Tour’s Books Blog

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.

 

 

 

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July 8, 2012

Is imitation really the sincerest form of flattery?

A new book hit the market and zooms to the top of the bestseller list and in nothing flat, there are dozens of clones out there, all variations on the same theme.  I’m having a private bet with myself over how many 50 Shades of Grey rip-offs will saturate the market.  (This is one case where the clones might be better than the badly written original.) Even the originator of a series can be hard put to keep things fresh and new.  In fact, having a series almost precludes too much fresh and new, especially as books pass the 8th and 10th entry.

J.K. Rowling did a brilliant job with Harry Potter, telling the story and resisting the temptation to keep Harry and friends ‘forever young’.  As the books progressed, he matured and so did the stories, growing darker and grimmer and dealing with more adult themes.  Her dedication to the initial premise was worth it and the series is, as a whole, remarkable.  Before his death, Robert Jordan began his deep, complex and beautifully written Wheel of Time series, but by book 7 he became so lost in the minutiae, I just gave up on the series.  Other series are never meant to be anything but froth and fun – and there’s nothing wrong with that so long as they aren’t also boring and predictable.  It doesn’t matter the genre – mystery, romance, paranormal, fantasy, even historical fiction, author patterns emerge and ongoing characters begin to enter certain predictable sequences of events.  To me, a certain amount of this is forgivable, maybe even a bit desirable – kind of like finding old friends just as we remember them.  What isn’t so forgivable is copying another writer’s formula and creating a clone.

Clones are as inevitable as the sunrise, and some are so well done, they become icons in their own right.  Look at all the books based on famous fictional and historical characters recast into different perspectives.  Sherlock Holmes must have 6 or 7 different versions of himself walking about the pages of various books.   Everyone from Abraham Lincoln to Queen Victoria is hunting vampires and zombies.  Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and the Brontes’ must be spinning like tops in the graves.  Some authors can carry it off, others, simply cannot.  To purists, the whole thing is a massive insult, an abomination.  What can I say, even Shakespeare stole plots and characters, but, some of these books are, inadvertently perhaps, insults to the original.

Take The Innocent by David Baldacci.  CIA assassin Will Robie is 25% Jack Reacher, 25% John Rain, 25% early Bob Lee Swagger, 15% Mitch Rapp and 10% original.  The plot, which held great promise at the start, just didn’t stand up over the length of the book – especially when compared  with Barry Eisler’s standards in his early John Rain books.  It lacked the kind of detail in tradecraft that makes the stories seem more real and gives twisty spy novels their verisimilitude.  Still, it was good, had potential, but lacked the punch of a top of the line thriller.  Best I could do was a B- (3.7*) and a wait for the paperback, or borrow it from the library recommendation.

On the lighter side of the mystery/thriller genre sits Death, Taxes, and Extra Hold Hairspray by Diane Kelly.  This is her third installment of the Tara Halloway IRS Enforcement agent series and another winner.  There are shades of Stephanie Plum, but Tara Halloway is a very different person from the amateurish Steph.  Strong, competent, and tough, but with a real sense of humor for the eccentricities of people.  Kelly plots well, writes solid characters, has good cast of secondary characters and blends humor in without ever going over the top or forcing things to a ‘Lucy and Ethel’ farce.  With a B+ to A- (4.5*) it comes as a recommended buy for fans of classic style mysteries without the cozy oozing out.

On the romance front we have Scandal Wears Satin by Loretta Chase.  Chase is as reliable as any writer out there.  Her early books were fresh, original, and very well researched.  Personal favorites are Lord of Scoundrels, The Last Hellion, Lord Perfect, and my most re-read historical romance, Mr Impossible.  And it is the shade of Mr Impossible that hangs over Scandal Wears Satin, but nothing can disguise the slight story, which seems to wander aimlessly for 200 pages on weakest premise ever seen, then wrap up much to simply.  There were far to many, “You must joking” moments, and far too few moments of any real connection with the characters.  It wasn’t frothy, just a big ball of empty puff.  Even the romance was weak and had no real fire.  Mr Impossible had heart, laughs, and interesting plot and a great setting.  Scandal Wears Satin had a lot of detail about clothes and totally bland and unexciting characters playing out a minor plot for far too many pages.  Best I can muster for Ms Chase’s latest book is C- (2.8*) and a suggestion she go back to her more historical based books and leave the froth to others.

Once Burned, book 1 in the Night Prince series by Jeaniene Frost isn’t so much a new series and it is a spin off of her highly successful Cat and Bones Night Huntress books.  Spin-offs don’t just happen with TV shows, they happen with books all the time.  Generally speaking, Frost writes a lightweight paranormal with romance elements and a certain percentage of gore.  I’ve always felt it was used to cover up what the books lacked in character and plot.  She can’t seem to hold suspense well, and even her most ardent fan would have to admit, the books are kind of shallow.  By turning to the darker, more bloodthirsty Vlad Tepesh – who we met in the Night Huntress books – she ups the gruesome factor without with amping up the plot and characters to match.  Three-quarters of the way through, I was still waiting for the core of the story to start unfolding.  It was rather frustrating to say the least.  By the end, it was like a meal that might have filled you up, but not satisfied you appetite.  It just wasn’t an entertaining read.  I’m breaking with the majority of reviewers on Amazon and giving Once Burned a C (3.0*) and say this is for hardcore Jeaniene Frost fans only.  There are far better series out there, so give it a pass.

More to come, but I have to get away from dentists and oral surgeons long enough to be able to sit back and get some reading done!

October 31, 2011

New Releases: A Mixed Bag of Genres

Well, I’m still busy reading away, but life does interfere with my plans.  I did enjoy a few good books.  Barry Eisler got close to being back on track with a new John Rain thriller.  Laura Resnick has another chapter in the Esther Diamond series with Vamparazzi – one of the BEST titles this year!  Vicki Lewis Thompson continues her amusing paranormal romance books and .  No, none are stunning blockbuster books, but all were above average and really good reads.

  • Title:  The Detachment
  • Author:  Barry Eisler
  • Type:  Action thriller
  • Genre:  John Rain and Dox get drawn into another adventure
  • Sub-genre:  Manipulation, deception, and the impossible is all too plausible
  • My Grade: B- (3.8*)
  • Rating:  PG-13
  • Length and price:  Novel – about 90,000+ $8.25 to$12
  • Where Available:  Available at most bookstores and online
  • FTC Disclosure:  purchased from an online book seller

The best news, John Rain, one of the BEST characters developed by any author in the past decade, is finally back.  So too is his Dox, his sniper friend and sometimes partner.  Barry Eisler had lost much of the edge that appealed to me with his two Ben Treven books, both of which I found disappointing.  He seems to recapture much of his old magic in The Detachment, though the plot is more obvious than those in his far more twisty and better written early books, and Col ‘Hort’ Horton is not in any way an admirable, or fundamentally honorable person.

Rain has broken up with his girlfriend and Mossad operative, Dehlia.  She refused to leave intelligence agency and he found he could not live with her job – or maybe he was just bored.  As always, he returned to Tokyo, living quietly and going just one place he might be associated with – the Kodokon.  He notices two Americans watching from the stands.  When he catches the them quickly checking the next night, he knows he’s been found.  His response is classic Rain – he leads there where they want to go, lulls them and then kills them both.

But it was a setup and the men pawns that were deliberately sacrificed to catch Rain on camera and blackmail him into doing a job for Col ‘Hort’ Horton.  In LA Hort tells Rain there’s on oligarchy ready to create domestic terrorism in such a way that suspending the Constitution and granting extraordinary powers to the President and Executive Branch of Government seems the only logical course of action.  He uses the very real slow erosion of rights and privacy that the Patriot Act and various government entities – from ICE to TSA to the NSA have already created as a way to get citizens accustomed to a ‘new reality’. (more…)

July 27, 2011

Four Super Short Reviews: Mixed Genre

Having a broken wrist caused a real bad attitude, and FINALLY, I’ve made it to therapy.  Now the ulnar nerve is having fits.  SIGH!  Back in the splint off and on, and I still have the problems with blood flow.  One stupid little fall.  A non-event.  What a pain in the rump.   Still, the enforced idleness came when a bunch of books I’d been waiting for got released.

  • Title: Dead on the Delta
  • Author:  Stacey Jay
  • Type:  Paranormal UF/alternate reality
  • Genre:  noir style paranormal mystery
  • Sub-genre:  killer faries, drug runners, and family secrets on the bayou
  • My Grade: B- (3.8*)
  • Rating:  PG-13
  • Length and price:  Novel – about 90,000+ $7.99
  • Where Available:  Available at most bookstores
  • FTC Disclosure:  purchased from online bookstore

This was a semi-original story by a new author.  If certain backstory elements and world building had gelled just a bit better, this could have been an A.  The writing style and quality lacked some polish, but the atmosphere was there.  The story is centered around the murder of a small girl, thought to be one of a string of such murders, and it hits close to home for Annebelle.  Annabelle Lee, is seeking forgetfulness and oblivion at the bottom of the bottle way too often, but her unique talents – she’s one of the rare immunes who won’t die from mutant fairy bites – her affair with the too-good-to-be-true boyfriend, police detective Caine Cooper, and the appearance of ex-fiance Hitch as an FBI technical expert with his female partner/agent – who is his current fiance, was kind of too much coincidence for one book.

Annie keeps reminding herself she’s just a special kind of crime scene technician,med school dropout, and someone who deserves to be punished.  Her determined efforts at self-destruction for an incident in her past, are at odds with her unwanted sense of obligation to the murdered child.  the story unwinds rather like a choppy homemade movie, without smooth segues and criss-crossing various plot elements in a distracting style.  The ending brings an interesting twist, not so much to the crime, but to what happens to Annabelle and what she will become.

Was Dead on the Delta worth $7.99?  Yes – for any fan of the noir style.  The writing is no match for authors like Lawrence Sanders or Dennis Lehanne, but a decent read.  I just hope the authors style smooths out a bit in future. (more…)

May 30, 2009

BOOK REVIEW: Gone Tomorrow by Lee Child

That blissful, satisfied sigh you hear is me.  I devoured Gone Tomorrow in less than a day, all 421 pages.  No, it isn’t deathless prose, not even for an action thriller, but it is what Lee Child and his protagonist Jack Reacher do best – slam into you at full tilt from the opening lines and leave you hanging on for a wild thrill  ride.

“Suicide bombers are easy to spot.  They give out all kinds of telltale signs.  Mostly because they’re nervous.  By definition they’re all first timers.”

Jack Reacher is on the Lexington Avenue local at 2AM and remembering all the training he had by Israeli counterintelligence while watching a woman that fits the suicide bomber profile perfectly.  She’s wearing a bulky oversized parka on a hot fall day and it’s zipped to the neck.  She keeps muttering, as if reciting a prayer, her hands hidden in a small backpack on her lap wrapped around something hard – like the battery and detonator switch.  But surely it’s the wrong time – not enough people, but it was impossible for Reacher to ignore.  He figures he’s as dead where he sits as he will be closer, so he approaches.  Trying to calm her, he says he’s a cop.  Instead, she pulls out a gun and kills herself with a .357 Magnum through her head. (more…)

March 22, 2009

BOOK REVIEW: Fault Line by Barry Eisler

Barry Eisler is arguably the best action thriller writer working today, though you’d never know it by Fault Line.  He’s better than Lee Child, Jack Higgins, Brad Thor, Kyle Mills, Vince Flynn, even Daniel Silva, who is his nearest competition.  Yes, he really is that good.  His plots are intelligent, his world building some of the best out there (that’s also Silva’s greatest strength) and his action realistic.  His characters have depth, his ability to paint an atmosphere with words rivals Silva and his action scenes are as good as anyone’s – maybe better.  That’s why this book seems like a more spectacular failure than it really is.  If this was Mills, Thor, Flynn, or Higgins I doubt I would judge it so harshly.  Child has slipped lately, just not as badly.  Sliva’s deterioration is much more subtle and involves his plots and lead character, so only his hardcore fans really see it.  This was the literary equivalent of a NASCAR wreck.

The premise of Fault Line is not all that original.  The whole concept of encryption that is nearly unbreakable is one that’s been done before.  Versions have even played out in the news over the years as the government has forced various encryption software manufacturers to turn over source code so they can break encrypted files, always invoking the argument that it a matter of public safety and national security.  Neither is killing off the creator of an encryption code.  Even Windtalkers had a version of ‘kill the source code’, in that case it was shoot the code talker as a key plot element!  Right from the start, the plot has no new ground, so Eisler set himself a formidable task: find a new take on a well explored area and make your characters different yet believable.

Next are the three key protagonists, again they’re predictable and shallow:  Ben Treven is the eldest son in a family of three and in some ways a misfit in his family.  He’s the athlete who became a soldier, not the academic his family wanted.  A former Ranger, he now works as an assassin for a black ops military unit.  He believes people should be grateful to him and others for protecting them and has a certain disdain for those ordinary people. Alex Treven, the youngest, is a super smart kid who always showed off and acted like being smart somehow makes him better than others.  Now he’s clawing his way up to a partnership in a major law firm with a specialty in patent law.  His condescension toward others and scheming against his nominal boss is totally believable.  Richard Hilzoy’s encryption patent is his ticket to the coveted partnership.  Sarah Hosseini is a young first year associate at the firm and another smart patent lawyer.  The only child of Iranian parents caught in the US when the Shah was overthrown, she’s trying to make her parents happy by being a successful lawyer.  She’s smart and beautiful, but not all that happy or satisfied with her career.  Ten years younger than Alex, she hasn’t developed his arrogance or lust for the trappings of power.

Finally there is the inter-character tension, which Eisler built with a really old plot device of childhood angers and another round of clichéd tragic family events – a sister killed in a car accident, a father’s suicide – that shapes how the brothers interact.  Ben believes himself more virtuous and deserving of thanks for the dangerous and deadly work he does for ‘the nation’.  Alex believes himself the more virtuous because he was the one who stayed home and dealt with all the emotional fallout of their sister’s death, their father’s suicide and their mother’s cancer while Ben was off playing solider.  Frankly, I thought they both needed to just GROW UP and please, dear God, get over themselves.  (All that was missing was the Smothers Brothers doing their “Mom Always Liked You Best!” routine.)  Not to mention the whole thing plays out in flashbacks throughout the book like some new kind of psychological torture for readers. (more…)

March 3, 2009

BOOK REVIEW: Shooting in the Dark by Carolyn Hougan

Filed under: Book review,espionage/intrigue — toursbooks @ 5:33 pm
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Carolyn Houghan wrote books under her own name and with husband Jim Houghan they wrote books as John F. Case – The Genesis Code was a favorite of mine years ago. She had only three books under her name and two are available from Felony and Mayhem press and 6 books under ‘John Case’ are still available on Amazon or thru one of Amazon’s used book sellers. All are intrigue, but the Case books are more in the classic intrigue thriller. Houghan died in 2007 not long after Ghost Dancer, the last book by John Case was published. Shooting in the Dark, like most Felony and Mayhem titles, was initially published in mid-1980’s. The book itself is set in 1980, so even at the time it was published it was intended as a period piece. Perhaps that’s why it has held up so well over the years. So may books in the intrigue category tend to be so ‘au courant’, leaning heavily of cutting edge technology for their plot, seem laughably dated in just a couple of years. Shooting in the Dark remains a really good and compelling read nearly 30 years later.

It’s April 1980. In November of 1979 the American Embassy was overrun by Iranian revolutionary forces loyal to the Ayatollah Khomeini in retaliation for the US allowing the exiled Shah to seek medical treatment for pancreatic cancer and refusing to surrender him to Iranian authorities for trial. Diplomatic negotiations having failed, Jimmy Carter authorizes a disastrous rescue operation, Operation Eagle Claw. (Have you ever wondered what Madison Avenue wizard thinks up these names for the military?)

In the Netherlands, the coronation of Beatrix is in its final stages of preparation. In New York, Claire Sheppard is getting ready to see her dentist when her husband suddenly announces he’s leaving her for another woman. Shocked, angry, lost and confused, she suddenly decides to just go somewhere, not the Caribbean, too many couples. Somewhere being alone won’t be awful.  She picks Amsterdam. In Washington DC, Alan Dawson, Ambassador at Large for International Policy goes for his mid-day walk to Dumbarton Oaks planning to meet with an old OSS (more…)

February 20, 2009

BOOK REVIEW: The John Rain Series by Barry Eisler

Rain Fall My Grade: A-

Hard Rain My Grade: A

Rain Storm My Grade: A

Killing Rain My Grade: A-

The Last Assassin My Grade: B+ to A-

Requiem for an Assassin My Grade: B-

Have you read Solo by Jack Higgins? Shibumi by Trevanin? If you have, sit back, relax and meet the heir – John Rain, assassin extraordinaire.

The product of a Japanese father and American mother, Rain never belonged in either country. As a young man he joins the US military and shows a real aptitude for killing. Part of a Special Forces team, he ends doing work for the CIA. Living and working in that ‘grey zone’ where right/wrong and good/evil gets blurred, his own instincts save him. He ‘disappears’, moves to Japan, even goes so far as to have surgery to make himself appear more ‘Japanese’. Here he lives a shadow life and makes his living as an assassin for hire specializing in ‘natural’ deaths. Killing someone is easy. Killing someone and making it look like a natural death is art.

From page one, Rain Fall captivates and holds the reader. It is an unusually well written combination of action and intrigue with the kind of rich, compelling, textured backdrop of locations and characters that is rare in a genre that typically forsakes depth for action. It begins with the death of a government official in a subway during rush hour and just does not quit. Trust no one and cover your back. Written in the first person, Rain is a compelling narrator. Eisler’s ease with the Japanese setting comes from years living in the country.

Hard Rain sees Rain having tough choices to make. His affair with jazz pianist Midori ended when she learned who and what Rain was. Tatsu, the shrewd and manipulative police official who seems to be both friend and mentor to the assassin, wants to use him for his own ends. The murky world of Japanese politics and crime lords are front and center once again as a Yakuza leader is targeted and escapes. Midori ends up being responsible, indirectly, for the death of one of Rain’s friends.

With both the Yakuza and the CIA after him, an injured Rain flees to Brazil which is where book 3, Rain Storm, starts. The CIA makes an offer of much needed money he can’t refuse that lures him back to Asia to track the activities of an unscrupulous arms dealer (is there any other kind?). This book introduces two more recurring characters – the beautiful Israeli spy Delilah, who has her own agenda and Dox, short for unorthodox, a giant of a sniper with an extrovert’s personality that grates on the assassin who lives by clinging to anonymous shadows. Yet Dox may end up being the one thing that Rain does not have, a friend.

Killing Rain, fourth in the series, has the assassin asking himself some hard questions. Rain is hired by the Mossad to take out a renegade Israeli scientist, now terrorist for hire and bomb expert, before the man can transfer any more technical expertise and training to radical Islamic militants. Partnering with Dox again is not entirely comfortable for loner Rain. Then he misses his chance at a quick take down and ends up signaling the target he’s being hunted. To makes matters worse, he kills two bodyguards to escape. Unfortunately, the guards are former CIA and part of renegade operative Jim Hilger’s operation. Now Rain is targeted by a furious Hilger.  The very annoyed Mossad no longer trusts him to do the job so he’s on their hit list too. Where does Delilah stand? The action once again moves across Asia and brings Rain, Dox and Delilah to Hong Kong. There Rain and Hilgar again cross paths. The ending here has Rain thinking of retirement and the son he wants so much to see.

The Last Assassin brings Rain back to Japan to settle old scores. He cannot go to Midori and his son until his past is put to bed. To do that, he ends up having to call in his friend Dox. Eisler moves back to the shady underworld of Yakuza and Chinese triads in Japan for this novel. Delilah comes in to help out as a lure for the Yakuza boss with a weakness for tall blondes. His old friend Tatsu may be dying, but he’s still pulling Rain’s strings. The ending has Rain and Midori finally see each other again and it sees that all of Rain’s ghosts are finally laid to rest – one way or another. I was left feeling the author intended this to be the last book in the series, and it would have served as a perfect coda for Rain, but was convinced by his publisher to write another.

Requiem for an Assassin brings Rain back into the game when Dox is kidnapped by Hilger to force Rain into carrying out a series of assassinations or Dox is dead. Rain has to get rid of people involved in a deep black CIA operation that might not have had official sanction. Thing is, he’s now on American soil and not at all happy about it. Of all the John Rain novels, I liked this book the least. It felt like Eisler lost his mojo. It’s a good read, all the necessary twists and turns, lies and half truths, but the magic is missing. The intangible something that raises a book from good to WOW! Eisler seems less engaged with his story and his characters here. I guess it’s so noticeable because his previous entries were so strong.

Though the last book is the weakest, for me at least, all of the series is so much better than just about anything getting written in the thriller genre these days, they rank as DO NOT MISS!

The John Rain series would all be rated R

Who would enjoy these books: Readers of Jack Higgins, Trevanian, Eric Van Laustbader’s Ninja series, Frederick Forsyth, and Robert Ludlum’s Jason Bourne.

NOTE: The paperback books are eligible for Amazon’s 4-for-3 promotion

BOOK REVIEW: How to Marry a Millionaire Vampire by Kerrelyn Sparks

I confess I’ve been on a ‘fun with vampires’ binge lately. The mysteries have become too predictable and the thriller/espionage books of any quality getting fewer and further between. Searching for something different led to the saturated market for vampire books. Like the breezy Argeneau series by Lynsay Sands, Kerrelyn Sparks’ Staked series is ‘vampire light’ and played as romance, not horror, though they do have a darker side notably absent from Sands’ books. Sparks’ books holds the more traditional kind of vampire with the daylight death sleep, silver is toxic, never eat food and death by sunlight. How to Marry a Millionaire Vampire is the first in the series.

Roman Draganesti is an old vamp that never lost his conscience or his fundamental humanity. He is also the inventor of artificial blood, a life saving medical breakthrough that has made him rich and allowed vamps to dine on things like ‘Fusion Cuisine’, Blisskey (whisky and blood) and many other vampire foods. Always looking to improve vampire quality of life, a researcher in his company comes up with a lifelike mannequin that has circulating blood so vamps can put the ‘bite’ back in their meals. He presents the Vampire Artificial Needs Nutritional Appliance – VANNA – to Roman and invites him to give her a test bite. Drawn by the irresistible smell of circulating blood, Roman sinks his fangs into VANNA’s throat – and that’s when the fun starts.

Roman finds an all night dentist, Jane Wilson, and goes to have his fang implanted before dawn catches him and his gums heal making him a one fanged vamp. Unfortunately, Jane faints at the sight of blood. Then the Russian mob shows up. Roman teleports to a safe roof top with his still loose fang and the out cold dentist. Seems she’s a witness to a mob hit and is in protective custody, a kind of witness protection, till she testifies. She’s Shanna Whelan and Roman decides to save her so she’ll save his fang. Sparks does a good job of spinning the tale of Shanna and Roman while setting the stage for her series. The story is clever and has enough meat to keep the reader entertained for the full 370 pages.

It’s hard not to like the key players in this book. Though a certain level of predictability is there, the book still does its primary job of entertaining with ease. I’ve read two more of the series, Be Still My Vampire Heart (Book 3) and The Undead Next Door (Book 4). Both are solid C+ to B- books, though not quite as good as the first.

My Grade: B

Who would enjoy these books: Vampire fans who read authors like Lynsay Sands, or fans of Julie Garwood’s modern romance who’d like to give vampire books a chance. My Rating is PG-17 NOTE: The entire series is elegible for Amazon’s 4-for-3 promotion

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