Tour’s Books Blog

August 4, 2016

Witness Protection?

No, not hiding and not on vacation and I am not incarcerated for attacking any presidential candidate, though both have provoked me to rages at various times.  (Though I wish I was able to avoid our election coverage, it seems impossible.  It makes me want to move Australia, except they too have a huge problem and turn prime minister over faster than pancakes.)  I have been enjoying the expensive pleasure of a hard drive crash – from which they thankfully were able to save my data, followed by getting a keystroke logger that kept crashing the OS.  So it had to be lobotomized.  And it happened again.  And again.  And finally, I had them reformat the SSD and start from scratch, changed a bunch of settings, passwords, my firewall, and – much to my eternal joy – my bank account.  In all, it took almost 3 weeks and I did buy a rebuilt backup computer JIC.

Now getting a new checking account is more fun than root canals without Novocaine.  The banker was surly and treated me like scum, and despite her pinstripe suit, the young customer service person had attitude to spare and NO understanding of the bank’s rules.  I did discover my driver’s license had expired 5 days earlier and landed at DMV with 5,000 pieces of ID to prove I’m me.  Not a seat in sight (and they have over 100) I point out I’d be happy to wait, but cannot stand that long.  I end up over in an area for mobility impaired and basically get first rate service – after I filled out a form that had been copied to many times the print was pale gray on white and just barely legible if you sort of tilted it the right way.

You know, the day you can say the DMV treats you better than your own bank says so much about how big banks now treat customers.

The upside to so much computerless time, I did a LOT of reading.  The downside, I’m still fixing all the damn EFT autopay accounts.  Technology cuts both ways.  (And that damn snotty bank associate didn’t fall in a ditch.)

Well, here go the books.

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Cash Landing was on my PBS wishlist and came through quickly.  It didn’t take long to understand why.  I was a good 70+ pages into it and kept muttering, “How many times have I read a variation on this trope?”  Too many.  It was at best a pedestrian and uninspired book from a usually decent author.  The story arc was such a familiar tale I know what each character would be before it happened.  It made a tedious and unexciting read.  I mean a robbery staged by a chef, a criminal, and druggie with the IQ of a turnip was a train wreck waiting to happen.  Making them Cuban does NOT make then interesting.  Even worse, he used names that confused characters.

Cash Landing was a crash and burn and certainly not up to Grippando’s usual level.  My grade D+ to C- (2.4*) and with nearly 40% of the Amazon reviews and 3* and down, you’d be better off reading an old Hardy Boys book.  Free through PBS and will depart that way or to the food pantry.

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Stealing the Countess was the second disappoint Housewright delivered in his last 2 books.    When Paul Duclos approaches Mac about helping him ransom his stolen Stradivarius, you can tell immediately what’s wrong.  No insurance company would pay a claim on a violin of that value with offering a reward, no questions asked, for its return.  But the violin belongs to the Foundation his wife runs with her family money.  Like all Strads, it has a name, the Countess Borromeo, or Countess, for short.  Duclos is a local boy who ended up a world class violinist was asked to do a benefit in his hometown.  The violin was stolen from the suite at the B&B where he stayed and someone wisely unloaded the case with the GPS tracker on the property of one of the now richest women in the town, and Paul’s old HS flame.

Mac gets a letter forwarded from his old address that warns him away and learns the insurance investigator he knew from his initial windfall and occasionally shows up in the books, Vincent Donnatucci, sent it.  But why?

You can figure out who has the violin fairly fast, but the rest of the story, including murder and infidelity (that was obvious) and well-drawn characters keep it interesting along the way.  My score, C (3*).  Borrow the book from the library, though I bought the print book and thought it way over priced.  Stealing the Countess is NOT a keeper, just a very a very average read.

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Book 4 in the Laura Black series, Scottsdale Scorcher, is another good outing for Laura and her police and mafia love interests as a major drug gang war starts brewing and she gets caught in the middle.  Billed as a ‘romantic humorous mystery’, it all 3 elements, but the mystery part does take center stage.

Laura gets hired by Mistress McNasty, Scottsdale’s leading Dominitrix and a friend of Laura’s as well a college professor part time, to find her favorite client.  Then Tough Tony DeCenzo her to find is long time friend, former bodyguard, and now driver who has gone missing – the same man she’s already hunting for Suzie.  Hot on her trail is the Mexican drug Carlos.  She and her friends at the law office when Ms McNasty (Suzie Lu, a neighbor to Laura) is officially a client of her sleazy boss and the girls are on the case.  Using the super-secret DEA software left behind, Sophie finds four very hidden accounts that suggest the Mexicans have been paying him to tip them off.

As is often the case, there are plenty of twists and turns and the whole thing ends in a shootout that ruins Maura’s decision between Reno the cob and Max the mobster that kind of had my ‘shallow bitch’ alarm going ding ding ding.  Even with that annoyance, Scottsdale Scorcher gets a solid B (4*) rating.  Read the ebook, like did.  Available on Amazon and the author is NOT prolific.

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Yet another entry in the seemingly bottomless well of paranormal cozy mysteries to hit the market is Tonya Kappes’ Spies and Spells.  She also authors the rather blah and uneven Ghostly Southern mysteries.

Let’s summarize the whole mess this way, Maggie, our ‘heroine’ suddenly can’t make the gravy for the biscuits, sausage and gravy sold at the family restaurant.  That means her ‘witchy hour’ is there whatever her powers are, they won’t include taking over the restaurant.

Then she gets recruited by some secret agency called SKUL (no, I did not make that up, so don’t blame me.) and ends up posing as the top saleswoman for a privately held cosmetics company, a loosely cloned copy of Mary Kay with red as their signature color.  The whole thing is akin to asking a dog groomer to do brain surgery.  Seems her Witchy Hour was this hottie guy in the diner.

Oh yeah, her ‘familiar’ is her car,  Vinnie, who does NOT like the hottie SKUL agent Mick, the guy that triggered Maggie’s Witchy Hour.

Now the Amazon readers LOVED this book.  Damned if I know why.  Even for a fluff read, it was not well done.  A slight, silly, not especially entertaining, except for Vinnie, Spies and Spells gets a C- (2.8*) from me.  If you must read it and like chick lit fluff, you’ll enjoy it more.  Bought the ebook from Amazon for an insanely overpriced $4.99.  It’s now sells for $2.99 and is worth about 99 cents as a beach read.

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J. C. Daniels is one of Shilo Walker’s pen names, so Blade Song carries her usual style, just in UF.  Her lead character, Kit Colbana, a one woman all-purpose crime player, assassin, thief, investigator, whatever work come her half-breed way.  Being half human makes her an outcast, but her sword makes her damn dangerous one.  Except she also has panic attacks that all but paralyze her thanks to her abusive family upbringing.  This is classic Shilo Walker trope, a strong woman with a fatal flaw that keeps interfering with her life.

The other problem is the Walker inability to fully command her world building.  She sketches it in as needed, but never fleshes it out and breaths life into it.  It becomes a 2 character drama, Kit and Damon, her shifter ‘bodyguard’, watcher, and apparently love interest.

But no matter what name she writes under, Shilo Walker goes for the traumatized heroine and the ‘hero’ who tends to infantilize her.  It does not sit well with me.  Neither did the angsty plot.

Blade Song gets a D+ to C- (2.5*) from me because I found Kit just not a very believable character and the romance bit more icky than romantic.

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Another Neurotic Hitwoman book for JB Lynn, Hitwoman Under Pressure.  One again, the whole, ‘white hats’ and black hats’ secret organizations as well as one angry mobster, are all converging on Maggie.  It’s a very convoluted tale that bordered on incomprehensible at times with all its various detours.  In fact, too convoluted for here without a lot of spoilers.

Suffice it to say that Maggie’s sister’ kids, and her whole family are in danger over a code in a book Maggie has.  Her supposedly dead sister’s  kids are kidnapped and Maggie had to get them back while keeping the rest of her family safe – with the help from her lizard, cat, dog and now a bird that talks like he too many Soprano’s episodes.

Unfortunately, there is a sameness to these plot lines that regular readers will like or find tiresome, especially all the family crap she puts up with and unanswered questions about her brother – the one she never knew about and no one will talk about.

Hitwoman Under Pressure was a quick, light read and moderately entertaining, though I hear, One more, “We can’t discuss that,” and I’m DONE.  this overarching plot is an endless loop of non-answers.  My score is C+ (3.5*) and suggested for series fans in ebook, preferably borrowed from the library.

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 The First Hostage is the second outing for news correspondent J.B. Collins.  Covering the President’s secret visit to Jordan he is in the convoy that is returning the president to Air Force One when they are attacked by a well-organized group of ISIS soldiers who take the president hostage.

OK, that part might faintly be possible, but who gives a journalist automatic weapons and trusts his instincts over their own intelligence service?  And Collins immediately falls under suspicion as the leak to ISIS or ISIS i trying to get even for his provocative and incendiary articles about them.  One exception is a Jordanian Captain who tends to believe him that the leak is somewhere in the US chain of command.  Very few people knew the president was there, so the list of suspects is short and very high ranking.

An untrained journalist fighting with battle hardened elite soldiers is a bit of a tough sell.  SO was convincing me saw things no one else saw in his ‘reporter instincts’.

The initial pacing, taking place mostly in various intelligence bunkers in Jordan, is slow, and it doesn’t pick-up speed till the end.

While plot has some credibility issues with me, especially at the end, Rosenberg’s skill as a writer shines and his knowledge of the area and the key people, including the King of Jordan, gives it authenticity most books lack.  He writes fiction and non-fiction, so his style is professional and finely honed.  It’s the plot I found issue with.

The First Hostage gets amazing endorsements from Action/Thriller fans on Amazon with over 1,000 reviews with 85%+ at 5*.  It gets a B- (3.7*) from me because honestly, a newspaper reporter did all that?   I bought it on pre-order for just over $13.00.  Some used copies are less + shipping and Amazon’s current price is just under $18.  The paperback is tentatively set for Sept 6 and is over $9.  My suggestion, buy used or get it from your library to keep cost down.

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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.

 

 

 

December 28, 2015

Ebook Binge – Who Done It?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

November 23, 2015

Cozy Corner – Reviews of Print and Ebooks

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

November 16, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

September 24, 2015

Reviews: eBooks and Print – New Authors and Old Favorites

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

August 13, 2015

Recent Reads – The Long and the Short of Print and eBook Reviews

Obviously, I can’t write a review of every book I read, so here are some short ones to fill in a few blanks as well as some longer ones for more anticipated books.  All books below were purchased by me from online booksellers.

Better Homes and Corpses by Kathleen Bridge –  Clever title, great location, some original ideas, but in the end, another fairly predictable cozy with too much moodiness and not enough humor to make it likable.  First in a series and gets a C (3*) rating.  For cozy lovers and those who like the scenic areas of eastern Long Island with its rich, famous, and spoiled only.  Kind of tedious and yet another ‘disappointed in love’ heroine.

Grave on Grand Avenue by Naomi Hirahara – Well written and interesting story involving a Chinese cellist, a Hispanic gardener, and a valuable Stradivarius cello.  With bike cop Ellie Rush squarely in the middle of what may or may not be a tangled web.  Far better read than the typical cozy with complex, multi-dimensional characters and good plot.  Book 2 of the Ellie Rush series that deserves more attention and wider readership.  Recommended for mystery fans who enjoy some substance to their characters.  Gets a solid B (4*) rating.

Crushed Velvet is book 2 in the Material Witness cozy series by Diane Vallere.  Yet another shop owner in a small town struggling to make her business work when her new ‘bestie’s’ husband is found dead in the van used to transport Poly Monroe’s shipment of velvet.  It’s a shade better than some, but still lacks the verve that brings cozies up a level to good.  Another largely uninspired C (3*) effort in an overcrowded field with nothing special to recommend it.

The Gargoyle Gets His Girl is book 3 in Kristin Painter’s Nocturn Falls paranormal romance series.  Like book 2, Werewolf Meets His Mate, this one is a mix of light humor and more straightforward paranormal romance.  Not as clever as book 1, but a decent read in ebook.  It gets a C (3*) rating from me because I liked the characters despite the predictable plot.

The Housewife Assassin’s Tips for Wedding, Weapons, and Warfare (Housewife Assassin, Bk 13) by Josie Brown is yet another rather solid entry into this half humorous, half serious tale of independent contract assassin/security agents and the war war against a SPECTER like group of powerful, yet shadowy, adversaries bent of controlling the world – at least the economic portions.  In the middle of all this Donna Stone and Jack Craig are trying to get married with extreme interference of the First Lady, one of their prime suspects.  It’s as well dome as her earlier books blending family drama of teen and child angst, against humor and deadly serious threats.  The ending is another cliffhanger.  One of the better light assassin series out there.  It gets a B- (3.8*) from me and the whole series is a suggested read for those who like the Bombay Assassin and Miss Fortune books.  I have the ebooks, but paperback is available.

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Yes, the author shamelessly pays homage – or just flat-out plagiarized – The Thin Man movies from the 30’s and 40’s.  Murder with a Twist by Tracy Kiely has exactly the same kind of characters, atmosphere, wit, and insouciant attitude of Myrna Loy and William Powell, except here Nic is Nicola, the former cop, and Nigel is the scion of old money and instead of tiny Asta, we have a huge Bullmastiff because, “The man in the pet store said you wouldn’t like the piranha.”

Nic is not exactly welcome in Nigel’s extended family, one of the reason’s they live in California.  But it’s Christmas and they’re in NYC where Nic used to be a detective till getting shot consigned her to desk duty and complete boredom.  Nigel’s Aunt Olive nearly chokes asking Nic to help find Leo, the ne’er do well philandering husband of her niece Audrey, a shy, plain girl about to come into a huge inheritance.

Reluctantly, Nic agrees to help, mostly to watch Olive squirm when Skippy (the mastiff), makes himself at home in Olive’s very formal co-op.

The story does not take itself to seriously, much like the movies were played for character and witty banter, not complex  plot, though the book does have a decent, if obvious, plot going on and a denouement in a restaurant where Nic unravels a whole bunch of dirty family secrets.

Murder with a Twist is the first in the Nic and Nigel Martini series and despite the unapologetic copying of Nick and Nora Charles, it’s actually a fun read.  Or maybe BECAUSE it’s so obviously a borrowed pattern makes it easier to relax and enjoy a nostalgic and entertaining excursion back to a time when mystery and humor blended seamlessly into high society.  It gets a B- (3.8*) and recommended read for anyone who won’t mind the plagiarism of The Thin Man movies.

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Benedict Jacka writes the Alex Verus UF series in much the same style as Jim Butcher’s Harry Dresden or Kevin Hearne’s Iron Druid.   While Harry Dresden is easily the most complex, fully realized of the three characters, the other two are no slouches.  Veiled is the latest entry in the continuing story of Verus, his young mage and adept friends, and his rocky relation with the Light Mage Council and some members who want his dead.

Verus is a Divination mage, one who can see many immediate futures.  Each class of mage has its own gift, some, like air and fire mages are usually battle mages, other choose various kinds of magical police work, mages called Keepers.  And Alex wants to find a way into the Council by becoming an Auxillary to the Order of the Star, the largest group of Keepers handling everyday magic-related crimes.  Caught between his former master, Richard, a powerful dark mage who seems to be staging a comeback, and the treachery of the Light mages, who are just as prone to corruption and greed as anyone, Alex finds himself working for a Keeper named Caldera with whom he has some history.

Alex has to start as a probationary Keeper, one step below Auxillary, but a toe in the door.  That means getting all the crap jobs, including what seems to be a wild goose chase to an automated rail station in a London suburb where all he finds is a focus, a stone or object that mages use to store various things.  No evidence of any other magical events.  But like the tip of an iceberg, Alex keeps digging for information and ends up uncovering a plot involving Light and Dark mages and a vast store of secrets about both.

Like all of Jacka’s books, you have the core mystery involving the immediate problem and the over-arcing plot about Richard and the Dark mages and the conniving and back-stabbing of the Council.  Jacka imbues Alex with a dry wit, an insatiable curiosity. and a very approachable character.  I like Alex Verus and Jacka’s writing, but Veiled has too much rehashing of previous books/plots and makes limited – and predictable – progress with the over-arcing plot.  It gets a solid B- (3.8*) and is a suggested read for Verus fans, but not Jacka’s best.

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Chloe Neill made her name with the Chicagoland Vampires series and Mythos Academy young Adult series.  I like the Chicagoland Vamp books, but they aren’t exactly groundbreakers.  Kind of UF light.  With The Veil, she tries to enter the darker UF genre with limited success.

Lousiana is a favorite location for UF series, everything Sookie Stackhouse (gag) to the Sentinels of New Orleans.  It’s atmospheric, one of America’s oldest cities with past laced with pirates, voodoo, and a character uniquely it’s own.  It all but begs for supernatural happenings.  So Neill chose it to be the nexus of a magical war that was launched against humans by the supernatural world through a rip in the fabric of space and time separating them.  But magic is like an infection and ‘sensitives’ are sent to live in Devil’s Isle, an area of New Orleans where sensitives and supernaturals caught on this side of the veil are kept in isolation.  Being a ‘sensitive’ is a kind of death sentence.  The magic drives them mad and eventually turns them into wraiths who feed on humans.

Claire Connelly is the only child of an old New Orleans family that has run a mercantile store for generations.  She’s also began manifesting as a sensitive with telekinetic power a few years ago.  The city is blanketed with magic sensors, and should she ever use her power, it would be an automatic sentence to Devil’s Isle.  Then War Night, the citywide celebration of the win over the supernaturals, finds Claire leaving her friends and walking home – only to see a young woman fleeing two wraiths – wraiths that seem to be thinking and acting in coordination, something thought impossible.  She uses her power to save herself, but she’s been caught on camera and must run to avoid Devil’s Isle.

Liam Quinn, a bounty hunter, sees the whole thing, but instead of hauling her in, offers her a deal.  He’ll get the tapes erased if she’ll learn to control her magic.  The plot unfolds as one might expect with a blend of romance, magic, and conspiracy.  And that’s Neill’s big weakness in UF.  Her characters are good, but not original, the plot of good, but not breakthrough, and the overall feel of the writing lacks the extra dimension that elevates a book from good to great.

The Veil is good.  But kind of an average good, not in any way remarkable or innovative.  The trope is well worn, decently written and ultimately ordinary.  It gets a C+ (3.3*) and is suggested for Neill fans only.  Not a barn burner.

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Katie MacAlister is back with a new entry in her Light Dragons paranormal romance series, and Dragon Fall is classic MacAlister.  Sharp, witty, banter, sensible women, stubborn males (well they are dragons), curses, evil forces, and a doggie demon named Jim who talks a lot and has no memory of once belonging to Aisling Grey.

Aoife (EE-fuh) Dakar is the daughter of an Irish mother, African father, born in the US and raised in Sweden where her dad was an engineer for IKEA.  Her parents were killed in a car crash a few years earlier and her brother and sister lived elsewhere in Europe, but Aoife was still living in the house her dad built.  She has a rare date to a RenFaire type event, as much Goth as anything, with a man named Terrin.  She sees Terrin killed, then sees him very much alive talking to a man he said was a Black Dragon.  And there’s a ring he gave her, one he said was looking for an owner.  She tells the police about the murder, even the victim apparently being alive the killer who disappeared in a puff of black smoke.  Her brother and sister convince her commitment for a ‘psychotic break’ is the only way she’ll get over her delusions.

Two years later she’s ‘cured’ and out.  Her doctor convinced her she needed to confront her past and go back to the fair to see it was not what she thought.  Against her sister Bea’s wishes, she does and walks away, satisfied she really is cured ….. till she runs something over.  A huge black dog.  She rushes it to a vet, but he seems fine.  She gets home and the dog takes off and when she finds him, he’s sitting by an unconscious naked man on the beach.  He seems more dead than alive and getting an ambulance is impossible, so once again, Aoife has to drag this huge man up to her car and drive him to the nearest doctor that does emergencies.  Funny thing is, the man looks a lot like one of the guys Terrin called a Black Dragon.

This starts a whole string of events that twines prior books and this story together, and the reader needs at least some level of familiarity with her earlier books to understand the plot.   The conclusion lays the foundation for the next installment due in the fall.  (MacAlister often writes in trilogy form)

Dragon Fall is not MacAlister at her best.  The plot was almost painfully contrived in parts and lacked the complexity of her Aisling Grey series, so it came across as MacAlister light, which given her style was still an enjoyable read for a paranormal romance, just not up to her usual quality.  I give it a C+ to B- (3.4*) mostly because I just needed something like this and there was nothing better out there.  For MacAlister Dragon series fans, but with the caveat it not as good as her earlier ones.  If you’ve read none of her dragon books, you’ll be lost for sure.

July 30, 2015

Reviews: New Releases in Print and eBook

Here it is nearly August and parents are busy calculating how long before the kids are back in school and the routine starts again. The kids are trying really hard to forget all about it.  And I’m trying to forget about winter, which is getting closer every day.  Obviously not in time to do anything about the current heatwave.

Books, like life, sometimes come in cycles.  So do book discounts.  I thought Amazon’s Prime Day was blah, but that’s me.  I understand WalMart kicked their butt online, but Amazon will be making this event an annual mid-summer sale for Prime members – expect WalMart to follow.  WalMart requires NO MEMBER FEE and offers Free Shipping (though NOT 2 day) on orders over $35.  They had better electronics options.  Me, I’m a lot more interested in books unless shopping for something I need.  With BAM offering routine discounts on pre-orders and current stock books with free shipping for members ($25/yr), and Amazon offering some deep discounts, I ordered a LOT of to-be-released titles from both companies.  Amazon got all the trade and hardcovers and about 40% of the mmpb’s.  BAM got one large ($100.00+) mmpb order.  Many titles are due out next year and some hardcovers were discounted all the way down to $13-$14.75 – 46% to 52% off on a PRE-ORDER.  Grab when you can.  Discounts can be fleeting and by October they often stop offering them.  Remember, Amazon allows you to cancel any part of an order, BAM does NOT.

It’s not just sales that come in bunches, you’ll get a bunch of good books then a bunch that descend into, “What a waste of money!” territory ….. and you realize ‘boring’ is insufficient to the task at hand and you need to hit the old thesaurus for reviews.  I just want you to know, these reviews are not because I hate the dog days of summer (I do), but because I really hate spending money on books that are tedious and boring.  I sharpened the knives and I’m ready to work.  And it won’t be pretty, but I did save 2 good ones for last.

Here it is, one of two big releases in July and a much-touted hardcover by JR Ward, the author who made a name for herself with the angsty vamps of the Black Dagger Brotherhood.  Pardon me while I yawn.

The Bourbon Kings is a classic “sweeping family epic” replete with stereotypical characters and tired plot elements:

Daddy Dearest (who married the family with the fortune) – Abusive, controlling, hateful, liar, cheat, embezzler, and all around utterly despicable man.  (He probably had bad breath too.)

Absent Mother – Weak, insipid, lame, and a nonentity.  Rather than crawling into a bottle of the family’s bourbon she climbed into doctor’s drugs and lives – if you can call it that – in her bedroom.

Eldest Son – Heir to the business and respected by the board, he was quickly moving into position to take over the family business.  Physically broken by a South American kidnapping (likely engineered by said Despicable Daddy Dearest) who turns alcoholic horse-breeder.

Youngest Prodigal Son – Our ‘brooding reluctant hero’.  Screws clinging deb, leaves deb, falls for head gardener, declares love for gardener, learns deb is preggers, marries deb, leaves for NYC and the sofa of an old college chum where he crashes for 2 years trying to drink himself to death while torturing self for his mistakes.  Oddly, he seems incapable of calling a divorce attorney, so stupid comes in here too, though I think we’re supposed to see tortured hero.  hummmm ………. Apparently ‘stupid’ has a new definition.

Vacuous Deb – Gets knocked up deliberately to coerce youngest to marry her.  Stays at family mansion when new hubby deserts her for a couch in NYC.  Gets abortion to keep her figure.  Is screwing Daddy Dearest and …….. well, some history just repeats itself.

Middle Son – WHO?????

Slutty Sister – Vain, vapid and manipulative and does phone sex while hairdresser works on her, so throw in tacky.  (Or just throw up.  Your choice.) Complete with out of wedlock child at 17 and now a parasite on the family fortune.  Sold to a yucky toad son of liquor distributor by Despicable Daddy Dearest for an advantageous contract.  Realizes family is broke – runs to toad.  Underwear optional.

Daughter of Arch Competitor – In love with broken eldest son and holds mortgage on Bradford family estate.  Juliet to his unwilling, alcoholic, self-loathing Romeo.  These people all need shrinks.

Loyal Head Cook – and the ‘real’ mother to the boys.  Her being taken to the hospital means the Prodigal returns to the bosom of his family.  Oh joy.

Head Gardener – Blond, hard-working, honest, loyal, and a glutton for punishment for hanging around this estate despite a masters in horticulture.  Leaps to conclusions.  Maybe she should have applied to Longwood Gardens and skipped the whole nightmare of ‘forbidden love’.

Assorted hangers on, supporting players, fast cars, family jet.

Missing – Shoulder pads, big hair, catchy, dramatic theme song while panning opening film of dynastic estate, and JR Ewing – who would have at least made things interesting.  (Just a moment, I’m having an ’80’s flashback to Loverboy doing Everybody’s Working for the Weekend and need to regain my sanity.)  Great, now I have an earworm.  OK, so let’s assume you miss the original Dallas, Falcon Crest, and Dynasty, (and I’ll ignore your obvious need for therapy), well rejoice!!!!  You have found your book!  Shallow, predictable, boring, trite, tedious, boring, …… wait I said that, hang on …… insipid, dull, humdrum, and ………….. zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.

OK, there you go, if you have trouble figuring out the plot, you’re a- too young to remember nighttime soap operas, or b – as dull as this book.

Best line in the book:

Preacher to Prodigal Son at Faithful Retainers Church: “We haven’t seen you here in awhile, son.”

Prodigal: “I’ve spent the last two years up north.”

Preacher: “I’m sorry to hear that.”

Redeeming characteristics – it has an attractive cover and Daddy Dearest gets his in the end – but there’s a twist!  (Oh, just kill me now.)  HINT: It sure as hell isn’t Who Shot JR!!!!!!!!!!!!!

The Bourbon Kings is a melodramatic, overwrought, snoozefest and gets a resounding D (2*) and a suggestion that you SAVE YOURSELF!  Go buy something else, I beg you!  I swear I could feel brain cells dying by page 60.  Purchased from BAM and I should have just burned the money.  I could have toasted some marshmallows in the flames.

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If it weren’t for the fact I won Fatal Fortune in a swap game, I would never have read it.  It’s a series I liked and then it just got silly and unbelievable.  That was compounded by author Victoria Laurie getting into a very nasty ego-driven spat with a negative reviewer on Amazon.  Apparently the self-proclaimed psychic failed to predict the huge backlash her unpleasant and threatening comments caused.  It was so bad, she shut down her own blog and left Amazon.  She was lucky to not be sued into oblivion.

Well, after sitting here looking at this damn book for 6 months (I kept hoping it would just move on in another game), I figured I should at least give it a shot.  By page 100 I remembered all the many reasons I stopped reading this series, starting with improbable plots and moving onto seriously idiotic FBI relationships.

Psychic Abby is now married to FBI agent Dutch.  Candice, her best friend and business partner, is married to Dutch’s boss, Brice.  Abby wakes at just after 3AM with a feeling of dread.  She checks her cell and has a cryptic message from a stressed out Candice telling her to nothing is what it looks to be and go to the office and get a file and cash from the wall safe hidden in her closet then HIDE them.  By the time she gets home, she knows something is seriously wrong.  She hides the file and money in a vacationing neighbor’s garage and goes home ………. and starts lying to Dutch, Brice, and the police.

Candice was caught on a very clear garage camera recording getting out of her car shooting a retired physician then calmly driving away.  Now let’s be clear here, lying to a detective in a homicide investigation and hiding evidence, however well intentioned as a friend, is a one-way ticket to criminal prosecution.  That’s why I had to stop reading this series.  It gets worse.  To ‘protect’ Dutch and Brice, Abby leaves her consultant role as ‘profiler’ to investigate Candice.  She as qualified for that as I am as a heart transplant surgeon.  Worse, both men know what she’s doing and let it happen!!!!!  (Hiring standards for the FBI apparently do not include IQ tests.)

You know, there are just so many WTF moments any author is allowed before I ring the bell and yell, “YOU’RE FINISHED!”  Ms Laurie hit that magic number at page 95. I skimmed the rest of book, which unfolded as I had already predicted (Hey!  Maybe I have a future as a psychic!) and the big finale was …………. hang on, I need the thesaurus again ………  mind numbingly mundane!!!!!!!

Fatal Fortune had fatal flaws, mostly in the credibility department and then in the, ‘who gives a crap about these idiots’ department.  As a lightweight cozy, with all the flaws of that genre, it gets a D+ to C- (2.6*) and a suggestion to not bother with this series.  I cannot believe I subjected myself to this witless tripe again.  I read the hardcover, but it is available in paperback and even as a ‘free’ book, it wasn’t worth the money.  To think a tree died for this.  It’s just all kinds of wrong.

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One Mile Under is the half way point between some bad reads and decent reads, an uninspired outing for Ty Hauck.  Ty is basking in the sun being a boat bum in the Caribbean when a message from by an old friend asks to help out his daughter, Hauck’s goddaughter, a Colorado River guide.  Dani Whalen is all grown up and working a job she loves, guiding newbies and tourists on white water rafting trips.  In the middle of a trip, she spies something in the river and discovers an old friend, now a responsible young father and store owner, Trey Watkins, dead in his river kayak.

Dani’s step-father, Wade Dunn, is the small town sheriff, formerly the Aspen police chief till drink caught up with him.  His adamant refusal to investigate what he calls ‘an accident’ gets compounded when Dani learns he’s also hiding something.  Dani asks questions on her own and a not too reliable balloon pilot claims he saw what happened and he’d tell her the next day after his early flight.  Another ‘tragic accident’ kills him and his passengers.

When her Uncle Ty shows up, she finally has an ally, albeit one who initially sides with the sheriff’s version of events.  An extreme sportsman taking that one chance too many.  To satisfy his goddaughter, they head to northern Colorado farm country where the Watkins family still has their farm and find the company who was assigned the license plate Dani got from the park exit camera.  When an attempt is made by two oil tankers to kill him by running him off the road after he talks with the head honcho, Ty knows Dani is onto something.  But what?

This could have been a very suspenseful and interesting story, but read more like a ‘paint by numbers’ version of a great painting, close, but no cigar.  You know who the bad guys are early, you even know WHAT is happening (or this is your first mystery), then after that it’s all ‘follow the money’ and the usual ‘Perils of Pauline’ stuff.

One Mile Under is neither awful nor good, just blah.  It has some really good moments and a decent showdown at the end but was never compelling because too much is obvious at the 1/3 point.  It gets a C* (3.3*) and read only if you’re a Ty Hauck fan.  I bought it used from an Amazon reseller.

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Finally something that was fun, tongue-in-cheek punny, snarky, and just a hoot of a paranormal romantic mystery read are the first two books in the Shift Happens series by Robyn Peterman, Ready to Were and Some Were in Time. (Enas, pay attention here.  These are included for you!)

Essie McGee is hauling ass back to Hung Island, GA on an assignment from WTF (Werewolf Treaty Federation) with her bestie, gay vampire Dwayne.  The opening pages are a hoot and Essie is sassy, feisty, and all around solid character.  But it’s Grannie and Dwayne who keep stealing the show.  Staying with her grandmother, a former stripper, who’s 80+ and looks 40 and acts 20, is never wracking enough.  See her ex, pack Alpha, sheriff, and 6’3″ hunka, hunka of burning love, Hank Wilson, was hell on her nerves.  Plus he still smelled like her mate.  Damn.

Young pack females have gone missing and she’s there to find out what’s happening.  Why can’t Hank back off and stop driving her wild?  Somehow, she manages to work around Dwayne and Grannie’s antics, Hanks unrelenting pursuit, and her own raging hormones, to find the common denominator – a photography studio.  With a helping of Dwayne’s vampire blood, she’s able to not only save herself, but kill bad guys and rescue the other females with help from Hank, Grannie, Dwayne, and the pack.

The HEA has a catch when Grannie reveals some family secrets and we’re off to book 2 with Hank and Essie now a pair of WTF agents and Grannie ….. well, she was a lot more than a stripper.

Some Were in Time picks up at the end of the week long Jamaica vacation that Dwayne cheerfully paid for (300-year-old vamps being the wealthy kind) when Angela, looking frazzled and scared, gives them a new assignment.  Find out who on the council were working with the kidnappers of the werewolf females Essie and Hank just set free.  Of course, she does NOT care that Essie and Hank are trying to arrange their wedding, something werewolves do to keep up the human front.  Dwayne is determined to ‘help’ since is ‘maid of honor’ and can wear a dress!!!!!!!!  And Hank has to convince his older brother, the pack man-slut, it’s time to take up his position as Alpha.  It’s hard to say a lot more without giving away the whole plot of book 1, so just trust me, it’s worth the effort.

Ready to Were is an enlarged novella at 168 quick pages and free on Amazon Kindle.  Some Were in Time is full-length novel at 330 pages, still an easy fun read, and $4.99 in ebook.  Other ebook formats are available through links on the author’s website, some with lower prices.  Both get B+ (4.2*) as good, rollicking reads with solid plots, fun characters, and enough romance to add that extra something.  I got both from Amazon as ebooks.  Recommended.


July 14, 2015

Book Reviews – Various Genres in eBook and Print

Now first a word from Book Addicts Anonymous, or BAA – yes it does sound like sheep.  So, all you book addicts out there who are blaming me for enabling your addiction need sit back and take personal responsibility for your lack of control.  The fact that I’m a Book Addict does not mean you must be as well.  (If you think this sounds like your mother saying, “Don’t do as I do, DO AS I SAY!”, you’re right, it’s exactly like that.)  Just because I set a bad example is no reason to fault me for your personal addiction.  That’s YOUR problem.  I have my own.  Like an American Express card with way too many Amazon charges and towering piles of books to be read.  So deal with it ………… and pass the Cheetos.

Now, it’s been a busy month on the book front.  Let’s get started with some reviews.  And quit hogging the chocolate!

David Housewright is a very reliable and often inspired writer with his McKenzie books.  Here he does very good job with a rather predictable story arc about an ‘amnesiac’ young woman known only as Unidentified Woman #15.  He was there when two people threw her from a pickup and started a chain reaction accident on a snowy road when he stopped to keep from hitting her.  His old cop buddy, Bobby Dunston, asks him and his steady girlfriend, Nina, temporarily take her in when the hospital releases her.  Neither man quite believes her story.  When she disappears with some of his ready cash and 2 handguns from his collection, he and Nina both want know what’s going on.  She let one clue slip, Deer River.  And what might be a nickname, L, or Elle, or El.

Housewright creates a series of characters with a sure hand and begins spinning the tale of a supposedly nameless young woman who might be from Deer River.  As he begins unraveling the mystery that links garage sales to a series of thefts, to Big, the nameless power that has everyone scared, he slowly connects the dots.  He also becomes sure the one thing El isn’t is innocent or an amnesiac.

A highly readable combination of wry humor, action, and a mounting number of dead bodies that spin the mystery out.  For fans of classic PI style mysteries in the vein of Robert B. Parker and John D. McDonald, you can’t beat Housewright.

While not equal to his book, The Jade Lily, Unidentified Woman #15 is still a recommended read.  I give it a solid B (4*) rating and suggested read.  Housewright rarely comes out in mmpb, and the HC, which I bought from Amazon, rarely gets cheap, so if you’re looking for a price break, it will take awhile.  Book Closeouts does offer his titles at excellent remainder prices.  Used book prices tend to stay high as they are not that many available, but do look.  His books are worth the effort for fans of the genre.

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Amazon had a pre-publication price that was hard to refuse, so I bought this one.  I usually wait to get mine through PBS, but with their change to paid membership for full benefits, not easy to do for this author.

Gabriel Allon is about to become a father and head of The Office, what we would call Mossad.  An accomplished assassin and famed art restorer, he is not anxious to go back in the field, but he gets dragged in by a past debt to MI-5 and the young woman he rescued from Russia (The English Girl).  But what really pulls Gabriel back into the field is the chance to catch the man responsible for the bomb that killed his son and sent his ex-wife into life in an institution.

Eamon Quinn, the IRA bomber just blew up the yacht a British princess was on (a Diana clone moved to the current date), he was also the man who got away when a certain SAS operative was sold out as a Britsh spy in the Real IRA, the most violent offshoot of the IRA .  To destroy the peace process, Quinn planted a car bomb in Belfast that killed dozens and injured more after calling in a bomb threat that deliberately had police driving crowds TO the bomb.  Hunted by the IRA and the Britsh, Quinn becomes the bomb teach to terrorists from all over the world, especially the Mid-East.  Quinn’s current employer is a head of state furious at be denied the oil and gas leases in the North Sea he’d gotten the British PM to agree to under duress – the Russian Prime Minister.  Now he wants Britain and Allon to pay for thwarting him.

Allon is wise enough to know he’ll need help, that person is the British hitman who works for a Corsican Don, Christopher Keller.  Keller knows Quinn and has good reason to hate him.  More importantly he knows all the players in Northern Ireland where peace is a very uneasy condition with hate still running deep.  Quinn has worked with Gabriel a number of times, and he finds himself restless enough to agree and go back to his roots, roots he’d left behind in the Mid-East when he was a sole survivor.

The hunt is on and a thin trail of clues is all they have.  Too late they realize that trail was left by Quinn who is leading them into a trap.

A really well-done novel of international spies, intrigue, double-dealing, and three shrewd men playing a chess match with lives at stake.  The English Spy seems to continue the slow transition from Gabriel in the field to Christopher Keller taking the lead.  The one shortcoming is that lack of growth in Keller’s character.  While we get more background on him, he’s still lacking that third dimension that always made Allon an appealing protagonist.  Sill, Silva has done a marvelous and detailed job with the story on many other levels.

The English Spy gets a solid B (4*) from me and a suggested for lovers of spy, assassin, and intrigue novels.  I paid under $15 on an Amazon pre-order and it is current just over that mark, so remains a decent buy.    This author’s book do go mmpb and are usually available in your local library.  At just under 500 pages in HC, the mmpb will probably be around $10 and in small typeface, so take that into consideration.  You will be able to find good used copies before the mmpb is released.

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The first two books in A Lion’s Pride series by paranormal romance author Eve Langlais are both short, easy reads.  The plots are kind of thin and both sets of lead characters lack depth, but that’s not really her forte.   The bright breezy dialog in When an Alpha Purrs is classic Langlais.  Both books have a ‘woman in jeopardy’ element for the heroines, but otherwise they are different.  The heroines are very different people, but the pride males have a lot of common traits.

Arik Castiglione is not only a billion and alpha of his pack, he’s also something of a fashion plate and deeply attached to his perfectly styled mane, which is in dire need of a trim.  Too bad his long-time barber is off on a well earned visit with family and his mouthy niece is his substitute.  Kira is fresh off having her beauty salon burned down by her stalker ex-boyfriend who has gone off the deep end.  So she came half way across the country to her uncle’s NYC barbershop to find a new job and new life.  Instead, she found another controlling male who wanted to boss her around because he didn’t trust he ability.  HER!!!!!!  She was an excellent stylist and he was still wearing his hair like some rebellious teen!  His superior attitude finally drives her to do something drastic – and she expresses her intense displeasure by lopping off a huge hunk of his precious hair and raining down the now unattached hair in front of his face.

Arik, stunned by the temerity of the mouthy hairdresser, waits just a little too long to give chase and loses her on the streets near a fish market.  He vows to get even, especially after his beta teases him unmercifully about his pride and joy hair.  But Arik is surprised to find his planned revenge derailed by his attraction to the impossible woman.  Worse, when he delivers her home to her small apartment there’s a crude threat painted on her door.  Kira plays it off despite being obviously scared, but Arik smells wolf and calls in help from the local wolf pack.  From here on out, the story gets very formula and its brief length keeps and character  and plot depth shallow.

In When a Beta Roars, Arik’s beta, Hayder, is sulking as only a male lion can when he gets asked to babysit a wolf shifter that Arik granted protection in the well-guarded condo complex where the pride lives.  Arabella is the city wolf alpha’s sister, but Arik is the city Alpha of all shifter so even Jerrod answers to him.  Arabella had a miserable mating to a much older alpha wolf of a large clan.  His best feature is he’s now dead.  The worst is all the other males want to fight to make her their mate – with every intention of killing her for the inheritance.  It wasn’t any brilliant deduction, they flat out told her.  Jerrod’s pack is no match for her old one and she knows they’re hunting her, so the safest place to keep her is with a lion pride.

Then Hayder walks in like he owns the place.  Arabella has spent years with her head down and eyes averted to keep the abuse to a minimum.  It was so bad, her wolf left her and she hasn’t shifted in years.  Hayder is having none of that and his when she finally snaps at his bold and arrogant assumptions, he laughs and encourages her.  He seems to enjoy her feisty side.

Hayder is determined and patient.  Arabella is slow to emerge from her shell, but like a turtle, her fiery spirit peeks out more and more as she slowly grows more assured.

Despite the more serious theme, Langlais still manages a light and humorous edge to the romance of an abused woman.  This story had more substance than the slight and airy Alpha book, but remains a short, rather shallow novel, though a better one overall.

When an Alpha Purrs gets a C  (3*) and When a Beta Roars gets a C+ (3.5*) though both get much higher ratings on Amazon.  I bought the Alpha book in print and the Beta book in ebook.  Both are much too short for the price.  The book-length is under 200 pages for each title.  Frankly, at $3.99 the ebooks are overpriced for the length and the $8.99 for print is simply outrageous.  Both are modestly amusing and can be read in a fairly short single sitting.  She’s done better books.

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Kristen Painter is well known for her paranormal vampire series, the House of Comarré, a rather dark and complex series.  Here she takes a very different tone with an upbeat romance about a waitress who accidentally witnesses a murder which she records on her iPhone and finds herself on the run from mob killers.  Evading the people chasing her, Delaney James finds the file of a woman heading to a place called Nocturn Falls, Georgia to marry a man she’s never met or seen.  Well, the man has never seen her either, so it works out all around after she calls the woman from the road to say the arrangement has fallen through.

Hugh Ellingham cannot believe his grandmother arranged for a mail order bride for him through some ‘discrete match-making service’ because SHE wants great-grandbabies.  When he refuses, she threatens to take back the magic talisman that her 300-year-old witch created for each member of her remaining family.  A Duchess in England, she still rules her grandchildren with an iron hand and the threat to remove their ability to walk in the daylight.

Delaney has no intention of hanging around Nocturn Falls forever, even if it is Halloween every day.  It’s kitschy, over the top, and like candy irresistible.  And lordy, Hugh Ellingham’s place is an estate with a mansion!  Talk about out her element!  Yikes!  But her life is depending on laying low and making sure no one followed her from New York.  That means playing the game for at least week.  She just hoped she’d last that long.

Hugh is very drawn to Delaney, she’s sharp, witty, perceptive, and she’s pretty easy to look at, but Hugh had a terrible experience with his wife dying and hundreds of years later, so he’s still resistant to remarrying.  He quickly discovers she’s lying about her identity, thanks to the town’s werewolf sheriff, but the two make a deal – she’ll stay and they can tell his grandmother they are unsuited.  But plans sometimes don’t work out quite as expected.

At 370 pages in print, this lively paranormal romance was entertaining, had sharp dialog, well-drawn characters, and well done, if unoriginal cast.  Like all romances, there are improbable serendipitous events used to progress the plot that are contrived and the characters rather stock, especially the over-bearing grandmother and bitter ex-girlfriend, but nonetheless it succeeded in entertaining and keeping the reader’s interest.

The Vampire’s Mail Order Bride gets a C+ to B- (3.6*) from me.  Buy the ebook for a better deal, but the print book is not over priced.  Nothing like her better known series.

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The Magical Bakery series by Bailey Cates set in Savannah is one of the better cozy series out there – which is kind of damning with faint praise given the level of competition.  Like all cozies, it’s an easy read, but the writing quality, plot, and lively characters are a cut above.  This is the 5th book in the series and the author has kept it interesting so far.

Katie Lightfoot returned to Savannah to live and help her Aunt Lucy and newly retired fireman, Uncle Ben, open and run a bakery.  She a very good pastry chef and learning her craft as a hedgewitch, sometimes called ‘kitchen witches’ because they work with plants and nature to bring healing to the body and soul, is a big part of her life now.  The also believe in the threefold rule, whatever intent you send out into the universe will return to you threefold, so doing evil is highly self-destructive.  She and her Aunt Lucy, another hedgewitch, meet with the coven for their ‘Spell Book Club’.  This month Katie chose the book and it was written by a very young woman who obviously is under the thrall of a much older male poser.

As the conversation turns to other things there comes a pounding on the bakery door and woman calls for help.  She collapses and just manages to tell Katie she’s Franklin Tate’s niece and someone stole his gris gris before her heart stops..  Doctor’s are baffled as they can find no cause for her condition, but Cookie knows something, something from her past in Hati.  But there’s another surprise, Katie thought Franklin Tate dead for 3 months, he’d sent a message to her through a medium  Turns out that Detective Quinn, was once partnered with Tate, someone they once thought was a witch hunter, actually died right here in Savannah in the last couple of days.  What the hell is going on?

Cates weaves a tale centered on voodoo and it’s many flavors as practiced by its different branches.    As Katie dips her toes into voodoo with the reluctant help of Cookie, a Haitian immigrant, they find kind of a mixed bag of skills and willingness to help.  Former boyfriend Steven Dawes comes back for her to meet his new girlfriend, whom Katie thinks is a very manipulative young woman after his money.  She has no idea how right she is, or how deeply everything is tied together.

The plot moves quickly and, like all her books, comes back to the core beliefs of those who practice the craft.  Some very interesting characters in this one that I hope to see again.  Magic and Macaroons get a B- (3.7*) from me and a suggested read.  It’s one of the best paranormal mystery series out there.  I got a deeply discounted pre-release price on Amazon, but the book is now back at $7.99.  Try for Walmart or other discount stores if you want to buy it as Cates is a popular and widely carried author.

May 4, 2015

Quick Reviews and Comments – Mixed Genre Ebooks and DTB’s

Honest to God, if Spring doesn’t get here soon I’m going to go looking for a human sacrifice and a handy cliff to throw them off of.  Of course it will need to be someone older and more decrepit than I am, and I’m not sure how we’ll get to the edge of that cliff given my fear of heights, but what the hell, I’ll work it out if I have to.

Lord, what a disappointment.  Laura DiSilvero has done some excellent, original mysteries, notably Mall Cop and her Ballroom Dance series, but this is a ho-hum me too book group cozy that could have been written by anyone of a dozen authors.  It has nothing really remarkable to recommend it as a read.  From setting, to characters, to plot it was one big generic yawn.

Readaholics and the Falcon Fiasco gets a C- (2.8*) and barely suggested for cozy lovers only.  Her next installments are off the ‘buy’ list.

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I received an ebook ARC of Spider’s Trap, the latest in the Gin Blanco Elemental Assassin series.  Gin is now reluctant head of Ashland’s underworld.  The reluctance to take charge is causing problems, but Gin isn’t comfortable in the role she neither sought now wanted.  But living in the shadows as the feared assassin Spider is no longer possible.  That’s the secondary plot.  The main plot centers around another of Fletcher Lane’s rescues, one Gin was involved in at age 14 – a rescue that is coming back not to get her, but one of the crime bosses that she’s supposed to lead.

Though an interesting story, it had the feeling of a ‘bridge’ book that is not like the more compelling earlier books, but starts the inevitable change to different paradigm for Gin.  Don’t get me wrong, it’s a good read with a decent, if not very original – or intelligent – villain, and her usual good ending.  The best part was the unexpected twist at the very end that sets the plot for her next book and it should be a gem if she works it right.

Spider’s Trap gets a B- (3.7*) and suggested read for series fans.  One of the better, more consistent series out there.  Publication Date is July 28.  NOTE:  Shorter than her earlier books if the ebook and print book page numbering match.

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oracle's secret

OK, this ebook was not on my radar, but it was one of many suggestions offered when I asked for amusing romance suggestions.  Thing is, this wasn’t funny.  It’s more a cross between fantasy and paranormal romance and first book in a series, so no big finale.  The Oracle’s Secret was a decent, rather predictable read, with a good beginning that kind of slipped into average fantasy style ‘us vs. them’ thing.  The big plot shockers weren’t shocking and I kind of forced myself to finish it because I knew there was only one way to end it.

The Oracle’s Secret gets a C- (2.6*) and suggested pass unless you really like yet another story of a heroine having her ‘abilities’ abused by a scumbag lord.  No real standout characters or plot lines, so, meh.  Move along.  Nothing new here.

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The latest Doc Ford story from Randy Wayne White, Cuba Straits, is one of those books you’ll like or it will drive you nuts.  Not because of the plot, but because White has adopted a writing style that’s half reality and half confusing, often bizarre, dreamlike sequences.  It’s a writing style that hard to do well and very hard on the reader as it’s not conducive to the crisp, fast paced storytelling of an action thriller.  It made following the slight plot even more confusing.  Judging by the customer reviews on Amazon, I’m not the only dissatisfied reader.  And frankly, the plot was as gossamer as a spider web, about ‘human trafficking’ – only we’re talking baseball players, not the real horrible stuff like girls for prostitution.  Kind of hard to red line the old outrage meter on that one.

Despite RWW thinking this is his best work in awhile, I’d disagree.  It was more about writing style than content and more about impressing the reader with technique than telling a compelling story.  I give Cuba Straits a D+ to C- and for die hard Doc Ford fans only – and wait for the mmpb or get it from the library.  It’s not worth the price.

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In book 2 of the Housewife Assassin series, The Housewife Assassin’s Guide to Gracious Killing, Donna is asked to become the new BFF of the ‘former’ arms dealer billionaire who just finished building his tribute to excess house in her town.  With Jack still living with her as Carl, her not so dead husband that betrayed her and his country, as head of the sadistic billionaire’s security detail.  Serving Carl with divorce papers may not be as satisfying as just shooting him, but she needs to move on and that means dumping Carl – the real Carl – who now enjoys Diplomatic Immunity.  Damn, just when shooting him would solve the whole divorce problem!

The story is a blend of deadly serious action thriller with a really awful bad guy and lighthearted suggestions from the supposed Housewife Assassin’s Etiquette Guide as chapter headings.  The plot is good as it weaves Donna’s efforts at divorce with her growing horror at what the billionaire really is, to dealing with soon to be ex husband Carl – who does not take getting served divorce papers well.  It gets more interesting when Jack’s big secret is revealed.

Not as lighthearted as the Miss Fortune books or the Lexi Carmichael series, more serious action and nasty bad guys, but still in the humorous vein.

The Housewife Assassin’s Guide to Gracious Killing is not the best thing out there and certainly not worth the price of the print books, but as ebooks, they are entertaining and a nice break from predictable cozies.  My grade is B- (3.6*) and suggested read for fans of lighter action books.  WARNING:  There is one nasty rape scene that might put some readers off.  The series has 10 books so far but I’ve only bought up to Book 4.  I’ll let you know if Carl final bites it.

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Laura Black is a PI working for a sleazy, but highly successful lawyer Lenny Shapiro.  Scottsdale Sizzle, as you might expect, takes place in Scottsdale – in the summer.  (If you haven’t been there then, it’s hard to imagine.)  Her assignment is to help a guy from Chicago find his grandfather’s treasure chest.  No kidding.  The old guy made a fortune in air conditioner patents and in addition to his huge house in Scottsdale, he collected jewels.  Not just any jewels, but ones with a history, owed by famous and infamous alike.  In his last act, Grandpa’s will divided all his considerable land holding and other property between his two grandchildren, a brother and sister who are at best estranged.  Turns out there’s a damn good reason.  Les Murdock is in trouble with the Chicago mob – big money trouble – and he needs the jewels to pay them off and disappear because the FBI want him as witness in a huge criminal case.  And his sister, who is actually a nice person, not a lying con artist like her brother, wants nothing to do with him.

Written in a lively and entertaining style, with not one but 2 love interests, Reno, a police detective, and Maximilian, an under boss of the local mob.  It has good dialogue, well developed characters and a good plot.  I give Scottsdale Sizzle a B (4*) for a light romantic mystery suspense novel and a suggested read in ebook.  A series I will follow.

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