Tour’s Books Blog

November 11, 2016

A Last Post and Then – A Long Break

I suspect you’ve noticed I’ve been posting less these last few months, in part due to repetitive computer issues and in part due to issues with my eyes.  Like most folks my age with light eyes I’ve had cataracts for years.  These last few months saw a marked changed in my vision and it is difficult for me to work on the computer for any length of time.

Yes, I am getting surgery on both eyes, but I have to wait for openings which put’s it out later than I had hoped.  Still, it will be good to get it done.  Hopefully, it will be drama free and mark the end of a very expensive year of car repairs, extensive dental work, multiple trips to the computer place (where I was mistaken for an employee), and ending with eye surgery.  Could have been better, could have been worse.

I’ve been on a spy/assassin/action thriller binge with multiple authors in various formats.  I belong to Goodreads and I occasionally post (in fits in starts) in two groups, The Orion Team, a group for fans of action thriller/spy/espionage type books and the VERY large Mystery, Crime, Thriller group.  I am almost never around the fantasy and paranormal groups I belong to.  The latest Mitch Rapp book, Order to Kill by Kyle Mills who took over for Vince Flynn and did a really spectacular job of The Survivor, the previous book in the series is reviewed below.  By comparison, I found Order to Kill …… well, average or slightly above.  My comment brought out Ryan – self-styled ‘The Rappologist” – a Mitch Rapp superfan who runs a blog dedicated to Mitch Rapp who took exception to my views.  So I did something I rarely do, I sent an email to the author, Kyle Mills.

Now I email my many political representatives and office holders in DC and tell them off or agree with them (can’t remember the last time that happened) and sent the email expecting ‘Thanks for writing’, canned reply of a similar nature.  But lo and behold, within a few hours Kyle Mills replied himself.  And not some rote response, but a thoughtful look at what books of his I liked and how I loved The Survivor, but not Order to Kill.  A part of his response was:

“My impression of the Rapp books is that he is a bit of a superhero.  Realism is less important than the fact that he be the master of his universe.  Part of that is shown through his actions and part is through the deference others show him.  Further, because The Survivor leaned toward the cerebral (in the context of the series) I wanted to do more of a pure action thriller this time out.”

I thought about his reply awhile and about what books I liked best and those that ended up annoying me and came to the conclusion I do prefer the cerebral thriller.  There’s plenty of action, but the characters are more nuanced, flawed, and human, so more relatable.  See, even a thriller teaches us something about ourselves.  And kudos to Mr Mills.

On to the reviews!

PS – Belle Chasse by Suzanne Johnson, the next in the Sentinels of New Orleans series is due out next week.  If I have a moment, I’ll post a short review before surgery.  Happy Holidays!

NOTE: All books purchased by me unless otherwise noted.

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Order to Kill has Rapp back in Pakistan works with the team of ex-Seals to locate the now mobile nuclear missiles the Pakistani Army is playing dangerous games with.  Then he is pulled away when the wife and son of the Louis Gould, the man who tried to kill him, are in jeopardy.  Apparently, the safe home in South Africa is breached by ISIS rebels led by a low-level Russian thug.  Rapp saves the day (of course) but feels this urgent need to get back to Pakistan.  He sends the mother and son to his house the one he’s he’s finally finishing so many years after the death of his first wife.  The best line in the book is the interior decorator who is increasingly frustrated by his non-responses to texts about things like countertops and threatens him with pink Formica if he doesn’t reply.

Then we go off the rails.  Mills’ Putin clone orders his best assassin to kill Rapp.  And the ‘Rapp is Superhero’ song begins.  It’s annoying beyond belief.  Everything in Pakistan will fall apart if Rapp is there and without him their operations are crippled?  Seriously?  He’s the ONE man who can see this and wreck the ‘big plan?  Maybe he should check with the Johnny Carson estate to see if his Carnac hat is available for sale.  All Rapp was missing was a clingy body suit and big red ‘S’ on his chest.  I just took what came next as shallow, predictable, and kind of tedious in that like a romance novel, the ending was never in doubt, just how he got there.  You couldn’t even hate the competent Russian assassin, who was just doing a job.  We can hate ISIS, but big deal.

What’s missing?  Well, there’s plenty of action and the pacing is excellent.  Mills knows his way around writing a thriller, but in trying to imitate Flynn’s later works where Rapp is less human and more a cartoonish, shallow, always right, he lost the nuance that he brought to The Survivor, what I thought was one of the best books in the series for some time.  That he deliberately changed the style to better match Flynn is precisely why I found myself annoyed with it.  I’d grown tired of Flynn turning Rapp into an almost inhuman superhero.  I did like Grisha Azarov, the Russian assassin and he has some potential for future books as he manages to get away from both Rapp and Russia.

If Mills sticks with this ‘superhero’ approach, I’ll likely quit buying after the next book.  It’s like a good, but unsurprising action movie rather than an intellectual challenge with action an integral part.  Plus Rapp is getting too old to be fully credible in plots that are all about physical challenges without the redeeming factors of human error or character flaws.  To his credit, he did leave Rapp with the widow and child now living in his house and not knowing how to handle things.

Order to Kill gets a C+ (3.4*) rating for me and will be loved by dedicated Rapp fans – 70% of whom gave it 5* on Amazon.  I found it tedious and annoying and actually a step back from the far better book, The Survivor.  There are far too many of the ‘James Bond’ superspy genre out there.  Shallow and to me, ultimately unsatisfying.  Read it if you are a Flynn fan.  I’m sure you’ll at least like it as it is was well written and paced and you like the ‘avenging crusader’ style of thriller.  If you’re NOT a huge fan, borrow it from the library, buy it used, cheap in about 6 months (or less as remainders are already down to $10 including shipping on Amazon) or hit the FOL sale in about 2 months when they start removing extras from their shelves.

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Scot Harvath, like Mich Rapp, is getting a bit long in tooth (this is book 16 to Rapp’s 15th – but Flynn’s death caused a break in time before a new author was selected) to be the only guy to do the job again, and again, and again.  Like Kyle Mills and Vince Flynn, Thor brings a sense of realism to his settings and action, but Foreign Agent lacked the originality of his earlier books and like Rapp, Harvath has become a bit too much – though Thor is giving him more humanity and a strong sense of his mortality.  The series is suffering from character fatigue.

Harvath, like Flynn, chose to go the route where action takes priority over over character and complexity of human nature.  The plot becomes the story and characters are stoically going through the motions of playing out scenes.  I give him credit for slowly developing the self-realization of his and the fact this cannot last.  Still, it’s almost cut a paste in parts from prior work.  Not a patch on Black List, which was excellent, one of his best.  This can be a trap when the protagonist must start confronting in changes age brings and the equally harsh realization that they want a life beyond the endless action, beyond being responsible for the whole world.

And it is that humanity, the flawed person, that makes characters go from good to completely memorable.  And it’s that element of the plot that raises a book from decent read to amazing.  Now you can do that with some other elements like he did with Black List, but that made the PLOT great, not the characters.  Here, the plot cannot push the book from average to amazing.  It’s a decent plot – and like Kyle Mills, he mixes Russians and ISIS are the antagonists against whom Harvath must match wits and killing skills.  But here the Rissian involved with ISIS is not an apolitical professional assassin like Mills’ Grisha Azarov, but a nutcase who hate Americans.

Again, no question Thor knows the area, the techniques, technology, and keeps things moving, but he’s at the ‘fish or cut bait’ point with Harvath.  Made a few books more, but his character is too old and fire that drove him is changing.

Foreign Agent gets a C+ to B- (3.5*) and will be a huge hit with action thriller fans.  It shows less prescience and tension than Black List, the book I now judge his others by.  Like all books in the action Thriller genre, the price on remainders drops like a stone pretty fast and you can get a HC new book delivered from an Amazon reseller cheaper than the paperback.  Or go buy it at the FOL sale or borrow it from the library.  It wasn’t worth the HC price, but I share this series, like the Rapp series with my brother, so off to him it goes.  Print only.  He and amy SIL do NOT do ebooks.

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Victor the assassin is back with another excellent installment.  Unlike characters like Rapp and Scot Harvath, Victor is a true anti-hero.  An assassin for hire with a certain code, the first priority being his own survival.  He trusts no one and leads an existence devoid of human ties.  But he keeps his promises.

A Time to Die finds Victor on a train to fulfill a contract for MI6 as part of deal they made.  But he’s not alone.  There are other assassins out to get him.  Someone has put a price on his head.  But Victor now has his focus divided between Rados, the worst of the many Balkan war criminals and mass murderers, now a crime boss, and those who are hunting for him.

Patience and attention to detail are what have kept Victor alive when most other assassins would have sought retirement and refuge.  But it also means someone sold him out and it can only be one person – the middleman who acts as the go-between Victor and is clients.  No time for that now, now he must find a way to dig deep enough into the criminal underground to find Rados who has evaded all who have sought to bring him to trial for war crimes.

It is a wonderfully twisted knot of a killer seeking to kill a killer while another killer is trying to kill him and the target that Victor ends up close nearly gets to live …….. but he seals his fate by causing Victor to break a promise.

Assassin novels are very different from ones where the protagonist is a hero fighting for a cause or belief and someone who has made his life about the art of killing and going unnoticed.  Victor is gray, he has limits, a personal code, but is morally flexible on some things.  He does not kill unnecessarily nor is he any kind of patriot.  Just a killer.  Complex and fascinating in his own way.

A Time to Die poses some interesting perspectives on the nature of true evil.  One of Tom Wood’s best and most mature from a plot and character perspective, with plenty of action and twists.  It gets a solid B (4*) and a highly recommended read for fans of early John Rain books by Barry Eisler, Solo by Jack Higgins, or Shibumi by Trevanian.  I’m not sure why this series is not more popular.  It’s really well done a Victor makes a wonderful anti-hero.

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I bought the ebook, Tokyo Black by Andrew Warren, the first in the Thomas Caine series, from Amazon through a Book Bub sale and figured I’d give it a try.  Tokyo Black is about an ex-CIA covert operative who got set up and is getting set up again by the same man.  Using an alias, he’s lived a comfortable and quiet life in Thailand’s resort area doing minor smuggling of designer knockoffs.  His partner sets him up with a narcotics rap and he lands in prison.  His was out is an ex-lover who needs him to some work in Japan, part of his old territory before things went sideways in the Mideast.

This setup moves quickly into the story where Caine is in Japan where he uses a favor owed him by a Yakuza boss to try and find out what’s going on.  Unlike most spy novels, this thriller is more tied to organized crime than national secrets or terrorist groups.  Sort of The Godfather meets John Rain – and I hope that didn’t give away the ending, which was well done.

The story is a really good, fast-paced read but not nuanced as I like my thrillers, just a personal preference in style.  Caine is a really good character and it will be interesting to see where this goes as he ends up agreeing to work freelance for the CIA.

Tokyo Black gets a solid B (4*) from me.  For lovers of the John Rain books, Gray Man series, and the Keller books by Lawrence Block.

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From well-crafted thrillers to mystery fluff with as much substance as meringue.  Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing inherently wrong with fluff when it’s well done, which this is not.  In the tradition of Clive Cussler, Tom Clancy, and James Patterson, we add Janet Evanovich, aging doyen (75 years old) of the increasingly awful Steph Plum books (once favorites of mine, 14 books ago), cooking up ways to ‘expand the brand’.  God, the money machine runs on her name.  The books are mostly written by her co-authors, but it is HER name that sells them.

Curious Minds is mildly original, very choppy, meant to have this brilliant and eccentric lead character (a copy of the TV series version of Elementary, except Emerson Knight has none of the flaws and is a LOT richer) and the ever reluctant female in the late 20’s trying to break into the financial world who is assigned to keep him as a customer of the financial house.  Riley Moon is the reluctant sidekick in his plans.

This is supposed to be funny, and apparently, some people found it so.  But a decade’s old scheme to replace the gold in the US Federal Reserve in NYC with gold plated tungsten while moving the actual gold elsewhere is not only improbable, it makes no sense how Knight works it out.

Curious Minds has a few really amusing throw-away lines, but it was so choppy and jittery, it got annoying.  Though it got 3* from me on GoodReads, it’s really a D+ to C- (2.6*) effort.  I know the style was deliberate, but that did not make it less annoying.  Riley is too young for her years and lacks the maturity to make this pairing work, so she comes off a dimwit with multiple degrees from Harvard, an unlikely combination.  I found it frustrating as the concept was good, it was just not well done.  For Evanovich fans, none of this will matter.  For anyone else, give it a miss or get it free or really cheap somewhere.

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Oh dear God, why do I do this to myself?  I hate chick lit and buy the ultimate chick lit ebook because of the reviews.  On the upside, I got it super cheap, on the downside, about half way through I gave up.  It was that or throw up.

OK, a psychologist learns her building is being demolished and the two weird people she shared the practice with both knew and had new jobs.  She’s left holding the bag with even her file lost.  (The improbability of all this boggles the mind.)  So she starts a column called The Breakup Doctor with the help of the friend she was counseling when the demolition started.

She starts getting clients and missing the fact that she also missing all the signals her own romance is about to hit the rocks.  All that was missing was a flashing neon sign.

At a quarter of the way through, I’d had enough.  It’s mildly amusing, annoying, and beyond belief – with amusing being only 20%, 50% annoying and 30% not remotely believable.  The Breakup Doctor gets a DNF since I couldn’t make myself finish it.  The writing was solid but the characters everything I loathe in chick lit.  Unless this is your thing, (please, don’t tell me, I’ll just cringe) give it a miss.  If it is your thing, it gets 4.5* on Amazon, but they tend to overrate these things.

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OK folks, it came election day and I read it all that day.  I did vote first.

Belle Chasse picks up soon after DJ and Jake make good their escape from the trial Zarkovi  – with the help of Christof Winter Prince, Jean Lafitte, René, and Adrien – getting Eugenie out at the same time.  The are now in Old Barataria at Jean’s home.  Alex stayed back to get the inside scoop on the Council.

The pace is quick as Faerie descends into civil war with the queen on her deathbed.  Eugenie’s sister is killed by vampires – but who did it?  Rand, the elf father of Eugenie’s son, the or the wizards?  Then a group of vampires attack Lafitte’s home in Old Barataria and end up paying the price as the gang arrives back before they can kill any but the undead.  Then a strange woman arrives who turns out to be her cousin Audrey, Lennox’s daughter.  They a young ally to get holy water and take messages.

Then the war the war in Faerie goes bad as Florian kills their aunt and claims Christof is to blame seeking help from the council, help denied by Zarkovi.  With the holy water and her staff, they get to eavesdrop on the council meetings.

The ending is fast and furious as Zarkovi grows more desperate to prove himself.  Old loyalties die hard, but we also lose one of the characters I really liked, so it kind of sad.

Suzanne Johnson did a really good job in keeping this series fresh and interesting and action packed.  Belle Chasse ends on a very surprising note.  Only downside, the book was pricey for a trade sized hardcover just barely over 300 pages.  I give Belle Chasse an A- (4.8*) but a big negative on cost.  Borrow it from the library or wait for a few months and get a used one.  Even the ebook is overpriced.

September 21, 2016

Binge Reading – again

Yes, it is a bad habit.  I know that.  Maybe as bad as my addiction to dark chocolate – though I see that as therapy that keeps me from killing annoying authors.

The computer caught that damn keylogger again and 4 days later I finally am back up and running.  So there are a lot of books to get through as I try to once again forget that day 15 years ago when our lives changed forever.

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 Lest we forget

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Let’s start with a new author that impressed me – Chelsea Field  – with her first two books.

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Here’s the setup in Eat Pray Die – Isobel (Izzy) Avery is an Aussie hiding from a loan shark her scumbag ex-husband owes money and expects her to pay up.  So she takes a dangerous job.  One person in hundreds of thousands can taste poison and poison has become the weapon of choice for assassins.  So the rich hire tasters – like kings did in the Middle Ages where the condemned often became the King’s taster.  The difference is the odds of survival for these rare people are much higher thanks to their weird genetic anomaly, the same one that lets them taste and identify poisons.  Izzy just finished training and has her first case – or so she thinks, but he’s really her final test, until a client dies and he has to reveal himself as part of the investigative branch   So as he recovers from the poison he deliberately introduced into her food at breakfast, Izzy finds herself caught up in an investigation and trying to avoid the legbreaker, Mr Black, sent the by the Aussie loan shark and dealing with her easy going male apartment mate and the horny older woman across the hall.  Her ‘client’ turned trainer and Taster investigator, too handsome for his own good, Connor, all get introduced while she tags along on the poison investigation of one of the Society’s client’s.

Izzy turns out to have a knack for trouble and her attraction to Connor is sort of like cuddling up to a glacier.  But she also i good at unraveling puzzles, like murders – in her own stumbling fashion.  AT over 300 pages, it stayed a fast paced, amusing read with likable and believable characters.

Book 2 – Hunger Pains – has Izzy on her first real assignment as a taster for a blogger about to blow open a huge tech story – making him a target and keeping him away from heroin – the addiction he gave up 18 months ago, are as much a part of her job as tasting his food for poison and just laying around getting bored – and a tiny big plump.  He was as also agoraphobic and addicted to spicy cheese doodle from Mexico Izzy often went to buy at a local bodega.  Then he sends her home to sleep and he tests his new freedom and walks to the bodega himself – and she finds him the next day, dead from an overdose.  Not her fault, yet she’s treated like a suspect because she didn’t stop it.  But Izzy is convinced nothing is what it seems and she once again finds herself working with Connor.

The mystery here is more complex with more pieces on the board than in Eat Pray Die and a bit better done.  both are done with a light touch, but absent the OTT screwball situations and real mysteries driving the plot with the character stories wrapping around it.

Eat Prey Die gets a solid B (4*) and Hunger Pains gets a B+ (4.2*).  Highly suggested reads for fans of light, but not cozy, humorous mysteries.  Good characters and Izzy is fun.

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Image result for which is when it all beganImage result for which is when it all beganImage result for which is when it all beganImage result for which is when things fell apart adele abbottImage result for which is when things fell apart adele abbottImage result for which is when things fell apart adele abbottImage result for witch is when the floodgates openedImage result for witch is when the hammer fellImage result for witch is when my heart brokeImage result for witch is when i said goodbyeImage result for witch is when stuff got seriousImage result for witch is when all was revealed

The Witch PI books by Adele Abbott, an English author using English setting range from very good to a jumbled, annoying mess.

Witch is When the Penny Dropped was the setup for Jill Gooder, adopted as an infant, she knew her mom was alive.  With her adopted dad, a PI, as her mentor, she learned the business and looked for her birth mother only to be told to never contact her again.  Her adopted parents now dead, she’s running a shoestring PI agency in her dad’s old office with his knitting crazed secretary – who works for free just to get out of the house – and her older sister, Kathy, (a bit bossy) and mellow BIL plus niece and nephew round out the core cast.

Jill gets a message her dying mother needs to see her, but after two rejections, she’s unwilling to go till sis insists it’s the right thing to do and will bring her closure.  At the hospital, her mother wakes just long enough to yell, “You’re a witch” and dies.  Her aunt tries to get her to come to the funeral, but she arrives late and refuses all overtures from family and leaves.  Aunt Lucy comes to town and meets Jill for tea – and it turns out, Jill is a witch, one her mother hid among humans for years to protect her, but now she must fast-track her learning because someone is out to get her.

It all seems like such foolishness till she tries a spell from the book and finds she and her cat can talk.

Not the best in the series, a bit confusing in that it felt like a few key elements were left out, but over all, a C+ (3.3*) effort.

Witch is When life Got Complicated picks up with Jill training with Grandma – not a warm and fuzzy one either and cousins Amber and Pearl, Lucy’s grown twin daughters, are annoying distractions. and spends way too much time with Amber and Pearl and frankly, the signs of the plots holes big enough to drive a truck through appear.  We get and evil witch, and icky guy friend, and cousins more irritating than my own – and trust me, that takes a LOT.

With each book, you get a small mystery Nancy Drew could solve between English Lit and Trig classes.  The humor gets strained and so does the oddly rapid pace of Jill’s powers.  About book 8 I got the, “Kill me now and let this be ober with!” speed read mood.  Subsequent books did not encourage me to slow down.  It wraps with a none to shocking reveal about who is the ‘Big Bad’ and ends with the evil witch assuring her she has yet to meet her real enemy, The Phoenix.

That is it, the whole 12 books that get increasing annoying with talking cats doing semaphore and naked ghosts and such.  What had a decent start became a choppy mess of piecemeal life that frankly, you just stop caring about it all.  Mrs V, the ever knitting secretary is sane.  The rest are suspect.

The books ranged from D+ (2.4*) to B- (3.6*)  All are short – and trust me, that’s a good thing.  Price is too high for what you get.  If you want to read them, borrow them from a friend.  DO NOT WASTE YOUR MONEY.

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Unraveled is the 15th outing for Gin Blanco, the Elemental Assassin and unwilling nominal head of Ashland’s underworld, she, her sister police detective sister Bria, adopted brother Finn (Bria’s boyfriend), and her lover, Owen Grayson.  Finn’s conniving mother left him one thing, the deed to a poor man’s western theme park in Georgia, so off they go, much to Gin’s disgust.

But once there, it gets pretty obvious things aren’t what they seem and it’s a good thing Gin came prepared – she packed all her knives.  The Christmas spirit is lacking when people start trying ti kill Gin.  Now, after being the most feared assassin in Ashland for years and now nominal head of the underworld – while she rather just run the diner, Finn is hellbent on this and she won’t disappoint him after what happened with his mom.  And more importantly, Gim hopes to learn a bit more about her mother’s involvement with The Circle, the real power in Ashland.  She’s not disappointed as a lot comes out here, and not all of it is good.

Estep keeps this series fresh and brings what should be a tired group of people into new and interesting stories.  I like The Circle concept and we’ll see how she handles it.  The book ends with the usual showdown, with Gim once again almost dying.  (She does that a lot)  Overall it was a good read and good addition to one of the more reliable series out there, and less uneven than most – though the story lines need a new ending, not yet another fight from which Gin barely escapes alive.

I give Unraveled a solid B- to B (3.8*) losing just a little ground for her constant use of the fimal ‘big fight’ scene in every-damn-book.

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The Sight is book 2 in the Devil’s Isle post-apocalyptic world where supernatural being broke through The Veil (bk 1) and the main battleground was New Orleans.  Anyone showing any sign of magical power is banished to live in ‘Devil’s Isle’ a community in partial ruins.  Full humans fear magic, all magic, and it can, if the human isn’t trained, turn them into monsters.  Yet it is magic that protects them from what’s on the other side, many of whom are not interested in anything but war.  Not all sups are evil any more than all humans are good and Claire Connelley is just slowly learning the ropes.  She’s a ‘sensitive’ some with signs of magic.  Enough magic that a fallen angel is helping train her so it won’t drive her mad.

After the war, the city, or what’s left of it, is closely monitored by magic detectors that go off with the slightest evidence of magic use or the presence of a sup.  Claire teams up with Liam Quinn whose mother still lives in what is now Devil’s Isle as that where the family home is.  He knows about Clair’s ‘gift’ because she closed the veil through which the Fae and other magical creatures tried to again attack.  Try as she does to just run her old family merchantile store, she keeps getting drawn into problems, this time with an ‘evangelical’ type that wants all sensitives and sups killed to cleanse the world.  As an apprentice bounty hunter with Liam, they discover just a little too much and become targets of the believers.

The Devil’s Isle books are more older young adult than true adult UF and fast easy, rather predictable reads, especially if you’ve read her Chicagoland Vampire series – which is far more complex and original.  The Sight has a predictable end and frankly, while good, it never passed into ‘very god’ or ‘can’t put down’ territory.  It gets a C+ (3.4*) rating from me with a strong suggestion you borrow the book and if you MUST buy it, get the print.  It’s cheaper than the ebook.  (go figure)  This is NOT a series that you should go out of your way to read.

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Well, once again, Leslie Langtry is hitting on most cylinders – BUT – this writer needs a damn good continuity editor.  Movie Night Murder picks up a few months after Riley is declared a ‘rogue agent’ for murdering several Yakuza to protect Merry in the choppy and messy Marshmallow S’more Murder  – where he declares his love for Merry and leaves her confused and torn between Rex and Riley.  Three months later at the baptism of Finn, Merry and Riley’s goddaughter to best friend and co-scout troop leader Kelly’s daughter.  And has to get to know the ‘mommies’ of the girls in the troop thanks to whole Evelyn Trout fiasco in DC.

But it’s movie night with a twist – just as the girls and mommies settle in, Merry opens the door to a banging sound a woman falls dead on the floor.  Not just any woman, Evelyn Trout.  The mommies are horrified, the girls are thrilled and sit discussing poisons that can cause heart attacks.  The new Medical Examiner, a beautiful Asian woman called Dr Body, makes her debut – and arouses Merry insecurity issues with Rex.

Evelyn Trout was no girl scout mom, but a rogue CIA black ops assassin working for whoever paid best.  What she was doing with the troop is anyone’s guess.  But her death brings Riley back to Merry’s door because the CIA wants them to steal her body.  But someone beats them to it.

The positives – it’s amusing even though the author keeps making key plot errors from prior books making continuity beyond annoying.  It has a better ending for who is the bad guy.

The Negatives – it’s like a retread with tweaks.  Kelly is getting annoying, throwing a baby in the mix is weird, and suddenly Philby has 3 kittens who look different from the first two kittens – and one must assume neutering a cat is unheard of in Merry-world.

Movie Night Murder is between a C and C+ (3.3*) Langtry needs to pay more attention to her own plots because there were a LOT of discrepancies from where we left off on the last book.

That’s all for now gang and you might not get review next 2 months as I need my eyes worked on and doing computer works is tough right now.  But I’ll be back as soon as I can.

May 31, 2016

More Books – Playing Catchup with Short Reviews

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

January 29, 2016

New Releases in Print and Ebook Reviews

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

October 26, 2015

Frustration and Satisfaction: A Mixed Month of News and Books

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

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

AGAIN!  IT’S DELAYED AGAIN!

Hello,

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

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

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

Hello,

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

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

Then it got EVEN BETTER!

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

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

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

But wait, we’re not done!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

August 25, 2014

Pot Luck – Book Reviews and One Rant – New & Old Various Genre Books

Yeah, I don’t always read new releases.  I read older books and books that have been sitting on Mt TBR too long, or just something to break the steady diet of mystery, thrillers, UF, fantasy, and paranormals.  So this is a little bit of everything.

lordgrayslist-270x405

Yup, we have a good old fashioned, humorous bodice ripper here.  Published 2012 and still wish listed on PBS, this Regency style romance feature’s a reprobate Lord, his mother, and a weekly rag that basically is a long gossip column and HE’S the star attraction! Determined to put a stop to being the star of the Ton’s gossips, Ben marches off to confront the owner of the dreadful rag.  He will make him a very generous offer and then he can shut the thing down and have peace.

Simple plans rarely work.  The publisher was none other than an old flame he’d abandoned, Evangeline Ramsey.  Still proud and independent, she makes no apology for how she makes a living as her charming father, a risk all gambler, left her with his debts, this little printing operation, and his deteriorating mind.

Unable to convince Eve to see she should sell to him, Ben manages to find her father on one of his more lucid days.  He gets his sale agreement and thinks he’s done.   But come the following Tuesday, the London List publishes it’s final issues and lays out EXACTLY why and who is responsible.  And he has a mass of people protesting in front of his town house and his mother and staff mad at him.  Yeah, she was THAT clever.

What follows is the odd delayed courtship of two people from very different social and economic backgrounds battling it out over continuing the damn London List.  Both Ben and Evangeline are well done, mature adults and the books has a bit more substance than most Regency romances.  It was fun, but lack the heat and sparkling wit of a top notch romance.  Lord Gray’s List gets a C+ (3.5*) from me.  For Regency fans sick of the whole ballroom thing, a nice change of pace.  Get it used.  Avoid the ebook.  It’s WAY overpriced by the publisher.  Hardly a must read, but a good beach read or lake weekend diversion.  Got the book thru a book swapping site.  Will pass it on the same way.

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Muscle for Hire

Muscle for Hire is a classic Samhain romantic suspense novel heavy on the romance and much better than average on the suspense/mystery side.  A short, interesting read with enough mystery to intrigue the reader and better than average characters.  Lexxie Couper is a well known writer of romantica (AKA smut) from Australia.  She was at it long before E.L. James, and at least her older stuff, like this, is readable.  Simply sexy romance, not some nonsense that just carries the sex scenes.

Aslin Rhodes is ex-SAS and for 16 was head bodyguard for Nick Blackthorne, a famous rock and roll star now in semi retirement.  Nick recommended him to act as bodyguard/teacher/tech help for Chris Huntley, a rock who is turning to action films.  He finds a tall girl in black leather trying to get into Huntley’s trailer and instead of easily taking her down, he lands on his butt.  Turns out, Chris’s sister Rowen is no lightweight, she’s a world class martial arts champion.

What follows is a better than usual, if still shallow as a saucer, bit of romantic suspense complete with bombs and shots fired.  Turns out though, Aslin is protecting the wrong person and works it out just in time.

Muscle for Hire gets a C+ to B- (3.5*) for a good, mindless entertaining read, best read on vacations, during flights, or when sick of all the current crap and best bought used, as an ebook, or gotten free thru the library or book swap site like I did.

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WellRead_2 (1)

First in a new a cozy series that offered EXACTLY what I wanted, Well Read, Then Dead went to the front of the line for reading when my new releases hit.  My favorite location of SW Florida barrier island and a bookstore with food.  My idea of heaven on earth.  Too bad it didn’t work out.  Sassy Cabot and Bridget Mayfield are best friends who found themselves suddenly without jobs or husbands, so they decided to do something they always wanted to, open a book store that also served as a kind of tea room, casual dining spot.  They chose Ft Myers Beach Florida, not exactly the swinging spot for singles in Fl, except maybe those over 50.  The story opens with the book club meeting where most of the main characters make their appearance.  The minister’s wife, an older shop owner, two elderly cousins descended from old Florida families, a faintly terrified newcomer, and Sassy and Bridget.  (Too bad they never got to Bill Crider’s books, a wonderful and underrated mystery author.)

The characters were cozy stock people.  They could be the wiccans in the Magical Bake Shop series by Bailey Cates, or the readers in the Library series by Jenn McKinley.  (By the way, both are far better written and plotted.)  Sassy has a cop boyfriend, like half the other cozy shop owners, who also seem to attract cops.  She also suffers from ‘Shop Owner Sam Spade Delusion’ – a common mental disorder that cause small business owners to believe they are better qualified and informed about a murder than the cops – AND should investigate.   Bridget’s role is ‘The Voice of Reason That Shall be Ignored’.

The victim was not a surprise nor was the killer.  Why was even evident.  About the only parts I liked were the discussions of the early settlers of the area, though shallow, at least it showed some aspects of Florida’s history that are often overlooked.  The writing itself was adequate for a cozy, but if you’ve read Randy Wayne White’s Captiva and Sanibel Flats, or many of his other books, you quickly realize how weakly the whole location and it’s history is portrayed.

One of those ‘WTF’ moments was when Sassy gets up and looks out her 5th story window northward and sees Sanibel, North Captiva, Pine island, and Cayo Costa.  One small problem – other than the curvature of the Earth and at 5 stories the human eye can only see about EIGHT MILES.  There is the whacking big BRIDGE – that despite being the closest thing  to her other than the lovely view of Punta Rassa area of Ft Myers, is invisible!!!!!!!!  (I almost threw the book across the room.)  FMB has many great views, just not the one described.  By the way, the east end of Sanibel where the lighthouse is?  Yeah, that would almost due west of the north end of FMB so you’d be looking out at the Gulf,  and if you were mid-island, you’d see no islands looking north, just the Estero Bay mangrove preservation area, because FMB tilts to the east as you travel south along the long, narrow island.  Another sad case of directional impairment.

Issues with the setting aside (all authors take liberties), Well Read, Then Dead was DOA for me.  The first of the series and likely the last I will buy.  I acknowledge I am in the minority.  Cozy mysteries are like Harlequin romances, not meant to be taken seriously, not well researched, and certainly lacking in logic on the part of the lead characters, but the damn things are getting on my last nerve. Seriously, what sane person chases a man they suspect is a killer into a remote location ALONE – unless you’re well armed and know what you’re doing and your name is James Bond or John Rain or Jack Reacher?  (I have concluded female shopkeepers have a heretofore unidentified suicide gene.)   Well Read, Then Dead gets a D+ to a C- (2.8*) and a suggestion to give it a miss.  It’s a ‘me too’  mystery that lacks originality and has none of those extra redeeming characteristics that you need to pull a cozy onto the ‘good reading’ list.  Purchased from Amazon and I’m unlikely to buy more by of this series.  (I know you’re shocked)

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cursed moon

Book 2 of Prospero’s War by Jayne Wells, Cursed Moon, has some good stuff and some bad stuff.  The plot part was actually good, stolen love potions that are really rape inducing drugs are stolen from the Hierophant, and half male, half female leader of the cult Kate left years ago.  She nearly 10 years ‘sober’ that is no longer cooking (the term used to produce potions) or using magic.  But she’s ridden with guilt because she ‘cooked’ to cure Volos and her brother were they had been infected in Dirty Magic.  Volos is supposedly legit now and magic free, but she knows he’s just better at hiding.

Kate and her partner Morales, another former magic user, having a tough time with brutal rapes happening, a Blue Moon on the way, and Kate’s evil Uncle Abe trying to call her from prison.  Refusing his call didn’t stop him, word comes down from on high that she’s to go see what he wants.  Uncle Abe is still Uncle Abe.  Pulling strings and getting people to dance.

The story of the potions, theft, rise of new leader who feeds off watching the violence he starts happen, risk of huge the violence sex crimes escalating during the Blue Moon when magic’s effects are amplified, has all the cops on edge, especially Magical Crimes Unit.

Those are the good things.  The bad parts are the long segues into Kate’s private life where she’s raising her brother and wallowing in guilt over not admitting in her AA meeting she ‘cooked’.  Meetings she avoided for weeks since saving her brother.  As everyone knows by now, I have VERY limited patience with angst.  Her sanctimonious friend Pen got on my nerves too.

The other issue is the ‘rape’ drug.  I felt this was treated with less seriousness than it deserved and frankly, any book that uses rape drugs as a major plot element is doomed for me.  And be warned, there are some ugly scenes in this book, thankfully brief.  There was an almost gratuitous sense of ‘I want to SHOCK you!’ by the author – instead she made me wonder if that was the most interesting plot twist she could think of.  Either way, all she got was, “Eeewwwwwww.”  And this from a reader of smut, which is NOT RAPE.

Cursed Moon is not a bad book.  The pacing is good, as are the characters, but the whole guilt wallowing is a PIA and the rape scenes – gag – but not as bad as some I’ve read and not a big enough part of the whole to wreck things, just leave a bad taste.  It really was all the guilt crap that pushed me over the edge.  At the end, Kate finally gets up in an AA meeting and says what needs to be said – and she should have realized a whole lot sooner.  If the choice is between magic and death, take magic.  Hopefully, she can move on to a healthy balance without guilt in the next book.  If not, I’m done guilt thing.

Cursed Moon was an OK read, and if you liked Dirty Magic, it was a good second book.  But author’s sometimes take stories places I don’t care to go.  That’s OK, there are other books and other authors.  While Cursed Moon was in some ways better and some ways worse than Dirty Magic, it still gets just a C- (3.2*) from me.  It would have done better had the author come up a more interesting ‘hook’ than rape, the whole guilt crap part been reduced or minimized.  As it was, it kept an annoying, constant, background noise going that actually detracted, rather than added to the plot or the character and the rape part was just ICK factor.  Purchased from Amazon.

 

NOTE:  Due to Amazon’s ongoing battle with Hattchet, owner of many imprints, I’ve cancelled a number of book orders.  Many books I want are not available for pre-order.  This is getting old and as good as Amazon is, they are equally annoying.  I haven’t decided yet what I’ll do about orders I’ve cancelled.  I can go buy at BN or BAM locally or mail order.  We’ll see.  Good reason to go use the library.

July 27, 2014

Book Reviews – Mystery Week!

It’s been hot, well, not dreadfully hot, but hot enough to be uncomfortable and make us remember its summer.  And living where I do, we get a lot of weekend traffic as folks come into their lake houses or just up for the day to use the largest lake in the area.  We are home to many lakes, a state park or two, vast acres of watershed, a reservoir, and hiking trails all over.  That means every Friday the supermarkets are full of folks buying stuff for the weekend and all weekend the roads are full of SUV’s and trucks hauling campers, boats, and jet skis.  Oh, and motorcycles.  They like riding the winding country roads.  Mostly middle age guys with touring bikes or rebuilt classic motorcycles.  And bikes with all the Lance Armstrong wannabe’s peddling away.  This potent combination of country roads, no shoulders, narrow lanes, virtually no sidewalks, heavy trees, and the weird idea that you can take your half of the road in the middle – or worse, drink and drive – and BOOM!

We have a much larger than normal police force and much of what they do beyond routine stuff is traffic accidents.  And every year, some are fatal.  It’s the ‘country effect’ on people used to stop signs and traffic lights and wall to wall cars.  They forget, a car is still our deadly weapon of choice.  We just kind of not notice because mostly we kill just a few at a time, so it’s barely newsworthy.  So when you’re vacationing and still behind the wheel of a car, please remember to fasten your seat belts, don’t drink and drive, and WATCH THE ROAD.  Vacation is not a good time for an accident on the water or on the road.  And all of you who live year round at the Jersey shore and other vacation venues, yes, you have it worse than me, but there are those who would say you also have it better, because you get to live by the sea, or up in the Rockies, or on that lake all year.

So now we do book reviews, where killing people is no ‘accident’.  Ah, the joy of a good mystery.  Would you like some cream sauce with that red herring?

scene of the climb

The first book in a new series by a new writer – well new to mysteries anyway.  Say HI! to Kate Dyer-Seeley and her faking it extreme outdoors sports writer Meg Reed in Scene of the Climb.  Meg is a recent journalism grad with no job and a formerly famous now infamous investigative reporter dad who died, or committed suicide, when he became addicted to the very drugs whose trade he’d been exposing.  Meg is crashing on the couch of her best friend and trying to come to terms with her dad’s death, a college degree in journalism – a dying profession, and no job in sight when she gets a break.  A break she lies her couch potato ass off to get at Northwest Extreme, a magazine that specializes in covering extreme outdoors sports.

Everything starts off fine ………… until she gets asked to cover the last leg of Race the States, a TV ‘reality’ show where contestants participate in various extreme sports races in different states, culminating in a race to the finish in Oregon’s mountains just outside Portland.  Not only is Northwest Extreme the sole sponsor on the race, this final leg will be in their backyard, so Meg gets the call to cover it. …………… ummmmmm …………… oh yeah, in addition to NOT being any kind of a jock, she has an irrational fear of heights. It’s her faked stumble below a peak that sends her skidding far too close to the edge just as the most obnoxious contestant goes screaming off the top edge to his death.  Only Meg saw it and it took a bit and the sight of Lance’s vivid top just visible between boulders to get everyone to realize someone died.  Or as Meg was convinced, was murdered – pushed off the cliff.

As Meg investigates the contestants, things start happening to her and pretty soon even her too handsome boss Greg agrees something is fishy.  But Northwest Extreme has a lot riding on this, so Meg needs to be careful she doesn’t end up like Lance.  Her friend Matt, Jill, and Jill’s stuffy and condescending ‘boyfriend’ Will, are the core ‘Scooby’ gang and handsome Greg, the boss on whom Meg is crushing, all start believing Meg is right.  This was no accident, and neither is what’s happening to Meg.

I have give Kate Dyer-Seeley credit, she did something original by way of ‘not really cozy’, developed good supporting roles, though best friend Jill needed more ‘screen time’, has a believably flawed lead with Meg Reed.  Yes, there were sections that could have used some fleshing out, and yeah, the ending was a bit glib, but the overall book worked.  I give Scene of the Climb a B- (3.7*) and a recommended read for cozy, light mystery readers.  The book was purchased from Amazon.  I give Ms Dyer-Seeley a thumbs up for her description of the fear of heights.  Having passed out twice in high places, yes, it really is that bad.

*********************************************************************** A Chili Death

Another ho-hum cozy from the pen of Tim Myers this time writing as Jessica Beck, the name he uses for his uneven Donut Shop mysteries as well.  A Chili Death is book 1 in his Classic Diner series.  You won’t be finding reviews for book 2 or 3 here because one was enough, it was that boring. Husband and wife are running a dinner.

An obnoxious man enters demanding to talk to Moose.  The woman points to the carved moose by the register.  Man gets mad and eventually serves the ‘moose’ papers claiming the land the diner is built on is his.  Hysterical phone calls to mom and gran.  Cue the rain.  It was a dark and stormy night ………………..  ummmmmmm ………… do nights come in any color but dark?  I’d like light blue, please.  With a touch of pink.

Evil, obnoxious man has served papers all over town, but Grandpa Moose is the prime suspect when he’s murdered.  Must prove beloved Grandpa Moose innocent by meddling in police investigation.

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Oh, sorry about that.  Where was I?  Oh yeah, diner owner has delusions about being a better investigator than a trained cop.  OK, the logic there is a bit tricky.  Does it have to do with the meatloaf recipe or because of the chili that she knows how to investigate?  I think it was the chili.  It’s known for leading to delusions of adequacy.  Especially in writers.

Before I fall over in a fit of catatonia, let me just say you can MISS THIS BOOK!  Yes, it’s boring and dull and pointless and a retread and just plain dumb.  A Chili Death gets a D (2.0*) and a strong suggestion you give it a miss.  I am delighted to say I got this in a book swap and I will pass it along to the poor, dumb, soul foolish enough to wish for it.

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Top Secret Twenty one

I’m at kind of a loss here.  Top Secret Twenty-One is not the nonsensical, pointless farce of Takedown Twenty, but neither is a  good book.  Thing is, I think Evanovich actually TRIED here, but the plot had zero credibility and almost no tension.  Now usually, I find the mystery nonexistent in her last 12 books, she hasn’t written a really good one since Hard Eight, yet I still find the books modestly amusing.  Somehow, sleeping with Ranger wrecked everything else and Evanovich lost her mojo, but she did manage to stay funny for awhile.  The thing is, despite her trying for a better book, she kept going back to her stock phrases and characters – even her description of Lulu and her outfit was a retread from an earlier book.  I’d say 30%, possibly more, was all lines for earlier books.  Sad.  Very sad.

Something happens at Ranger’s HQ, possibly the most secure building in Trenton.  It brings down not just all the local cops, but DHS, and a NEST team.  Hazmat suits are the uniform of the day.  Something really bad went down.  You want to know how credibility can be lost in seconds?  Polonium.  Yup.  She really did go there.  Janet Evanovich did a Russian terrorist for hire who hates Ranger.  And more shoulder launched rockets, which apparently are a common commodity in Trenton given one was also used to blow up one of her cars many books back.

As you might imagine, Russian terrorist for hire did not work out well.  The most unbelievable part, Steph sneaks into the hospital where the FTA who set of the aerosolized polonium in Ranger’s HQ proceeds to tell her everything she asks.  OK, first of all, it’s LULU she sneaks in with and leaves in the hall as she ostensibly gathers soiled linens for destruction, then she WILLINGLY GOES INTO A HOT ZONE.   Yeah, she suits up, but come on, does she even know what a dosimeter is?  And why do the guards not check the ID’s?  And why the hell does this guy tell everything to a complete stranger for no good reason?

And Randy Briggs, the obnoxious dwarf from earlier books is back because his former employer is trying to kill him and someone shot a rocket into his apartment and he has no where to live and no income.  Why doe she let him in?  How can Rex the hamster still be alive after all these years?  Does Morelli EVER get a haircut?  Does Ranger ever say much beyond, “Babe”?  Is Lulu favorite color ‘poison green spandex’?  Does Bob the dog ever not throw up what he eats?

Thank heavens I once again stuck to my vow and did NOT buy this book.  I got it from a friend in an online book swapping site.  Top Secret Twenty-One is drivel and gets a D+ (2.6*) rating because it did feel like she at least put a LITTLE effort into creating a plot, but apparently she could only fall back on her shlock ‘been there, done that’ routines we all know by rote.  Janet Evanovich has been coasting on her reputation for more than half of this series.  What a shame when you think of how clever she was with her early books.  If you MUST read it, save your money and get it free at the library.

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A dangerous talent

 

A Cruise to die for

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

OK, I read both these books in print, but could only find A Dangerous Talent image for the kindle version.  Aaron Elkins is famous for his Gideon Oliver series about a forensic anthropologist based in Washington.  He and his wife Charlotte teamed up for a good golf mystery series that I enjoyed.  I’d waited on A Dangerous Talent on PBS, but when it went one sale for $5 on Amazon, I grabbed it.  Half way through, I went back and bought a copy for my artist sister-in-law -it would cost close to that to mail it to her!  The price is now back up to $11.66, so I caught a great, but short lived bargain.  I bought A Cruise to Die For for $7.48 and that price is still in effect for now.

A Dangerous Talent introduces Alix London the only child of an old New England family and a man who was a highly respected art expert and curator at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC.  Revered that is until his secret life as a brilliant forger caught up with him.  Alix has, at best, a complicated relationship with her now free father who has moved to Seattle to be near her and opened a kind of repro business that sells in bulk to hotels and other chains for lost cost decorative objects.   His arrest and trial blew her world apart and a bit to much of the book focuses on that rather than the story.

Now a struggling art restorer, Alix has a gift – a dangerous talent.  She has an eye for impressionist and modern art, the kind of eye that senses forgeries.  She doesn’t always know WHY, but she always knows a fake.  (Reminds me of Jonathon Gash’s Lovejoy series, where shameless scoundrel and con man Lovejoy is a ‘divvie’ – a person who can feel the real from the fake antique.)

As she’s working on a Utrillio in a fancy condo in Belltown – hers to use for the year she’s resorting the art, she gets a call from  tech millionaire turned wine bar owner, Christine Lemay.  A three million dollar Georgia O’Keefe.  In a day she’s in a private jet heading to New Mexico to she vet the painting and act as a consultant for Chris.

After an uncomfortable meeting between the charter jet captain and Christine, they get to the hotel and Chris is shocked to find they placed Alix in a casita rather than the adjoining suite she requested.  The hotel insisted she changed her instructions and wanting to just lay down a bit, Alix took the casita.  Luckily her intuition isn’t limited to paintings.  She stops the bellman from entering and …….. BOOM, it blows up.  Was it an accident?  Didn’t seem like it to her.  And once she meets Chris’s ‘friend’, Liz, and realizes she’s pushing a fake O’Keefe – and pushing it hard – that exploding room seems less an accident by the minute.  Then Liz is murdered and Chris and Alix feel like suspects.  They start investigating the painting – and get a LOT more than they bargained for, including a smarmy art ‘collector’ who turns out to be Ted Ellesworth, part of the FBI’s Art Crime unit.

Played out largely in O’Keefe country in Northern New Mexico, the book is an interesting blend of mystery and an introduction to the art world, one most of us never see.  My SIL loved it.  I’d been to many of the places mentioned in the book and they did a good job capturing the atmosphere – and the often  silly arsty-fartsy crap you hear in galleries.  The ending, with Alix sort of reconciling with Geoff, was also well handled, but the whole ting with her dad is distracting at times.

A Dangerous Talent got a B- (3.8*) from me.  I’d say my SIL ranked it a shade higher, but then, it rang all her art bells.  A decent mystery wrapped up in a short education on the art trade, with good pacing, but could have done with a lot less angsty crap about dear old dad.  AT $5 I got my money’s worth and my SIL was really happy!  Suggested read, especially for any art fans out there.

Unfortunately A Cruise to Die For was not a worthy follow up.  The premise was good, get Alix to act as a consultant to the FBI while on the private yacht of billionaire investor Panos Papadakis, where she was act as an independent consultant and give lectures on Impressionists to the handful of cherry picked potential bidders on the art collection on display on his yacht.  She barely has time to unpack and walk into the salon where the collection prize, a Monet, hangs, a Monet she instantly thinks is a fake, when someone hits her over the head and the Monet is slashed.

You have smarmy crew members, a calm security chief who knows his stuff and does not back down from the raving Panos, a apparently neglected wife, former opera star, Gabriela (Gaby) Candelas, heading to middle age spread and doing the inevitable ‘young lover’ routine while said lover is playing her.  A dirty art dealer playing both sides, Albanian thugs threatening Alix, a fake Manet that could blow the whole scheme apart, and who lot of people with money and few scruples.  The Greek islands are lovely and yes, they really do look like that.  But other than the head of security for the yacht, I found few characters likable.   Even worse, I found the final solution slightly unsatisfying, though probably realistic.  Still, it lacked the camaraderie of A Dangerous Talent and much of the spark that it gave the story.

A Cruise to Die For gets a C+ (3.5*) from me.  The third book in the series will be the ‘make of break’ for me.  The authors needs to get some kind of collaborative chemistry going with another character or this series could all fall flat for everyone except art fans.  Missing it will not be a great loss unless you have an interest in the art and art investment world.

November 12, 2013

Genre Sampler – Reviews and Comments

Thanksgiving and Christmas are rapidly approaching and, as usual, I’m completely unprepared.  Oh well, we always manage somehow.  The family is small now, and it’s not like adults beyond a certain age actually NEED anything.  Well, other than a winning Lottery ticket.

November and December are both big release months as well, but I have to say, the new releases this month have proved disappointing to me.  As usual, books will be gifted, but that’s been true most of out lives.  In addition, I always haul up a bunch of books by authors my brother and SIL enjoy and let the read away. For many years, my brother an I built a Lincoln Log village on Christmas – starting with an old set his wife picked up at a flea market.  Well, the set grew, and grew, and grew.  A few years ago was our last ‘build’ and it was quite a grand finale.

christmas 2009 021

christmas 2009 007

We built that whole complex, mostly free form buildings, in about a day and half, working off and on and watching Charlie Chan movies and eating.  But standing for hours was getting hard on my knees and back.  Plus getting out and cleaning up and sorting the thousands of logs to be stored away again was a major project by itself.   Now we work jigsaw puzzles and play cards or Yatzee – and watch Charlie Chan, the old Sherlock Holmes, or other favorite 40’s movies that we saw on TV as kids – and eat.  It’s just more about spending some time together.  It also helps us remember why we live 200 miles apart, it prevents bloodshed and the need to hide bodies.  But before the holidays disrupt my life, I better get on with some reviews.

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Read It and Weep

This latest installment of the Library Lover’s mystery series was disappointing – at least for me.  Read it and Weep was the first book I read from the mass of Nov 5th releases I bought.  Problem is, by page 40 I knew the whole plot and who did it and why.  I know cozy mysteries aren’t exactly the early Ellery Queen books that would lay out all the clues and challenge the reader to solve the mystery, but come on, this was as obvious as a slap to the head.

The local community theater group is putting on A Midsummer’s Night Dream, using as a star a well known actor, Robbie Vine, and friend of the resident semi-retired actress turned director, Violet LaRue.  Everyone is in a dither of anticipation over getting parts, even Ms Cole, the always critical older librarian that thinks Lindsey isn’t up to the level of the former head librarian in Briar Creek.  Robbie is more than a bit interested in Lindsey.  It isn’t helped by Sully having broken things off with her for months to ‘give her time’ without even talking with her about it.  They’re on the outs and Robbie is inspired to chase her, and she’s interested – until he gets poisoned.

In addition to the easy to see plot, the other problem is yet another budding love triangle.  Ms McKinlay did this in her Cupcake series as well.  IS THERE AN EPIDEMIC?  It’s easy to blame Janet Evanovich and her Morelli-Plum-Ranger ploy and Steph Plum’s extended adolescent emotional immaturity, but why is it contagious?  Or just ‘monkey see, monkey do’ writer syndrome?  Are authors so lost in copycat land they are incapable of original thought?  Whatever is causing this blight on cozies needs to be stamped out.  SOON!

Read it and Weep gets a C- (2.8*) rating for predictable plot and even more predictable love triangle.  I am apparently in the minority in this as Amazon reviews are much kinder.  Bought this from BAM for $5.39, but Amazon had it discounted to $4.79.  Its current price is $7.19.  Read if you’re an uncritical fan of generic cozies, but try and get it cheap.

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red-blooded-cat-johnson-paperback-cover-art

It’s been awhile since I reviewed a single author anthology of steamy romance novellas.  In the now well entrenched tradition of using Spec Ops military as the the heroes, Cat Johnson offered her rather generic romances using the usual group of male buddies.  If the love triangle infestation in cozies if the fault of Janet Evanovich, then Suzanne Brockman takes the hit for the current inundation of Spec Ops romance in mainstream and smut – even some paranormal.  Everyone from Lora Leigh to Lisa Marie Rice has used them.  Hands down, the most popular heroes in romance.

Red Blooded has 3 novellas originally published as ebooks by Samhain, a high quality smut and mainstream publisher who carries many of the better steamy writers.  Cat Johnson also writes mainstream romance and romantic suspense.  Like all romance novellas, there is no time for complex plots or character development.  More ‘slam bam, thank-you ma’am’ type of sex with the usual ‘struck by lightning’ emotions.  Harmless fantasy that’s well written and highly readable with better than average plots and characters.  Good lunch break or single sitting length stories for romance fans.

Red Blooded gets a C+ (3.5*), which is again well below Amazon.  For novellas, they are cut above.  Still, when Suzanne Brockman hits on all cylinders, as she did in Over on the Edge and Out of Control, she is better than anyone, but those are full length novels, so the comparison isn’t equal.  For pure steamy ex-military, no one beats Lisa Marie Rice’s Midnight Man.  I bought Red Blooded from Amazon for $12.93 and no, it wasn’t worth the price.  If you want to read these, go ebook directly from the Samhain site and think twice about the price – ebook or print – and maybe buy it used.

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Wild Darkness

Lauren Dane is one of my favorite paranormal romance writer’s.  Whether it’s steamy or more mainstream, she is a pretty reliable storyteller.  I’m not that fond of her popular contemporary romances, which I find trite, even if well written.

Wild Darkness is the fourth and final book in her Bound by Magick series that ties in with her Cascadia Wolves and De La Veaga Cat series.  It started off really well with Heart of Darkness, which laid the groundwork for the revealing of Others beyond just the already ‘out’ werewolves.  As a romance involved in a really good plot, it worked well on both levels and it gave the series a strong start.  The focus shifted away from the Magister to the birth of virulent hate groups that wants all Others in the equivalent of concentration camps in Book 2.  By book three, the central plot revolved around DC politics and a weak female president that refused to step into the debate.

Unfortunately, by the time we hit Wild Darkness, the whole over arcing plot kind of fizzles.  Going Under was less than stellar, but laid good groundwork, ending literally with a bang – a bomb in the Senate hearing chamber.  Wild Darkness opens with attacks by hate groups on an Other community, but the focus shifts from action to mostly romance and the whole thing is disappointingly weak.  The ‘big finale’ confrontation is all of 2 pages.  I read through 4 books for THAT?  Unfortunately, while Lauren Dane can start a complex paranormal series, she just does not have the skills needed to bring it to a strong conclusion.  Instead, she writes a romance that pushes the series main plot in the background and fails to give the reader a really satisfying conclusion.  A short fight scene does not work, especially when the main bad guys aren’t even there.  And penetrating their HQ was easy.  Honestly, the whole thing was just lame.

And for the third time, I will deviate from Amazon’s glowing reviews and give Wild Darkness a C- (2.8*).  Bound by Magic deserved better.  I am beginning to understand why she left so many of her series unfinished, like the Charvez Witches and the Cher Chez wolves.  She just can’t write a slam bang ending to her over-arcing plots, she can just end the individual romance parts.  It’s a shame really, because it weakened the whole series and took it off my recommended list.  I bought Wild Darkness from BAM for $5.39 and it wasn’t worth the price.  If you followed the series, read it.  If you haven’t started, give it a miss.

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Mr Penumbra's

Some title’s are irresistible and when this book was in a swap, I took the chance and bought a used copy.  Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore was selected as one of the best books of 2012 – and I’m rather baffled by that.  Yes it was quirky and somewhat interesting, in a nerdy kind of way, but great?  Eh, not so much.  It was, however, original, unique, and mostly enjoyable, if a bit tedious at times.  A ‘Best Book of 2012’?  Lord, I hope not.  In a strange way, it worked, but lacked strong characters.  That kind of left me with ambiguous feelings toward the book.

Clay Jannon is a less than ambitious guy laid off from his job as a web designer and coffee shop clerk and just sort of cruising along, sharing a 3 bedroom place with an uptight corporate landlady and his buddy Neel who works special effects for movies and builds bizarre things in the living room they all share.  He’s job hunting, but the economy sucks and skills aren’t up to Silicon Valley level, so he’s in that uncomfortable in between place.  Then he land’s a job in a very strange bookstore, Mr Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore.  As he works there, keeping detailed records of each person who comes in to borrow a book, Clay gets increasingly bored.

One night a young woman walks in and sees the 3-D model Clay is building on his computer that tracks each customer and every book they’ve checked out in order over time.  He’s certain there is meaning and pattern to their actions and they are really code breakers.  Kat admires his work and offers him a chance to put Google’s data analysis engines to work on a scanned copy of one of the logs that details more of the same data.  Neel makes a replica of one of the log books and Kat and Clay get it scanned and analyzed in minutes.  After he enters all the new data, he still can’t quite see the pattern and in frustration sends his 3-D model spinning – and the many colored lines suddenly form an image.  Mr Penumbra sees it and claims he’s broken the code!  A code he didn’t even realize existed.

Like an onion, layers get peeled away until the final code is discovered.  This quasi-adventure, puzzle, code-breaker, technology meld made a curious story, but not a great one.  Perhaps because, for me, great fiction books requires great characters, not just a layered plot.  No question, the plot was original and on several levels, fascinating.  But ultimately, is was kind of dull without strong, likable characters filled with personality.  Oddly, it reminded me of a nerdy Robert Ludlum book.  Ludlum was always a brilliant plotter, but aside from Jason Borne, never wrote a memorable character.  The action here is more cerebral and other than the quirky Penumbra, none of the players were really memorable, just lightly sketched in enough to do the job.

Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookshop gets a C+ to B- (3.6*) from me.  I can see why critics loved it, since they had a field day with the computer technology vs print book thing, but who really cares?  It was interesting without being engrossing.  It’s in that strange grey area where I neither love nor hate the book, found it oddly appealing, but never compelling.  I can’t really recommend it for anyone other than a person who enjoys offbeat books.  I got my copy used (in perfect condition) from a third party re-seller on Amazon and it’s leaving here this week to a person who won it in a PBS swap.  I’d suggest you borrow it or get it cheap because reactions vary.  The nerd in the family might like it best and it is suitable for teens.

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wicked Autumn

G.M. Malliet hit the mystery scene a few years back with her first cozy in the Ngaio Marsh/Josephine Tey tradition, just not was well done.  Nonetheless, she garnered heaps of praise for bringing back the English cozy in Death of a Cozy Writer – a classic manor house mystery.  She followed that with Death of a Chick Lit wherein she completely emasculated her Detective Inspector St Just.  That put paid to my reading her books until I got Wicked Autumn, the first book in her Max Tudor series, in a book swap.  Really, you’d think I’d learn.

What is it with cozies these days?  The authors talk you to death, drag you through a garden of a character’s personal guilt, beat certain things into the ground, and toss out clues so obvious you want to whack them over the head.  Wicked Autumn opens with the Women’s League planning the Harvest Fayre.  The usual officious and unpleasant woman, Wanda Bratton-Smythe manages to make more enemies, but sees herself as ‘saving’ these poor incompetents from themselves.  Her snide, cutting remarks and generally superior and patronizing attitude have not endeared her to her neighbors.  She may as well be wearing a sign, “Hi!  I’m the victim!  I’m rich, controlling, and obnoxious!  I have a deadly peanut allergy!  Guess how I die!!!!!”

Max Tudor is the local Vicar now, but used to be MI5.  He sought peace and refuge from his former profession and memories of the death of a friend and co-worker.  He refuses to be drawn into the fray in the Women’s League, but knows the complaints are valid.  The day of the Fayre everything s running smoothly.  An oddly excited Wanda disappears and Max goes hunting for her joined by another poor soul Wanda badgered into ‘volunteering’, chef Guy Nicholls.  They do find her, dead on the floor of the village Hall.  Guy starts mouth to mouth to revive her, but Max knows dead when he sees it and pulls him away.  Not just because it’s too late, but because it looks like murder to Max.

Turns out, people had more reason to want Wanda dead than just her personality.  She was also a very rich woman.  Her only child, a son and up and coming artist, was estranged from his parents.  Suzanna Winship, the doctor’s shapely much younger sister was Wanda’s rival and self appointed protector of those Wanda went after the most, like sweet Lily Iverson.  Actually, pretty much every member of the Women’s League hated her.  But the whole plot is twisted around long periods of the backstory on Max and how he came to be a vicar.  By page 124 I was loosing interest.  I finished it, barely.  The killer was OBVIOUS, the why a bit more subtle, but not surprising.

Wicked Autumn gets a C- (2.7*) because the story is told in a choppy and muddled way and lacks exciting characters or any shed or originality.  It’s just dull.  If you’re a hardcore cozy reader, try it if its free, but don’t blame me if it’s just boring.  My copy, thankfully, free from a book swapping site.

October 8, 2013

New Releases, Three New Authors and the Usual Suspects

I know you’ve been there – picked up a book, started to read and were so bored you put it down and started another one.  I did that with Raymond Feist’s The Magician three times before I was actually able to read the book.  These days, I’m not so patient.  Maybe it’s old age.  Maybe it’s the realization that there are just too many good books to waste my time on ones I can’t get into.  Maybe I just want a book that hooks me and makes me want more, instead of wanting it to be over.  And I REALLY don’t want a book that just depress me.   I want to be entertained, enthralled, like the characters, enjoy the plot, and basically sit back and revel the ride – whether it’s a wild action filled one with spies and killers, or a more sedate cozy, or something off-beat and zany that makes me laugh rather than cringe.  Yes, I’m that shallow.  I’ve read hundreds of biographies, more non-fiction than I can count, but now, at this point in my life, I want to just enjoy.  I have enough reality every day.  When I read, I want to escape a bit.

I love my mysteries and thrillers, but the paranormal section of science fiction and fantasy, where worlds collide, is the fastest growing part of Mt TBR.  Fantasy to me is an alternate world, usually with magic of some sort.  The Lord of the Rings, The Game of Thrones, The Wheel of Time, Gentleman Bastards, or The Kingkiller Chronicles – all true fantasy.  Science Fiction would be Arthur C Clarke, Larry Niven, Theodore Sturgeon, and Robert Heinlein – a not so popular genre these days.  But new sub-genre’s have appeared and caused fits for those who classify books.  You have paranormal romance – some of which is like the traditional generic romance, but with fangs or fur.  Others border on paranormal romantic suspense, having a strong mystery or action element.  Other are urban fantasy – which has somehow given birth to suburban fantasy – urban fantasy having a strong thriller or mystery type element and may, or may not have a romance element.  And just to confuse things further, we have Steampunk – which could be anything from young adult to romance to horror in an alternate history with ‘mechanicals’ and magic and/or things like vampires and werewolves coexisting.

Genre bending series have proven popular, just as the anti-hero has in mystery with things like the Dexter series.  But regardless of how you try and classify them, a book remains good or bad based on character, plot, and writing style.  This time we a pretty much cover the extreme mix of those three common elements.

etiquette and espionage

No one writes more stylistically than Gail Carriger.  Her florid, over-the-top, flowery prose is the opposite of the clean, spare writing of most authors I read.  It is an affectation bound to annoy many, but once you get past the stilted silliness, the deliberately outrageous names, and verbose dialogue, she spins a good tale, and the style in which she tells it, actually suits the story, even though it still annoys at time.

I first read Carriger’s books because many players in the PBS games raved about how good they were.  I started Souless twice before I could get past her style and start enjoying the story.  She kind of made a pastiche of her world building, but I finally managed to get it organized in my head.  And rather surprisingly, she did kind of wrap up the story line in book 5 of the Parasol Protectorate series – though she left an opening for more.

Etiquette and Espionage is her first foray into Steampunk young adult and is set some years before the Parasol Protectorate.  We meet the inventor Lafoux as a child here and get to know whole new cast of characters.  This is book one of her Finishing School series and I won it in a swap, just as I did the first few books of the Parasol Protectorate.  I’m not a huge fan of young adult, and I really have to be in the mood to tackle one of her books, because I can find her style as annoying as it can be amusing at times, so it took awhile for me to get to this one.  Once I did, I read through it fast.

Despite her lurid prose, the story moves at a fairly quick pace as tomboy-ish Sophornia Temminnick is a burden to her mother.  One of many children of an upper middle class family, she’s the square peg in a round hole.  But suddenly, she finds herself packed off to Mademoiselle Geraldine’s Finishing Academy for Young Ladies of Quality – an unexpected event that ends a day that included her taking the dumb-waiter apart to see how it worked and then catapulting herself out to prevent crashing.  Not much can hide hide the torn and dirty clothes.  Despite her protests, the whole thing is looking more like an adventure than anything else.

You have Skyway-men, the Steampunk version of Highwaymen, only using hot air balloons with a dinghy rather than horses.  And the academy itself is a large ship help afloat by multiple balloons.  Sophronia saves the day, gets a new best friend, learns about the boys school for Evil Geniuses and and finds out Miss Geraldine’s is anything but your normal finishing school.

I liked the characters and realize the book is aimed at a younger audience, not an adult one, but despite the story, which was well told and interesting, it felt like it lacked substance.  OK, the age group it’s aimed at won’t notice, but like Harry Potter, books like this attract both younger and older readers, so we’ll see if she follows Rowling’s model and makes the books more ‘adult’ as he character ages as the Harry Potter evolved.

Etiquette & Espionage gets a B- (3.8*) rating and a recommended read for all YA or steampunk fans.  Shorter and less substantial than her Parasol Protectorate series, the price is high for the hardcover and trade size paperback.  I’d urge you to borrow it from your local library or buy an inexpensive used copy.  This is not destined to be on a keeper shelf like Harry Potter and is certainly not as original or creative.  As stated above, my copy came thru a book swapping site and will go back out the same way.

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Aunty-Lees-Delights

I love foreign mysteries and just soak up the atmosphere they convey.  Usually.  There are exceptions.  For example, I dislike Alexander McCall Smith and the Precious Ramotswe mysteries.  I find them oblique, boring, tedious, and just plain dull.  I read 4 books in that series before giving up.  Here we have Singapore’s answer to Precious Ramotswe, Aunty Lee.  An overly chatty Miss Marple with lurid imagination that runs as wild as her mouth.

Ovidia Yu is not a new author, but she is new to the US market and this is book one in a new series obviously designed to appeal to those who like the First Ladies Detective books.  While I did not not dislike Precious Ramotswe, I actually found Aunty Lee wore on my last nerve by page 30.  Her overly obsequious Philippine assistant cook, her step son, his wife and damn near everyone in her restaurant for the wine tasting with food.  By page 75 it got the heave ho – yes I did read the end and no, I was not thrilled.

Aunty Lee’s Delights will get no second chance.  Too many excellent foreign mysteries for that.  If you want to read books that capture character, time, and place, try Colin Cotterill’s Dr Siri series set in Laos in the 70’s, or Martin Walker’s Bruno series set in the Dordogne region of France – or even Shamini Flint’s Inspector Singh books.  All are much better bets.

Aunty Lee’s Delights gets a DNF and I just can’t recommend it even for Precious Ramotswe fans.  Too many good foreign mysteries to be bothered.  To my horror, I bought this book from BAM for just over $9 with tax.  Waste of money.

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Murder and Marinara

Another first book, but this one is a world removed from Aunty Lee’s Delights, not just in setting, either, even though both involve restaurants.  Murder and Marinara is set at the Jersey shore in a little Italian place on the boardwalk in the fictional town of Oceanside.  Like all towns along the shore, the shop and restaurant owners of Oceanside depend heavily on the summer tourist trade to keep the the business afloat.  Victoria Rienzi, better known a Vick Reed to her mystery readers, fled Oceanside, the family restaurant, and a broken love affair for New York where she hit the semi-big time with her fussy fictional detective Bernardo.  Vick is sick of Bernardo – and like Agatha Christie’s Poirot and Arthur Conan Doyle’s Holmes, she yearns to kill him off.  Thing is, she hasn’t created a new detective in her head yet, but she started a fictionalized historical based on her own family’s history.  With the reluctant agreement of her agent and editor, she takes a year to go the 50 miles and a lifetime away back to Casa Lido, her disapproving nonna, her flighty mother, gambler father, and policeman brother who is married to her best friend.

The obnoxious producer of a reality TV show (Jersey Shore, but even lower class) wants to film in Oceanside.  Vick’s nonna and family are opposed.  The mayor, never a fan of family, is gung ho for it.  Then the damn producer walk-in, demanding lunch – salad dressing on the side, hot water for tea, grilled chicken – you know the type.  Before he leaves, he’s pale and sweating.  Unfortunately, a few hours later our mystery author finds his body out back by the garden shed.

The police investigation gets complicated when the woman responsible for Tim and Vick’s break up shows up as the wife of the dead producer.  Tim, the restaurant’s sous chef, is now the prime suspect.  Nonna declares that Vick’s job is now to find the REAL killer so the restaurant can get back to normal FAST.

Sophia, her best friend and brother Danny’s wife – well, separated wife – is ready and willing to help.  Too bad Vick isn’t felling as ready and isn’t very willing.  But nonna is a force of nature and if she wants to learn to cook or wants a snowball’s chance of getting the family history, she had to do SOMETHING.  And the something was well done, pretty believable, and interesting.  The who and why are straight from Miss Marple, but the ride was still a good one.

Murder and Marinara gets a B- (3.8*) from me and recommended read for cozy fans.  A cut above average on plot, characters, and writing.  And the Jersey shore setting was dead on.  Thanks to the author for not dragging Superstorm Sandy into it.  I got the book for $4.79+tax from Amazon and consider it more than worth the price.  I will be happy to buy her next one.

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The Rook

Another first book by a first time author and folks, it’s a winner.  Daniel O’Malley is an American educated Aussie who delivers an original, wry, witty, complex, and very clever urban fantasy story based in London that satisfies both paranormal and thriller junkies with a female lead character, Myfanwy (rhymes with Tiffany) Thomas.

Soaked by the cold rain, Myfanwy wakes up with a ring of dead people around her – all wearing latex gloves.  She knows there is a reason for the gloves, but she can’t think what it is.  She also knows something – she did kill them, but doesn’t know why.  She can’t even remember her name.  She tries to find something, anything to help her remember who she is …………….. and she finds a letter, one she wrote to herself because she knew that she would lose her memory and the ‘new’ Myfanwy would be the same, but different and she had a lot of decisions to make FAST, or die.  The letter is simply addressed to You and signed, Me.

Myfanwy is given a new name, Anne Ryan, an ATM card and ID and a set of instructions to check into a hotel.  Claiming an abusive boyfriend to explain her black eyes, she does as instructed, and reads letter two at the 5* hotel.  She has a choice – one of two safe deposit boxes, each with a different set of information – one let’s her run using the identity and piles of money Myfanwy set up in advance, or two helps her return to her job and discover who is responsible for what happened.  Easy choice, run.  In the morning she goes to the bank for the safe deposit box and is again attacked, and she screams.  Apparently, the scream downs the assailants and she grabs the contents of the box, not the run box, the stay box, because she realizes she’ll never be safe even if she runs.

So begins a fascinating story told in turn by the ‘original’ Myfanwy – or Miss Thomas, as the ‘new’ Myfanwy thinks of her – about an organization of pf people with paranormal abilities, some bizarre, others deadly, other just plain creepy – some all of the above.  And the ‘new’ Myfanwy is a very different person.  Miss Thomas was nothing if not organized and she has prepared well for what she was sure would happen, regardless of any action she might take.  The ‘new’ Myfanwy needs every thing Miss Thomas provided and more, but she simply cannot cram a lifetime into one night.  She doesn’t carry the emotional baggage, is more pragmatic, and unlike Miss Thomas, not afraid to use her abilities.  The last bit she keeps to herself.  But she has a daunting task ahead of her.  She’s walking into an organization of people with all manner of abilities, governed by rules and etiquette dating back hundreds of years, and trying to pretend she belongs in a fairly high level position.  Thing is, she completely lacks the memory set to function as Miss Thomas, so she improvises.  But there’s no disguising her strength and assertiveness, two traits Miss Thomas lacked.

The difference shows itself markedly when a prisoner is ‘interrogated’ and an old enemy, long thought gone.  This struggle between what science can create and what nature creates – the Checquy vs the Grafters – alchemists turned monster makers, or perhaps, creating through science what occurs naturally in the members of the Checquy.  But modern science challenges the long held supremacy of those born with special talents, the Grafters just take it to a different level.

There is no question this book is original and very, very well done.  The only problem, Myfanwy Thomas does not feel very ‘female’.  She feels almost androgynous.  Maybe that’s the way the author wanted it, and he does kind of explain it away, or being male, he simply could not nuance the character enough to feel truly female.  This is a minor issue, but one that caught my several times saying, “What woman would not do xyz?”  I suspect most readers might miss that entirely as the story is engrossing. That said, his description of the visit of the ‘the Greek woman’ told by Miss Thomas was a complete hoot.   Some might dislike the ‘real time’ events interrupted by the many instructions and tutorials the ‘old’ Miss Thomas left for her new self.  It’s a style that I sometimes find contrived or just annoying, but it worked here and wove into the story giving the two versions of Myfanwy, Myfanwy 1.0 and Myfanwy 2.0, substance.  Their differences are quite clear and make the story more interesting.

The Rook is a really good first novel by a new author and gets a very rare A- (4.6*) from me.  The writing style is bound to annoy some, but worked for me – and many others.  Already questions are being asked about when book 2 will be available – assuming Book 2 is planned.  Given the ending of book 1, a rather clever ending I never saw coming, I might add, I’d say yes, this might be a series, but perhaps only a trilogy.  I could be wrong.  Bravo Mr O’Malley for a extraordinary first effort.  Highly Recommended.  I bought The Rook from Amazon for just over $11.50 plus tax.  It was worth every penny.

September 28, 2013

New Releases and New Authors – Short Reviews and a Travel Tale

Once again I got involved in a reading challenge.  Why do I do it?  It takes me away from other things, like this blog.  I’m I glutton for punishment.  I think that’s a lingering element of my corporate life.  So is my giving advice in Trip Advisor, at least for my oft visited destinations.  I was, for years, the ‘go to’ person for hotel and restaurant advice in my department.  This week on TA it was the unpleasant shock that the much delayed beach renourishment project for Captiva and a small section of Sanibel that is suddenly scheduled to start Oct 1.   This long planned, but rather sudden start, has people who rented beachfront in the village area upset – with some justification.  It’s noisy and runs 24/7 and blocks a lot of beach at once, but it is also ESSENTIAL because of the extreme damage from Tropical Storm Debby last year that sent buzz saw waves sweeping across the beaches to the south, washing them away.  This lead to the exchange of travel war stories and I offered the one about my first business trip to Puerto Rico.

For many years I did a lot of traveling for my job.  Yes, I hit a few great places, Venice, Japan – including a tour of Katsura Villa, England a number of times, Paris, but I also went many more places that that only the locals could love.  I recall waking up one morning and having to hunt down the hotel stationary to see what city I was in and then a paper to get the date.  How hardcore road warriors do it, I’ll never know.  But one thing every traveler should pack is a sense of humor.  Travel is frustrating.  You plan the perfect vacation and the giant vulture of Fate craps all over it.   But really, sometimes the worst things make the best stories.   Yeah, it’s great to have a vacation where NOTHING goes wrong.  Of course, I wouldn’t know about that, because it’s never happened to me.

I worked in the pharmaceutical industry and spent almost 20 years ducking any trip to Puerto Rico due to an acute allergy to penicillin.  Finally, they – my former boss and my current boss in evil league with a purchasing agent – decided I had to go, not to our production facilities, but to two injection molding facilities to see if I felt they were technically acceptable.  I was on a project in Arizona for over a week, flew home, rented a car, drove to the house, tossed the dirty clothes, packed clean clothes, showered, caught 6 hours sleep and drove back to the airport for an early flight.  As I’m driving into the Hertz car return, the weather report says the hurricane that was stationary near the US Virgin Islands was moving.  Now this was before Smartphones, and everyone carting a laptop/tablet was common place, so checking weather wasn’t easy.

Cursing under my breath I go into the airport ready to call a car service to go home when I check the flight status and yes, it’s on schedule.  OK, so everything must be good.  I get to the gate and there are only business people there, which was kind of weird, but these folks went down there like once a month and thought everyone was excited about nothing.  They were wrong.  As the plane circled the San Juan airport, the pilot comes over the intercom and announces to the 50 or so idiots (including me) who boarded this flight “Ladies and gentlemen, if you’ll look out the left hand windows, you’ll see Hurricane Hortense.”  Yup, couldn’t miss something that big.  Ours was the last flight in.  I should have just stayed on the plane and gone to where ever it was going next, but no, I check in at the El San Juan.  The desk clerk thought I was nuts.  Well, Hortense wasn’t exactly news in Phoenix, so what did I know?

I get to the room and call my former boss, who is supposed to be coming down and …………… his flight was cancelled.  So was the flight for the purchasing agent, the 2 people responsible for my being there.  “You’re alone. We don’t know if either of the vendors made it down.”  Swell.  I’m loving this trip.  Now one vendor did make it and we managed to eat at my hotel that night, but by then the bars and casinos were closed and they had to leave because of security lockdown.  I’m exhausted, I read and hit the sack, and the damn phone rings at midnight.  Go to turn on the light ……….. nothing.  Find my travel flashlight and grab the phone.  All guests must come down to the casino, bring a pillow as blankets – NOW!

HUH? So I toss on a few clothes, grab a book, pillow, blanket and my huge CAPTIVA beach towel and head down. By now, my tired brain has registered the electric is out, but backup generators are supplying emergency hallway lights and elevators.  At the casino everyone gets a ratty old lounge cushion and told to find a spot on the floor. The staff is stuck in the hotel and they are doing their best, but man, were some people acting badly. They had water soft drinks and sandwiches (no alcohol as the Gov had closed the bars and casinos much earlier) but we still had one loud drunk. (There is always one) I setup housekeeping under a craps table and propped myself against a leg and read. Around 6AM we were allowed back to our rooms and I had just barely gotten to sleep when the damn phone rings. My boss calling to see if I was OK, and I told him I ended up spending the night under a craps table because the casino was the only room with no windows and the hotel had a few blown out. (I’ll give you one guess about how many jokes I got about the whole craps table thing – which I swear someone must have emailed to everyone in the damn department.)  And oh,  I was getting the first flight home and they were paying for it even if I flew first class and hung up.

Now I was stuck for two days, no power, but we could flush the toilets and take showers by candlelight and that was far more important. The staff was just amazing and really did the best could under really difficult circumstances. Of course some folks complained. I finally got out and got home.  I’m free, right?  Wrong.  Two weeks later they made me go back. (I think they flipped a coin to decide who got to call me and tell me I had to go because they were all scared.  They had reason to be. ) Down I go. Weather was perfect, everything goes fine, I’m sitting in a nearly empty flight home with a chatty FEMA guy who was an Air Force reserve pilot heading home for his assigned weekend when he says, “They’re dumping fuel. They’re heading back to the airport.” I just stared. Did I say something intelligent? No. I said, “Won’t that pollute the ocean?” “No, it will vaporize before it hits the surface.” OK, so it turns out that loud thunk was a blown engine and we land with police, fire and emergency trucks lining the runway. This chatty guy says, well, we might as well get lunch (which at the time was limited to a sandwich place) and we’re exchanging travel stories when the server’s tray tilts and 16 oz of Coke come pouring over my shoulder down my chest and into my lap – leaked between my legs and soaked my butt.  On the upside, the lunch was free.  Thankfully, I did have a complete change of clothing in my roll aboard, because I needed everything from the skin out.

One of the other posters added her comment – “I will not be following up with the “my son vomited all over me and burst his eardrums on the flight down, shortly before our daughter stepped on a spiny urchin and had to get the spines removed and stitches put in” story. Nope. I’ll save that one for another time!”

I replied, “Given a choice between “my son vomited all over me and burst his eardrums………… ” and Hurricane Hortense, I’d take the hurricane.”  See, everyone has travel war stories!

You quickly learn to take your sense of humor and perspective when you – though keeping them can be hard at times.  And I always had a lot of books for all those flight delays.

And books still go with me.  (I confess, my Kindle sees little use, but I do read ebooks on my laptop.)  Here we go, a mix of genres and quality.

cakes of wrath

Yet another food oriented cozy mystery.  Not my favorite series, but Cakes of Wrath was above average.  Set in New Orleans, this cake shop mystery has an interesting plot with local small business owners trying to organized.  Motorcycle shop owner, aptly Moose, asks Rita to give his flaky wife Destiny a chance to help with the scheduled clean up, she can’t say no – especially when he yanks her out of the way of a van trying to run her over.  Bad enough she’s injured from that, but he mother of her late husband – a man she was almost fully divorced from – Miss Frankie, asks her to help her cousin Peggy Lee a job at the bakery.  Now Rita is stuck with a woman who stole her pain killers and got so high she had to order her out, only to find her dead at her husband’s chopper shop with Rita’s prescription bottle in her hand.  Then there’s Peggy Lee, a 60+ year old Southern belle with no jobs skills except finding unsuitable men and spending money she hasn’t got, and a vice detective who is either stupid or looking for easy answers and is convinced Rita is part of the drug trade.

Destiny had a long and bad history with drugs – and claimed she would roll on her drug supplier, said she’d challenge the obvious candidate from president of the small business owner’s association, flirted with another shop owner, and was inches from being divorced from Moose for stealing from his business.  But persistence in asking questions – to get herself of the damn suspect list of that vice detective almost gets her killed by the person with all the anger.

For once, the solution was not obvious by page 30, so I enjoyed Cakes of Wrath more the most cozies.  I’d give it a B- (3.7*) and a suggested read for cozy fans.  Not worth $7.10, but for around $6.00 it’s OK.  I got this through BAM for $5,59.

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whiskey rebellionWhiskey SourWhiskey for breakfast

Liliana Hart is best know for her steamy romantic suspense and lightly humorous erotic romance, but with her Addison Holmes series, Hart starts with a new genre using CreateSpace, the Amazon self-publishing platform, to introduce her first foray into comedic mystery.  Certainly not a cozy and yet not a mainstream mystery either, Addison Holmes is one of that genre that is best considered hybrid.

There is a tendency today to say everyone rips off Janet Evanovich’s Steph Plum, but Evanovich just followed a path cut by authors like Phoebe Atwood Taylor writing as Alice Tilton way back in the 30’s.  Humorous mysteries have a long tradition and some are great entertainment as well as good mysteries.  The problem, some devolve into dumb farce and forget at heart – IT’S A MYSTERY.  Ms Hart manages to to a least get that part.

Addison Holmes is a teacher with a problem – and eviction notice, an expensive new car, and a subscription to lingerie of the month club – oh, and a thing for shoes.  She wants to move out of her condemned apartment into a neat bungalow across town – but her anemic bank account means she needs a second job for a down payment.  Well, first jobs are hard enough to come by, and one that pays a lot of money in a short amount of time are hard to find.  So Addison tries to become an ‘exotic dancer’.  Possibly the worst dancer ever, made even worse when her principal starts snapping cell phone shots of her in her pasties and g-string while he’s getting a lap dance!

You’d think that would make for the worst day of your life, but it got worse when she escapes out the club’s back door and finds a body.  But all is not lost, her BFF and her husband run a very successful investigation and security business.  She can hunt cheating spouses and take sleazy pictures for $100 a day.  The murder of her principal dead, suspended from her job, her apartment  condemned, her mortgage application turned down and this really hot homicide detective have Addison digging into what’s happening in her little town of Whiskey Bayou.  Aside from her BFF Katie, Rosemarie, a really ditsy fellow teacher in her 50’s, or her mom, are the only ones willing to help.

Whiskey Rebellion is a long setup for the series with a fairly surprising twist at the end.  Not as well done as Jana DeLeon’s Miss Fortune series, but worth a read at ebook prices.  I read the print book at $10+ with tax and that’s too high.  The cast is a bit too close to Evanovich for comfort, but that’s helped in the later books when the storyline veers off on a track all its own.

Book 2 is Whiskey Sour and now not only is Addision out of a job, living with mom, she’s decided to take classes to get her PI license.  Her detective boyfriend Nick is not exactly pleased.  He’s even less pleased when the FBI want Addison involved in a sting operation of a super high class call girl out that might be dealing in a lot more than sex.  They never succeeded in getting any undercover agent in the ‘escort’ service, but Addison fits the bill perfectly – educated, the right looks, right age, everything and she doesn’t even faintly smell of COP.  And Agent Savage will be over-seeing the operation – and is he H-O-T.  But Addison is with Nick and not the cheating type.  Plus, it pays well.   Nick is opposed due to the risks, and BFF Katie isn’t thrilled either.

Since she moved back home with mom, Addison discovered her mother and her late father’s partner, Vince, another police detective, are having an affair.  Really, she’s just not old enough to listen to her mom and Vince going at it like horny teenagers.  Or learning mom’s taking naked yoga.  She needs her own place – and the money the FBI offered is too good to pass up.

Along the way, Addison gets the job done, but the madame  was a lot more than the politically connected flesh peddler the FBI thought she was.   But Addy ends up in the hospital where Nick basically says it’s me or the job.  He can’t deal with the danger she puts herself in.  She isn’t letting anyone dictate her life, regardless of her feelings for Nick, and he walks out.

Book 3, Whiskey for Breakfast, has Addison sitting in on a very strange meeting.  A dying billionaire is trying to find his only blood relative, an illegitimate son he fathered in a misspent and less that legal youth when he had a whole different name and life.  She’s also asked to help track the sudden surge in local drugs by hunky FBI guy Savage – who is also her neighbor.   She might have broken up with Nick, but she wasn’t about to cross the line where she’d sleep with Savage.  Her sister has very different ideas on that.

Addison also meets the team of eccentric neighbors that make up the local neighborhood watch type unit.  She learns Savage is the only other normal person there – and Savage isn’t exactly a ‘normal’ guy.

The difference between the plotting of the mystery in book 1 to book 3 is striking.  With each book, the plots got more interesting, which I liked.  Overall, it was a cut above average for humorous mystery, despite similarities to the Steph Plum books.  With the help of her teacher friend Rosemarie, who somehow got involved with a man who wants sex morning, noon, and night, she and Addy start checking out this old age home with some questionable goings on.  Then she has the arrival of her older artist and free-spirit sister on her door step begging for a place to sleep – because she can’t deal with the mom/Vince thing either.  Addy has her hands full.  And Nick is back.  But getting left at the alter has Addy tough enough to deal, until the kissing starts.

Overall, the series improved with each book.  The books ranged from C to a B- (3* to 3.7*) rating and there was some of her steamy sex, but not much.  I enjoyed the books, but would recommend buying the ebooks instead of print.  The price of the print books ranged from just over $10 to about $12 with tax from Amazon.  The Addison Holmes series wwould be enjoyed by those who like the Mudbug series by Jana DeLeon, Crhistine Craig’s romantic mysteries, and Leslie Langtry’s Bombay Assassins (though that series was much more original), or the Stepf Plum Series.  I passed all three on to a fellow humorous mystery reader in California.

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one-lucky-vampire-19-argenau-vampire

Lynsay Sands writes fluff paranormal romances featuring her nano technology vampires and One Lucky Vampire is the latest in this long running series.  In all of her 19 books, there were really only two or three standouts – Single White Vampire, and The Accidental Vampire are my two personal favorites.  Her attempt to turn the series darker and more Gothic in the Hunter books with an evil vampire didn’t work and someone slapped her upside the head and yelled “FLUFF!”  Honestly, she just can’t write decent dark paranormal.  Fluff she can manage.

At 384 pages, this novel is an easy, FAST read.  Better than her last few, it features Jake Colson, the human son of a woman turned vampire by her mate.  He grew up not knowing her mom and beloved step-father and half brother were all vampires.  When he found out at 18 and his mother happily offered her one turn to make him one, he not only refused, he became estranged from his family.  He ended up working for Vincent Argeneau and was in his 50’s when Vincent turned him to save his life.  He left California and went to work for a security and protection agency using his two middle names, Jake Colson.

Having just finished a job protecting an egomaniacal dictator, his ‘Aunt’ Marguerite asks him to protect Nicole Phillips, the niece of her long time housekeeper and noted portrait artist who was getting a messy divorce.  He would pose as her cook/housekeeper.  Of course he can’t cook.  (Now if readers of this series are sensing a certain deja vu, it’s understandable.  This is a plot element she’s used before.  In fact, the whole story is a bit of a mishmash retread for several similar stories.)   There’s really nothing new or ever slightly original here.   Vaguely pleasant and slightly amusing, it was largely a waste of money and time – and still better than her dreadful ‘hunter’ books.

One Lucky Vampire gets a  C- (2.7*), significantly lower than the Amazon ratings where her fans rule, and it can only be suggested to rabid Argeneau followers.  Thankfully, this book only cost $4.79+ tax from Amazon.  It wasn’t even worth that.  Unless you’re an Argeneau junkie, skip it.

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fatedcursed

The Alex Verus series has been sitting on Mt TBR for some time, but thanks to the Reading Challenge, I FINALLY got to it – and could not put them down.  Where I found Mike Carey’s Felix Castor books a bit too heavy on horror for me to enjoy, Alex Verus was more like Harry Dresden light.  Not quite as complex, the characters still standout and the plot is excellent.  (Book one has a sly one line reference to Harry that made me laugh.)  So UF lovers rejoice, this one is worthy of the title!

Alex Verus is a diviner.  The ability to see possible futures is not exactly the sheer power that war mages carry, but the way they can predict things and chose their actions to create an outcome makes other mages very uneasy.  Even worse, Alex fled is master, a dark mage to whom he apprenticed.  No mage, Light or Dark would help him, not even those he thought of as friends.  So Alex survived on his own and stayed clear of the whole mage community.  Now he runs a small shop that sells non-magical and some magical items and just keeps a low profile.  Luna, his young assistant helps him procure items of the ‘back room’ where the real magical pieces are sold.  Luna has a curse laid on her, one worked by an angry witch long ago and still as potent as ever.  The curse makes for a lonely existence for the young woman and Alex, knowing what it’s like to be alone, does what he can to be her friend and teach her to control the curse.

Luna brings him an object that makes her nervous – a red cube.  Alex can tell it’s magical, an ‘imbued’ item that possesses magic of its own, but what he can’t tell.  Frankly, it makes him nervous too.  Then a man he once thought of as a friend comes to him to help the ruling council with an excavation.  Oddly, all the diviners – and there aren’t many – are suddenly ‘unavailable’.  Alex wants no part of the council or the slippery Lyle.  But diviners have an over-developed sense of curiosity, and it takes Alex to the dig site.  Soon he finds himself drawn into the problem whether he likes it or not – and as a sign of ‘good will’ he’s even invited to a mage ball.  Between upper level mage politics, people wanting him dead, then more or less getting possessed, he has a rough time of it.

From Fated I immediately started Cursed with Alex once again drawn back into the world of Mage politics when Talisid, a mage who seems to be OK, but who knows with mages, recruits him to help with a raid to capture a magical creature feeding off the people of London.  And Luna wants to introduce Alex to her boyfriend, Martin.  When Martin steals the Monkey’s Paw, Alex knows his meeting Luna was hardly accidental.  His intense dislike of the young man and Luna’s infatuation and refusal to listen about how dangerous the Monkey’s Paw is strains their relationship almost to the break point.  Then Meredith, an enchantress, working for Belthas, a very powerful ice mage end up pulling him into the search from whatever is drawing the life force from apprentice mages and magical creatures.  Alex warns Arachne, his 10 foot tall spider friend who lives in the heart of a wooded area of the Heath in London, but it’s Luna taking Martin there that does the damage.  Everyone is selling the other guy out.

The story’s pace is fast an furious and Alex, with the help of Sonder, a young time mage, they manage to stay alive long enough to rescue Luna and Arachne.  Like Fated, Cursed has two stories running at once.  The background plot involving the council and Tailsid, and also Luna and her curse, and the immediate story which is resolved.  I have read Taken and Chosen and the web that Jacka weaves is fascinating.

Fated and Cursed are both solid B (4*) books.  Not as complex as Jim Butcher’s Harry Dresden, not a witty as Kevin Hearne’s Iron Druid, but in the same mold.  Recommended reading for fans of either of those series.   I bought the books from Amazon for $7.19 each.  They’re a bit less at the moment.

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Chimes at midnight

Seanan McGuire writes two excellent series that sit on my auto-buy list, the lighter UF Incrypted series and the darker October Daye series.  Now getting into the October Daye books required a bit of a struggle on my part.  Book one seemed tedious and at least as annoying as it was interesting.  Book two had Toby’s world taking shape.  By book three I was hooked.  This is not an easy series to like and it MUST be read in order or you’ll be lost for sure.

Chimes at Midnight is book seven in the series and in many ways the culmination of a long battle between Toby and the Queen of the area, an over riding story arc throughout the books to date.  They not so cordially hate each other.  Which might be tolerable, but Toby’s success infuriates the Queen – and at a command appearance, she creates cause to banish Toby over the Goblin fruit trade killing half-bloods, like Toby.  For pure bloods, Goblin fruit is a hallucinogen, but a single taste by a half-blood and they are instantly and fatally addicted.   Tybalt, her lover and King of Cait Sidhe, has been helping her along with May, her fetch, May’s significant other, Jazz, a winged shifter, and Quentin, her squire.  Only Toby is banished.  She has 3 days.  That was the Queen’s mistake.  She gave Toby time and she used it wisely.

Toby is no ordinary half-blood.  Though she kept her mother’s true self secret, she is the off-spring of a human and a ‘firstborn’ – a child of Tatiana and Oberon, making Toby’s inherited powers far stronger than the queen knows – and almost no one knows just what they are.  The Sea Witch is her ‘aunt’ and her memory goes back much further than most.  Though she is bound not to interfere, she does give Toby the lead that starts to unravel the monarchy.

As always, the trip to the end is not easy and the denouement at court is excellent.  A very short story follows that lays the groundwork for where the series will go in the future.

Chimes at Midnight is a highly recommended read at a B+ (4.4*), but with the caveat that the series needs to be read in order.  Still priced at $4.79 on Amazon which is what I paid.  Ms McGuire maintains a very high standard with her plots and her writing.  Enjoy!

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