Tour’s Books Blog

February 29, 2016

Mixed Genre Reviews – Print, eBook, and ARC

Well, winter is drawing to a close but not without some departing drama in extreme cold, some snow, wild thunderstorms (and power outages) and general irritation – which kind of beats tornados any day.  On the upside, March isn’t far away and I wasn’t on the flight where a disgruntled flyer peed on a passenger – which is likely good for him and me, because he would have been castrated (by me) and I would be in jail now instead of reading and reviewing books.  Now if laryngitis would just strike all presidential candidates on both sides, I might actually begin to recover from football withdrawal ………….. but it’s unlikely.  Come on all you bio-geneticists, surely you can manage a simple ‘SHUT THE HELL UP POLITICIAN’ virus easily spread by rubber chicken dinners.  We the people would be forever grateful.  I can’t promise to shower you with great wealth, but I might share my dried figs with you and I won’t pee on you.

On the book front, it’s been kind of a mixed bag of mediocre across all genres.  Disappointing, really, especially when some of the releases were long delayed.  Really loooooooooong delayed.  Anyway, where we go:

This book was delayed multiple times thanks to the author getting lost in the conference, fan-faire swirl and then health problems.  Still, it was such a good series I hung in there and waited (OK, not really patiently) for her 4th book.  I dearly wish I could say it was worth the wait.  It wasn’t.

It starts off prosaically enough with Alex getting called to go to police HQ to raise a ‘ghost’ that was murdered.  And everything goes sideways.  This is not helped by the fact she can no longer trust the man – well Fae – she was falling for, Falin Andrews, a knight of the Winter Court who now is charged by his queen to live with her to convince her to become one of the court.  Alex is a very rare plane weaver and all the courts want her – what she finds out is she actually NEEDS them.

At her birth, her father charmed her to protect her from the courts.  He won’t even acknowledge to which court he owes his own allegiance.  A but after the near disaster at the morgue, he sends for her to explain why her powers are diminishing.  She needs a line to the Fey to feed her energy.  Without, she’ll die.  She gets an offer from the King of Shadows, but Falin drags het back to the Winter Court so she can heal and keep the queen from going mad.

Alex has little choice, she needs a source of power, but feels she needs more information before choosing a court, something she never thought she’d have to do.  So for solving the mystery of the murder at the court, Alex demands a year of freedom with a line of energy to keep her alive.

The story seemed to progress at a snail’s pace and there was not real progress in character growth or plotline beyond what little happened right at the beginning.  No big revelations.  No shocks.  No major plot points resolved.  Just ……. OK.  She gets a year reprieve.  It only took 300+ pages.

Grave Visions gets a C (3*) rating.  It felt like a filler book, not an essential piece of the over-arching plot.  The story was a lethargic as Alex and the mad queen was over-played to an annoying level.  It’s still on sale at Amazon for $6.47, but it is a buy for hardcore fans only.  It’s a book that can wait till used copies or library copies are available.


Yes – I snagged an ARC of Stiletto, the long awaited sequel to Daniel O’Malley’s brilliant book, The Rook.  This is where the effusive praise should start, but won’t, because man, was this sophomore outing a tough slog.

At a hefty 500+ pages it had only 300 pages of story,  The first 10%+ of the book was a detailed rehashing of the origins of the Grafters and their view of what happened on the Isle of Wight.  It was dull – not kind of dull, mind-numbingly dull.  Then, much to my everlasting disappointment, this becomes not the ongoing story of Myfanwy Thomas, but a story of the Checquy/Grafter merger.  This explains why the book was changed from Myfanwy Thomas, Bk 2 to Checquy Files, Bk 2.

Finally, our two protagonists emerge, Pawn Felicity Clements and Odette Leliefeld, both 20-somethings one from the Checquy and other the many times great-granddaughter of Graaf Ernest, one of the founders of the Grafter’s.

O’Malley proceeds to tell several concurrent stories from multiple points of view.  Odette and the fact the Grafters are hiding the fact they have a group of dissident young Grafters, called The Antagonists, after them to stop the merger,  and Felicity who has been raised to be suspicious and distrusting to the point of irrationally hating the Grafters.  In all of this, various side detours are taken on the history of other characters and Myfanwy puts in a quick appearance, as do some new, and fairly unknown members to the Court.  The book, however, centers around Odette and Felicity.  The plot is convoluted, which served O’Malley well in The Rook with essentially a single narrator – Myfanwy past and present.  Here, the story loses much of its strength because of the flip-flopping and then dragging Ernst and Myfanwy back in and throwing in a rabid paranormal who is committing random acts of murder by growing pointed crystals that impale dozens of people at once.

Got all that?  Oh yeah, The Antagonists – they are Odette’s best friends.

While the pacing went slow, fast, slow, fast, even, O’Malley seemed most comfortable and polished when writing about Myfanwy.  His prose and clarity of thought was less certain and more inclined to be repetitive when trying to write Odette and Felicity.  Of the two, Odette seemed to become the most complete character at the end.  But the book was NOT in the same class as the far more refine, creative, original, polished, and fascinating story told in The Rook.  While fans will praise and swoon, be warned, Stiletto NOT on the same level.  I did, however, like the final chapter where O’Malley seemed right at home.

The flaws here are the kind of things you see in the second book by an epic historical fiction or fantasy author where they did not have the luxury of time, or maybe inclination, to polish a work to a fine gem or even develop a plot that moved seamlessly through the tale.  It’s choppy and seems to take occasionally pointless detours.  Stiletto gets a C+ to B- (3.7*) and suggested read for The Rook lovers.  It does not have enough to recommend it for any price over $15, so if you can wait, do so, or order while it’s still sale priced.


The stand-alone thriller by Eisler had good and bad points – but the bad outweighed the good for me.  The God’s Eye View is about an NSA spy program that was not approved by Congress as it violated Constitutional rights, but because it can be created, it IS created.  Now the Head of the NSA has weathered the whole Snowden fiasco, but has a new problem on his hands, so the General, with his next in command, a man he saved from a burning vehicle during one of our Mideast wars, warns him that the smart analysts who caught the current problem needs to be on the team, but could prove a threat to the potential uncovering of the secret program.

Evelyn Gallagher is uncomfortable around General Remer and his ruined face, but as Director General Anders aide, he ran the office.  Eve’s new program found a link between a journalist and an operative in Turkey and now she will have a high profile place with some of the ‘inner circle’ at NSA to investigate things.  The two guys in question both die – seemingly in accidents.  Now the two killers sent after the journalist and ‘rogue’ NSA officer are both working for General Anders.  The giant of a man, Manus, is deaf …… and by golly, wouldn’t you know, Eve’s son is deaf too!  OK, can everyone see where the plot goes after Anders assigns him to watch Eve?  Huh?  Anyone?  Yeah, me too.

On the plus side, the whole ‘secret spy system’ God’s Eye View is plausible and Eisler used many of the documents released by Snowden, whom he obviously admires, as the foundation for his concepts.  On that level, the book succeeds.  The characters and plot do not.  But what really tore it for me was the closing scene where Remer, who has stepped into his old boss’s job, makes up the name of a new ‘less intrusive program’ and the committee approves it.  Does anyone remember the closing scene in the first Jason Bourne movie where the CIA guy is testifying and says, “We’ve closed that program down, but we have new a new program, Blackbriar.”  I swear it was a direct lift of that scene.

The God’s Eye View is scarily real one level and frustratingly banal on another.  Eisler basically blew it on the characters and predictable plot, which is a shame given how well he did with all the technology aspects and their impact on just how far the government is overstepping Constitutional limits.  I’d love to give the book a high rating for core plot, but how he played it out with his characters, stops that.  The God’s Eye View gets a C+(3.5*) and could have been so much better had he just used a less predictable and rather shallow group of characters.  Purchased from Amazon.  If you MUST read it, but or borrow the ebook.  It’s not a keeper.


Lisa Shearin’s third outing of her UF series, SPI Files, is The Brimstone Deception.  There’s a new drug in town and taking it lets ordinary humans see through the glamours that all the paranormal citizens cast to get along in life.  Of course, seeing demons, pixies, dragons, and trolls is not the trip they planned on.

Makenna ‘Mac’ Fraser is trying to have a nice, semi-romantic (maybe) lunch with Rake Danescu – a rich goblin (They’re very handsome, but have oddly colored skin.) who brought the powerful talisman to NYC that set off all the events in Book 2, The Dragon Conspiracy.  Unfortunately, her highly suspicious partner, Ian Byrne, decides to take his own date, Kylie O’Hara, a dryad.  The two men …… males ……… glare and taunt right up until a human goes crazy and starts yelling about all the supernatural creatures in the restaurant.  While Mac might be interested in going up in flames with Rake Danescu – maybe – a guy screaming about monsters and knocking over a Bananas Foster carts setting the place on fire was NOT what she had in mind.

In the following melee as sups run for the door right along with humans, Rake makes a gracious, but hasty rear exit.  Kylie, Ian, and Mac stay and work with the cops, one of whom was Ian’s former partner and a sup himself.  And a dead guy ….. well, sup suspect at a very posh apartment, Sar Gedeon, a drug dealing elf lord who got exiled, but apparently back – and very dead.  At his super posh NYC address, they find goblins and the mistress of the not so dearly departed and a portal opened by a demon or black magic – the smell of brimstone.

Shearin handles her light, but interesting, plot with her usual deft humor combined with plenty of action for Mac and Ian and everyone else, including Rake.  I like her writing and humor, but her books are short, easy reads with relatively straightforward mystery type plots with enough twists to be both interesting and fun.  I give The Brimstone Conspiracy a B- (3.8*) and a suggested read to all Shearin fans and a suggested series to those how like their UF with a touch of humor.  Purchased from an online bookstore.


May 30, 2009

BOOK REVIEW: Gone Tomorrow by Lee Child

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

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

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

March 22, 2009

BOOK REVIEW: Fault Line by Barry Eisler

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

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

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

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


March 3, 2009

BOOK REVIEW: Shooting in the Dark by Carolyn Hougan

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

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

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


February 20, 2009

BOOK REVIEW: The John Rain Series by Barry Eisler

Rain Fall My Grade: A-

Hard Rain My Grade: A

Rain Storm My Grade: A

Killing Rain My Grade: A-

The Last Assassin My Grade: B+ to A-

Requiem for an Assassin My Grade: B-

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The John Rain series would all be rated R

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

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


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