A Cutthroat Business – Introduces the main characters and a number of key secondary characters that will play ongoing roles in the series.  Savannah Martin was raised by a true Southern Belle.  Married and quickly divorced from a philandering husband, Savannah decides to take life into her own hands and tries to make it in Memphis as a real estate agent.  The older, far less ethical, Brenda Puckett steals her clients and then has the gall to ask her to sit an open house for her on Sunday.  Too bad the house comes complete with one bad boy from her hometown who’s grown into a hunk …….. and a corpse – Brenda’s.

The seamy underside of the real estate business is on full display, along with Savannah’s unfortunate attraction to convicted felon Rafe Collier.

A Cutthroat Business gets a B- (3.8*) and a suggest read (get a discount on the ebooks) for Souther style cozy lovers.  Savannah is an appealing, somewhat naive and sheltered character and Rafe is a perfect foil as an ambiguous good bad guy.  The plot is nicely convoluted too, so more interesting than most cozies.

In Hot Property, new real estate agent Lila Vaughn seems to be friendly with Savannah but then uses her.  There’s something not right with Lila and after finding out all the schemes Brenda had up to, Savannah was tired of always playing nice and getting mocked for it.  Unfortunately, Lila’s description of her robber fits Rafe to a tee, and Det Tamara Grimaldi thinks so too.  But once again, looks are deceiving.

When Lila turns up dead, Grimaldi is hot after Rafe, but having gotten to know her old hometown bad boy better, she refuses to believe Rafe had anything to with Lila’s death, so Savannah does her own sleuthing.  Hot Property is a good second book in the series and handles the progressing relationship of Savannah and Rafe nicely and realistically, especially given the issues with her small town’s opinion of Rafe and her own struggles to break from the role her mother molded her into as the society girl from Sweetwater. (She even went to finishing school before college!)   In some ways, that story is as compelling as the mystery itself as Savannah finds her feet as an independent adult.  Hot Property also gets a solid B- (3.9*) from and again a suggested read for cozy lovers.

In Contract Pending, Savannah and Rafe again cross paths as she checks on Rafe’s Grandmother, the owner of the house Brenda was murdered back in book 1.  His Grandma is back home and he’s MIA.  But people are watching the house, and now her, and suddenly the woman he hired to look after his grandmother is missing then found murdered – and Rafe is once again suspect 1.  Plus her momma is once again matchmaking with her old flame Todd, a District Attorney who, like her ex, wants to ‘take care of’ Savannah.  Too bad Savannah wants to take care of herself and not some smothering male.  All Savannah wants to do is pay her respects to Marquetta’s ex-husband, the deputy sheriff and go back to Memphis.

While the body count in these books stretches credulity, the same could be said of Jane Marple quite English village, St Mary Mead.  Discounting the unlikely involvement of anyone other than a serial killer or homicide cop in this many deaths, yes it would seem the third most likely person to be involved is the lead character in a cozy.  It comes with the territory.  But what is unusual for a cozy, is the way the author grows Savannah’s character out of her comfort zone of the Southern Belle and into a freer, independent woman who might love her family, but is determined to go her own way whether they like it or not.  Once again, I give the book a B- (3.9*) for the way it plays the life of small-town Southern America – far more authentically than most and a place most cozy writers would explore in their far more shallow stories.

Close to Home is a bit heavy on the melodrama as Savannah finds herself pregnant with Rafe’s child, looking for his son he never knew he had, and helping her sister-in-law clear a friend of murder charges brought by none other than her ex-boyfriend and would be suitor Todd, the Sweetwater DA.  As usual, Savannah seems to spend a lot more time being an amateur sleuth than a real estate agent, but this is to help a young mother, and with Rafe gone, she kind of glad for a distraction.

I had kind of mixed feelings on this book.  The mystery part is solid enough, but the whole angst thing kind of overwhelmed it with layer on layer of annoying distractions.  The mystery ends up secondary to the whole emotional mess.  Close to Home gets a C+ to B- (3.5*) in large party because I read books for the mystery party, not the whole soul searching angst thing.

Done Deal circles back to Alexandra Puckett, the teen daughter of the late and unlamented Brenda, who seeks Savannah’s help in keeping her dad from marrying the pushy and conniving Maybelle.  Plus there’s this new agent, Carmen, who has Savannah on edge and always seems to be up to something.  While a lot of this plot of obvious, more so than her previous books, it’s also more mystery than a few of the previous entries and I enjoyed it more.  It gets a C+ to B- (3.6*) and suggested read.

Change of Heart takes us back to the damn angst again.  Has Rafe changed is mind?  COME ON PEOPLE.  Can we put ONE plot point to bed?  Jeeze.  Everyone Savannah knows ends up being a killer, or a dead body, and frankly I’d be real cautious getting too close to her.  This time her gay friend and real estate mentor is implicated in a murder and Savannah sets out to clear his name.  If she put as much energy into selling houses, she’d be rich by now.

ASIDE: This is the point where most cozy series hit a wall.  In many ways this series did too, but the crash was not fatal like many other series where subsequent books slid downhill.  Nonetheless, so far the only ones not dead or other victim, suspects, or murderers are her mother and the sheriff of her hometown.  She needs a wider circle of people and its past time she got over all her teenage insecurities and just grew up.

OK, back to the review.  The biggest drawback here is the constant theme of Savannah’s curiosity nd near misses with disaster mixed with her personal insecurities, the same insecurities we’ve done several times now.  That’s irritating to me.  So despite the mystery portion being decent, the character is an angst loop that has passed annoying and entered the red zone of WILL YOU GROW UP?

As a result, the book gets C+ (3.3*) rating and if you can get past this one and the next, the series gets back on track.

In Kickout Clause, a pregnant Savannah is following her ex-husband at the request of his VERY pregnant current wife who think he’s cheating.  Reluctant Savannah agrees and her first effort gets her caught, but the second finds her tracking her ex to a strip bar – to talk to a man.  A man who he should NOT be talking to because the’s the lawyer for the husband in the divorce case the ex’s firm represents the wife.  It’s this kind of thing that spells disbarment.

This event is followed by dithering, more digging – and working to avoid her ex-boss who she helped put in prison for murder.  Kickout Clause is one of the better entries in the series and I give this one a B (4*).  The ending had a couple of great twists!

Past Due has Savannah heading back to her hometown for her high school reunion with Rafe in tow as her + one.  Of course, Momma still won’t speak directly to Rafe, her friends all think she’s crazy to be with the local bi-racial bad boy, and Savannah’s brother and sister seem to be the only ones who have no problem with him.  But it’s the local land development that draws Savannah because something feels wrong.

Once again, Savannah’s intuition gets her square in the middle of a problem, Rafe in trouble, and her almost killed.  And lots of things in her life seem long past due to be settled.  It gets a B- (3.7*) from me.  Liked the ending.

Dirty Deeds shows just some of the downsides of the short term apartment/spare room rental craze.  With Savannah and Rafe living in his grandmother’s old house that Rafe restored, her apartment is sitting empty so Savannah decides to rent it out.  Turns out her tenants were ladies of the evening – and now one of them is dead in her bed – and Tamara Grimaldi and Rafe are the lead investigators.  The real blow is when Tim, her friend nd the man she saved from being framed for murder, tells he to find another job.   – and it heads straight to Sweetwater and Savannah’s ex-boyfriend, and son of the sheriff – DA Todd.

Just when things seem like they can’t get worse, the detectives find out Savannah’s ex-boyfriend, and son of the sheriff – Todd.  On top of that someone is telling her apartment management she Savannah’s sister – only she isn’t, and the new woman in the real estate office, Liz, is a predator in high heels.

A nice twisty mystery that ties equal parts mystery and family issues together, something Bennett does in most of her books.  It gets a B- (3.8*).  And Savannah’s mom sees the light and wants see her daughter married ….. which leads to

Unfinished Business.  Rafe is missing.  Tough to get married with no groom.  Did he get cold feet or has someone in his past come back to get him?  It’s Wendell and Tamara who think he’s in trouble – and they’re right.  It’s kind of a tear-jerker mystery-romance book, and we all know how much I don’t enjoy that.  As a result, despite a decent mystery/thriller element, the angst part annoyed me enough to give it a C+ (3.5*).

Novella Busman’s Honeymoon (considered book 10.5) feature’s one of the more adventurous honeymoon’s at a bed and breakfast on the Gulf beach and a dead B&B owner for breakfast.  Tight, short, and a decent tangled tale of family resentment, con people, and a former owner who played too many games.  For a novella, it came off well done at about half the length and gets a B- (3.7*).

In Adverse Possession Savannah’s main success, selling a great house to a lesbian couple, is threatening to fall apart.  The young women are getting creepy, vaguely threatening mail and eventually the former owner ends up murdered and one of the girls ends up assaulted in the house when someone breaks in using a key.

There will be two schools of thought on this – the I Love Rafe and Savannah school and the I Thought This Was a Mystery club.  Guess which one I’m in.  Sigh – With book 11, the romance and schmaltz got too much for me.  Along with Savannah forgetting she’s supposed to be a real estate agent.  I kind of wish Ms Bennett ended this at book 10.5.  It gets a C+ (3.5*) – well below the fan rating for the book.

A word of warning, if you want to read the series, at $5.99 each for the ebooks, they are badly over-priced.  You could buy the multi-book sets as they are a decent price or try and borrow them from your public library.  Also, binge reading this series could put you off the two lead characters easily – unless you’re really into all the self-doubt and angst crap.  Pffffftttttt.  Give me more mystery.

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YEAH ELLIE ASHE!!!!!!!   Lucky Penny is exactly what I needed for an antidote to the whole marathon Rafe and Savannah thing.  Lucky Penny is the third Miranda Vaughn mystery featuring mergers and acquisitions specialist Miranda Vaughn that brings some zip to the dry world of accounting.  In book 1 she was framed by her bosses in and has been working for her defense attorney since being found not guilty.  Her reputation is still shot, but not as far a forensic account and all around tough, no-nonsense broad, Dorothy Elaine Russell – Dottie to everyone – is concerned.  70-ish, sharp as a tack, and shrewd as they come, Dottie hires Miranda to help with an audit of the famous luxury hotel, Whispering Pines for her old friend Max Emerson.  Miranda likes Dottie but isn’t certain she’s the right person for the job, but it’s just a one job contract for good money she needs badly, not a career commitment so she grabs it.

Up at Whispering Pines the boring audit getting interesting.  Seems the resort is largely closed during what would be its busiest season thanks to a contact with a movie company that Max’s nephew signed when Max was out recovering from a major heart problem.  Max’s dream was regaining ownership of the abandoned Lucky Penny Casino, formerly a part of the resort lost to supposed mobs ties.  His books have to be fully audited and he has to be squeaky clean to get a gaming license.  That’s what Dottie and Miranda are supposed to do …………. too bad the movie is starring the woman handsome horse trainer Quinn went to jail to protect and FBI agent and hopeful boyfriend Jake and his too beautiful and not very friendly partner Bethany end up called to Tahoe when Miranda stumbles into an illicit underground gambling ring setup in one of the guest houses for the movie crew.

The plot is good, the characters fun if a bit cliché, and the solution a bit different.  I like this series, it’s not the same old thing that many cozies are today.  I’ve read all three books and enjoyed them.  Well written, well plotted, and well paced.  If you prefer your books with a G rating, this series is for you.  Lucky Penny gets a B- (3.8*) and at $3.99 a fair price.

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Well, I hit gold here with the latest Lexi Carmichael book, No Room for Error.  First someone tries to kidnap Lexi in NYC while as she and Slash exit a concert.  She gets away, but there are a lot of unanswered questions.  Then Slash takes her to his apartment and shows her every room but one.  When she tells Basia about the locked room, her fried assume he’s hiding the fact he has a BDSM dungeon playroom – a la a thinly veiled reference to Fifty Shades of Grey.  Lexi, being Lexi, immediately starting researching this new thing and it’s kind of hilarious.

Then Lexi, Basia, Finn, and some security honchos from the ComQuest, the employers for the still battered Zimmerman twins, want her to go to Indonesia to oversee the manufacture of an experiment computer chip the twins designed because she’s the only one they trust.  Slash arranges to meet her in Jakarta for ‘vacation’.  The flight goes off course when the flight attendant and co-pilot hijack the plane.  In a struggle for the gun the flight attendant is holding on them, she shoots the fuselage and the crash land in the mountains of New Guinea.   One guy from ComQuest survives, and wouldn’t you know, he’s NOT on their side.

Ms Moffett somehow pulls off a jungle trek, help from a shunned local tribe’s woman and a few more twists and turns with her usual aplomb and surprising humor.  The scene at the end back in Slash’s place is worth the price alone.

Lexi Carmichael is one of the more interesting characters out there and this series is entertaining, fun, and just good stories.  No Room for Error gets an A- (4.3*) and suggested read, but at $4.99, it’s kind of the limit for an ebook, though at 270+ pages, it’s a better value than many.

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Cindy Blackburn’s Cueball Mysteries featuring a middle-aged, divorced writer of smutty romance and a police detective turned love interest/husband, has its ups and downs.  Five Spot was a real up!  Adelé Nightengale, the nom de plume of Jessie Hewitt, is about to be inducted into the Romance Writer’s Hall of Fame, a once in every 5 years event.  Her beyond buoyant agent, Geeze Lousie, has decided to up the ante in celebrating with a charity auction and ………… Jessie new husband, Wilson Rye, is the unsuspecting prize.  That is until one of the authors, freaks out over her placement at the head table and Jessie swaps places with her.  When she ends up head from poison, the big question is, was she or Jessie the target?

Along with Wilson, her slightly psychic 80-something mother, and Geeze Louise, Jessie works to figure out who did before her number is up too!

While I find Geeze Lousie and irritating character that wears thin quickly, level headed Jessie, her mom, and Wilson are all well done, the dialogue is quick and witty, the humor sharp, and story is well paced.  The who ………….. well, that’s actually a better solution than usual.  The screwball style might not suit some cozy readers, but it is still sold as a ‘humorous cozy’.  It’s lightweight style and easy to read plot is more reminiscent of the 1930’s  and 40’s style than what is currently considered a ‘cozy’.  It depends on your taste.

Five Spot is the latest in the series but can easily be read as a stand alone.  I give it a solid B- (3.8*) and suggested read, especially if read as a stand alone.  At $2.99, it’s a good buy.

 

 

November 16, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

October 26, 2015

Frustration and Satisfaction: A Mixed Month of News and Books

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

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

AGAIN!  IT’S DELAYED AGAIN!

Hello,

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

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

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

Hello,

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

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

Then it got EVEN BETTER!

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

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

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

But wait, we’re not done!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

December 17, 2014

E-Book Special …… and a few UF/Fantasy MMPB’s

Groundhog Xmas closeup4Season’s Greetings from the Groundhog Den!  You’re all ready for Christmas, right?  Yeah, me too.  (As if!)  SIGH!

There are many authors who for one reason or another choose to go the route of self-publishing, mostly e-books and sometimes with print editions available.  The most popular platform is CreateSpace owned by Amazon.  They didn’t develop it, they bought it out and it was a damn good bet.

While some authors using CreateSpace and other platforms are already famous and have a strong following, others are good authors that can’t find print publishers or can’t make a living going the traditional publication route.  Another use is for well know authors to try new concepts and series ideas on fans to see if their new ideas have good audience appeal.  Ilona Andrews did Clean Sweep this way (loved the book), Seanan McGuire did Indexing (didn’t like it), and Lynn Viehl’s Disenchanted & Co (another winner).  All ended up getting published through traditional imprints.  Then there are ‘Renegades’, the popular authors who abandon traditional publication for the more lucrative ebook/print combo of CreateSpace.  Barry Eisler with his John Rain series is now ALL back in his hands and all being published in ebook and print (new titles on the older books).  Brett Battles and other action thriller writers as well.

For the lovers of lighter fare, Jana Deleon, Christine Craig, and Leslie Langtry lost their publisher (and their past due royalties) either built their own publishing mini-empires, and/or just use CreateSpace for their books.  Regardless, there are a whole lot of good humorous mysteries showing up as ebooks.  So I’ve been enjoying a major wallow in a favorite genre, with a few print books of the UF/fantasy persuasion thrown in.

So, on the better later than never rule, here are some short and sweet reviews.

Lexi Carmichael series

The cover art varies, but the titles stay the same for this fun series featuring a social inept computer guru that works for NSA in InfoSec (information security).  Julie Moffett is an author who has been around awile doing a lot of traditional historical romance, modern romance, and now humorous mystery/suspense.  The novella titled No Money Down is listed as book 2.5, but is actually the prequel to the series and introduces the 4 main characters, Lexi Carmichael, girl computer wiz and her best friend Basia Kowalski, speaker of a number of European languages, owner of her own translation business, and Lexi’s social behavior tutor for the terminally nerdy.  It tells of how Lexi meets the famed Zimmerman twins, Elvis and Xavier, the rock gods of the NSA and hackers everywhere.

Longer than a novella, but shorter than a novel, it’s a good setup story with enough plot to keep things interesting as well as create a solid foundation for the key characters.  It also establishes the pattern of Lexi literally stumbling into things that just seem to explode into dangerous and wild adventures, in this one, it’s stolen illegal medical technology.  A C+ to B- (3.4*) for this entry and it can be skipped with no loss to the full length books.

Book 1 is technically No One Lives Twice, and Lexi is at the NSA trying to catch a hacker in a ‘dark’ chat room, but looses him.  On her way home she’s accosted twice about a document she simply doesn’t have, but somehow involves her friend Basia.  The apartment is torn apart and ANOTHER thug threatens her and also demands the documents.

Unable to reach Basia, Lexi heads to safety at the Zimmerman’s.  Having left the NSA, the Zimmerman’s now work from home for a ton of money in the private sector – and the company is so thrilled to have them, they can work wherever they want.  Elvis and Xavier come through for her, but when they hit a wall and want help, they suggest contacting Slash, short for backslash, the security expert/hacker that came in when the Zimmermans left NSA and the government panicked about the possibility of them getting into the very security systems they built.  Slash is more legend than real, and some believe, not a person at all, but a group of experts the NSA uses.  They leave a message someplace only Slash would find it and only he would understand it.  And he does, and he also realizes the ONLY reason the twins would approach him would be to help their best friend, Lexi Carmichael.

Instead of going to the Zimmerman’s, Slash lands in Lexi’s bedroom in her still destroyed apartment.  Slash might be a hot Italian, the handsome Irish lawyer, and Finn Shaughnassy, who sent Basia the documents to translate is a handsome Irishman, but nothing gets between Lexi and helping her best friend – with the Zimmerman’s help.

Like No Money Down, You Only Live Once has lots of laughs, a decent plot, but the ending was better.  The basic premise was not credible as it could be, but not so far off to be annoying.  It get a B-(3.8*) from me and a recommended read for fans for Bombay Assassins by Leslie Langtry or the Miss Fortune books by Jana Deleon.

Book 2 is Trust No One and starts off with Lexi at her new job working for Finn Shaughnassy and NSA legend Ben Steinhouser at X-Corp, a high tech security agency.  The first clients are arriving and Lexi is in her usual mild panic at dealing with humans.  It doesn’t improve when the CEO of their potential client hands he a note in Navajo code from WWII.  Once translated it reads ‘SOS. Need Lexi Carmichael’s help.  GU’  Only problem is, the missing tech genius isn’t anyone she knows, he specializes in nano-technology for fuel replacement, a subject she doesn’t know, and the three guys watching her are giving her the creeps.

So the Scooby Gang once again is piecing together seeming unrelated bits information as unravel a tangled web of corporate deceit, greed, and government involvement – in the form of the all too handsome Slash.  Lexi’s intuition combined with her computer skills gets the essential lead and the race is on.

Trust No One has a better than average plot, the characters find their feet, and the story moves very quickly.  Fun and interesting, I give it a B (4*) rating.

Book 3, No Place Like Rome, brings Slash front and center when he’s called away for his date with Lexi at the opera (his choice, not her’s) when his Uncle Benedetto is accused of embezzling from the Vatican Bank where he works.  He hires X-Corp to prove someone hacked the bank records to implicate his uncle, as his relationship would call anything he did into account.  Soon Lexi and Slash are off to Rome and the Vatican Bank, which Lexi finds a planted program and they both find a dead bank employee.  Tito, a friend of Slash’s from when he worked as a Vatican spy, helps them out.  Soon they find they need help – the kind the Zimmerman’s can supply.  And the Scooby Gang does Italy.

The clues in this plot are reminiscent of a Dan Brown book, but No Place Like Rome see a lot of character development for Lexi and Slash as the focus of the series starts shifting to focus more on fewer characters.  No Place Like Rome is a bit more mature than the earlier books in plot and storytelling.  It gets a B (4*) from me.

Book 4 is No Biz Like Showbiz and it’s pretty much all Lexi dealing with a Hollywood ‘reality’ show about geeks called, crudely, “Geeks Get Some”.   Supposedly these brilliant geeks need help finding a girl and the audience votes someone off the show each week.  The ‘girl geek’ does get some say, but for 2 weeks, her favorite has been voted off and it’s obvious someone has compromised the voting system, a supposedly secure computer system.  And Lexi is off to Hollywood ………. possibly the one place where her being socially inept will cause the most havoc.

Unlike the previous books, this one has a highly predictable plot, but it also has some very funny scenes – one hysterical one at a Comic Con and one during one-on-one chats at the ‘mansion’.  The other characters had bit parts or walk ons.  Even Basia had nothing much to do.  Slash shows up at the end.  The perp is obvious and the ending as predictable as the rest.  The only thing missing was a pie fight.

Despite the fact the story was a fun – and laugh out loud, at times – read, the plot was lame compared with the earlier books.  No Biz Like Showbiz gets a bi-polar C+ to B- (3.6*) from me.  Entertaining fluff.

Book 5, just released this month, is No Test for the Wicked.  Lexi relives her worst nightmare, she goes back to high school, and not as a teacher, as an undercover student to find and stop a group of very smart kids, calling themselves the WOMBATS, who have hacked the system and are playing havoc.

At 25, Lex might still pass for 18, but she is no longer the insecure girl who was the outcast in her high school.  Now she stands up against the school bully when he goes to pick on resident smart kid who has none of the looks or athletic ability of the bully, a senator’s son.  Once again in a tight spot and needing some expert help, she calls her BFF, Elvis Zimmerman.  Oblivious as ever to Elvis’s crush on her and the hard way he’s taking her involvement with Slash, Lexi is a little taken aback by Bonnie’s, the young but very competent school headmistress, obvious interest in her friend.  But the mysterious file on the advanced computer class teacher’s PC that uses code known to the cyber terrorist group, the Veiled Knights.

Just as they start in the secure computer center, they hear gunshots.  True to form, Lexi Carmichael is once again the ultimate trouble magnet.  Terrorists have taken over the school.  She and Elvis have minutes to get a few things done then hide – a truly memorable scene.  Now it’s Lexi, Elvis, and much to their surprise, three students, end up working together to foil the terrorists and the money grubbing Veiled Knight.

The three high school kids were well done and the plot oddly believable, more so than several others.  Moffett mixes in humor and action far more smoothly and believably here than the other books in the series.  At the end, Elvis’s observations about himself and finally, Lexi realizing everything changes, brought some mixed emotions for me – and a melt down for her.  Still, it’s done very well and I think the series might mature nicely if Moffett can stay on this track.

No Test for the Wicked gets a B+ (4.3*) from me and recommended read.

The Lexi Carmichael series is a fun series of reads without a lot of deep meaning, just shallow, occasional perceptive, and comfortably accessible for the techno-challenged.  The one big hurdle is the Slash character who seems to be equal parts computer god and James Bond, plus he’s Italian, supposedly worked for the Vatican spy network, and is now in charge of NSA security?  This simple does not add up, but if you can let credibility take a vacation, and take the character for what it’s worth, you can enjoy the stories.  Aside from No Money Down, which can be easily skipped if you want, the books are fairly short and EBOOK ONLY.  Only book 1 is available in print and the price is absurdly high.

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Merit-Badge-Murder-by-Leslie-Langtry

Another refugee from the defunct Dorchester stable is Leslie Langtry, author of a favorite series, the Bombay Assassins series and is now going out under author Gemma Halliday’s new publishing company.  In Merit Badge Murders, she kicks off a new series starring Fionnaghuala Merrygold Wrath Czrygy – or Merry Wrath as she is now known.  Dear old dad is a senator who the new VP detests, so he carefully – with full deniability – outed his daughter Merry as an undercover CIA operative.  She almost died getting out of the hellhole where she was operating.  Now she’s leading a scout troop Idaho and keeping the lowest possible profile from her many dangerous enemies – well, one less, apparently.  Ahmed Maloof, al-Qaeda’s #2 man, is now dead on the ropes course.

A new neighbor across the street is a handsome hunk – and a police detective.  Inconvenient when dead bodies start showing up.  Even more inconvenient is her unwanted house guest, a Russian double agent, Lana, ex-partner Riley and a Japanese Yakuza, Midori Ito, dead in her kitchen, and best friend Kelly there with tuna noodle casserole.  Some days, life is just weird.

Langtry does her usual good job, but as always, has the WTF moments – like what CIA agent in hiding goes back to their home town using nothing but hair dye and colored contacts for a disguise?  And since when can’t a trained agent tie knots of every type?  And how do you hide when you pal around with your best friend from childhood?  This ain’t Manhattan, folks.  Credibility issues aside, it was a fun read, though I figured it out easily enough.

Merit Badge Murders gets a C+ to B- (3.7*) mostly for the stupid mistakes in logic, though it was entertaining despite the frustration with the flaws.  If you can ignore them, it’s a good read with sharp dialogue and a feisty female lead.  I paid $0.99 for the ebook which is now $3.99 and the print book $10.79.  Forget print.  I think at $3.99 it’s overpriced for an ebook.

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ElectileDys400x600

Electile Dysfunction, a popular bon mot describing our corrupt political system, is book 6 in a series of mysteries by Jamie Lee Scott – and if they were all this bad, I can’t figure out how it got past 2.  Clever title, dumb plot, annoying writing, changing POV every chapter was especially annoying and served NO useful purpose at all.

PI’s get hired to prove a sleazy politician cheated his old rodeo pal and ruined his credit.  Said politician is found dead.  Client is lying.  Wife is lying.  Pretty much every one is lying or experiencing some kind of car envy.  How this tripe got 4.5* on Amazon is beyond me.

At a slight 164 pages, it is at least short, just not short enough.  Electile Dysfunction gets a D+ (2.5*) from me.  Thankfully, I got it on a $0.99 special.  It would be better free.  Even better if forgotten, scratched off Mt TBR and read something good instead.

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BLACK-SPRING1

For six books, author Christina Henry created and sustained a great story of an evolving person with blood ties to Lucifer.  Somewhere Maddy Black became a whiny, PIA, jerk, not just due to pregnancy, but because she seemed to loose her brains and her backbone.  Black Spring concludes Maddy’s story and after 6 really good books building up a strong and intelligent female lead, Ms Henry destroy’s it all with a lame conclusion and an idiotic WTF moment among what are supposedly the oldest and most powerful beings alive.

In the beginning, Maddy was an Agent of Death, escorting souls of the departed to doorways to the beyond.  But she is so much more.  Lucifer’s many times great-granddaughter she becomes a pawn in a much larger game of power being played by 3 of 4 oldest, and most powerful beings in the universe.  Her own powers evolve and grow and she save Chicago from an infestation of sunlight resistant vampires.  Now she’s sulking over the death of her lover/husband, being stalked by a cyber-‘journalist’ into paranormal phenomenon, the loss of so much of life, horror at some of the things she’d been tricked into, and an ungrateful city that wants her GONE.  Basically, she’s wallowing in self pity and annoying the crap out of everyone around her – even this reader.  OK, she was entitled to a small wallow, I admit, but come on, let’s move it along, put on the big girl panties and get on with it!

Movement is slow, kind of boring, and the ‘big finish’ is summed up in one line as the eldest brother, who has escaped the prison Lucifer and his two other brothers built to hold him, says, “Mother’s awake.”  SERIOUSLY????????????  Who the FU&%$*g hell is MOTHER????????????????????  Suddenly big bro can grab all three in his dragon claw and disappear with them?  WHAT THE HELL WAS HE WAITING FOR?  MOMMY?

To say I nearly had an aneurysm over this is putting it mildly.  The book literally sailed across the room, hit a wall and landed on the floor while I yelled something obscene at it.  Now I know it wasn’t the book’s fault and it didn’t deserve such abuse, but NEITHER DID I!  SIX BOOKS AND ALL I GET IS “MOTHER’S AWAKE”????????????????Christina Henry has a lot to answer for.  That ending SUCKED.

Black Spring gets (I know you’re shocked) a D (2*) rating.  No, it is not worth the $6.50 or so sale price.  If you have followed the series and understandably wish to read the last book, buy it used.  Then dig a hole and bury it.

By the way, the archangel Gabriel is an ASSHOLE.  He’s also no longer an archangel.  I would have stabbed the sanctimonious bastard in the eye with a meat fork.  Then again, at that point, I was kind of in a bad mood.

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Light-My-Fire

Shelly Laurenston’s Dragon Kin series written as G.A. Aiken has another really fun entry.  The books can be a bit uneven in quality, but when she hits on all cylinders, she can really pull it off.  Not paranormal romance, like her Pack and Pride series, these books are a cross between epic fantasy and fantasy romance.  The world building is very complex and has many parts and the books are spaced far apart as her more popular and better known Pack and Pride books take priority.  Plus plotting and writing a book with as many characters and sub-plots as she has going here takes time.  I, like other fans, patiently sit and wait for each installment.  NOTE: Keep in mind, if you have NOT been following the series, or do NOT realize each book is basically a kind of romance that also advances a very complex secondary plot, you’ll be lost fast and the book loses all it’s impact.  Read them in order so you know who is who in the VERY large cast of humans, dragons, and gods.

Light My Fire adds Elina Shestakova, a Daughter of the Steepes, to long list of characters and cultures.  Celyn the Charming, one of the very large clan of Cadwaladr dragons, spent several days watching a determined woman climb Devenallt Mountain, home of the queen of the southland dragons.  Her tribal leader ordered to kill the dragon queen, so she was honor bound to try, even though she knew all she would do is try – and die, which is what her leader wanted.  What she didn’t know was dragons were kind of chatty, could shift to human, and found the notion of of sending a lone human to kill their queen …………. hysterically funny.

After months in the jail of the Southland queen, Annwyl the Bloody, the same chatty dragon comes to fetch her, the forgotten prisoner, to meet with the two queens, dragon and human.  Annwyl needs an emissary to the Anne Atili, leader of all the steppes tribes, to start the process of alliance against a joint enemy – the zealots following the one-eyed god.  They send only one companion with her, that damn chatty dragon who left her in jail all these months.

Celyn cannot believe he’s getting stuck with the task of escorting Miss Doom and Gloom (or Lady Misery, as he likes to call her) back to the gods-forsaken Outer Plains.  Curious, handsome, chatty, generally good-natured (for a dragon), Celyn is sorely tested by the fatalistic, mostly silent, morose Daughter of the Steppes.  Their travels (she starts by insulting the horses, calling them ‘travel-cows’ just because they’re bred to take the weight of a dragon in human form and not run away from them in terror) are filled with lively bickering, and Celyn gathering intelligence in various areas.

The tale is complex, brings the children, now adults, of Annwyl and Talaith back into the story and adds yet another character, Brighda the Foul, a dragoness so old, she’s an ancestor, and should have been dead for eons.  The action goes right to end, and despite the nearly 500 pages, it managed to read as tightly as a much shorter book.

Ms Laurenston will never challenge Robert Jordan, Tolkien, or even Scott Lynch, but she’s created an interesting, fun, deadly, complex ‘world’ and managed to tell some very non-traditional ‘romances’ within the larger story.  As I said earlier, the series is a bit uneven.  Holding that balance of biting, often black humor, action, rough and tumble romance, high body counts, and a sprawling multi-level plot is not easy to pull off.  This time she kept it balanced AND she managed to move the over-arcing plot forward quite a bit while doing so.

Light My Fire is not deathless prose, filled with moving, unforgettable characters, tell a story for the ages.  It’s more a beer and brawl bloodfest, suitable for those who enjoy off-beat, bizarre, funny, interesting, and fast paced story.  It certainly is not everyone’s idea of a good read, but it is mine, and I totally enjoyed it.  As I said above, the cast of characters is HUGE, so you really do need to read all the books to follow the many plot elements, or you’ll be lost in the wilderness and bored to tears.  I give Light My Fire a B+ (4.3*) for being EXACTLY what a book in this series should be – original, funny, entertaining, and filled with strong, deadly women and the males who love then just as the are.  AT $7.99 on Amazon and $7.19 on BAM it’s worth the price.  And “May Death find you well this day!”

October 31, 2014

Potpourri – Mix of Paranormal/UF/Fantasy and Mystery, or Something

I read a fair amount of paranormal.  Some are just great, like the shifter romances by Shelly Laurenston or Molly Harper’s Half-Moon Hollow series.  And UF is is a favorite, especially Charley Davidson books by Darynda Jones, as are several others.  Steampunk is a much abused sub-genre still in need of a really great, defining series beyond Gail Carriger’s uniquely stylized books.  Fantasy tends to get blended with UF and often starts UF and moves more heavily into fantasy.  The defining attribute of UF is, of course, a city setting.  This clashes a bit with the looser interpretation most readers put on it by defining things that are more of a mystery or romance/romantic suspense as UF, even when the setting is either fantasy or suburban.  Two series that tend to be treated that way are Kevin Hearne’s Iron Druid series and Seanan McGuire’s October Daye.  Even Jim Butcher’s Harry Dresden, the archetype for UF, makes that transition.  And that series is list on the major mystery reference site as well!  It gets very difficult to tuck books into convenient genre niches.

Fantasy is something we all tend to think of in terms of Hobbits and dragons and Middle Earth.  Certainly epic fantasy is whole worlds imagined, yet the characters are understandable in human terms.  But equally often fantasy has its roots in legends.  Myth based fantasy is popular – just ask former mystery writer Rick Riordan.  Some authors like Patrick Rothfuss and Robert Jordan have made their mark in pure epic fantasy while Lois McMaster Bujold wrote her wonderful Vorkosigan saga as a space epic.  Frank Herbert’s Dune series can be read on several levels, but honestly, I lost interest.  All these are honest fantasy.  And where the hell do I put Harry Potter?  An argument could be made that Bujold is Science Fiction, but she is less about technology or theory and more about saga.  Yet again, she could fit both descriptions, where Larry Niven is solidly Si-Fi, as was most of Arthur C Clarke.  True Si-Fi is not as common today as Science Fantasy/Epic Fantasy.

It’s not just paranormal/UF/Fantasy that has niche problems, even mystery has issues.  I am as guilty as the next one in classifying an historical by a modern reference.  That’s how “Falco is like Spenser in a toga,” became how I explained Lindsey Davis’ books.  The writing has the cheeky, irreverent  ‘Spenser’ vibe going, while Davis takes meticulous care with historical bits.  How else could I explain it?  We try and give things less well know a common reference.  Mystery readers have almost all read something of the Spenser series, so it’s relatable.  Like calling a book, “Perry Mason in periwigs.”  The reader immediately puts it in context as a legal mystery set in the UK.  Assuming they know what a periwig is, which these days is assuming a lot.  LOL  You want to really bend your mind?  Go to the Mystery Writers of America website and you’ll find authors like Sherrilyn Kenyon, Katie MacAllister, and Lorilei James in the same listing as Rhys Bowen, J.A. Jance, and Brian Freeman.  Dear God, what is happening out there!  heheheheheheheheheh

So, identity of genre is tough these days.  We have ghosts and skeletons and wizards and suicidal shop keepers ……………. well, pretty much everyone hanging out their shingle in the mystery area.  You know what?  If it’s good, who cares?  Certainly Darynda Jones doesn’t and neither does James Patterson.  So sit back and read what-ever-you-want-to-call-it.
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The Winter Long

I might not have liked McGuire’s Sparrow Hill Road, but The Winter Long was a very good entry in her October Daye series.  The world of October Daye was not easy to get into.  I struggled with book 1, started getting into book 2 (Rosemary and Rue, A Local Habitation) and by book 3 (An Artificial Night), I was hooked.  It isn’t often I’ll put up with a series that doesn’t grab me immediately, but I’m glad I did.

October is now a very different character from book one.  In part because her blood has changed, and in part because she’s physically evolving into more of her Fae self.  She looks less human now, and in a fit of self-realization, knows she THINKS less human as well.  But Simon Torquill, twin of her liege and the man who turned her into a fish 14 years ago and stood laughing as she almost died before getting to water …….. and lost her husband and daughter who thought she’d deserted them ………… is back – and at first she’s scared witless.  But that Toby is not the Toby who stands today, as Simon soon finds out.  And no one from those earlier books is what they seemed.

The Winter Long is a story about revelations, betrayal, growth and change – and self assurance making all the difference.  It takes Toby’s world and turns it upside down.  Fundamental truths were lies and the lies were not what they seemed.  It’s a tour de force for McGuire and she does it very well indeed, making all the changes believable.  And that is the beauty of this series, you can never quite tell what’s real.

The Winter Long scored a B+ to A- (4.5*) for the quality of the characters, plot, and writing.  It did not answer everything, so whether it is the start of new story arc, I can’t say, but it may well be.  The book is long, and the story satisfying.  The October Daye series is excellent and I don’t know why it isn’t more widely read.  Perhaps it’s the sheer complexity of the world building.  Like Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time, this series is more demanding than the typical easy overlay of supernatural on the human world.  That takes effort from readers.  Also, it lacks the brisk humor of say, Charlie Davidson, a character that at her core, more understandable than Toby, and who uses humor to relieve the sometimes terrible things she experiences.

The Winter Long is highly recommended but the series needs to be read in order to understand the world and the characters.  With this book, it’s essential to have read the early ones.  Purchased from Amazon and worth every penny.

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I'm dreaming of an undead christmas

A holiday novella by Molly Harper picks up the story of the younger sister from The Care and Feeding of Stray Vampires.  I’m Dreaming of an Undead Christmas takes place several years later, with Gigi now well into her college years and her sister Iris fairly newly converted to a vampire by her hunky husband “Cal” Calix.  As Iris tends to do, she going overboard trying to give Gigi a perfect Christmas, not like what they had, but what all the movies show.  Gigi just wants to be home and enjoy, but Iris is determined.

Keeping in mind this is a novella, so by definition a lightweight story, it was really very good.  At first.  Gigi also does something unexpected, she applies for a job with the Vampire Council.  Thing is, once a human goes to work for the Council, they can never leave.  So Gigi would essentially become an indentured servant.  Iris was NOT going to like that.  Plus Gigi has another problem, breaking up with her high school boyfriend who has slipped firmly into ‘friend’ territory.

The candy making scene was a complete howl and had me in tears.  Unfortunately, the story didn’t end so much as run out of gas shortly there after.  I literally looked for the rest of it, wondering what the Hell, that couldn’t be the end?  It was.  I was very frustrated.  I felt like I didn’t get a novella so much as the discarded opening chapters of a book that will be done later.  Man is that annoying.

I’m Dreaming of an Undead Christmas gets a C- (2.7*) because of that frustrating non-ending.  Right up through the candy scene she had me.  Then she blew it big time.  I got I’m Dreaming of an Undead Christmas as a free ARC.  I believe ebook will be released in Nov this year for $1.99.  Consider what I said about the ending before buying.

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Seventh Grave

YEAH!  Rejoice you Charley Davidson fans,  Darynda Jones and Seventh Grave and No Body does not disappoint!  Charley is pregnant and still out doing her thing – just with Reyes standing there watching like a hawk.  For good reason, the 12 hellhounds are after her.  Seriously after her.  Even Charley is nervous, just not nervous enough as far as Reyes is concerned.

As usual, Charley has multiple deaths to deal with.  First FBI Agent Carson (first name Kit) wants her help on a cold case – a multiple murder at a summer camp in the mountains outside Albuquerque.  But even the ultra-professional SAC, as Charley calls her, has trouble keeping her eyes on the road and off the hunk in her backseat.  Charley understands.  She has trouble herself.  The problem will be the spirits at the campground.  Ghosts often talk to Charley and Carson knows nothing of what she really is.  That all goes south when they get there and it becomes apparent the campground was used as a body dump and the ‘slaughter’ of the folks opening the camp happened because the killer was seen.  But then Charley is seen as well, by the Hellhounds.

They get back to the bar that Reyes bought from her dad and he shuts her out of a conversation with a TV reporter.  In a fit of pique, she takes her lunch to her office to find a priest waiting for her.  Seems the Vatican has been watching her and now he wants Charley to investigate apparent suicides that leave notes, but seem …….. wrong.  First Charley has to check with Rocket to see if they’re dead.  Talking to the dead savant who records each death means getting into an asylum she owns, but Reyes has padlocked it without her knowledge – or permission.

In addition to this, she has a dead man who needs his insurance to get to his family, the TV reporter with the crush on Reyes, and her dad has gone missing and her evil step-mother won’t help her do anything and her teenage BFF’s ghost is giving her endless crap.  Oh yeah, and she’s pregnant by Reyes and hasn’t clue about raising a child, so she starts small …………. with a goldfish.  It does not go well.

As usual, the book mixes humor, tension, violence and death all in liberal measure in that bizarre combination is has become the hallmark of this series.  I am endlessly amazed at how well and effortlessly Ms Jones pulls it off.  Seventh Grave and No Body has Charley growing as a character and evolving into what she will become.  The print copy carries a short bonus chapter from Reyes POV on the changes in Charley as she grows into her power.  He drops some hints about where she’s going, but if you bought an ebook, borrow a print copy to read it or just read the few pages in the book store.

Seventh Grave and No Body gets a rare A (4.7*).  It made a lot of evolutionary progress, which the overarching plot needed at this point.   Highly recommended, but it will appeal more to women than male readers given the style and humor.  Seventh Grave and No Body was purchased from Amazon for just over $16.  Like all her books, it’s not very long, but is a great ride.  Chapter 15 has a GREAT heading.  ENJOY!

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Gator Bait

Currently just available as an ebook, Gator Bait is book 5 in the Miss Fortune series of humorous mystery/romance books set in Sinful, LA.  Shorter than her previous entries, it still satisfies, although the plot is simpler than most, especially books one and two.  Her ‘Banana Pudding Dash Redux’ scene was a hoot as was Gertie in her red prom dress and cammo undies.

It’s almost election day in Sinful and Celia Arceneaux just announced she’s running for mayor …… in tomorrow’s emergency election.   While Ida Belle, Gertie, and Fortune were all prepared, they weren’t prepared to find Celia CHEATING on the Banana Pudding Dash!  But Fortune is a quick witted as she is with her feet and grabs two hot dogs, tossing them so the two big dogs loose down the street see – and block Celia.  But her next toss lands in Celia’s oversized bag and the dogs are worked up.  She won’t drop the bag and they won’t let go.  And with a couple of hot dogs, Fortune earns the enmity of the possible future mayor!!!!!!

Then Deputy Breaux grabs Fortune and drags her into the police station for some very odd questions.  Carter just called in.  He was being shot at, but Breaux had no boat and had to wait on one.  Fortune didn’t have that problem.  She, Gertie, and Ida Belle just ‘borrowed’ one (Walter’s of course) and sped out to the island where she and Carter had dinner the night before.  His boat is sunk and no sign of a body, but Fortune dives into the water to save him, if he’s there.  She does and Carter, who has been shot, lands in the hospital with short term amnesia about what happened between their date Saturday night and being shot.

The story then is two prong, about Celia and the election, which takes a back seat to Carter’s problem … especially when someone sneaks in wearing a ski mask trying to reach his room with a needle full of a deadly drug.  One only used in hospitals.  But Fortune has more HUGE problems.  She knows one of the ATF agents, but luckily he didn’t recognize her as the CIA assassin he’d met years ago.  Second, any check on her ID by a government agency will completely blow her cover.  Finally, Director Morrow has been injured in a suspicious accident.  Her time in Sinful might end with, but she couldn’t let Carter die, so at least it’s on her terms.

With her usual verve and style, sharp dialogue, and fun characters, Jana DeLeon creates another frothy bit of fun that doesn’t take itself too seriously.  Gator Bait is fast, funny, and a good read it gets a B- (3.8*) from me..  It’s currently $5.99 for the Kindle and Nook editions and will likely be in print soon, but given it’s short length, and the fact the Kindle price will drop in a few weeks, I’d go with the ebook here.

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Queen of hearts

In Queen of Hearts, Lady Georgina Rannoch sets sail with her mother, a famous, and oft married, stage actress, Claire Daniels, former Duchess of Rannoch, so ‘Mummy’ can get a divorce in Reno to keep German industrialist Max happy and her money flowing.  Now I must say, by page 60, I was ready to scream over ‘Mummy’ and ‘Golly’.  How many times can one character use those two words before they’re like fingernails down a blackboard?  GAH!  I soldiered on and was treated to a mediocre mystery that wasn’t mysterious and a ‘fly by’ overview of Hollywood during the early 30’s when ‘talkies’ were still new.  Obviously Darcy was there, along with incompetent maid Queenie, and a cast of characters that includes Charlie Chaplin and a loud, brash, over-bearing Hollywood producer – a Sam Goldwyn stand-in – with a ‘girlfriend’ who Claire knew when they were coming up through vaudeville, Stella.

On broad the Berengaria, a priceless ruby is stolen from an Indian princess.  Georgie helps none other than Darcy, for whom she was pining, to try and find the culprit.  While at dinner at the Captain’s table, Sam convinces Claire to let a stand-in wait the mandatory 6 weeks in Reno for the divorce while she goes to Hollywood and makes a film with him.  Naturally, the flattered Claire agrees, even though the film, the story of Phillip of Spain, Queen Mary, and Queen Elizabeth has nothing at all to do with history. They land in New York and quickly head to Nevada, and beat a hasty retreat from dusty, small town Reno to glamorous Hollywood and the Beverly Hills Hotel where Goldman has put them up in a 2 bedroom bungalow.

The scene moves to ‘Alhambra II’, the over-the-top mansion Sam is building in the foothills.  It huge, tacky, tasteless and typical of the era.  In addition to Charlie Chaplin (he has a walk on, not a real part) and a few other ‘names’, mostly she borrows real characters, changes their names, and then moves the smaller group to Alhambra for the murder.  Since Sam had ‘victim’ all but tattooed on his forehead, it’s no big shock who dies.  Actually, the whole book was shock free and kind of ordinary.  It was just barely enough to keep me reading – though ‘Mummy’ and ‘Golly’ did cause moments of wanting to inflict great violence on a harmless book.

Claire has a one night stand with Charlie Chaplin, of course.  Georgie and Darcy don’t consummate their ‘love’ – again.  Queenie is inept, quits, and comes back at the end.  The sheriff is out of central casting.  In fact, the whole  thing was a B movie in print.  Shallow, superficial, and ultimately, unsatisfying.  And I LIKE a lot of B movies!  Stuck in neutral with largely 2 dimensional characters and plot, the charm of her earlier work was notably absent, as was the ‘mystery’ part, as ‘Who Done It?” (a 1942 Abbott and Costello film, and one I LIKE!) was far to obvious.

Queen of Hearts gets a C- (2.7*) from me.  Rhys Bowen usually writes well, but this effort was lazy and lackluster at best, even for fans of the series.  Wait for a cheap paperback or get it at your library.  I bought mine from Amazon when it is now $2 cheaper than when it shipped.  Sales and ratings reflect the blah quality of the book.  My copy has moved on through Paperback Swap.

October 8, 2013

New Releases, Three New Authors and the Usual Suspects

I know you’ve been there – picked up a book, started to read and were so bored you put it down and started another one.  I did that with Raymond Feist’s The Magician three times before I was actually able to read the book.  These days, I’m not so patient.  Maybe it’s old age.  Maybe it’s the realization that there are just too many good books to waste my time on ones I can’t get into.  Maybe I just want a book that hooks me and makes me want more, instead of wanting it to be over.  And I REALLY don’t want a book that just depress me.   I want to be entertained, enthralled, like the characters, enjoy the plot, and basically sit back and revel the ride – whether it’s a wild action filled one with spies and killers, or a more sedate cozy, or something off-beat and zany that makes me laugh rather than cringe.  Yes, I’m that shallow.  I’ve read hundreds of biographies, more non-fiction than I can count, but now, at this point in my life, I want to just enjoy.  I have enough reality every day.  When I read, I want to escape a bit.

I love my mysteries and thrillers, but the paranormal section of science fiction and fantasy, where worlds collide, is the fastest growing part of Mt TBR.  Fantasy to me is an alternate world, usually with magic of some sort.  The Lord of the Rings, The Game of Thrones, The Wheel of Time, Gentleman Bastards, or The Kingkiller Chronicles – all true fantasy.  Science Fiction would be Arthur C Clarke, Larry Niven, Theodore Sturgeon, and Robert Heinlein – a not so popular genre these days.  But new sub-genre’s have appeared and caused fits for those who classify books.  You have paranormal romance – some of which is like the traditional generic romance, but with fangs or fur.  Others border on paranormal romantic suspense, having a strong mystery or action element.  Other are urban fantasy – which has somehow given birth to suburban fantasy – urban fantasy having a strong thriller or mystery type element and may, or may not have a romance element.  And just to confuse things further, we have Steampunk – which could be anything from young adult to romance to horror in an alternate history with ‘mechanicals’ and magic and/or things like vampires and werewolves coexisting.

Genre bending series have proven popular, just as the anti-hero has in mystery with things like the Dexter series.  But regardless of how you try and classify them, a book remains good or bad based on character, plot, and writing style.  This time we a pretty much cover the extreme mix of those three common elements.

etiquette and espionage

No one writes more stylistically than Gail Carriger.  Her florid, over-the-top, flowery prose is the opposite of the clean, spare writing of most authors I read.  It is an affectation bound to annoy many, but once you get past the stilted silliness, the deliberately outrageous names, and verbose dialogue, she spins a good tale, and the style in which she tells it, actually suits the story, even though it still annoys at time.

I first read Carriger’s books because many players in the PBS games raved about how good they were.  I started Souless twice before I could get past her style and start enjoying the story.  She kind of made a pastiche of her world building, but I finally managed to get it organized in my head.  And rather surprisingly, she did kind of wrap up the story line in book 5 of the Parasol Protectorate series – though she left an opening for more.

Etiquette and Espionage is her first foray into Steampunk young adult and is set some years before the Parasol Protectorate.  We meet the inventor Lafoux as a child here and get to know whole new cast of characters.  This is book one of her Finishing School series and I won it in a swap, just as I did the first few books of the Parasol Protectorate.  I’m not a huge fan of young adult, and I really have to be in the mood to tackle one of her books, because I can find her style as annoying as it can be amusing at times, so it took awhile for me to get to this one.  Once I did, I read through it fast.

Despite her lurid prose, the story moves at a fairly quick pace as tomboy-ish Sophornia Temminnick is a burden to her mother.  One of many children of an upper middle class family, she’s the square peg in a round hole.  But suddenly, she finds herself packed off to Mademoiselle Geraldine’s Finishing Academy for Young Ladies of Quality – an unexpected event that ends a day that included her taking the dumb-waiter apart to see how it worked and then catapulting herself out to prevent crashing.  Not much can hide hide the torn and dirty clothes.  Despite her protests, the whole thing is looking more like an adventure than anything else.

You have Skyway-men, the Steampunk version of Highwaymen, only using hot air balloons with a dinghy rather than horses.  And the academy itself is a large ship help afloat by multiple balloons.  Sophronia saves the day, gets a new best friend, learns about the boys school for Evil Geniuses and and finds out Miss Geraldine’s is anything but your normal finishing school.

I liked the characters and realize the book is aimed at a younger audience, not an adult one, but despite the story, which was well told and interesting, it felt like it lacked substance.  OK, the age group it’s aimed at won’t notice, but like Harry Potter, books like this attract both younger and older readers, so we’ll see if she follows Rowling’s model and makes the books more ‘adult’ as he character ages as the Harry Potter evolved.

Etiquette & Espionage gets a B- (3.8*) rating and a recommended read for all YA or steampunk fans.  Shorter and less substantial than her Parasol Protectorate series, the price is high for the hardcover and trade size paperback.  I’d urge you to borrow it from your local library or buy an inexpensive used copy.  This is not destined to be on a keeper shelf like Harry Potter and is certainly not as original or creative.  As stated above, my copy came thru a book swapping site and will go back out the same way.

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Aunty-Lees-Delights

I love foreign mysteries and just soak up the atmosphere they convey.  Usually.  There are exceptions.  For example, I dislike Alexander McCall Smith and the Precious Ramotswe mysteries.  I find them oblique, boring, tedious, and just plain dull.  I read 4 books in that series before giving up.  Here we have Singapore’s answer to Precious Ramotswe, Aunty Lee.  An overly chatty Miss Marple with lurid imagination that runs as wild as her mouth.

Ovidia Yu is not a new author, but she is new to the US market and this is book one in a new series obviously designed to appeal to those who like the First Ladies Detective books.  While I did not not dislike Precious Ramotswe, I actually found Aunty Lee wore on my last nerve by page 30.  Her overly obsequious Philippine assistant cook, her step son, his wife and damn near everyone in her restaurant for the wine tasting with food.  By page 75 it got the heave ho – yes I did read the end and no, I was not thrilled.

Aunty Lee’s Delights will get no second chance.  Too many excellent foreign mysteries for that.  If you want to read books that capture character, time, and place, try Colin Cotterill’s Dr Siri series set in Laos in the 70’s, or Martin Walker’s Bruno series set in the Dordogne region of France – or even Shamini Flint’s Inspector Singh books.  All are much better bets.

Aunty Lee’s Delights gets a DNF and I just can’t recommend it even for Precious Ramotswe fans.  Too many good foreign mysteries to be bothered.  To my horror, I bought this book from BAM for just over $9 with tax.  Waste of money.

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Murder and Marinara

Another first book, but this one is a world removed from Aunty Lee’s Delights, not just in setting, either, even though both involve restaurants.  Murder and Marinara is set at the Jersey shore in a little Italian place on the boardwalk in the fictional town of Oceanside.  Like all towns along the shore, the shop and restaurant owners of Oceanside depend heavily on the summer tourist trade to keep the the business afloat.  Victoria Rienzi, better known a Vick Reed to her mystery readers, fled Oceanside, the family restaurant, and a broken love affair for New York where she hit the semi-big time with her fussy fictional detective Bernardo.  Vick is sick of Bernardo – and like Agatha Christie’s Poirot and Arthur Conan Doyle’s Holmes, she yearns to kill him off.  Thing is, she hasn’t created a new detective in her head yet, but she started a fictionalized historical based on her own family’s history.  With the reluctant agreement of her agent and editor, she takes a year to go the 50 miles and a lifetime away back to Casa Lido, her disapproving nonna, her flighty mother, gambler father, and policeman brother who is married to her best friend.

The obnoxious producer of a reality TV show (Jersey Shore, but even lower class) wants to film in Oceanside.  Vick’s nonna and family are opposed.  The mayor, never a fan of family, is gung ho for it.  Then the damn producer walk-in, demanding lunch – salad dressing on the side, hot water for tea, grilled chicken – you know the type.  Before he leaves, he’s pale and sweating.  Unfortunately, a few hours later our mystery author finds his body out back by the garden shed.

The police investigation gets complicated when the woman responsible for Tim and Vick’s break up shows up as the wife of the dead producer.  Tim, the restaurant’s sous chef, is now the prime suspect.  Nonna declares that Vick’s job is now to find the REAL killer so the restaurant can get back to normal FAST.

Sophia, her best friend and brother Danny’s wife – well, separated wife – is ready and willing to help.  Too bad Vick isn’t felling as ready and isn’t very willing.  But nonna is a force of nature and if she wants to learn to cook or wants a snowball’s chance of getting the family history, she had to do SOMETHING.  And the something was well done, pretty believable, and interesting.  The who and why are straight from Miss Marple, but the ride was still a good one.

Murder and Marinara gets a B- (3.8*) from me and recommended read for cozy fans.  A cut above average on plot, characters, and writing.  And the Jersey shore setting was dead on.  Thanks to the author for not dragging Superstorm Sandy into it.  I got the book for $4.79+tax from Amazon and consider it more than worth the price.  I will be happy to buy her next one.

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The Rook

Another first book by a first time author and folks, it’s a winner.  Daniel O’Malley is an American educated Aussie who delivers an original, wry, witty, complex, and very clever urban fantasy story based in London that satisfies both paranormal and thriller junkies with a female lead character, Myfanwy (rhymes with Tiffany) Thomas.

Soaked by the cold rain, Myfanwy wakes up with a ring of dead people around her – all wearing latex gloves.  She knows there is a reason for the gloves, but she can’t think what it is.  She also knows something – she did kill them, but doesn’t know why.  She can’t even remember her name.  She tries to find something, anything to help her remember who she is …………….. and she finds a letter, one she wrote to herself because she knew that she would lose her memory and the ‘new’ Myfanwy would be the same, but different and she had a lot of decisions to make FAST, or die.  The letter is simply addressed to You and signed, Me.

Myfanwy is given a new name, Anne Ryan, an ATM card and ID and a set of instructions to check into a hotel.  Claiming an abusive boyfriend to explain her black eyes, she does as instructed, and reads letter two at the 5* hotel.  She has a choice – one of two safe deposit boxes, each with a different set of information – one let’s her run using the identity and piles of money Myfanwy set up in advance, or two helps her return to her job and discover who is responsible for what happened.  Easy choice, run.  In the morning she goes to the bank for the safe deposit box and is again attacked, and she screams.  Apparently, the scream downs the assailants and she grabs the contents of the box, not the run box, the stay box, because she realizes she’ll never be safe even if she runs.

So begins a fascinating story told in turn by the ‘original’ Myfanwy – or Miss Thomas, as the ‘new’ Myfanwy thinks of her – about an organization of pf people with paranormal abilities, some bizarre, others deadly, other just plain creepy – some all of the above.  And the ‘new’ Myfanwy is a very different person.  Miss Thomas was nothing if not organized and she has prepared well for what she was sure would happen, regardless of any action she might take.  The ‘new’ Myfanwy needs every thing Miss Thomas provided and more, but she simply cannot cram a lifetime into one night.  She doesn’t carry the emotional baggage, is more pragmatic, and unlike Miss Thomas, not afraid to use her abilities.  The last bit she keeps to herself.  But she has a daunting task ahead of her.  She’s walking into an organization of people with all manner of abilities, governed by rules and etiquette dating back hundreds of years, and trying to pretend she belongs in a fairly high level position.  Thing is, she completely lacks the memory set to function as Miss Thomas, so she improvises.  But there’s no disguising her strength and assertiveness, two traits Miss Thomas lacked.

The difference shows itself markedly when a prisoner is ‘interrogated’ and an old enemy, long thought gone.  This struggle between what science can create and what nature creates – the Checquy vs the Grafters – alchemists turned monster makers, or perhaps, creating through science what occurs naturally in the members of the Checquy.  But modern science challenges the long held supremacy of those born with special talents, the Grafters just take it to a different level.

There is no question this book is original and very, very well done.  The only problem, Myfanwy Thomas does not feel very ‘female’.  She feels almost androgynous.  Maybe that’s the way the author wanted it, and he does kind of explain it away, or being male, he simply could not nuance the character enough to feel truly female.  This is a minor issue, but one that caught my several times saying, “What woman would not do xyz?”  I suspect most readers might miss that entirely as the story is engrossing. That said, his description of the visit of the ‘the Greek woman’ told by Miss Thomas was a complete hoot.   Some might dislike the ‘real time’ events interrupted by the many instructions and tutorials the ‘old’ Miss Thomas left for her new self.  It’s a style that I sometimes find contrived or just annoying, but it worked here and wove into the story giving the two versions of Myfanwy, Myfanwy 1.0 and Myfanwy 2.0, substance.  Their differences are quite clear and make the story more interesting.

The Rook is a really good first novel by a new author and gets a very rare A- (4.6*) from me.  The writing style is bound to annoy some, but worked for me – and many others.  Already questions are being asked about when book 2 will be available – assuming Book 2 is planned.  Given the ending of book 1, a rather clever ending I never saw coming, I might add, I’d say yes, this might be a series, but perhaps only a trilogy.  I could be wrong.  Bravo Mr O’Malley for a extraordinary first effort.  Highly Recommended.  I bought The Rook from Amazon for just over $11.50 plus tax.  It was worth every penny.

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