Tour’s Books Blog

April 23, 2015

All Genre Reviews – Mostly Ebooks and Some DTB’s

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The story centers on three key plot points:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

February 1, 2014

Starting 2014 with a …………. THUD and Some Modest Applause

The year got off to a busy start with a raft of ebook humorous mysteries that I enjoyed and will review separately.  It also started with a bunch of dead tree books that honestly could have been skipped.

OK, I know not every book is good, but seriously, some authors just phone it in these days.  Janet Evanovich is famous for it, cozy writers have formulas that are so predictable, 30 pages in, you’re done.  Now Julie Garwood is doing it.  Yeah, yeah, I know she was hardly a great romantic suspense writer to start with, her early historicals being the best and most polished work she’s done, but seriously, she is plumbing new lows.

Hotshot

In Hotshot, we have a classic Garwood set up of an insanely handsome FBI agent/lawyer/former Olympic gold medalist/champion triathlete (who is likely also an organ donor and loves animals), and woman in jeopardy (who is also a trained chef) – of course it follows they were childhood neighbors and he saved her from drowning when he was a teen and she was a small child.  And naturally they meet at a wedding, Finn MacBain being the older brother of the groom and Peyton Lockhart being the little girl who is now all grown up – and naturally beautiful.  She’s also the woman with a serious problem.  Her dream job of food critic at a well known publication came with more strings than she knew of – namely a boss who is a sexual predator.  But she records him and runs, leaving him thinking he’s erased the recording, not realizing she had a back-up.  So we now have the kind of lame villain of the piece – who is friends with a psycho not averse to killing and married to an equally skanky and amoral woman who is the magazine owner’s daughter.

Enter wealthy Uncle Len who offers Peyton and her two sisters a shot at owning one of his resorts if they can pull off the renovations and increase profit 20% – it’s theirs.  Or they can each have $500,000.  They take the resort on an island off the coast of Florida and Peyton thinks she’s free of the sleazeball former boss.  Soon Finn is back in the picture and the story, which was about a lifelike as cutout dolls manages to go downhill.  Finn is a alpha moron wallowing in angst of ‘I am a loner’ crap.  Peyton is ……….. jeeze, not much.  A quip?  A bit of snark?  Sadly 2 dimensional and the whole magazine thing is just ludicrous.

No real tension, flat characters, only occasionally intelligent, spritely dialogue, and so BORING it was just stupid.  Honestly, there was not one memorable character in the book and the really unbelievable final scene that had me rolling my eyes.  Hotshot was a waste of time, money, and paper.  Only ardent Garwood fans will think this good.  Save your money and buy something else.  A comic book would be an improvement.

My grade is D+ (2.7*) and that’s mostly for a couple of supporting characters.  Skip it.  Purchased used from Amazon for $6 – which is $5.99 more than it was worth.

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takedown twenty

And the current Queen of Phone It In strikes again.  In Takedown Twenty Janet Evanovich does another feather light, plotless piece of fluff.  I honestly would love to give you story highlights, but a giraffe running through the streets of Trenton and being ignored by the area residents is beyond even my wild imagination.  Steph needs to bring in Morelli’s godfather and Uncle, a mob hit man, who jumped bail.  His feared Gramdma Bella keeps giving Steph ‘the eye’ and even Morelli, still recovering from the gunshot wound, won’t help.  He and his cohorts are busy looking for a serial killer of elderly ladies.

The elusive Uncle Lou and the giraffe are the only plot in the book – meringue has more substance.  Plus it’s short.  Maybe 3 hours if you read at a modest pace.  Given the fact book is selling for over $15 new, and it has little to offer, you have a “Give this one a miss” recommendation.  Borrow it from the library – or just sit and read it there, because it won’t take long.  You’ll laugh in a couple of places, just like you would at the Three Stooges, but when it’s over it will disappear in a puff of smoke.

Takedown Twenty gets a D+ (2.7*).  I got the book for free from an online book swap site.  If you MUST read this, buy it super cheap used or borrow it.  Even the mmpb will be over priced at $7.99.  Not worth the money.

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Grendel affair

Lisa Shearin is well known to fantasy readers for her Raine Benares series, but in The Grendel Affair, first in her new SPI series, she enters the wide world of Urban Fantasy.  Combining her fantasy skills with an action/mystery element set in today’s NYC, Ms Shearin has another winner.  Told in the first person by her female lead character, seer Makenna ‘Mac’ Fraser, this fast paced story weaves together a set of characters in a plot that is interesting and a bit different.

Makeena has her degree in journalism, but the only job she can get is with a sleazy tabloid that runs stories about space invaders and leprechauns.  Thing is, as a seer, Makeena does see all manner of paranormal beings for what they really are, not the human illusions they use to mask their true selves, so her stories are actually true – even though no one believes it and she can’t tell them how she knows without running the risk of getting locked up for being nuts.  Many are just ordinary creatures working like anyone else, but some are not.  Some are predators.  Mac gets a job offer for a private security company run by a female dragon lady – that is a real dragon who looks like a very classy lady.  She’s partnered with a former cop, the human Ian Byrne, who shows up just as she’s about to try and capture a nachtgnome at the slightly illegal ‘antiques’ business her sort of friend and snitch Ollie runs.  The night went south when she was almost mugged then attacked by a vampire who knew her name – and chased off by the mysterious would be mugger.

A murder in the office above the shop – a gruesome murder that they should have heard – lands them in jail and then on the trial of what the creatures were after.  The complex plot spins out with action and interest.  A relative short book at just under 300 pages, it’s both entertaining and well written.  Parts of the plot are a bit predictable, but it’s big short-coming the world building.  The reader must buy into the premise that a huge paranormal security business could run in New York City, interfere in police cases, and get very publicly involved in accidents and such, and go undetected by the police and FBI.  Now you either ignore this and enjoy The Grendel Affair, or it will nag at you and you won’t.

The other issue is Mac herself.  Supposedly from down south, she’s a bit ‘girly’ for the role she plays.  Granted, part of the book is about her getting respect for abilities beyond being a seer, a rare gift that few humans have, but part of it is the credibility gap this creates.  The quality of Ms Shearin’s writing mostly covers this and allows the reader to just enjoy the book, but in retrospect, you see the holes.  The dialogue is sharp and witty, the plot fast moving – which helps to hide things – and the ending rather predictable.

The Grendel Affair gets a C+ to B- (3.5*) from with a tentative suggested read.  It’s not top quality, but is a fast, enjoyable read.  We’ll see how she does with characters and world building issues in subsequent books.  At $7.19 + tax, it’s kind of borderline, so buy it used if you can.  Got it free thru a book swap site.  I’ll pass it along.

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Something About Harry

The latest in Dakota Cassidy’s Accidental series of paranormal romance set at Pack Cosmetics.  Harry Ralph Emmerson calls OOPS (Out in the Open Paranormal Support) hotline and gets the anything but supportive, razor tongued vampire, Nina.  The opening scene with the two of them on the phone is a highlight of the whole book.  Harry took an online test that seems to indicate he’s turning into a werewolf, which is very freaky given he thinks he got it from drinking vitamin water.

Only thing is, it wasn’t vitamin water, is was a formulation created by the pack alpha’s sister and research scientist, Mara Flaherty.  Mara has a crush on Harry, a human employee of the pack’s cosmetic business and she made an awkward pass at him at a company party, something that still makes her squirm in embarrassment, so she decides heck with finding a mate, she’ invent a formulation to get herself pregnant (which is without doubt the dumbest plot device ever invented) and puts it in a vitamin water bottle – the one Harry drank right before he started getting furry.  And that is where I kind of lost it.  Mara is a scientist who thinks she needs to drink an elixir to get pregnant?  Did she miss basic biology for mammals??????  OK, it’s fantasy, but still, you don’t get to rewrite something as basic as that for the sake of a plot device.

Anyway, if you can get past that bonehead issue, the book is actually pretty decent, but that’s a BIG issue to get past.  Then you have the tension created by the fact Harry is a widower with a young daughter who needs care as he very unwillingly becomes a werewolf, and the fact that Mara violated pack law by turning a human without permission, something even her pack alpha brother can’t fix.  So the ladies of OOPS step up and try and help – though Nina’s idea of ‘helping’ is a half bubble off plum – and usually pretty funny.

The accidental series is basically lighthearted fun paranormal romance.  The plots often stretch credulity to the break point, but they have good time doing it and they usually have a serious side, as this one does.  If you can check you common sense at the door, they are fun reads, but the plot devices are outrageous, and this one a bit harder because the Mara is a scientist.

Something About Harry gets a C- (2.8*) from me, but gets 4.5* on Amazon.  Obviously romance fans can buy into the premise more easily than I did.  Dakota Cassidy writes well, and has quite a sense of humor.  If you can get past the ‘pregnancy elixir’ thing, this will be a fun read with a surprising twist at the end.  For hardcore fans of Cassidy and paranormal romance this is a good choice, but at $11-$12, I suggest buying it used.  My copy came thru a online book swap site.

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Bitter-Spirits-final-high-res

I’m a big fan of Jenn Bennett’s Arcadia Bell series, so I didn’t hesitate to pre-order this first book in her new Roaring Twenties series.  I have to admit, it is NOT what I expected, but it was still good.   I honestly thought this would a 1920’s Steampunk book, but instead, I got a paranormal romance.

Aida Palmer makes her way in the world with the precarious living of a medium act in speakeasies around the country.  It’s a hard living, but she’s slowly built a reputation and hopes someday she can settle down and eventually have enough private customers to stop traveling and make a home for herself.  For now, a tiny apartment in San Francisco’s Chinatown new where she works is home while she performs at the Gris-Gris speakeasy in Chinatown for SF’s elite.  Winter Magnusson is a bootlegger who is attracted to her.  A widower with a lot of emotional baggage and someone trying to destroy his business.

The book capture’s the atmosphere, setting, and time period well enough.  The bad guy was obvious to me, but then I’m a mystery reader.  The characters are well drawn and like Aida’s spirit and her independence.  She reminded me of two great aunts who actually WERE flappers in their youth.  Well written and supporting characters were good.  BUT …….. this is not anything like her far more complex world of Arcadia Bell.  So, if you’re in the mood for a romance with some woo woo spiritual stuff, this will fit the bill just fine.

Bitter Spirits gets a C+ to B- (3.5*) from me, but 4.5* on Amazon.  At $7.19 is is typical, so try and buy a used copy.  Recommended for paranormal romance fans and those who enjoy Amanda Quick’s Ladies of Lantern Street series.

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Cursed by Destiny

This third book in the Weird Girls series kept up with the strong first two entries – except for dwelling on romantic angst.  Cursed by Destiny finds Celia Weird in the care of Misha, the master vampire she accidentally gave a soul back to.  Alpha werewolf Aric has been ordered to take a werewolf mate for the sake of the species.  Celia is not just a cat, she’s a shifter and has other powers, but she isn’t part of the pack.  Her gifts are a curse placed on her family and each sister is different.  Two of her sisters mated to weres in Aric’s pack, but Aric is like werewolf royalty, and his line must continue – or so the elders insist.  Despite refusing her entry to the pack, the elders have no trouble calling on her and her powers to help put down a demon uprising.

There is a huge problem, it seems someone is trying to kill Celia – blowing up Misha’s car, having the ‘Cathloic school girl’s’ her nickname for a group of female vamps that dislike her, and others want her dead.  And there’s this collective outbreak of demons coming after her like she’s a huge threat to them.  It makes no sense …………. until the very end of the book, which sends the plot down a whole new path.

Cursed by Destiny gets a B- (3.8*) rating from me and recommended reading for fans of the series and the series is suggested for fans of paranormal, like the Arcadia Bell series and the Persephone Alcmedi series.  If it had been more angst free with the whole forbidden love thing it might have scored higher, but that’s one part that’s wearing on my nerves.  I bought Cursed by Destiny from an online book seller for $7.19 and that’s slightly more than it’s worth, but the series is an overall good read.

September 2, 2012

Perfect Pairs

Some things just go together.   Chocolate and fruit.  Mac and cheese.  Rib roast and potatoes.  Lobster and butter.  Pasta and tomato sauce. Gin and tonic.  Reading and travel.  And is anything better than peanut butter and chocolate??????  Combinations so fundamental, they’re ubiquitous.  You can’t find a burger place, regardless of how snooty and high end, that doesn’t serve potatoes.  And most lobster lovers will stab you with their fork if try and steal their butter.  Some other pairings need a bit more ……………. ummmmm, developed tastes.

I confess, I like peanut butter (Skippy All Natural Super Chunk) and crispy bacon (Schaller and Weber hand cut thick slice) on toast – or a toasted roll.  It really is good.  No, REALLY!  OK, not ……… normal perhaps, but amazing.  I know Elvis liked fried peanut butter, banana sandwiches, but I’m not a big fan of bananas.  Bacon, GOOD bacon, that I love and it goes so well many things, including peanut butter.  I also love creamy peanut butter stuffed dates rolled in sugar – the very first food I ever learned to make in kindergarten – and perfect for my brother’s cooking skill level – nil.  My brother and I make them every year at Christmas.  Even his wife likes them.  (She’s Polish and eats stuffed cabbage, so keep that in mind.)  You’ll notice the peanut butter trend.  Yes, it is my safety net food.

One thing any business traveler will tell you is to have some non-perishable food handy – and bring a book, print, ebook, even a game.  For me, the food is cheese and peanut butter crackers and maybe some Nutter Butter or Oreo’s in those small packs.   The hours wasted in airports is mind numbing – and often ass numbing as well.  And occasionally, when stuck somewhere in a small airport, there’s nowhere to eat – or worse, sitting on the tarmac waiting for your flight to be released due to weather, flights attendants are unable to serve food even in first class.  Those packages of crackers have saved more than just me from starvation.

Books are what will keep you entertained – or maybe video games.  I like having both new books and rereads when on long flights.  I read fast, so thick books can easily be finished by the time we touchdown if I fly to the west coast.  I read Point of Impact on a trip to Arizona.  A friend needed a book, so I passed it on to him.  He still remembers that nearly 20 years later.  Like me, he read the other Bob Lee Swagger books and when he called in my office, I made sure to have a pile of books for him to pick from.  Every once in awhile, you start a book and hate it, well, go to the back-up reread.  It’s not like you can stop the plane and go look for something better – unless you have a wi-fi Kindle or other ereader.  Frankly, I cannot imagine any business traveler without one these days, even if its a Smartphone.   I kind of hate watching movies on planes, even on those personal screens, (It has to do with seeing Godzilla too many times on Asia flights.  As aversion therapy, it works.), but you can watch them if you hate reading.

Fall was always a favorite travel time for me, especially for vacations.  Kids are back in school, so the mad summer rush is over, the weather cooled off, and I can extend summer by heading down to the islands or enjoy a long fall by going up to New England and following the changing leaves south.  I read on a plane, but NEVER in a car.

Ever since I was little, I’ve been prone to car sickness.  The smell of leather will forever be associated with memories of being sick as a dog for me.  Mom had a Chrysler Imperial Highlander with red and blue plaid wool upholstery insets in maroon leather, a black exterior, and the approximate curb weight of a tank.  It also could not be easily killed, so we had that thing a LONG time.  I now have a car with leather interior, but it took me decades to reach the point where I didn’t get the instant urge to vomit the moment I smelled leather.  Now I can wear leather coats and own a car with leather seats – not by choice, it’s the way it came.  They’ve worn like iron and I’m ALWAYS getting leather from now on.  Too bad buying cars is only slightly less desirable that root canal without Novocaine.

They say your strongest memories are triggered by smells, and that’s why you bake bread or pie when selling a house.  It smells like home.  Oh course, our house generally smelled like wet dog, but oddly, that’s not a selling point.  Fall smells differently that other seasons.  No, I honestly don’t remember the smell of burning leaves, but fall always smelled like apples to me.  Trees get dressed if the fanciest colors, the air turns dry and cool, pumpkins start showing up everywhere along with pots of mums in colors that match the trees, and produce stands smell like fresh apples.  As I said before, mom wasn’t a cook, so if we had fresh baked apple pie it was thanks to Mrs Smith, but she could manage things like chocolate chip cookies and pumpkin bread – a quick bread made with Bisquick.  To this day I make a version of that, only mine is modified from a recipe from Madia Heatter’s Book of Great Desserts, and a perfect fall cake – all moist and rich with pumpkin, spice, raisins, and nuts.  If Spring is rhubarb and strawberries, fall is pumpkin and apples – and cranberries.

The Halloween candy hit the food stores in August.  (Talk about rushing the season!)  And it’s that time of the year when books, especially mysteries and thrillers, get a surge of new releases.  The summer doldrums are over and the beach reads mostly gone, the scare new releases of mysteries during July and August suddenly burst out in full bloom.  In just the past 2 weeks, I’ve gotten about 10 new ones, cozies mostly, but a Brett Battles book came and the new Jack Reacher book arrives tomorrow – something I face with some trepidation as Lee Child hasn’t been all that reliable with one of my favorite fictional characters.  I have piles for new releases sitting on Mt TBR, but I also tried to clear out some of the older books and added a few ebooks to list.  So here we go ………….

Paradise By the Rifle Sights by Leslie Langtry is one of her Bombay Assassin Greatest Hits novellas and ebook only that I bought for my Kindle.  Now understand, this series was a true original, funny romantic assassin stories not exactly being thick on the ground.  While not the best in the series, Stand By Your Hitman is one of my favorite rereads.  I didn’t even hesitate to buy Paradise By the Rifle Sights.  Good thing it only cost $2.99 or I’d be foaming at mouth right now.

Like Stand by Your HitmanParadise By the Rifle Sights puts a Bombay on a reality show – only instead of being a rip-off of Survivor, it’s one of those Bachelor romance shows and it’s Paris Bombay stuck with it when his sister, who was assigned the hit, convinced him him to cover for her because of her kids.  Seems the producer of the show is a human trafficker and all around sleazeball.  What the heck, Paris has nothing to do, is longing to find someone like his cousins have, and frankly, he’s a bit bored.  So even though exchanging assignments is against the rules, Paris fills out the bachelor application online and ends up getting called for the audition.  On the flight out to LA, his seatmate is an attractive woman that he manages to insult then ignore.  He has a job to do.

At the studio, Paris finds himself whisked into the interview room and is madly thinking about how he can get into the control booth where his vic is sitting behind a one way glass , while giving the worst interview in history.  In the end, the killing is both loud and messy, not the usual Bombay style, but it gets done.  That should fold the show too, since the vic was the only moneyman funding production.  He manages to fake two additional interviews from the booth then leaves like nothing happened, fully expecting news of his vic’s death to be all over the next day’s news.  Nothing.  Except one thing ………….. he’s the new star of Bachelor.  And by the way, read the fine print on those applications.  The contract is BINDING.

He’s whisked off to the overdone mansion where the filming will take place and since his contract also requires the production company make him happy and comfortable, he fills out the form for his ‘requests’, asking for things like mud baths, Mongolian goat meat, and F Troop to be on all TV’s all day.  And a yoga instructor that only speaks Hindi.  Oh, the things we regret.

To this point, the story was similar to Stand By Your Hitman, but suddenly the plots started getting too much alike as production schedules where pushed up and things got weird.  In the last 70 pages, it all fell apart.  The ending was lame, the ‘romance’ never developed, he marries a barely there bit player in the story, and it all just seemed dumb.  A huge disappointment for a book that had me laughing out loud at times.  It read like a book that was 2/3’s done then just wrapped up as quickly as possible and sold as an ebook because the author had written herself into a corner that only a complete re-write could fix.  Kind of like a straight to video movie.

Paradise By the Rifle Sights had a good beginning, funny first quarter, good second quarter, then started a decline that accelerated to and ending that is best summed up with “WHERE THE HELL DID THE PLOT GO?”  My grade, D+ to C- (2.5*) and even at $2.99 NOT a recommended read.

Things didn’t improve with Ms Langtry’s supposedly humorous look at a marriage falling apart in The Adulterer’s Unofficial Guide to Family.  Nearly as I could see, the amusement was all in the title and then on it was boring to downright insulting.  Molly Harper’s One Last Thing was funny and sad and rang true.  This was just a first person over-indulgence in revisiting a first love under implausible circumstances.  Amazon called Adulterer’s Guide ’emotional and spicy’ and they got the spicy part right.  Emotional, not so much.  Just hypocritical and self indulgent.

The story, told in the first person by a narrator who doesn’t even have a name, just Mike’s wife and , for pages till we finally meet Laura Smith, part time professor, mom of twins, and wife of an ad exec who is married to his job – with a few side benefits.  Of course, it’s not like she has room to complain having had a fling of her own.  Her life is dull, dead, and predictable.  Her PhD dissertation on adultery in literature (another irony that pushed the boundaries of credibility) is going nowhere fast.  Perhaps the story was meant to be as dull and lifeless as Laura feels.  In that it succeeded.  It was as exciting as watching paint dry.

Anyway, the big family vacation to ‘the happiest place on Earth’ – though Disney is NEVER mentioned directly – is the big family event that will save everything – and at the last minute Mike backs out pleading work commitments and a big account.  Laura and twins head down alone, and she ends up moving rooms so they don’t have the endless walks to the resort bus.  (ever been to Disney World?  Those walks ain’t for the tired.)  She ends up in a room next door to her first love, now a successful play write in NYC, Alan.  His wife Susan, a successful lawyer, also backed out at the last minute leaving him with his 4 and 5 years olds.  What are the odds?  (Eye roll)

The tedious story drags on thru predictable events, choppy memories of Laura’s past affair, the unhappy life she allowed herself to fall into, and then allowing herself to fall for the fantasy of first love returned.

I suppose this is a romance, albeit an angsty, improbable, and cliched one.  The HEA is about as likely as winning the lottery and lot less exciting.  Dull, kids marginalized to non-entities, spouses barely there, this self-adsorbed story managed to be annoying, boring, and brainless all rolled into one – despite the sex scenes, including the one in the limo.

Avoiding all the ethical and moral issues here, the story was just lifeless, stupid and pushed the reader into trying to believe in something that was fairy tale bull.  Mostly, I just felt my intelligence had been insulted and all of the characters were pretty much morally questionable at best.  Mike actually came off as the most mature and reasonable.  The epilogue HEA was slightly less believable than the Easter Bunny.

The Kindle edition was $4.99 and not worth it.  In print it’s an insane $11.99.   The Adulterer’s Unofficial Guide to Family is a sleeping pill in print.  Miss this book.  My score is D- (1.8*) and a strong recommendation to avoid it at all costs.

OK, moving along to stories that have no pretense of ‘slice of life’ reality – Elizabeth Lapthorne’s Desperate Fantasies a book that had a short novella, Desperate and Dateless followed by first of the Montague Vampire stories, Heated Fantasies, a short novel.

Like most novellas, especially the short ones, the plot was simple, Vlad, a Vampire Prince, is coming into heat, something vamps do infrequently, and it’s the only time a male vampire is fertile.  It also sends them searching for their mates.  Vlad finds his at the Desperate and Dateless Ball in the from of a security guard named Vicci.  Since this was written for Ellora’s Cave, you can cue the hot sex and HEA in 60 pages.  Only a writer with Lapthorne’s skill could make it readable and modestly interesting.

Heated Fantasies was the highlight here as Lapthorne had 200 pages to develop a futuristic type novel introducing the Montague Vampires some 200 years from now.  Clare Rooney is a present day librarian avoiding an oily come on from an unwanted admirer when she starts shelving books, only to find a very old book she’s never seen before – a book on vampire anatomy.  Tracing the odd inset, she reads the even stranger words – and finds herself on a whole different world hundreds of years from her time and no way home.

The book appeared to be an ancient text on the anatomy and anthropology of vampires – and she lands on a world where they are very real. Taken in by two scholars, she finds herself slowly acclimating to this strange place and working in what passes for an antique bookshop – until the day Simeon Montague comes in looking Graveel, the vampire that rescued her and went looking for answers to her problem, leaving her with his kindly, though absent minded friend.

Simeon was expecting many things when he went hunting for Graveel, but finding his mate was not among them.  Now Simeon has to convince Clare she really is his mate, beat off his interfering brothers who nearly botch everything for him, and try and figure out where Graveel went with this mysterious book.

Amusing, good characters, decent world building, this is what a good erotic romance should be.  Largely ignoring the novella up front, I’ll give this a B- (3.6*) and suggested read for erotic romance lovers.  Both stories can be purchased as ebooks from Ellora’s Cave website.  The print book containing both, I got thru a book swapping site, but can be found used on sites like Half.com

Powdered Peril by Jessica Beck is the latest in the Donut Shop mystery series – and first one I actually liked.  Where I usually find the plots silly and the characters annoying, this time, the plot actually worked and characters stayed within sane limits to very near the end, and that didn’t spoil it, just annoyed me a bit.

Suzanne Hart is a classic divorced woman finding her second life and a lot of fulfillment owing a donut shop in her small hometown of Alice Springs.  Her best friend Grace has caught her boyfriend cheating on her – and apparently everyone else.  Seems Peter Morgan was kind of a small time con artist that skirted the very edge of the law, cheerfully screwing over business partners, friends and family.  Anything for a buck.  And with the attitude that his victims ‘deserved it’ for trusting him, he’s not a likable fellow.

Well Grace trusted him and until she caught him out, by of all things, his cell phone.  A phone with all his OTHER girl friends on it.  Grace, kicks him out and then goes and cries on Suzanne’s shoulder.  But Suzanne keeps very early hours, so Grace leaves for home and Ben and Jerry’s therapy.  Suzanne’s mornings start in the middle of everyone’s night, so she’s off to make the donuts – except the police are everywhere behind her shop.  A man had been murdered – Peter Morgan.

Grace is one of many suspects, but pretty much top of the list.  Plus she feels guilty.  After she went home, Peter came back, drunk and repentant, wanting get a second chance.  Grace sent him away.  Now she feels like her actions might have contributed to his death.

But Peter’s life turns out to be a lot more complex than anyone thought.  To help her friend find peace and also to try and find the killer, Grace and Suzanne start asking questions – and the answers leave Grace even more disillusioned and wins the women no friends.  It’s when their car is run off the road that they realize just how serious someone is about finding Peter’s secret.  The secret that would let him blackmail someone with a lot of money and a lot to lose.

Though the killer does toss out the clue you need, the story of Peter is really the core and overall, I found this entry a lot more satisfying than the previous books.  I think it’s because this tie, there was a very real personal link to the victim, and the story worked on several levels at once, rather than just a question to be solved.  Powdered Peril gets a solid B (4*) from me a suggested read for cozy lovers.  Under Amazon’s 4-for3 program, I bought this for $5.99.  Try and get it at one of the big discounters, like Walmart, for a good price.  At the $7.99, it’s a bit high.

Brett Battles hit the action thriller scene a few years back with a terrific first book, The Cleaner – the start of his Quinn series.  While the series has had its ups and downs, Battles has branched out and with his Logan Harper series he opted to do as several well known authors have lately and use Create Space, Amazon’s self publishing platform.  The first book, Little Girl Gone I bought in print.  Unlike his complex Quinn books, Little Girl Gone is a basic, straightforward thriller of limited complexity and very fast moving.

Logan Harper is a man with a past he’d just as soon forget.  Now he works at his dad’s garage fixing cars and living quietly in central California.   But his simple life is destroyed when he interrupts the assault and attempted murder of ‘Tooney”, the local Burmese immigrant who has run the coffee shops for decades.   A man his father and his father’s cronies, 70 to 80 something Viet Nam vets, have called ‘friend’ his whole life.  Logan saves Tooney, but the old man begs him not to call police, just call his father instead.

After pushing his dad, Harp, and the still silent Tooney, he can’t get them to budge on calling the cops.  But Harp asks Logan to drive to LA and check on Tooney’s granddaughter, Elyse, who was due at her grandfather’s house that afternoon but never showed up.  Not really understanding, but seeing how upset all the men are, Logan agrees.  A simple call at her apartment leads to her neighbors who claim she spent the night before with her boyfriend.  This leads to a house – one that is now empty and smelling of disinfectant and bleach.  Next day the house burns down, the apartment where the neighborhood boys were hanging out with Elyse’s roommates  is empty and as clean as the house – even the trash is burned.  And one of Eylse’s roommates is lying.

Stories begin unraveling and using his one contact at Forbus, the ‘security’ company that fired him, he finds the flight that’s taking Elyse out of the country.  The story moves to Thailand and the politics of Burmese military government meets the greed of oil companies.

Satisfying, believable, but without the complexity of plotting usual for this genre and no weird twists at the end.  But is it worth nearly $14.00 in print?  Not really.  AT $3.99 for the ebook, it’s a bargain.  By rating B (4*) and recommended for ebook (you can get an app for your computer, ipad, or Smartphone if you don’t own a Kindle) only or used in print.

Finally, I grabbed a book that had been sitting in mt TBR pile for nearly a year.  Burning Down the Spouse by Dakota Cassaidy was yet another look at marriage gone bad, closer to Molly Harper’s One Last Thing than Leslie Langtry’s fiasco.  Despite the snarky dialogue and some good characters, it was as predictable as sunrise in the east.

As with One Last Thing, Burning Down the Spouse opens with a very public meltdown of a wife who learns her husband is unfaithful and has her meltdown on live TV at the beginning of a national cooking show.  Walking away from 18 years of marriage with little more than the clothes on her back and dog she rescued from a dumpster, Frankie Bennet indulges in an extended bout of depression, sleeping her days away in her Aunt’s spare bedroom in her senior community in NJ.

Her Aunt Gail gets a friend, Maxine, another former Trophy wife who had to remake her life, to drag Frankie out and back into life.  In this case, a job as a prep chef in a diner kitchen.   Nikos Antonakas is the stuff of Greek legend – tall, dark, handsome and with a loud, boisterous family that seem determined to pull Frankie back to land of the living – and those who bathe regularly.

It quickly apparently that Chloe, a waitress, is none to pleased to see Frankie.  Gradually with the job and going to group therapy, and making a friend of stunning blond Jasmine Archway, another ex-wife who has a knack for numbers and keeps the books at an exotic dance club, Frankie slowly starts living again.  Nikos’ friend, a gorgeous blond ex-quarterback who was blinded in a freak accident, originally goes for Jasmine for revenge, but changes his mind and just chases her for himself.  And Nikos finds himself chasing Frankie.  But both men are hiding things – things that will come back and bite them.

Meanwhile, Frankie’s ex, the would be Emeril, is back and asking her to come back to his show.  Wait a minute, since when do you get asked back to a show that you – quite literally – set fire to?  Turns out, his audience was largely female and his cheating and subsequent round of talk shows where he painted Frankie as a nut, caused a huge drop in ratings.  He needs her back, but this new, still fragile Frankie, knows a line when she hears it and refuses.

Then we have a missing family recipe, the expected accusations, lies about cancer, and all kinds of ‘truth will out’ before we hit the sort of HEA.  As I said, predictable.  Entertaining after the first 60 pages or so, but I guess as someone who always worked for a living, the whole ‘trophy wife’ thing is a bit beyond my understanding.  Anyway, it was OK for what it was.

Amazon and PBS diverge on ratings for this book and I can see why.  It isn’t as entertaining as say, Suzanne Enoch’s Samantha Jellico series, or some of Rachel Gibson’s books, or even her own Accidentally paranormal series, but it was good.  My rating is C+ to B- (3.5*) and buy it used used of as a remainder for about $4 and get your money’s worth.

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OK, so I said Fall smelled like apples, but not many of us have time to make things from scratch these days.  One shortcut I use is frozen puff pastry.  Have you ever SEEN the recipe for puff pastry?  The famous one that opens with, “On a cool, clear, dry day ……” and estimates prep time at 36 hours?  It’s all that refrigeration between roll outs and folding of the dough.  While I have spent 3 days doing a few desserts, making puff pastry is beyond my skill level and I’m a better than average cook.  Thankfully, Pepperidge Farms sells it premade in your freezer case.  No, not as buttery as the real thing, but if it were, you couldn’t afford it.  Just go buy the stuff.  You’ll need 1 box for 2 people, so buy as many boxes as you need.

Now go to your produce department – or better still a local farm stand.  Buy 1 large FIRM red delicious apple for each person.  Put the puff pastry in the fridge for an hour or so to defrost.  Meanwhile, peel and core the apples and put in cold water with lemon juice.  In a small bowl mix (for 4 apples) about 1/3-1/2  cup light brown sugar, dash of salt, some chopped walnuts, chopped white and dark raisins (roll them in extra fine sugar and they’re easier to chop), some fresh nutmeg to taste, a dash or true cinnamon (not that cassia crap), some lemon and orange zest and mix it together with your fingers.  I do this by sight, but figure a couple of tablespoons each of nuts and raisins – and chopping them if really optional, they just fit better – and you can substitute cranraisins for nice change.  Some people use chopped dates, but I find them too sweet for me.)

Take a sheet of the dough and carefully unfold on a LIGHTY floured surface using a lightly floured rolling pin.  Take one of the apples and DRY IT INSIDE AND OUT completely!  Place in the middle of the pastry sheet.  Pull up the opposing corners to make sure it fits.  Now stuff the core with sugar, nut raisin mix and cover with a generous pat of sweet butter (the real stuff, please).  Using a pizza cutter, square off any excess pastry, but save the bits in the fridg in plastic container or covered bowl – and DO NOT mash them together.  Using a pastry brush, ‘paint’ the edges of the pastry square with ice water.  Press the edges of the sides as they meet and if you can, add a decorative twist at the top.  Place the bundle on a parchment lined baking sheet.  Repeat with the remaining apples.  If making more than 4, keep them in the fridg so the pastry stays cold.

Bake at 400F for 30-40 minutes, or until the apples are tender.  Smaller apples take less time and Yellow Delicious take less time as well.  DO NOT try and use Cortland or Macintosh apples.  They turn mushy.  Rome Beauties look great, but have low flavor levels.  If you can find them, Pippin and Northern Spy are my favorites, but they are smaller than Delicious, but might be more suitable for portion control and honestly, they have a terrific flavor.  Great for pies, too.

Now, about the leftover strips of dough – grate some good sharp white cheddar, and GOOD parmesan from Italy in about equal amounts.  Sprinkle lightly with Kosher salt, and McCormick Italian Herb blend, or use some sweet marjoram, dry basil. and a LITTLE GREEK (not Mexican) oregano, and some fresh ground pepper.  Blend with your fingers till everything is mixed.

Lay out the dough strips, brush with melted SWEET butter, cover generously with the cheese and herb mix, lift the ends and twist.  Some cheese will fall off, jut put it on the exposed sided.  Bake at 400-425F till browned.  These keep well in airtight containers, but better still, serve them hot with your favorite Italian meal and some extra sauce or with appetizers.

The baked apples make a perfect dessert plain, with whipped cream (not the canned or frozen crap, beat heavy heavy with powdered sugar and skip the damn vanilla, that a French thing and technically cream Chantilly) or good quality vanilla ice cream.   They go with nearly any kind of food.  If serving plain, mix about a cup of Confectioners sugar with 1-2 tbls of milk add gradually as the sugar thins) and a dash (1/8-1/4 tps) of vanilla.  when thin enough to drizzle, use a spoon to carefully drizzle on each apple package while still warm – but not hot.

Easy to make, tasty, and low skill levels – but high points for a special treat for the family.

December 10, 2011

Happy Holidays and Short Reviews

Well, between work, reading, and football, life has been busy – yet somehow I seem to have little to show for it.  Except a pile of finished books.  Honestly, I am such a book hog.  It’s amazing how quickly time passes these days.  First days seem to fly by, then weeks, and before I know it, Christmas is almost here.  So dressed in my holiday best, here are some very short reviews on a few of the books I’ve plowed through.

  • Title:  The Ideal Man
  • Author:  Julie Garwood
  • Type:  Romantic Suspense
  • Genre:  Lightweight romance with some suspense and weird family
  • Sub-genre:  Brilliant woman doctor with stalker meets hunky FBI agent and chasing a killer arms dealer
  • My Grade: C- (2.8*)
  • Rating:  PG-13
  • Length and price:  Novel – about 90,000+ $7-17 (used to new)
  • Where Available:  Available at most bookstores, online, and used
  • FTC Disclosure: rec’d through an online book swap site

Julie Garwood made her writing bones with Regency romance novels with unusual, plucky heroines.  The settings have changed with the clothes and technology, but the plots remain the same.  Competent, intelligent woman meets big, protective man who wants to save her ….. and basically just wants her.  Light on plot, Garwood, as always, uses characters rather than research to drive her stories.  The results are pretty predictable, basically, you read one Garwood book, you’ve read them all. (more…)

August 4, 2010

Two Mystery Reviews: Paranormal Mystery and Cozy from a New Author

  • Showdown in Mudbug
  • Author:  Jana Deleon
  • Type:  Paranormal romantic mystery
  • Genre:  Cozy style paranormal set in Louisiana; final in Ghost-in-law series
  • Sub-genre: Former under cover FBI agent living as a psychic tries to get cops on right trail of a child abductions
  • My Grade: C (3.0*)
  • Rating:  PG-13
  • Length and price:  Full novel; 80,000+ words for $7.99; some discounts available
  • Where Available:  book available wherever books are sold
  • FTC Disclosure:  purchased book from online bookseller website (more…)

July 30, 2010

Short Reviews: Two New eBook Releases from Samhain

  • Title: Bear Necessities
  • Author:  Dana Marie Bell
  • Type:  Erotic paranormal romance
  • Genre:  Shifters; expansion of the Halle Pumas series; bear meets mate
  • Sub-genre: Bear shifter falls for Outcast wolf when visiting cousin in Halle
  • My Grade: B+ (4.3*)
  • Rating:  NC-17 to X
  • Length and price:  Full novel; 80,000+ words for $5.50; some discounts available
  • Where Available:  ebook available at Samhain
  • FTC Disclosure:  purchased book from publisher’s website

I followed Ms Bell’s Halle Pumas series and generally liked her books, but with Bear Necessities she kicks it up a notch and writes a well balanced story with humor, suspense, and lots of hot sex.  It helps that I loved Alexander ‘Bunny’ Bunsen, the bear shifter hero and I really liked Tabby, his Outcast wolf mate. (more…)

December 10, 2009

Book Review: Casting Spells by Barbara Bretton

  • Title: Casting Spells
  • Author: Barbara Bretton
  • Type: Chick-lit Paranormal Romance
  • Genre: Love conquers all
  • Sub-genre:  Witches, wizards, vamps
  • My Grade: C+  (3.2*)
  • Rating: G
  • Length and price: Full novel – about 90,000 words for $10.08, but remainders available
  • FTC Disclaimer: Book purchased from online bookseller
  • Where Available: Everywhere books are sold

The light contemporary paranormal romance has some elements of a cozy mystery, but hasn’t got enough mystery to be called one.  Chloe Hobbs is the very human and unmagical daughter of a long line of witches who have acted as guardians of the small and decidedly magical town of Sugar Maple, Vermont.  Chloe is holding one of her many knitting classes that have become famous among the knitting community as is her yarn shop.  As she’s teaching some visitors and two townswomen some knitting tricks, a stunningly beautiful woman comes to the window.  At first she appears naked, but then Chloe realizes she’s wearing an expensive and very thin dress.  Suzanne Markham, despite her beauty, seems strangely sad and Chloe relents and sells her a shawl that she has for display only.  Next morning life in the village will change forever when the woman is found drowned in a local pond, apparently the victim of a tragic skating accident. (more…)

November 22, 2009

Short Review – Cowboy Cravings by Morgan Ashbury (Ménage)

  • Title: Cowboy Cravings
  • Author: Morgan Ashbury
  • Type: Contemporary erotic romance
  • Genre: Western; ménage;
  • Sub-genre: Wounded dove from NYC finds cowboy love
  • My Grade: B- (3.7*)
  • Rating: NC-17 to x
  • Length & price: 52,000 words – Short novel for $5.99
  • Where Available: ebook available at Siren
  • FTC Disclosure: ebook bought from publisher’s website

Here’s the thing with this m/f/m ménage, its sold as a Siren Ménage book and listed as ‘sextreme’, but it doesn’t read like their usual ‘sextreme’  book, which undoubtedly will disappoint some.  I thought Cowboy Cravings was well above average for character development, believability, plot, and overall writing quality for a contemporary ménage story, especially one from Siren, where sex scenes usually overwhelms the slight plots.  Others will find the book too mild for the ‘sextreme’ rating that Siren gave it and be disappointed. (more…)

November 16, 2009

Book Reviews: Two Menage Romances

Well, I haven’t been much tempted by the recent books at Siren, or elsewhere, but this week I found 2 I thought might be worth it.  All I can say is, MEH!

  • Title: Claiming Their Dream Weaver
  • Author: Cooper McKenzie
  • Type: Erotic contemporary romance
  • Genre: Ménage with a paranormal edge
  • Sub-genre: Fated mates
  • My Grade: C- (2.6*)
  • Rating: xxx
  • Length: Novella at 26,000 words for $4.50
  • Where Available: as an ebook at Siren publishing (link for convenience only)
  • FTC Disclosure: purchased ebook on line

Claiming Their Dream Weaver is rather short novella that’s long on sex and short on substance, but there is a modest storyline to hold it together.  Suz Bowen Black has an unusual heritage, she’s a Dream Weaver, something she never understood or  fully believed, But her great-grandmother Ruth is dying and she’s been called back to New Bern, North Carolina.  Suz left New Bern behind years ago, pregnant and married.  Divorced from an abusive husband who beat her till she lost their child, she went through wild period searching for an orgasm, but never found one. (more…)

October 13, 2009

On Vacation – Ultra Short Reviews

Everyone gets some time off, even me.  I’ll be gone till next week, but I promise to read a bunch of stuff I bought off the Samhain site.  I already knocked off one and hopefully a second today, so next week I’ll have the reviews up.  In the meantime, here are some books I’ve read and haven’t reviewed and just a line or two on each.

Shoots to Thrill by Nina Bruhns

Romantic suspense with a preposterous premise of a ‘dedicated’ nurse who insists on going on a spec ops mission because her patient needs her and, well, she’s just so damn dedicated.  I’m mean really, can you believe that?  The underlying mystery of who the traitor is was decent, but not enough to redeem the silly story. C- (2.6*) (more…)

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