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.

May 31, 2016

More Books – Playing Catchup with Short Reviews

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

January 29, 2016

New Releases in Print and Ebook Reviews

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

January 2, 2016

Ebook Binge – cont’d

Yes, there are actually MORE ebooks to get through. When I binge, I BINGE! And after those football games yesterday (Just kill me now and put me out of my Fantasy football misery.), it was more ebooks or take up drinking something stronger than Fresca.

I hope everyone had a good holiday – or at least one that did not include tornadoes, blizzards, floods, or sleeping in airports or shelters.  The folks in Texas and other parts of the Great Plains and deep South sure have had a rough few days.  Our Christmas felt more like Easter and even though I did not make it to my brother’s this year, we did ‘tele-Yahtzee’ – playing Yahtzee by phone.  It was just as well I was home as I got sick as a dog Christmas night and 2 days later my SIL’s mother landed in the hospital.  Circumstances kept me home and apparently that was a good thing all the way around.  Funny how that happens.

I’m also starting to look for a new laptop or something like the Surface Pro 4.  Kind of pricey on that second option.  And naturally, ANOTHER crown fell out 2 days before Christmas and my dentist was nowhere to be found.  While I had one missing tooth over the holidays and a lovely hole where I am healing from my LAST oral surgery in October, I might just celebrate my New Year with another visit to oral surgeon.  YIPEE!  Then I KNOW my dentist will want a fixed bridge and ……………. dear God, the money makes me faint.  That expense must be handled before new computers of any type.

So solace was found in real Scotch shortbread – yes REAL, all butter so I can fail my bloodwork in January in style.  (Dr T – you will ignore that sentence!!!!!!!  I ate fruit and vegetables and saltines and have no idea why my bad cholesterol is so high!)  Then tele-Yahtzee and ebooks.  Football, my usual drug of choice, is best left undiscussed as I am still in mild shock and very close to the edge of murdering my TV – though what the poor innocent TV has to do with BAD OFFICIALS AND POOR CALLS I’m not sure.  But I seem to have this primal urge to cause it harm.  Dark chocolate covered figs from Spain have helped stabilize me.  Very high therapeutic value.

On the upside, no ebooks were damaged in the process of trying to pacify myself with harmless, entertaining books.  Though the whole ‘entertainment’ thing gets a bit shaky.  Anyway, here we go.

                           

         

We’ll start with the Lucky O’Toole series by Deborah Coonts set in Las Vegas.  Touted as humorous romantic mystery series supposedly similar to the Steph Plum books.  I can tell you they have only slight elements in common – mostly off the charts insanity.  Lucky is a much more complex, competent, mature character – or so it seems at the start, so the hapless fumbling, nutty sidekick, and crazy grandma are out.  Lucky does have a bordello owning mother, Mona, and a competent assistant, Miss P (Miss Patterson) in her job as head of Customer Relations at the swankiest, most coveted casino resort on the strip, the Babylon – and access to complementary Ferrari’s.

There are also numerous downsides.  The author seems attached to using antiquated technology, calls the casino owner ‘The Big Boss’ (yeah, that was original), she all but runs the whole operation and somehow manages to investigate murders when she has perfectly competent staff to handle such things.  Reality never had much to do with Vegas, so readers mostly gloss over all these annoying improbabilities and go along for the ride.  Hey, if Steph Plum can have giraffes running around Trenton, I guess Lucky O’Toole can have the only dinosaur Nextel in the state of Nevada – though one would think an iPhone would be more probable.

If the author’s last name sounds familiar, it should.  Her husband is NY Times best-selling author Stephen Coonts of the Jake Grafton/Tommy Carmelinni action thrillers.  I wonder how many reviews of this series were from his friends?

Anyway, let’s look at the books and keep in mind the highly improbable events in most cozies – and this would be closer to that than real mystery – so it’s like Steph Plum not having grown older during the 20+ years of the series.  (If you wonder why her sister and her kids disappeared, Evonavich had to get rid of them from the stories or they too would be ageless, despite state of the art electronics everywhere.  Robert B Parker made the same choice for his ageless Spencer.  It’s one of the wonders of FICTION.)

Wanna Get Lucky was free for Kindle to I gave it a shot.  Lucky OToole and the Babylon’s new security guy have a mystery to solve when a Vegas ‘working girl’ ends up getting dumped out of the Babylon’s helicopter into the Treasure Island Lagoon and killed.  And someone just ‘happened’ to be there to film it in high resolution.  Then there’s the 400-pound naked man by main staircase, and missing security tapes from certain floors and …….. well, a whole bunch of other stuff.

Lucky inserts herself into the investigation with the help of a very young, very green detective named Romeo.  The fast pace can’t quite cover the many flaws in logic, even for a lightweight mystery, and yes, it is cliché ridden.  If you can suspend your common sense long enough, it’s a decent read, albeit very annoying with its characters right from a TV script – including the female impersonator who is NOT gay and is interested in Lucky.  I will give Wanna Get Lucky a C- (2.8*) because it could have been really good with more attention to reality and fewer borrowed characters from all too familiar movies and TV.  It’s free, so try and see how you feel about it.

Lucky Stiff once again finds Lucky in the middle of a murder, problems with her now former female impersonator boyfriend, a convention of entomologists who bring in thousands of bees, sharks eating a Vegas odds maker with a shifty rep, and everything short of a circus act.  If book one was pushing credibility, this one entered comic book zone with a dose of soap opera thrown in – and if you didn’t see the ‘big reveal’ coming, you have to turn in your Nancy Drew card and promise to never work the Psychic Hotline.

Lucky Stiff had its amusing moments, but in many ways seemed to imitate the worst elements of the Steph Plum books with too much TV show Vegas.  You half expect James Cann to grab someone’s throat.  Anyway, it gets another C- (2.6*) and the same warning as above.  It’s heavy on the angst in parts too.  In fact, that’s true of this whole series.

 So Damn Lucky had a plot so over the top I actually enjoyed it.  You had Area 51, secret psychic warfare studies the government denies, a missing magician, a murder on the loose – or maybe not if Dimitri isn’t dead, boyfriend ‘Teddy’ now with a singing contract thanks to Lucky out on tour, a break in at her condo complex one floor blow her 30th floor unit, a French chef who looks even better than his food tastes – and he wouldn’t mind getting a taste of Lucky, and then there’s the whole, “How do I deal with Vegas knowing who my daddy is?”   Just to make life complete, Teddy shows up in Vegas unexpectedly – and so do his obnoxious parents.

OK, this one is hard for me because I kind of got a kick out of the magicians and the whole Area 51 thing, but you will have one of two reactions – SHE’S INSANE TO LIKE THIS (and many believe I am) to OMG THIS BOOK IS JUNK!  I give So Damn Lucky a B- (3.7*) because of the above points and despite the whole Teddy drama.  Plus I’m a sucker for mysteries involving magicians.

Lucky Bastard is the point at which I started giving up on this series.  Yes, it’s lighthearted fun, but there are just so many romance crisis I can stand before I hit a wall.  This is one of the problems with binge reading a series, the flaws leap out and start choking you.  Lucky’s waffling attraction to men in a kind of serial monogamy with no serious timeouts between them left me wondering how shallow she was.

Lucky O’Toole’s murder du jour is a body on the hood of a Ferrari on the showroom floor stabbed in the neck with the heel of her own Jimmy Choos – bringing a whole new meaning to ‘blood red sportscar.’  Lucky’s first thought was, “Where’s the other shoe?”  Then she learns the woman in question, well, DEAD woman in question, is actually the wife of one of the men who had been pursuing her since book 1 – former Babylon security man, undercover Gaming Commission Agent, now PI and partners with the Beautiful Jeremy Whitlock, Paxton Dane.  (Yeah, it really is that convoluted.)

Enter Detective Romeo, Lucky’s go to homicide cop who is showing the kind of growing as a character that makes his passingly interesting.  Too bad he’s always a bit player.  And the fact that Sylvie was cheating in the Babylon’s poker room, knew both the security code and the secret password to enter the Ferrari dealership after hours, and told Dane she had to speak with him about something urgent …………….. ok, we are now in ‘this is getting silly’ territory. Oh, and even though Lucky is moving on from Teddy to Jean-Charles, the famous gourmet chef The Big Boss hired, but is pissed at Dane (whom she rejected) for not telling her all about his marriage.  (All together now – EYE ROLL!)

Unlike So Damn Lucky, Lucky Bastard wanders in the personal wilderness of Lucky’s life and the mystery kind of just bobs and weaves in and out of her story.  And that’s my problem.  The books are half women’s fic romance/humor and half mystery and billed as the ‘Heartfelt Series’.  Being neither fish nor fowl, they probably appeal more to romance and romantic suspense lovers than mystery lovers.  Not a good genre for me to binge read after having finished the Savannah Martin series that fell into the same emotional quagmire, but with less humor.

The Lucky Bastard murder is not complex or exciting, but the surrounding endless distractions make it seem more than it is.  And how anyone can be responsible for largely running the biggest casino resort in Vegas AND have time to play amateur detective baffles me completely, especially since her only professional help is a PI and very young police detective is beyond comprehension.  Pacing is fast and if the lack of a real mystery plot and reality don’t bother you, it’s a decent read   I gets a C- (2.7*) from me.

We have now reached Lucky Catch – and in case you’re wondering, here’s the tally to far – Book 1, clear The Big Boss, book 2, clear the Beautiful Jeremy Whitlock, book 3, no close associate blamed (PHEW), book 4, clear Dane, book 5, clear new boyfriend Jean-Charles and his sister Desiree.  (And book 6, not reviewed here because I got fed up, clear Teddy, the ex-lover, who is back in Vegas.)
Romantic French chef, a renowned restaurateur, and new boyfriend Jean-Charles is the lead suspect in the death of his brother-in-law’s conniving mistress who helped him run J-C’s high-end food truck where chef tested potential new food offerings for yet to be opened restaurant at the completely rebuilt Athena – soon to be Cielo and run by Lucky.  (By the way, this will be fastest rebuild in the history of all hotel renovations.)

 Romeo focuses on the spurned wife – a wife with someone trying to sabotage her ultra high-end food supply company that specializes in truffles.  (Not the chocolate ones, the fungus ones.)  Too bad he did think to look closer to home ………….. Jean-Charles’ late wife.

You get a fair smattering of the ins and outs of behind the scenes food supply for top end eateries and enough French drama to fill several foreign language film festivals.  You know, the smoldering, moody, self-sacrificial, tragic crap.  Had this been a paper book, it would have gotten pitched against the wall about half way through.  I have no intention to wrecking my laptop for a cheap ebook, no matter how badly I wanted to stick a knife through the screen.  GAH!  The weakest entry in the series, (until book 6) with enough melodrama to fuel a month of soap operas.  Lucky Catch gets a D+to C- (2.5*) and read only if you’re following this series for the romance, not the mystery.

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 I received The Dirt on the Ninth Grave as an ARC ebook and hoped against hope that Darynda Jones would manage to set the story back on track after the ridiculous ‘amnesia’ ending on Eighth Grave.  You have no idea how hard I was pulling for Charley and Reyes.  SIGH!  I feared I was doomed to disappointment.  I was right and man, does that make me sad.

The Dirt on the Ninth Grave finds the still amnesiac Charley waiting tables at a diner in Sleepy Hollow, NY.  Yes, THAT Sleepy Hollow.  (It’s a scenic real town on the east side of the Hudson just north of Tarrytown where Sleepy Hollow author, Washington Irving, lived.)  Eye roll.  Reyes is now the cook there, Cookie, her PI business associate and best friend, a waitress, Detective Uncle Bob – all with obvious variations on their names and none willing to tell her about her past because she must remember on her own.  No, I am not making this crap up.  Oh, if you’re worried about Beep, the newborn from Eighth Grave, don’t bother.  Mr Wong has that handled.  Well eventually he was going to do SOMETHING.

We labor through pages of Charley seeing ghosts but not getting freaked out, serving coffee, food, and getting it on with handsome cook Ray.  And after several hundred pages, the evil demon inhabiting the body of the man who tormented Reyes and his sister comes back and kidnaps her and yes, hauls her off to a spooky house.

I will not tell you how she gets her memory back, but let me just say it ranks up there with Christina Henry’s Black Wings series ending with “Mother’s awake.”  Oh, she’s not at all freaked out about Beep being cared for elsewhere.  Not a single tear.  But she’s hot for Reyes.

OK, you’ll have one of two reactions – series lovers will LOVE, LOVE, LOVE this book.  People retaining some semblance of sanity will go WTF?  Yeah.  The ‘most powerful being in the universe’ not only got amnesia but is OK with her newborn being raised by strangers and ready to make out with Reyes after once again turning the tables at the last minute.  I simply cannot reconcile the contradictions in the supposed powers of the characters and the pedestrian troubles that they should easily fixed.  The rationals don’t mesh and the baby gets whisked away because it will hinder the romance angle.  Whisked away from ‘the most powerful being in the universe’ because ‘others’ can keep him safer – DOES NOT COMPUTE.  These persistent contradictions in logic just cannot be ignored.  ……….. Let me amend that.  I cannot ignore them.  Apparently fans have unlimited tolerance for such things.

Long sigh.  Time to wrap this up Ms Jones.  You’re pushing the plot well past the sell by date.  I will be a contrarian and give Ninth Grave a C- (2.7*) and acknowledge in advance I will be hated by CD fans everywhere.  The hardcover is very overpriced even at a discount given the short length of the book.  The ebook is insanely over-priced as well.  It does have better verve than Eight Grave, but not enough for me to overlook the basic flaws in logic.  If you’re a serious, SERIOUS fan, buy it.  If Eighth Grave put you on the fence – get it from your library for free or wait for a used book discount in a couple of months.  Regardless, spend as little as possible.

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Alyssa Day is famous for her paranormal romance books featuring Atlantis and an alternate version of our world where vampires attempted a takeover of the US.  In this hybrid reality, in modern Florida swamp country mystery, Dead Eye, Tess Callahan runs a pawn shop half of which she inherited from her former boss and father figure, Jeremiah Shepherd – a man who was murdered some months earlier.  The other half of the shops and Jeremiah’s house and personal belongings went to his nephew Jack Shepherd.  Jack left Dead End 10 years ago and was involved in the vampire wars.  Now he’s back and looking to just settle his uncle’s estate …………… until he learns Jeremiah didn’t just die, he was murdered and Tess has a tiger shifter by the tail.

Tess has a gift too.  One she’d rather not have.  She can ‘see’ a person’s death when she touches them or they touch her skin.  It doesn’t happen every time, but enough that she doesn’t touch folks.  Like witches and shifters, such gifts are not uncommon in Dead End.  Jack makes himself at home all too fast and decides to ‘get this over with’ and touches Tess.  She realizes he’s already ‘died’ – kind of a first for her.  She also learns that he was one of the two top people leading the rebellion.  Jack is also a really nice guy – but bossy.

Dead Eye is a bit different from Day’s usual trope, it’s more in the UF/paranormal mystery mash-up category like Sookie Stackhouse.  Although it is tangential to her other series, you do NOT need to have read them to follow this book as works as the start of a new a different series, but it does help to fill in the background.  The series will carry on more in the UF/paranormal mystery series with the Jack and Tess romance angle.  The plot, unfortunately, was obvious and the characters, especially Tess, lacked depth.  It just came off shallow on all key elements.  There was a sense of deja vu because the characters and dialogues and plot were so familiar it felt trite.  Much as I wanted to really like it, it was too cliché, including the corrupt town sheriff.  It gets a C (3*) rating and for Alyssa Day fans, buy or borrow the ebook.  It’s much too short to justify the price of the print copy.  A miss-able series, but fun for those who like paranormal mystery in the Sookie Stackhouse style, just shorter.

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 Here is my best advice to fans if the Miss Fortune series by Jana DeLeon – RUN AWAY NOW!  DO NOT LOOK BACK!  DO NOT SPEND ONE DIME ON THIS TRIPE!  This whole Sinful World novella craze has spawned some real garbage and but this one – good grief.  You want an example of how allowing other authors to write stories set in a world you created can go wrong – here is the perfect example.  Some of the Sinful World novellas have been good, most mediocre, one other awful, but this was Outer Limits Meets Sinful and almost singlehandedly trashed the series.

I understand that many of these novellas are little better than fan fic.  OK, that’s fine.  I remember back when multiple author series were all the rage in sword and sorcery fantasy and yes, different authors perceived the same character very differently.  But there is a HUGE difference between accomplished authors writing stories using common ‘worlds’ and characters from amateur hour in ebook-orama.  Sinful Science is almost a criminal offense.  A not believable overlay of poorly thought out science fiction/horror using characters who behave totally out of character, banal dialogue, and a plot that’s little short of an insult to both science fiction/horror fans and Sinful fans alike – and even managed to throw in shapeshifting swamp rat Federal Agents at the end.  I can’t believe I just wrote that.  I think I need to bleach my brain.  My WTF gauge just exploded.

Can you guess my rating?  Yes, Sinful Science gets an F (0*).  A rare and not at all coveted award.  I’m confident this author writes far better pieces than this, I just wish she refrained from inflicting this insane mashup of Outer Limits/Twilight Zone/Sinful on Sinful fans.  If I want to read Dystopian or horror, I’ll grab Sandman Slim or one of the other many UF/paranormal/horror mashups available.

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OK, I think I’ve aborted my near cranial meltdown and can manage one more ebook novella review – another entry in Thea Harrison’s Elder Races paranormal romance series.  Pia Does Hollywood is book 2 in a novella series that started with Dragos Goes to Washington.  In this, a pregnant Pia is required to go spend 1 week as a guest of Queen of the Light Fae, who seems oddly anxious to put the timing off.  But Pia is pregnant and unwilling to wait and risk exposing her condition.  Dragos plans to skirt the rules that forbid him to go with Pia by going to CA on his own and staying up the coast to be near.

But Pia sees a problem as soon as she arrives, it’s high security and watchfulness by the Light Fea that has Pia’s own bodyguards on edge.  Dragos arrives early thanks to a favor from a djinn and flies out to grab some fresh fish before heading to Rodeo Drive.  A spectacular necklace, bracelet, and earring catch his eye.  But when he announces himself, the usual sudden appearance of owners doesn’t happen, just a confused and near hysterical sales woman.  Something is obviously wrong as she explains how Light Fae have been disappearing.  But he’s Lord Dragos Culebre, so he takes the jewels, tells he to stay secure and send the bill to his NYC office and goes to investigate.  He finds packs of rabid, mindless Light Fae who attack and try to kill him despite his fire.

Pia is struck by the fact the Light Fae queen and her whole household is armed as if they expect a massive assault.  It seems some infection has struck, perhaps deliberate bio attack, the Light Fae.  Only Dragos, who arrives at the mansion in a stolen vehicle – and he’s been bitten by an infected Fae.

Ms Harrison, who is quite capable of drawing out a slender story to a tedious novel length, manages to write excellent novellas.  Funny how the shorter format seems to bring out the best in some authors and the worst in others.  She managed to create enough plot for a decent book into an excellent, tightly written, action-packed novella.  Pia Does Hollywood is not at all what I expected, but it was actually much better and gets a B+ (4.3*) and suggested read along with Dragos goes to Washington.

With that, I will wrap the ebook binge and hopefully get back to print books for my next entry.  As I sit writing this and watching the end of the Alamo Bowl (which became quite exciting in the second half), I want to wish you all Happy New Year and Good Reading in 2016!

 

 

 

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 23, 2015

Cozy Corner – Reviews of Print and Ebooks

Despite all my good intentions, I keep buying and getting cozies.  You’d think by now I’d learn.  95% of cozy mysteries are complete junk – despite high Amazon reviews.  Lead characters do things that not only flies in the face of common sense but should have killed them so many times I am amazed they live – but NEVER learn.   Then again, ‘insanity’ is defined as ‘doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different outcome’.  It’s widely purported as being said by Albert Einstein.  Who knows?  I just know that occasionally I find something that’s a cut above – though it rarely lasts.  Maybe I’m insane, but without the suicidal tendencies of cozy characters – Thank-God!

So we will venture into the land of the lost causes and hope for the best.

Laura Levine is one of the sharper, wittier cozy authors out there and Jaine Austen series about freelance writer Jaine Austen are generally entertaining.  Death by Tiara is short, but a good read thanks to a strong lead character than most cozy characters.  Jaine gets hired by a woman determined her daughter, a smart, somewhat bookish, pretty girl become Miss Teenage America.  Heather was a beauty queen and wants her daughter to do even more. Taylor, her daughter, wants to read the classics and go to college and eat M&M’s.  Jaine needs to write some lyrics for her to sing during the talent portion of the contest.  Too bad Taylor can’t sing.

Jaine’s reaction to the ‘Amada Inn’ with it’s tiny, shabby rooms and lousy service is spot on, but getting stuck with her cat, Prozac, because her neighbor Lance is going to Palm Springs with the UPS delivery guy for the weekend.  The overbearing stage mother routine wears on Jaine, who keeps her eyes on the money while she sneaks M&M’s to Taylor AND has to have dinner with her detective boyfriend’s parents – who turn out to be rich and snobs.  Then, Amy, the assistant to pageant coordinator Candice, is found murdered, her bashed in with the winner’s tiara.  That’s a lot of things to juggle and Jaine, as usual, gets caught in the middle of events.

Ms Levine does a good job in a slight, yet entertaining book with well drawn, if rather ‘stock’ characters and a heroine who has a gift for getting herself into crazy situations, but with enough backbone to make me like her.  The solution was less obvious than most, but not challenging.  There were still some surprises.  My rating for Death by Tiara is C+ to B- (3.6*) and a suggested read for cozies lovers.  I got my copy through a book swap site, but even used it’s still selling for $10 or more, so get it from the library or wait awhile and get it from a used bookstore.

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Southern mysteries seem to be ‘the thing’ these says with many authors setting them down below the Mason-Dixon Line.  The late Anne George did an excellent series featuring the Southern Sisters, but one more ‘Bless her heart’ and I might gag.  Miranda James also uses sisters, in this case, active octogenarians An’gel and Duckie Ducote in second in a series, Dead with the Wind.  They drive with their young male ward to Lousiana to a home of their cousin, another branch of their old South family, for the wedding of her spoiled, obnoxious, about to be rich granddaughter.

Then Sondra’s new car has a brake failure, which makes no sense and makes Dickie suspicious about motives for wanting the young woman dead.  Then come her wedding day to a man their ward Benjy swears is gay, and Sondra gets ‘swept off the balcony by the storm’ and dies in the fall.  The sisters don’t believe that for one minute and launch their questions when they feel the police have dropped the ball.

As a study in manners as a weapon when properly applied, this is it, but I found it tedious at times, even though An’gel and Dickie were better than normal characters and very Miss Marple-like in their quiet pursuit of the killer.  There was a very good twist at the end, but the studied manners grates on my nerves.

Dead with the Wind gets a C+ (3.2*) rating and I bought at a deep discount from Amazon and it is still cheap in print but the Kindle remains at the publisher price of $7.99.  Get the print or better still, get it from you library.

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The Skeleton in the Closet is book 2 in Angie Fox’s Southern Ghost Hunter series.  (You see this ‘Bless her heart’ trend here?)  It combines yet another paranormal theme, a woman who sees ghosts, and a deputy sheriff who knows who secret.  Angie Fox is well known for her humorous Biker Witch Demonslayer series.  I wasn’t all the crazy about book one, Southern Spirits, but I got this for free from a buddy, so I read it.

On the upside, I liked it better than book one, on the downside, I’m still not thrilled with the series, though it is more original than most.  Given Angie Fox’s far better Biker Witches Demonslayer series, this is a disappointment.

The Skeleton in the Closet gets a C- (2.8*) from me.  Available in ebook and print, buy or borrow the ebook.  Better still, stick with her Dragonslayer series.  I got this free through a book swap site.  It will leave the same way.

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Jenn McKinlay writes several cozy series (The Hat Shop series and Cupcake Bakery series) under this name plus others under pen names.  I generally like her Library Lover’s series, but when this title went to hardcover, I gave it a pass.  Like most cozies, it’s short, uncomplicated, and lacks anything like a real surprise.  A Likely Story should be titled ‘An Obvious Story’.

Lindsey Norris, head librarian in a small coastal Connecticut town serves not just those who live on the mainland, but those who live year-round on the Thumb Islands.  Two of the most eccentric are Peter and Stewert Rosen. Stewert had looked after Peter since he broke his back as a young man leaving him crippled.  Their large Victorian was stuffed with junk and valuables and clutter – and dangerous booby traps.  But when Stewert fails to meet them at the dock to pick up the books, Lindsey and ex-boyfriend Sully – the water taxi captain/business owner – carefully make their way inside and  find Peter dead from a gunshot wound.  They immediately call Emma, the police chief who gets out there and starts carefully investigating only to get caught by a booby trap that sets off a fire.

At this point, you’re about 25% done and all key characters have been introduced and then the story plods to the inevitable conclusion.  You could see it coming from a mile away when Sully tells Lindsey the Rosen family story on the way to the island.

A Likely Story was unimpressive – ok, it was kind of dull and lifeless.  The big surprise from Sully’s competition for Lindsey is so obvious you know what it will be in the opening pages.  I think Ms McKinley is trying to write too many different series and the quality of her plots is degrading as she spreads herself too thin to spend the time she needs to create the subtleties needed to make it work.  Oddly, the story opens with a discussion of Josephine Tey’s Daughter of Time, one of the finest mysteries ever written, yet a surprisingly short book given the complex plot.  Alas, the reader would be better served going back and rereading Tey rather than wasting time and money here.

A Likely Story gets a C- (2.8*) for sheer lack of originality and shallow and putting it out in an expensive hardcover is an insult to readers and a shameless money grab by authors and publishers alike.  At over $13 in print and $12 in ebook, save your money!  This slight book is not worth it and frankly, I’d likely say the same for the $7.99 mmpb when it finally comes out.  If you are a fan, get it from your library.  Mine came through an online book swap site and is heading back out.

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I purchased Cover Shot on a whim when looking through Amazon’s ebooks.  Another shoe obsessed heroine had limited appeal, but at least she was a reporter on the crime beat.  It’s book 5 in a series, but like most mysteries, the over-arching plot that ties them together is pretty slim so reading one as a stand-alone is fine.  Nichelle Clarke is a crime reporter with no major crimes going on in Richmond, but was mystery tweeter who keeps sending her cryptic messages.  She and her detective contact decide to celebrate a slow day with a burger and beer when their dinner is interrupted by an emergency call.  Her detective might be shutting her out, but Nichelle is a woman on a mission – get a story and save her job and that of her Pulitzer Prize-winning boss, Bob.

It’s obvious from the start that LynDee Walker is herself a journalist.  She has an eye for detail, brevity, and pacing that many authors lack.  Her characters are believable, even if the plot elements edged into not quite credible area.   Nicey has a personal stake in all this given her beloved mother is a cancer survivor and the central character is a dead oncologist who was doing experiments the NIH knew nothing about and may have found the holt grail – a cure for cancer.   Possibly mobbed-up boyfriend Joey flits in and out while ex-Kyle tries to get her back, but otherwise previous stories don’t overlap.  The author, like her journalist character, keeps her eye on the story, not diversions.

Nichelle is a strong lead character and the plot, despite some mixed feelings I might have had thanks to decades in the pharma industry, remained believable enough to keep it interesting.  Cover Short ties together two apparently different story lines in an ingenious way and held my interest for the length of the book.  At about 300 pages, that’s actually impressive for a book in this genre – not quite a cozy, but not a mainstream mystery either.  Cover Shot is just a good read.

While some of the over-arching secondary plot elements are unresolved, Cover Shot was a very solid mystery, well plotted, with very well drawn believable characters, and a satisfying conclusion.  It comes in a solid B (4*) rating from me, high for a book in this genre and even more surprising given the whole shoe fetish thing.  A suggested read in ebook at $4.99 on Amazon and available in a grossly over-priced print version of just under $16!  Stick with the ebook!

 

 

 

October 26, 2015

Frustration and Satisfaction: A Mixed Month of News and Books

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

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

AGAIN!  IT’S DELAYED AGAIN!

Hello,

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

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

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

Hello,

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

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

Then it got EVEN BETTER!

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

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

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

But wait, we’re not done!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

September 24, 2015

Reviews: eBooks and Print – New Authors and Old Favorites

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

September 7, 2015

Introducing Readers to New Old Authors and Different Genres

There is something fundamentally very satisfying about getting readers out of a rut. People who ‘only read romance’, ‘only read fantasy’, ‘only read mystery’. I should know. I fall into ruts myself. But I tend to explore more simply because I always did.  Even though both my parents worked, we never had a lot of money for extras.  I might not have worn the latest fashion, but I could always buy books.  My mother was surprisingly liberal in her in what she’d let me read.  She herself was a devout fan of Earl Stanley Gardner, Victoria Holt, Agatha Christie, and Daphne du Maurier.  She read most of the other mysteries as well, but not all.  And lots, and lots of non-fiction history.  Well, she was a history teacher, so that was inevitable.

Somewhere early in my grade school years,  many classic mystery authors from the 20’s 30’s and 40’s were republished, not just the famous ones  like Hammett and Chandler, but many of the so-called ‘pulp fiction’ mystery writers – Phoebe Atwood Taylor, Ngaio Marsh, Clayton Rawson,  Earl Der Biggers, and many more.  Also Edgar Rice Burroughs’ books were fashionable again, so his Tarzan, John Carter of Mars (Barsoom series), and Pellucidar books were reprinted.  And Mary Renault’s brilliant 3 book series based on the legend of Theseus came out.  I read them all and many more while also reading things like The Longest Day and Thomas Costain’s history of the Plantagenets, biographies of various Russian Czars and Napoleon ……… and tons of books on archeology.  Yes, I once thought I wanted to do that for a living.  Luckily sanity prevailed when I decided I wanted a paying job instead.  But if you ever want to get your pre-teens interested in ancient history, try Leonard Cottrell’s books on Egyptian, Greek, and Minoan history and archeology.

My wildly eclectic taste in reading means I can often encourage people to try new things.  I kept a lending library at work and people would ask for suggestions.  I had books shelved by genre for mystery/thriller fans, si-fi/fantasy fans, romance fans, historical Fic Fans could all check their interests.  I had people I didn’t know ask what they should read and I’d ask who they liked reading and make suggestions.  I had everyone from hourlies to Directors using those books and every 6 moths or so I clear them out and gave them to a man who took them to a veterans home.

On paperback swap I’ve gotten a number of people to try new genres and authors.  Several blame me for their ever expanding wishlists and growing piles on books.  My doctor complains I get her off on tangents.  I was so proud I was actually able to get her to read Josephine Tey’s The Daughter of Time!  And what’s more, she enjoyed it!!!!!  She did not go easily into the mystery genre.  I lured her in using Jana Deleon’s Miss Fortune books, Leslie Langtry’s Bombay Assassins and Merry Wrath books,  and moved her up to Donna Andrews’ Meg Langslow series.  (BUWAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAH!)

OK, I cheated.  I did name what I consider on of the BEST mysteries ever written (as does the Crime Writers of America and many other groups that publish a top 100 list), and I played to her love of history, but lets face it, if you’re going to get people into a genre, you hit them with a sure win.  Tey is a great writer and her plotting, pacing, and research are dead on.  But back then, writers were much better than they are today.  Read early Ellery Queen, even Hammett or Sayers and you’ll find the vocabulary is far more extensive than you’ll find in their modern equivalent.  It is also utterly devoid of the swear words that we all take for granted these days.

I’ve gotten cozy fans into romantic suspense and some of the better paranormal romance and UF.  I’ve watched Amish romance lovers start adding humorous erotica to their wish lists.  I’ve hooked folks on humorous mystery and mystery lovers on some of the better romance and hardcore police procedural and PI lovers on historical mysteries.  When someone likes what I suggest, I am pleased, and when they don’t I always say, “Don’t force yourself.”  There are too many authors and books to try and we don’t all like the same ones.

I like assassin books that my brother would hate.  He likes some non-fiction I’d be bored to tears with.  We both read many mysteries and I’ve slowly gotten my SIL, a talented artist, into mysteries as well.  Of course all these variations play merry hell with my wish list on PBS, where I’m sure some psychologist is convinced I have some sort of multiple personality disorder with a strong violent streak and a bizarre preoccupation with shifters and vampires.

With all this in mind, I will do an occasional entry that lists some favorite books or series, their genre, and why I like them.  Many will be older books, not ones showing up in my reviews.

The Daughter of Time by Josephine Tey – I’ve read this book several times in my life and marveled at how brilliantly Tey wove an historical mystery into the life the of a (then) modern police detective.  It’s short, especially my today’s standards, yet the spare plot is complex and beautifully woven by prose I can only wish modern authors had.  A Classic and deserving of the frequent first place or top 5 best mysteries of all time.  An absolute must read for even a casual mystery fan.

Dance Hall of the Dead, A Thief of Time, Skinwalkers by Tony Hillerman – Many authors have tried their hand at creating authentic ethnic characters and cultures, but few have equaled Tony Hillerman and his Navajo mysteries with two very different lead characters, the ‘modern’ Lt Joe Leaphorn, and the traditional Sgt. Jim Chee.  Both had separate series and later, several books had the two characters together.  All are steeped in an atmosphere so rich and textured you can almost feel it.  Hillerman was respectful and accurate in his portrayal of the Navajo and was honored by them for his authenticity.  His later books grew weaker as cancer took its toll on him, but the three named here are possibly 3 of the best he wrote.  Each has Navajo religious and cultural traditions woven into the fabric of what is modern police procedural and the struggle to maintain a culture against a rising tide of the modern world, its comforts, and its seemingly endless opportunities.  An education and a great mystery all in one.

The Maltese Falcon by Dashielle Hammett is often considered the first great hard-boiled PI novel.  Most people know it from the movie starring Humphry Bogart, so the novel’s Sam Spade will be a shock to some.  Tall, blond, built, a little sly, full of mischief, but still tough, conniving, and shrewd.  In many ways, Sam Spade is an anti-hero.  He’s not the dazzling problem solver like Sherlock Holmes, or Dr Fell, or Ellery Queen.  He quips, fights, insults, schmoozes, and dances with the devil, and has very flexible ethics, but maintains a code he lives by – and was the prototype for Jake Gittes in Chinatown played by Jack Nicolson.  Like most detective fiction of its time, it was classified as ‘pulp fiction’ – largely because many books were serialized in pulp magazines for mysteries.  He is also a one-off.  Sam Spade was not a series, just a single novel by Hammett.  Read it.  And while you’re at it, read his The Thin Man and The Glass Key books too, but remember,  The Thin Man is NOT the hero!

Raymond Chandler took the hard-boiled PI genre and gave it its second most famous archetype, Phillip Marlowe.  (Curious footnote: Humphry Bogart was the only actor who play BOTH Sam Spade and Phillip Marlowe, one of the main reasons his syle influenced Jack Nickerson’s Jake Gittes character in Chinatown.)  The Big Sleep, Farewell, My Lovely, and The Lady in the Lake are three most famous and given his very limited output, that’s amazing 50% of his published novels.  Brisk, spare prose and quick, snappy dialog are the hallmarks of his style.  Razor sharp without spare words, lightning quick, yet conveying all needed nuance and character.  Marlowe is a study in the flawed hero, but the mysteries all carry the theme of justice will be served, one way of another.

“Last night I deamt I went to Manderley again.”  Possibly one of the most famous opening lines of a novel since “Call me Ismael.”  And for a novel a lot more entertaining than Moby Dick!  Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier became the archetype for modern romantic suspense.  It twisted the mind and played with reality as seen and narrated by the nameless lead character who is the second wife of wealthy Max de Winter.  The book’s title and overwhelming central character is the dead Rebecca, his first wife.  A psychological suspense thriller, it is crafted using traditions laid down by the Bröntes, yet departs those simpler plots for a more taut and twisted tale that pulls the reader into life of a young wife struggling to fit into her wealthy husband’s much more refined and established life while being constantly told how lacking she compared to Rebecca by Mrs Danvers, Max’s head housekeeper.

And speaking of psychological suspense that goes off the charts, I would be remiss to not include Thomas Harris and possibly two of the scariest suspense novels ever written, Red Dragon and its more famous sequel, The Silence of the Lambs.  I read them both and I can tell you without any shame that I slept with the lights on for over a week after reading them.  Twisted, brilliant, almost unputdownable, and utterly terrifying.  You literally find yourself holding your breath in places and almost afraid to turn a page.  The characters are so damn believable, the story so well done, and the intensity so extreme, these are not for the faint of heart.  Anthony Hopkins did such a brilliant job with Lecter that I will forever see the character and here Hopkins’ voice.  The sheer believability of the characters is what makes these books scary beyond words.  A stunning tour de force in psychological terror.  Not for everyone, and certainly not something I’d read twice, they remain some of the most intense thrillers ever written.

At the opposite end of the spectrum sits Agatha Christie, author of many original mysteries.  Several of her books were made into movies and the BBC and actor David Suchet have made Hercule Poirot a familiar name.  It’s hard to single out her best books, but two always leap to the top – The Murder of Roger Ackroyd and Ten Little Indians (US publication title And Then There Were None).  That would be followed by Murder on the Orient Express and Death on the Nile.  Of all of them, The Murder of Roger Ackroyd is possibly one of the finest pieces of detective fiction written.  A low-key approach to crime solving that is a lesson for all mystery writers.  While Christie would eventually come to hate her little Belgian detective, Hercule Poirot, here he is at his earliest and best.  In Murder on the Orient Express, he solves a crime then tells authorities that he has no solution as he believes justice was already served.  In Death on the Nile, you again have all the usual suspects gathered as he expounds how the crime was committed, but again, justice is delivered by the perpetrators themselves.  In And Then There Were None, everyone dies – or so it would seem.  Read it to learn the end.  It involves no detectives at all and is unlike any other book Christie or any other author wrote.

I’ll do another installment on historical fiction for my next entry in this occasional series.

 

 

 

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