Tour’s Books Blog

May 11, 2019

On Reading More

Since my cataract surgery, I’ve been doing a lot more e-book reading and just reading in general.  The problem I’m finding with e-books, aside the egregious formatting issues, crap editing, awful proofreading, and total lack of spellcheck (Or authors really DON’T know the difference between imminent and eminent or the fact a point is moot, not mute!) is that authors tend to write long novellas or very short books, under 200 pages, that leave characters undeveloped, no time for world building, secondary characters that have great promise become a flash-in-and-out shallow non-entity, and I’m left feeling like that should have been really good, but it ended up little more than a dog’s dinner of a slightly fleshed out outline.  Shallow, empty, unable to engage me completely the whole thing is little better than a piece of cotton candy in print.

Reading more has also shown the weaknesses of many highly acclaimed and/or bestselling authors.  Take Janet Evonavich.  Her most recent bit of fluff, Look Alive Twenty-Five was so bad I ended up skimming it.  Trite, reusing sentences and partial paragraphs in every damn book, predictable plots, everything a series that should have retired gracefully 15 books ago becomes, added the final insult – not one thing was truly funny.  Her fans will consistently overlook all these flaws and rave about Steph, Morelli, Ranger, and Lula – never looking at the downward spiral of the quality of the plots and increasingly absurd ‘set pieces’ designed as humorous skits within the book, but unrelated to the story.  Her fans are rabid, but sales are declining with quality.  Evanovich has made her millions, it doesn’t matter.  The stories can be on life-support and her ardent fans will buy and rave about them.  I get free e-books or I don’t bother.  Look Alive Twenty-Five – which gets a D- (0.8*) from me – wasn’t even in the review listing. Why?  Her fans just don’t care.  As the Bard would say, “There’s the rub.”

There are some real quality authors doing e-books at novel length, but the short attention span of readers seems to push publishers and authors into a short format.  Publishers of print books rarely give new authors a chance to build a following.  The result is astounding mediocrity.  Or as I said to my doctor, “Short and predictable.”  There is no greater condemnation than that.

It also says a lot about readers.  They will settle for a steady diet of bland ‘fast food’ books rather than take the time to find something worth the effort to read and be willing to wait for a well-crafted novel that is fully visualized and researched with three-dimensional nuanced characters and creative world building.  98% of ebooks are the equivalent of a fast food drive-thru window items thrown together by people who know nothing about food, managed by people who care only about time (not taste), owned by a soulless company, and consumed by people indifferent to anything except a quick refueling of their stomach.  The meal is forgettable and tasteless but they can claim they ate something resembling food.

Why this rant?  Well, as I said, I’ve been reading more, sometimes 15 books in a series in 3 days – yeah they’re that short!  You quickly realize that every genre has been infected.  UF, paranormal, and cozy mysteries have a pandemic of lousy books.  Not far behind are books that ‘borrow’ a character or element from a bestselling author and spin empty stories around them.  One of the worst offenders is The Jack Reacher Cases by Dan Ames.  Ghastly is giving them too much credit.  I began reading Lee Child’s Jack Reacher books before anyone knew who Lee Child was or heard of Jack Reacher.  Jack Reacher, like Robert B. Parker’s Spencer, became an iconic character.  Why Lee Child allowed the use of his character as a plot point is beyond me.  The books are so badly written and plotted (There was a PLOT????) they can’t even be called average.  AVOID THIS SERIES!  Oh yeah, avoid Diane Capri’s The Hunt for Jack Reacher series too.  She still hasn’t found a decent plot or a coherent story.

Seeley James, an action thriller writer of average or slightly above skill, start the Sabel Security series.  I had issues from book one but gave the author time to develop the characters and the over-arching plot.  I tell you, the whole concept was so OTT I struggled from book 1, but Book 5, Death and Secrets had me once again trying to figure out how to throw an ebook against the wall in outraged frustration.  The heroine is the owner of Sabel Security, a business started by her adopted billionaire father and named for her.  Pia Sabel isn’t just a former world-class Olympic soccer champion, she’s natural at security and working out arcane plots.  Yes, she even learns her REAL momma is now the evil VP of the US!  So a soccer champion heiress turned security company president and field operator (with zero experience) not only outwits all these super-villains, she looks great doing it and teaches kids soccer when she can!  BARF!  The books ranged from D to C+ (2-3.2*) and only if you suspend all credibility.  If you can get past Element 42 (good luck with that) it doesn’t get worse till book 4 and 5 and that’s where I gave up.

Now you know I had some good reads too.  Here they are:

Kill for Me (Victor, Bk 8) by Tom Wood gets a solid B+ (4.2*) recommended read from me.  Victor the assassin remains steadfastly in character through the series, adhering only to his own ethics while hunting and being hunted.  A fascinating character, not likable but not repulsive either.  Tom Wood does a fine job keeping his plots tight and interesting.  A recommended series for anyone who enjoys the anti-hero genre.

Fortune Furlough by Jana DeLeon sees Ida Belle, Gertie, and Fortune off on that long talked about vacation in Florida on a fictitious island called Quiet Key – which has a geographical description that seems to move it around but sounds like Sanibel/Captiva mixed with Little Palm Island (wrong location, right rescription) and Longboat Key (same problem).  Other than that, the plot is pretty good and there are enough laughs that you can enjoy the mystery of who killed the conman.  It gets a B- (3.8*) as it’s still not quite up to the early books but is an easy, fun read.

In a Badger Way is Shelly Laurenston’s latest shifter humorous romance and bless that author, she does make me laugh.  We were introduced to the MacKenzie sisters in Hot and Badgered that featured the oldest half-sister Charlie.  This installment features Stevie, the neurotic musical and scientific genius.  Stevie is not one of my favorite characters, but the book is fun and funny and loveable Panda Shen Li who we met way back in Bite Me.  Stevie decides Shen is her boyfriend.  He simply has little say in the matter, even after seeing what she shifts into.  But pandas are among the most easy-going shifters so, in many ways, Shen is Stevie’s best choice and truth be told, he’s not exactly averse to the idea.  Good fun with the usual slam-bang ending.  It gets a solid B (4*) and recommended read from me.

One of the series I gang read is still in progress, the Ascending Mage series by Frank and Rae Lea Hurt.  Book 1, Changeling Justice starts the story of Ember Wright, the younger daughter of two high ranking mages, her father who works with numbers for the Counsel, and her mother, a Class 5 Healer.  As a child, she shows no talents at all.  Come he testing day Ember is ready to declare herself a lost cause, but the man doing the testing is the most respected Investigator alive, called by one and all, The Legend.  While all mage tracks have 6 levels, Investigators have only 3.  And that is what Emmy is, an investigator.  The story starts with her apprenticing with The Legend himself.  They are chasing a culprit in a cemetery when Ember says the name of the person whose gravestone she tripped over – and calls forth his ghost.  Wallace knows she’s far more than a simple investigator and is carefully guarding her secret.  When she reaches Senor status in just 10 years, he sends her to Minot to do the census of Dru – mages and changelings and things go sidewise from the start.  Ember becomes relentless in her pursuit for justice and with her mentor so far off she finds another one in the cemetery and the real plot begins unfolding through Changeling Hunter and Buried Truth.  So far the series is getting B- to B (3.8 to 4.0*) from me and book 4 is on pre-order.  It’s a definite cut above the typical UF fluff.

OK, that it for now and I’ll try and do more series reviews in a month or so and update any here I’m still reading.

August 13, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

July 30, 2015

Reviews: New Releases in Print and eBook

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Middle Son – WHO?????

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Best line in the book:

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

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

Preacher: “I’m sorry to hear that.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


July 14, 2015

Book Reviews – Various Genres in eBook and Print

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

April 23, 2015

All Genre Reviews – Mostly Ebooks and Some DTB’s

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The story centers on three key plot points:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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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 23, 2013

Hot! Hot! HOT! Summer Reading Reviews

OK, I confess, summer can get just too damn hot for me.  Yeah, yeah, I know, we’ve been spoiled here in the Northeast with several pretty mild summers in a row and summers are SUPPOSED to be hot.  Still, walking out the door is like getting hit in the face with a steaming hot towel.  ICK!  You don’t take your clothes off, you peel the sodden mess from your body and shower twice a day.  Have I been in hotter places?  Well, many years ago I was in the Valley of the Kings in Egypt in July and it was about 130F.  The wavy air currents that you see coming from hot pavements extended above the heads of the visitors and the photos I took all had this odd pink hue to them, like I’d slapped a colored filter on the lens.  Abu Simbal was 123F.  And Scottsdale, AZ was 117F – so yeah, I’ve been in MUCH hotter places.  But hot, muggy, Northeast summers were meant for the beach or the lake, not grocery shopping at mid-day.

So what can one do but read?  Not that I ever need much of an excuse.  And I’m falling behind in getting books read for swaps.  I wrote 3 book reviews for PBS (paperbackSwap) book blog so I can’t review them here, but I’ll give you a few sentences and my rating.

laced-with-poison

Book 2 of the Sweet Nothings series is a well written bust because you know the who and why by page 50.  If you don’t, shame on you and turn in your Nancy Drew badge at the door.

My rating is C- (2.6*) and a suggestion you give this dull effort a pass.  You’ll miss nothing.  I spent $7.19 for this from Amazon and it was a waste of time and money.

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InkedDestiny

A year, I waited damn near a year and was ready to strangle Jory Strong half way through this sex fest masquerading as urban fantasy erotica.  Honestly, this is a 16 year boy’s wet dream, with pieces of an actually good story threaded thru it.  Not as well done as Inked Magic, the first book and overall, disappointing in its story quality.  I found myself skipping pages so I could keep up with the plot, which wandered badly.  The sex would put the book in the XX range.

My rating for Inked Destiny is C (3*) and I’m being kind.  Will appeal to erotica lovers, but UF fans are doomed to be disappointed.  Only smut lovers need to consider a buy, everyone else wait for a cheap or free copy.  I can’t believe I wasted nearly $11 on this through Amazon.

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werewolf in alaska

Did someone forget to tell me July was Mediocre Book Month?  Seriously, another paranormal romance from a usually reliable author that’s BLAH!  Good thing this book cost me less than $5 on BAM or I’d be ticked.

My rating for Werewolf in Alaska is C (3*) and again, that’s being kind.  Get it free or used.

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biting Oz

I like the Biting Love series by Mary Hughes and her books in general.  Yeah, they’re another vampire romance series, but they’re done with a flair and fun to read.  Published by Samhain in both print and ebook, I bought Biting Oz from Amazon to read and use as part of a prize basket I offered in a big swap.  It was on my wish list anyway, so the fact the prize winner wanted it too gave me the excuse to buy it.  At $12 with tax, it was a good thing I enjoyed it, but it’s still over priced.

For a small town Miers Corners has a lot of strange events happening lately.  But on the upside, someone is spending a LOT of money to renovate places like the old theater where they’re staging a rewrite of Wizard of Oz, called Oz, Wonderful Oz, a musical starring a quite talented young woman who seems a bit lonely to ‘Junior’ Stieg, a member of the orchestra and worker in her father’s sausage store.  Junior and her pal Nixie (Biting Nixie, one of the few books in the series that kind of annoyed me with all the punk cant) and Nixie’s handsome lawyer husband Julien.

Junior is running late to the dress rehearsal, hauling multiple instruments and a music stand when she – literally – runs into overexcited Munchkins blocking the aisle to the pit.  Suddenly, tall, dark and really, really big saves her and the Munchkins from disaster.  Glynn is a Welsh vampire who was hired to protect the young star, Mishela, by the show’s financial backer and town’s fairy godfather, the enigmatic Mr Elias.  But when Rocky, Junior, Mishela see something strange attack, Gylnn’s phone all to Mr Elias seems to convince her ever thing is normal.  Unfortunately, it did NOT convince Junior.  And Junior’s attraction to Gylnn not withstanding, what the hell is going on?

It’s only when Junior’s parents invade her bedroom after hearing obvious sounds of an amorous adventure that has Junior realize Gylnn really isn’t human.  Not when he hid in the one place they’d never look – on the ceiling!  Enter a jealous ex-girlfriend, problems with the cheeseshop owners next door, and things get really out of control.

Biting Oz has more substance than the usual paranormal fluff romance, but the nosy parents of an adult woman (especially the bedroom invasion which did nothing but make me dislike her parents) and the way her mother speaks to Junior really annoyed me.  Frankly, Junior should have stood her ground more.  That was the only part that really annoyed me.

Overall, I give Biting Oz C+ to B- (3.5*), better than average, but not by much.  For series fans, buy the ebook.  For print readers, wait for a used copy.

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fangs-for-nothing

Waking up handcuffed to an uptight female French vampire, Lizette, who refuses to believe Johnny Malone is really alive and his supposed death just a way to dump a persistent girlfriend, is no way to spend the morning after one of his best friend’s wedding to a dominatrix – who is also out cold in the same room.  But even worse, he’s staring at the naked butt of his bandmate, ladies man Drake, in some kind of a sex swing contraption inches from his face also and the very human caterer, Josie – wearing nothing but the frilly shirt that Drake had on when dressed as the best man in a pirate costume.  The really bad part, no one could remember the night before.   Must have been a hell of night if Drake ended up wearing nothing but chaps, leaving a lot more than his ass hanging out.

On top of all that, Saxon, the groom, is missing and there’s an alligator in the hallway.  Oh, the handcuffs?  Titanium.  Johnny and Lizette are stuck together – and her blouse is covered with blood down the back.  Now Johnny and Lizette need to get free of each other, and Drake and Josie have to figure out what the hell happened to everyone’s things – including Drake’s pants.

Erin McCarthy and Kathy Love created a fast, fun read.  Short on substance, but entertaining enough to finish it and not feel cheated.  No, it wasn’t captivating, just a good beach read.  Undemanding and amusing.  While the ending kind of loses steam, the bulk of the book is better than average for fluff.

Fangs for Nothing came to me via a PBS bookswap and I’d give it C+ to B- (3.5*) and a suggested summer read if you can find it cheap in a used book store because the ebook is no bargain.

September 29, 2012

Man Plans, the Gods Laugh – and why I have so few reviews this week

Life rarely goes as planned.  It also reminds us that regardless of our problems, others have it far worse.  A friend in the book swaps took a fall and broke her back.  Her vertebra was glued together again using the surgical equivalent of Super Glue and she’s now in a rehab center in California.  Bored and in pain, she asked me to write a story for her using my groundhog character that exists on the swap forums of PBS (Paperback Swap).    It was supposed to be a simple two maybe 3 part story.  I’m on part 8 and I have one more to go to get the loose ends tied up.

Stories have a life of their own and often surprise even me.  I read that authors say their characters just won’t allow them to do certain things.  Well, over the years, this groundhog I created has developed some very definite ideas about what she will and will NOT do.  Over time, she didn’t exactly evolve the way I was expecting, and a large part of that was due to a group writing effort in a swap where each player contributed a character and story element to the game.    Unlike a Murder Mystery Weekend, it was not a play where the victims and perpetrators were determined in advance.  It was more like trying to knit together stories of Thieves World, where writers saw the same character from different perspectives and created characters for themselves.  In the swap, called Murder They Wrote, I laid the basic framework of the story and worked each contribution and character created into the plot as best I could.  I had to get pretty creative at times!  The whole thing came out surprisingly good.  Our patient and long suffering hostess, who played the part of the owner of The Myrtles Plantation in Louisiana, put the final version together as book, I did some last minutes edits and an epilogue, and she emailed it to all the players.  It was a perfect setting.  One player decided she was a ghost.  Another a voodoo priestess.  There were ‘extras’ that fleshed out the story.  But we had a great and creative group.

As a result of that swap, I created a character as a partner for my groundhog in an art theft recovery company.  He became a recurring player and I started doing multi-part stories in the swaps.  Each time my books were stolen, I’d tell another part of the story.  It takes time and often bits were in different swaps.  So another player began collecting my posts in a dedicated thread.  This lead to my friends’ request to do a story just for her.  But putting stories together takes time.  More time than I realized when I started writing the one for my friend.  Each day I’d do 4-7 pages, let it sit a day, then go back next day, do a quick edit and make minor changes, then move on to the next part.

Because I did the story like episodes in a 30 minute TV show, I actually had to put all the parts together today and start reading through from the beginning to see what I had to clean up – or questions left unanswered.  I found a few errors, but over all, for something thrown together by an amateur in a week, it really was pretty well done.

Was the story what I planned?  No.  Did it play out as I expected?  No.  Only two elements came through that I planned in advanced.  One happened because I gave my friend in CA a call to see how she’s doing.  She mentioned she really liked this one character I created, the opposite to my own temperamental, short-tempered, feisty, and sometimes vindictive character.  He’s a phlegmatic Southerner, unflappable, and and very much a loaner with a real fondness for moonshine.  In his own way, he’s fond of his cousin.  So the story changed and Cousin Cleatus came into the story.  But there had to be a reason why Cleatus was there, and that took me awhile to figure out.  Plus, the whole thing added about 14 pages to the length.  So far I have close to 20,000 words.  I’m amazed.  I’m also amazed at how much time it took and how much I enjoyed doing it.

Then I got a cold.  Just in time so I couldn’t go to the annual block party without giving it to all my neighbors.  Plus colds make my brain go dead.  Give me a simple cold and I can barely write simple sentences,  so the story sat while I pouted over being the victim of a common virus.  Nearly a week later I FINALLY finished it!   There’s another thing I learned.  If you write every day, you aren’t going to have a lot of time to read.  Get sick and trying to focus on books?  A double whammy.  I have books to be read backing up very quickly.  How authors – real authors – find time to do all that reading of other author’s works is beyond me.  My brain was so involved with my own characters and plot, I found it hard to change gears and get drawn into a different story, or I was just too sick to care.

Luckily, I’m over my cold and the associated fit of sulking.

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I finally did manage to get a few of books read.

Ashes of Honor by Seanan McGuire.  The October Daye series was not a hit for me from book one.  I really struggled to get into this world and accept the character.  But with each new book, I’ve liked it better and better – sort of.  This installment was an exception, not because it wasn’t good, but because it had a serious flaw.

One of the ongoing elements in the October Daye books has been her relationship with Tybalt, King of the Cait Sidhe.  That finally gets center stage here.  Toby is asked to find the changling daughter of knight in her lord’s service.  Finding things, especially lost and missing children has become something of a specialty of hers, it’s true, but of all people to have a half human child, the uptight, by the rules, knight Etienne would have been last on the list.

Etienne didn’t know he even had a daughter until the woman who was once his lover called.  She’d simply disappeared on her way home from school  But there are bigger problems.  Etienne has violated his knight’s oath and the rules of Fairie.  It also meant two more things, there was human out there who knew about Fairie and he never said a word, AND his daughter had come to her powers without anyone to teach her.

A large part of the story is also about a rebellion in the Court of Cats.  Toby spends a lot of time bleeding and being healed thanks to a disgruntled Samson, a cat who hates the fact that Tybalt, their king, involves himself with her.  The two elements overlap when Sampson is implicated in the abduction of Eitenne’s daughter.

Overall, this was a good story with two main, and different storylines.  The downside was, parts became repetitious with Toby and Tybalt no more than healed when they were once again attacked by the same group.  That brought my grade down to B- (3.7*) For fans of October Daye, it’s a must for the Tybalt story alone.  A word of warning, you really do need to read most, if not all, books in the series in order to follow the story.   The world is incredibly complex and layered and many plot elements are carried over from previous books.  While not the best in the series, I liked it for finally bringing the Tybalt/Toby relationship into focus.

Now we have the opposite – a series in decline.  A Wanted Man by Lee Child ended up a huge disappointment.  If there is one word no author ever wants to see attached to a thriller, it’s BORING.  And that is exactly what this book is – boring.   And tedious, especially the opening 130 pages or so.  If you think driving from Nebraska to Chicago in the winter is boring, try reading about – for a hundred pages!!!!!!!.  GAH!

The story moves from the boring to the absurd as an FBI agent starts chasing them then joins forces with Reacher and the waitress, who is really an undercover agent, and the whole thing ends in the most absurd terrorist kill ’em all shoot out I ever read – because the whole thing was one big terrorist Ponzi scheme.  Honestly, what nonsense.

Tedious, dull, a wild ending that seemed so blasted absurd.  I have NO idea what Lee Child was thinking, if he was actually thinking at all.  Opinion on Amazon is fractured and fairly evenly distributed 1 to 5 stars.  I’ve never seen anything quite like it.  Obviously, hardcore fans don’t care.  People who want a good thriller were soundly disgusted.  I can give this drivel a D+ (2.2*) and strongly urge you to get it from your library, but don’t spend ANY money on this thing, certainly not the discount price of $16.38 print or $12.99 Kindle.  Move on folks, nothing worth you time here.

I also read Physical Education by Maggie Barbieri, the most recent in her Murder 101 series featuring Alison Bergeron, a professor looking for tenure at a small Catholic college located on the Hudson River in the northern most part of NYC’s limits.  Now married to her detective boyfriend (second marriage for both) she finds herself the reluctant step-mother of college age twin girls and an even more reluctant replacement coach for the college’s D-III girl’s basketball team.

Alison is adjusting to married life, or so she wants to believe, but one thing you never quite adjust to is having bodies put in your car trunk.  Leaving the school, the retired cop, now school security guard helpfully goes to close her trunk only to have the thing pop open – and new college mail delivery hire has been shot, execution style, and thrown in her trunk.  Flashback to when mobster Pete Miceli was after her.  Now Allison was dealing with another murder, her detective husband lying about – too much and smelling of Channel #5, and her best friend, Father Kevin halfway to be defrocked for something her didn’t do, while his ambitious replacement Father Dwyer was single-handedly trying to undo Vatican II.

Now Allison has way more questions than she’s getting answers – from Kevin or Bobby or Bobby’s erstwhile detective partner and her volunteer assistant coach Fred.  Then there’s the gun with the silencer in the fridg in the garage and supposed rats in her basement.  Barbieri takes all these elements and spins them into a fast and entertaining story with several mysteries large and small for Allison to deal with.  Satisfying as few cozies are these days, with a sensible and intelligent lead character.

Physical Education gets a solid B (4*) rating and a recommendation to buy used or as a remainder.  I paid around $9 while a new copy on Amazon is selling for $16.49 – too high for light mystery.

Molly Harper is one one of my favorite paranormal romance authors.  Her Half-moon Hollow vampire series is mostly very well done and seriously amusing.  It was her name that prompted me to buy Undead in My Bed, a three author anthology that included stories by Katie MacAlister and Jessica Sims, two other authors I usually, but not always, enjoy.

I read Harper’s Undead Sublet first.  It was the longest of the 3 novellas at 165 pages, and I think the second best of the three.  Tess Maitland is a sleep deprived, overworked head chef at a well know Chicago gourmet restaurant Coda when she hears the arugula telling her ‘Knock, knock’ jokes.  She was promptly given a ‘sabbatical’ – code for ‘she has flipped out and taking time for recover’.  Her old mentor now lives in Half-moon Hollow, KY.  As the closest thing to family she has, she heads down there and rents a small house for a month of mental health time and rest.

Only problem is, the house has someone living there, the vampire owner.  Sam Clemson became a vampire by accident.  He came yo Half-moon Hollow with his soon to be ex-wife Lindy to try and save their marriage.  After building a daytime hiding spot for a vampire, the vamp decided having a human know about his ‘safe room’ was dangerous  so he drained him and left him in the woods.  Luckily, a member of the vampire council found him and turned him time, though the transition wasn’t easy.  Lindy freaked out and had him declared dead, then started divorcing him.  The new laws were a bit hazy in some areas after the Coming Out n 1999.  Sam was not exactly adjusting well and now he had a mouthy female in his house.

That’s when the war of pranks started, and some were hysterically funny.  Tess makes friends with Jolene, Jane and some others from Harper’s earlier books, and soon finds herself enjoying life in a small town again, the kind of town she grew up in.  The romance wasn’t the core of the story, rather two folks finding their own way and maybe each other while doing so.

Undead Sublet is good, but the ending is a bit flat.  Sam’s character is pushed to a minor roll for much of the story, but as a whole, it works.  I give this part a B (4.0*).

Katie MacAlister does her turn with a Dark Ones novella, Shades of Gray.  Now Ms MacAlister blows hot and cold for me, but she hit this just right.  Grayson Soucek finds a nun climbing over the wall of his ancestral home, knocks her out, ties her up, and tries to question her.  What the devil is a human doing on his property, especially a curvy nun who is anything but nun like and claims to be a Guardian and a Beloved.  But getting answers is impossible, as are her claims of being a Guardian and Beloved.  Only problem is, she smells amazing and seems to think he does too.

Noelle is thrilled to have found her Dark One, the one for whom she the Beloved.  Grayson is less than thrilled – uncomfortably excited, but he’s been cursed by a demon and can’t afford to get involved with this attractive, though possibly insane, female.  Then he learns his abby has been leased for 2 weeks to some halfwit film crew trying to capture ‘spectral phenomenon.  The thing is, dealing with them means getting near the delectable Noelle – and that leads to one thing he was trying to avoid, a joining.

Well done, with two good lead characters and a decent supporting cast (especially the ghost of the horny monk), the plot moves quickly, is kept lean and clear, and has a great ending.  My grade is B+ (4.3*).

The final entry is also the shortest, by design to to limit the length of the book is hard to say. Out with a Fang by Jessica Sims adds to her Otherworld Dating series with Ruby, the were-jaguar looking for love after spending 4 years missing the human she really did love and had to dump – dramatically – or risk his being killed.  She was on her first date tonight – with a vampire who oddly insists she wear a blindfold in the restaurant.  But it’s a supervised date, so she has an out of it gets too weird.  Something about him troubles Ruby ………… then she realizes, the vampire is actually Michael, her old human lover, no longer human.

She walks out, Michael trailing trying to explain, but she’s having none of it.  They part – but Ruby hears something in the alley and finds Michael caught by a bounty hunter trying to kill him with garlic juice injections.  Now the human Ruby is petite and curvy, buy the jaguar Ruby is an Apex predator – and a force to be reckoned with.  A force the bounty hunter is not ready to deal with.  She drives him off and goes back to rescue Michael and keep in safe.

Now it becomes a game of trying to elude the hunters.  They want Michael dead, not because he’s done anything, but because a female vampire has decided with wants him for a blood mate, kind of husband.  But another male vamp wants the females and is happy to kill the competition.  Thing is Michael doesn’t even know the woman.

Actually, all the running and hiding does is give Ruby and Michael a chance to talk about what happened since they parted.  It’s all rather dull, really, but not angsty, just not fun or exciting.  Some action, an HEA, but not in sync with the other two.  It lacked the humor and light hand with the plot.

I always maintain, every anthology has one weak entry, and for me, this was it.  It felt misplaced after two such amusing stories.  Thankfully, it was also the shortest of the three too.  My grade is a C (3*) for Out with a Fang.

Overall, Undead in My Bed gets a B (4*) as a book and a recommended read for fans of the lighter paranormal romances.  I got the book under the 4-for-3 promotion on Amazon.

 

September 2, 2012

Perfect Pairs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

August 20, 2012

OMG – Summer is Almost Over

Where did it go?  I’m watching pre-season football and counting the weeks till the season starts!  Days are getting shorter much too quickly.  Pretty soon, I’ll be looking out my windows watching the leaves to red and gold.  SIGH!  Then I read the east coast can expect extra snow in January and February.  Oh joy.  I feel a bout of depression coming on.  SOMEBODY GET THE EMERGENCY CHOCOLATE STASH!  STAT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

It’s been a strange year for me.  I actually had my family doctor call me to let me know my blood work was fine (usually I get the ‘cholesterol’ lecture) and then she says my sodium to “…..too low.  Eat more salt.”  I swear, I so want to get those words framed!  How many people over 45 with high blood pressure get to hear that spoken with sincerity, not sarcastic disdain, by their doctor?  I clutch them to my heart as I shamelessly consume a bag of Wise potato chips without a single whisper of guilt – except about all the empty (but very tasty) calories.

Greasy fingers and all (carefully wiped off before handing books), I managed to polish off a bunch of books, only one of which managed a B+ to A-, and most of  the rest were OK to really good, but not great.  I also used my Kindle a bit more.  Now the Kindle itself deserves a column, so I’ll just review the book here.

Shadows Before the Sun by Kelly Gay was hands down, the best book I read.  I like mindless, easy reading as much as the next person, but Ms Gay does so much more and does it well.  It’s not fair to lump her in with the likes of Jeanine Frost, Lynsay Sands, or Carrie Vaughn.  Ms Gay takes her time, spins a complex story where her protagonists evolve, suffer, and evolve more.  They pay the price for their growth and change, grow deeper and more complex with each book and her stories have maintained a very high standard.  This one had one unfortunate flaw, but I can forgive that.

At the end of The Hour of Dust and Ashes, Hank, Charlie’s male siren partner is taken back to Fiallan, on Elysia to face charges of treason.  Charlie is determined to get him back – but gets told he was summarily executed when he returned.  She refuses to believe it and goes anyway.  At the transfer terminal where the mages move people between worlds, she runs into Alessandra, the Oracle of Oracles, and not exactly her friend, but she’s he closest thing to a friend Charlie has once she leaves Atlanta. She reveals that their destinies are tied together so they will go to Elysia together.  A mixed blessing, as most things are.

Periodically, the book cuts between Charlie’s story and Hank’s, as he’s once again tortured by the Circe.  If ever there were beings in need of death, the Circe are it, but they aren’t easy, and everyone will pay a heavy price for what will happen.  I won’t spoil this one, it does deserved to read as written.  Its one flaw, the recovery.  It is conveniently explained away by ‘time moves differently here’.  It is all too quickly followed by the destruction of the supposed indestructible Death.  That deserved a book of its own, or a long novella, not a couple of all too short chapters.

Ignoring the big finale with Death, and it was anticlimactic plus kind of a stutter step, the book was very well plotted and evenly paced.  Now that the long awaited Charlie/Hank romance has started, it will be interesting to see where this goes.  I pre-ordered this book on the 4-for3 plan at Amazon and paid $5.99 and got my money’s worth.  My score is (for a change) in agreement with Amazon at B+ to A- (4.2*)  I deducted for the lame big finale and too quick recovery.  Recommended read for all UF fans.

If Shadows Before the Sun was a reassuring surprise, Biting Cold, the lastest in the Chicagoland Vampires by Chloe Neill was a disappointment.   In Hard Bitten, Ms Neill took a bold and utterly unexpected step in killing off her male lead protagonist, and the love interest of Merit, her heroine, and I was impressed and cheered – though many fans hated the story’s turn.  In Drink Deep, Merit’s best friend, and budding mage Mallory, manages to use dark magic to bring him back, but gets stopped before she make him her ‘familiar’.  Still, Ethan has a residual ties to Mallory that are keeping him from taking back control of Cadogan House.  Mallory escapes and heads for a book that will restore the balance between dark and light magic.  [Warning:  This review contains SPOILERS!]

Biting Cold should have been a tense thriller that had Ethan struggling to find his missing pieces, Mallory trying different approaches to reach the secret book, and the mages lined up against her with the two vampires to keep it protected.  Even Gabriel, the North American alpha werewolf is there.  And so is Seth, the evil former mayor of Chicago that was convicted of selling the vampire drug ‘V’, then set loose by the current mayor who is busy stirring up fear and hatred of vampires.  Despite being at the bottom of a 100 foot silo, not only does Mallory reach the book, so does Seth, and just as the spell ends, Seth touches the book and he splits into two identical people.  Only thing is, they aren’t identical.  (And a great story circles the drain.)

Talk about a HUGE let down.  Mallory is tearful blah, blah, blah, Gabriel takes her and her punishment is being banned from using magic and washing dishes at a werewolf bar.   The mage’s house burns down along with her huge collection of books.  She was the society’s archivist.  She goes back to Chicago and Cadogan house with Merit and Ethan and we’re back in Chi-town where we were about 100 pages earlier.  Big whup.  And oh yeah, Ethan still can’t commit to Merit because he’s still tied to Mallory. (I can hear the water gurgling as it swirls ever downward.)

OK, now we battle Seth.  Or is it Seth?  Whatever it is, it’s seeking vengeance all over town.  Meanwhile, the GP is threatening to kick Cadogan House out of the happy vampire club.  Ethan basically flips the guy a verbal bird and lets his vamps vote on whether or not to to quit before the GP can act.  Off to save the world from Seth, with the help of …… Seth!

I will give one guess how this ends.  If you need more than one, you haven’t been paying attention to the trite set pieces that stitched this patchwork quilt together.  What’s missing?  Tension?  Excitement?  Unexpected twists?  Original plot?  All of the above?

At my kindest, I’d call this a ‘bridge book’ where Ms Neill finished out the whole ‘balance of magic Mallory’ plot (which she seemed to lose interest in or wasn’t sure how to complete with dramatic effect), got Ethan and Merit together, and started in on the GP, Red Guard, and the ‘where the hell was the Council of Mages’ problems.  At my snarkiest, I say this was blatant rip-off of a story that had it’s heart and soul removed and existed largely as an elaborate shell of story.  It might be enough for the lovers of the Dark Huntress or Kitty Nornille series, but it sure does NOT live up to the excellent first 3 books.  Obvious character issues and oblivious characters that seem either willfully blind or dumb about what goes on around them.  Saved here and there by scenes where the depth of character shown in the earlier books shines through the mass of gloss and the gossamer thin plot.  A C-(2.7*) is a generous grade and only that high because you’ll need the background for the next one, which will, hopefully, find Ms Neill back in form, or start writing this series off as another bit of paranormal fluff that reads more like a quickly fleshed out outline than a carefully plotted and crafted story.  At a $10.20 discounted price, either buy a cheap used copy, or borrow it.  Not a recommended buy.

If I have a weakness for books, it’s screwball comedy, be it romantic suspense, mystery with witty cops and PI’s, or clever romance with sharp, funny dialogue.  Yeah, I know, it all hearkens back to watching too many Thin Man movies as a kid on Saturday afternoons.  I really enjoy books with some humor, be it Roman mysteries, PI noir, or romantic suspense.  The angst and drama can wear on the nerves, and my least favorite is lame heroines like ‘Whitney, My Love’ (I still wank to barf), while I love books filled with the snark and one liners.  From Bogie’s Sam Spade looking in the Maltese Falcon and saying “The stuff that dreams are made of.”  To Bogey and Bacall in to Have and Have Not.  “You know how to whistle, don’t you?”

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i9Ay727EYzw

I’m sure you’ll be shocked to learn I own both movies on DVD – along with a host of other classics.  Fun, mystery, and the push and pull of attraction between two characters.  Well, I bought my Kindle for a reason, and it wasn’t to supplant new releases, because frankly, the ebooks aren’t worth the price.  But many books that are privately published are MUCH cheaper as an ebook and many are kindle only, or cheaper as a Kindle book.  One of those books sold as “A Humorous Romantic Suspense” and it was.  And at $3.99. In Deep Shitake by Patricia Mason was a really fun, funny, and well done fluffy novel with no pretensions of being anything else.  The opening was priceless and I quite liked both characters, Imogene ‘Mo’ Tuttle, and Ross Grant, a sort of has-been movie star so closely identified with his movie character (Stephan Dragger) most people don’t know his real name.

Mo is told by the small PI agency she works for to break into a specific car.  She manages to get stuck in the sunroof when she reaches for the the auto door locks.  Not the best day to wear a short skirt, or to be working on giving up swearing.  But for Ross, it’s all a black lace panty delight.  So starts a romp that has as much body as a souffle, but is just as much fun.

Like any screwball comedy, we have over-the-top villains, double-crossing co-workers, scheming blondes, blackmail of Russian mobsters, and race to save themselves of a bad case of mistaken identity.  Do NOT look for a brilliantly plotted mind-bender.  This is part spoof, part tribute, and just plain fun.  Like so many ebooks, the editing/proofreading leaves some residual problems, but not as bad as some and it didn’t have any more errors than your average NBC news story online.  (Which had the word ‘altered’ in a sentence where they meant ‘alerted’.  Different words guys!)  The story has no pretensions, so just enjoy the ride.

If you want a slight, funny, beach read, or just something to lift your spirits AND you like the old-fashioned screwball genre, then go forth and enjoy.  I give it a B- (3.7*) but that’s a fan of the style speaking.  If you want a more serious romantic suspense, look elsewhere.  Was it worth $3.99.  YUP!

PS – The Kindle is a whole other matter.  That will be discussed separately, when I’m less annoyed and more objective.

Back to the latest releases – Kitty Steals the Show by Carrie Vaughn is the latest in the Kitty Norville series.  Kitty is asked to be the keynote speaker at the first International Paranormal Studies meeting.  Husband/mate Ben and former vamp hunter friend Cormac – with Amelia – the female ghost that is currently riding along with him – are heading to London and the hospitality of Britain’s master vampire, Edward Alleyn, a former Shakespearean actor with a real flair for the dramatic.  But not as dramatic as some of the European masters.  That’s ok, because Kitty has more than a bit of showman in her blood and brings the vamps to a complete halt by holding up one of Roman’s talisman coins and asks who here is a member of his secret group.  Talk about a bloodletting party killer!

She runs into the GB werewolf Alpha as well.  But mostly, it seems to be a series of disconnected episodes concerning everything from Amelia the ghost and her descendants and what Kitty say in her keynote address.  Ben, as he all too often is, is just along for the ride.  He deserves more character.  Fey are thrown in for luck and some bodies and kidnapping.  The big keynote meant to be a call to arms against Roman and his forces lacked fire.  Thomas Paine and Winston Churchill have a secure legacy.

Kitty Steals the Show was a much better read than Kitty’s Big Trouble, hardly a difficult feat give how bad that entry was, but it’s not a great book and comes in at a C+ (3.5*).  At $7.99 (I paid $5.99 on the 4-for3 promotion on Amazon) it’s for Kitty fans.  Try and get it used or borrow from a friend.  It’s too uneven for a recommended buy.

The Care and Feeding of Stray Vampires by Molly Harper is an addition to her Half-Moon Hollow series and while not the best in the series, it’s a fun read.  Iris Scanlon has a smart-mouthed teen sister that’s like her daughter since their were killed in a car crash while Iris was getting a graduate degree in botany.  Coming back to the home she was raised in was the only way she really care for her sister Gigi.  But somehow, in this small town she needed a job.  Helping her new vamp friend, Jane Jameson, she realized the local vamps needed daytime help.  She opened Beeline, a vampire concierge doing all those chores like dry cleaning, getting blood supplies, and doing the many other errands needed and only available during the day.  It was early days yet and she needed every customer.  Except maybe the amorous Mr Rychek.

While Iris is comfortable around Jane, she’s very careful around her customers and leaves their property BEFORE sunset.  Delivering the contract and blood to her newest customer, Vampire Council investigator into a series of human maulings by vampires – apparently poisoned by Faux Neg O. Dusk is coming and Iris wants out of the vampire gated community before she becomes meals on wheels.  But in rushing thru this last stop comes to an abrupt halt when she falls over a body in the kitchen.  A poisoned vamp who is just managing enough control to not allow the drugs in his system to cause him to attack her.  Luring her with a large cash reward, Iris takes the Cal Calix into her home so he can recover is secrecy, away even from Ophelia, the council member that scares her most, even if she does looks like a teen.

With her trademark humor, sharp dialogue, and better than average plot, Iris and Cal make a great odd couple.  Fast and fun, but with enough meat on the bones to give it substance.  Gigi is a great addition to the story, adding an extra dimension, especially when Cal gives her the ‘truth’ about the whole Trojan War – though Iris was upset to learn Homer was now writing for TV.  “Not Two and a Half Men!”

One of the better entries in this series.  Ms Harper managed to nail this one with her classic fast, funny style, yet gave it an enjoyable mystery edge with who was behind the poisonings.  For any fan of fun pararnoral romance or just fun paranormal, because romance is not the overwhelming element, will enjoy this read.  Recommended and no, you do NOT need to read her previous books in the series to follow it.  It can be read as a stand-alone.  My grade is B+ (4.3*) and a Good Buy at the $5.99 4-for-3 Amazon price.  Recommended read.

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It’s a wrap!   My favorite ubiquitous food, after pasta, is the wrap.  Yes, I find them versatile, blandly tasty, and most of all FAST!  I can toss them on a cookie sheet, layer then with swiss and ham, and after 15 minutes in the oven, enjoy a hot meal.  I can stuff them with cold cuts, bake them with a mix of cheddar, parmesan, salt, pepper, and Italian herbs and have a cheesy flat bread perfect alone, or with bruschetta or fresh salsa.  I can wrap almost anything in them, but I really like them for hot dogs.

OK, this will sound weird, but I like my hot dogs with salsa, not ketchup.  You can give the humble hot dog a south of the border feel by grilling them or roasting them in the oven at high heat (425F) till the skin is as crisp as you like.  (Or you can try the very tasty, but heart attack worthy prep of steaming them then frying them in fat till the skin is crisp.  Yum, but have the defibrillator standing by.)

Now you have a couple of ways to go here.  First you can use the traditional hot dog bun.  I usually buy the long potato rolls as they have more body, thinly slice real cheddar and line a hot bun, toss on the dog, top with salsa.  OR, be adventurous and get white flour or corn flour tortillas in the refrigerator case and you favorite salsa, something with a kick, and start to play.

When the grilled, roasted or fried dogs are just about ready, wet some paper towels and squeeze them out.  Lay one on a plate and place a tortilla on top.  Another paper towel, and another tortilla.  Don’t stack more than 2 and cover with the last wet paper towel.  Nuke on high 2-30 sec, depending on the microwave.  The tortillas should be steam hot.  Sprinkle with a thick layer of grated sharp cheddar or a good Jack cheese down the center of the tortilla (to melt, microwave about 15 seconds), put the hot dog on the cheese, pile with salsa, fresh tomato and diced sweet onion.  Flip the bottom of the tortilla up, fold one side over and roll buritto style.

Suggested additions – heated dark red kidney beans, black beans, corn nibblets (fresh of the cob or canned), green onions, sour cream, avocado slices (shudder), and shredded lettuce.  Great way to make vegetables fun and tasty and the hot dog peeking out of the wrap is very appealing.  And by the way, try this trick with stir fried chicken and veggies with Hosin sauce and they’ll forget it’s mostly veggies!

This is a great way to use up leftover hamburgers and meatloaf as well chicken that you pulled off the bone and sliced or cut into chunks.  I like getting the bigger wraps because I can add lots of beans and other things.  These are messy, so served with LOTS of napkins and wipes and extra salsa.   Fresh fruit, especially melon, is the perfect dessert.  For fussy eaters, one can have hot dogs, and another chicken, and someone else leftover burger cut into chunks and steamed hot in the microwave and still done in minutes with the same basic ingredients.  Want some crunch?  Try the Taco Bell trick and throw some Frito’s or whole grain chips on top, or even some crumpled potato chips.

Bless those thin little wraps.  They have made my day plenty of times when I haven’t felt like fussing.

 

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