Tour’s Books Blog

March 16, 2016

Who is your favorite……….?

I’m on a number of Good Reads forums where this question invariably comes up? What’s your favorite book? Who is your favorite author? What’s you favorite series?

You know, that hard to say because even in a single genre you have sub-groups and then mashups and …….. well, you get the picture.

But it got me thinking about some of the best reading  – mostly because my doctor needed some ideas for books that she and her sister, someone with very different taste in tropes, would like.  That’s not easy.  I have very strong ideas about what makes a book memorable.

I looked at some lists of the ‘Greatest Historical Fiction of All Time’ and most made me cringe.  I thought Wolf Hall was – meh.  So did my brother.  Now Anya Seaton’s Kathrine – yeah that was brilliant.  George MacDonald Fraser’s Flashman was there as well, and though I loved it – and the series in general -not sure it belongs.  Many choices were written long ago, like Tolstoy and Charles Dickens A Tale of Two Cities (Oh, just kill me now.  I hate Dickens.)  I, Claudius by Robert Graves, I can kind of get behind that one.  The Name of the Rose by recently deceased Umberto Eco was not that good for me despite it often being named to the top 20 of the mystery genre as well.  Most of the others, not so much.

It seems when I was growing up there were many great choices for historical fiction.  Thomas B. Costain was at the end of his career, but for a man who didn’t start writing till his 50’s, he did some remarkable work.  His 4 book non-ficion history of the Plantagenet kings starting with Henry II to Richard III is just excellent.  Then he wrote The Black Rose, later made into a film starring Tyrone Power, Jack Hawkins and Orsen Wells.  Set in the time of  The Three Edwards (the third book of is Plantagenet history) it is just a great historical adventure read.  For my brother, Dumas’ Count of Monte Cristo will always be a favorite along with Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes.

But my favorite historical fiction these days tends to run to mysteries and SteamPunk – which is any alternate history paranormal genre often done with a mystery trope.  But in plain old real world history, I was impressed by Mary Miley’s Roaring Twenties series, The Impersonator and Silent Murder (the better of the two by far).  A third book is due this year, and another complete for 2017.  A history major, she writes very well and has created a terrific character with Jessie Carr blending in real life people in Vaudeville and silent movies.

Agatha Christie was married to an archeologist and spent a lot of time in the Mideast and other locations.  This led her to write Death on the Nile, Murder in Mesopotamia (set at an archeology dig site), and Evil Under the Sun (movie filmed on various island locations off Spain, but the book is set on an island off of the south of England) set in the 20’s and 30’s as part of her Poirot series.  In retrospect, it’s amazing how good she was with plots that involved various ‘isolated’ groups as well as standard locations.  She was light years better than the typical cozy writer of today.  She also wrote one true historical mystery, Death Comes at the End, set in ancient Thebes.

Lindsey Davis sets her Falco series in Vespasian’s Rome and is a favorite for me.  She aged  out Falco (which was overdue) and his daughter, Flavia Alba has taken up her father’s private informer business.  John Maddox Roberts, better known in the fantasy genre, wrote his terrific SPQR mysteries set at the time of the rise of Julius Ceasar.

A big favorite among historical fiction fans is the adventure series Outlaw Chronicles that’s a spin on the legend of Robin Hood by Angus Donald.  They can be hard to find as he no American publisher, but I get them used or new from Book Depository, an Amazon-owned company, in the UK.  Best read in order, Outlaw is book 1 and The King’s Assassin is the most recent publication.  The last book in the series is due out next year.  His following is a mix of male and female readers, so give his stuff a try.

Bernard Cromwell is most famous for his Sharpe’s Rifles series that was made into a BBC series starring Sean Bean as Sharpe, but he writes non-fiction including Waterloo: 4 Days 3 battles 3 armies.  Jeri Westerson is another British author who sets her stories around a disgraced knight, Crispin Guest.  Described as Medieval Noir mystery, it has the same edgy sardonic humor as Lindsey Davis and John Maddox Roberts.  Book 7, Silence of the Stones, was just released in Feb, but all mysteries, the main story arc wraps up in a single novel, but to follow the origins of the lead character, read the first few in order.  Two other reliable historical mystery fiction authors are Ruth Downie who writes the Gais Ruso series set in Roman Britain, Gaul, and Rome.  The other is Rosemary Rowe who uses Roman Britain for her Libertus series.  Both can be expensive and hard to find, but are available.  Like Angus Donald, most are published by Severn House and no US publisher picks them up, hence buy used, get ebooks, or get it from your library.

Tasha Alexander does the Lady Emily mysteries set in Victorian London and throughout Europe.  (Her husband is English born action thriller author Andrew Grant.)  Deanna Raybourn has two series out – her famous Lady Julia Grey, which I was not crazy about until book 4, Dark Road to Darjeeling.  I really liked that one.  She’s started a new series featuring Veronica Speedwell, a female physician in London.  Like the Julia Grey series, it’s set in the 1880’s.  It is sitting on Mt TBR.  Set in Regency England are the Sebastian St Cyr books by C.S. Harris.  I tried the first few and was bored, but friends like them.  Too angsty for me.  Anna Lee Hubler’s Lady Darby books are a big favorite of my sister-in-law while my brother loved loved Steven Hockensmith’s Amlingmyer Brothers Holmes on the Range books set out west in the late 1800’s.  He ended the series at the famous Chicago Exposition.

Rhys Bowen has three series, her Evan Evans, Molly Murphy, and Her Royal Spyness.  I know the Molly Murphy series and liked quite a few, but prefer Her Royal Spyness, even though her lead character, Lady Georgiana, can get on my nerves, but Ms Bowen does a nice job weaving real people though her stories – from Noel Coward, to Edward VII (her cousin), to Charlie Chaplin.  Her prose really is a pleasure to read.

Historical mystery is a rich and broad genre moving across thousands of years and lots of fine authors.  Pick a period and you’ll likely find something.  Here are some other authors you might enjoy:

Will Thomas – Barker and Llewelyn series set Gaslight London; Collin Cotterill – Dr Siri series set in 1970’s Laos;  Laura Joh Rowland – Sano Ichiro series set in Edo in 1600’s Japan; Ellis Peters – her famous Brother Cadfael series set in 12th century England (also a BBC series); Gary Corby – Nicolaos series set in ancient Athens/Greece in 460BC; C.J. Samson – Matthew Shardlake, a lawyer, in mid-1600’s England; Carol Nelson Douglas – Irene Adler, opera star, in mid 19th century Europe; Alex Grecian – Murder Squad set in late 1800’s London (but a bit uneven in quality); Dennis Wheatly – Roger Brook special agent for British PM Pitt late 1700’s to early 1800’s.

There are simply too many to name and more all the time.  Those who like both historical fiction and mystery – like me – are delighted at the growth in this area.  Like all other genres, some are good, some not.  Find one that suits you and enjoy!

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July 31, 2014

Beach Reads 5 – International Part 2

Filed under: espionage/intrigue,General,opinion,Reading list — toursbooks @ 3:59 pm
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OK, we’re talking books set outside the US, preferably ones that provide a lot of atmosphere and capture the feel of the locations.  Certainly some are better at that than others, and places and times change things.  But Europe has always been a local used in mysteries for authors from all countries.  Even Edgar Alan Poe used Paris for her Murders in the Rue Morgue.  It’s also a favorite spot from paranormal and horror, especially with the resurgence in vampire books.  The United Kingdom accounts for a HUGE number of mysteries, paranormals, and Steampunk.  This will be a challenge, but again, I’ll try and stick to authors I know and like.

France – If you’re a devout foodie, read some of the fine books by noted French chefs or Americans who studied in France, including Julia Child.  For me it’s mysteries and thrillers.  Naturally The DaVinci Code takes center stage since it starts and ends in Paris, though in all honestly, I find Dan Brown a boring – maybe tedious is a better word – writer.  My current favorite series in France is Martin Walker’s Bruno Chief of Police books.  He does a great job of folding together a ‘slice of life’ in the French countryside, with their love of food and wine, and twining in history and grudges and how the past impacts the present.  There is always an historical element in his plots, but it’s his gift for capturing French country life, something rapidly disappearing, and creating characters that seem real that make the books a cut above.  But France has been home to many famous detectives from George Simenon’s Inspector Maigret to Daniel O’Brian’s Inspector Jacquot to Cara Black’s Amie Leduc.  Frederick Forsyth’s brilliant thriller based on a real assassin, The Day of the Jackal, is set in France, as well as David Dodge’s To Catch a Thief.  Both books were made into movies, but the remake of Jackal was a butcher job while Hitchcock’s To Catch a Thief was a gem.  Jean Auel’s series, Earth’s Children, covers pre-historic man, based all over Europe including France.  It’s a speculative kind of ‘historical fiction’ in that there is nothing to support or deny her assumptions about the evolution of pre-historic society.  You name it in historical fiction and France and Great Britain will be there.  From The Templars to the Terror, to WWI and WWII, you have thousands to pick from.

England,Great Britain – Now we have a problem, because there just so MANY to choose from!  Start with Agatha Christie and go to Martha Grimes, adding Ngaio Marsh, John Dickson Carr, Josephine Tey for classic mysteries. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle may have come to loathe Sherlock Holmes, he lives on even with other authors.  Historical mysteries – well, Will Thomas with his Barker and Llewellyn series, Susanna Gregory has two early historical series going, Rosemary Rowe covers Roman Britain, Rhys Bowen has the 1930’s with Her Royal Spyness books, Charles Finch, C. S. Harris, and the immortal Ellis Peters with her Brother Cadfael books.  Rhys Bowen’s Evan Evans series is set in Wales, while M.C. Beaton sets her Hamish Macbeth books in Scotland.  It’s also home to the most famous spy series ever written, Ian Flemming’s James Bond.  No where near as famous but a brilliant book and equally brilliant movie is The Ipcress Files by Len Deighton, a fine author.  Graham Green and John LeCarre are certainly worthy reads as well.  Might I suggest Our Man in Havana (book and movie), a classic not to be missed.  Actor Hugh Laurie penned The Gun Seller, a rather brilliant and off-beat caper novel that is funny, deadly, and just really well done.

As for historical fiction, heavens, the list is as long a Broadway.  The Black Rose by Costain, Within the Hollow Crown by Barnes, just about everything by Phillipa Gregory, and wonderful Katherine by Ana Seaton.  That’s the book that tells the story of how the War of the Roses came to be and is possibly one of the great love stories ever in the Royal family.  The fact it’s still in print 60 years after it was first published says a lot.

Dorothy Dunnett does the Lymond Chronicles and Nigel Tranter has done numerous historical fiction books set in Scotland, including a personal favorite that I bought while there, Black Douglas.

England also plays home to almost too many paranormal/fantasy/ UF/Steampunk series to name.  A few notable ones – The Parasol Protectorate by Gail Carriger, Bec McMasters’ London Steampunk romance adventure series, Alex Verus UF series by Benedict Jacka, The Rivers of London series by Ben Aaronovich, Mindspace Investigation series by Alex Hughes, and pretty much everything written by Simon R. Green.  Riffs on classic and real historical characters are also fodder for mystery and horror writers, like Pride, Prejudice and Zombies by Steve Hockensmith to Queen Victoria, Demon Hunter.  Personally, I stick with UF and Steampunk mystery books.  Of all of them, Benedict Jacka, Simon R. Green, and Gail Carriger are the best for me.

Over the years, I’ve likely read a thousand books set in whole or part in the UK, so go nuts and just read what you like.

Ireland – Well there is one really well done 6 book series (now complete) by Karen Marie Moning, the Fever series.  Although a spin-off featuring a character from the series, Dani O’Malley, is underway, the initial series with MacKayla Lane is done – after a fashion, meaning the author will write short shories and novellas for epubs and anthology, but they will be ancillary to the series.  This series is one of the best out there for fantasy/UF readers.

Ireland is also home of some great mystery writers, though they tend to be grim and dark.  Ken Bruen is a favorite of mine with his anti-hero Jack Taylor.  Benjamin Black has the Quirk series set in the 1950’s, but he’s now writing Phillip Marlowe stories set in California.  (His latest is The Black-Eyed Blond)  Though Jack Higgins used two Irish lead characters, Liam Devlin and Sean Dillion, Dillion spends his time in the UK and only goes in and out of Ireland.  Liam’s stories were all much earlier – the most famous being The Eagle Has Landed.  All fast easy reads and good for spy novels.  Adrian McGinty does the Sean Duffy series set in 1950 Northern Ireland.  Peter Tremayne writes the long running, popular, historical mysteries featuring Sister Fidelma, a Celtic sister in 7th century Ireland.

Italy – I covered Rome separately for a reason, it’s like you have two countries in one.  Donna Leon and Andrea Camilleri are the two most prolific and best known for the modern Italian mysteries, police procedural types.  And author’s from Daniel Silva to Dan Brown have used Italy’s abundance of art and antiquities as main drivers in their plots in spy, assassin, and suspense novels.  There is a lot to work with.  Even Maddy Hunter’s Passport to Peril series stopped in Italy with Pasta Imperfect and she would later marry the handsome police inspector she met there.

With families like the Borgia’s, there’s lots of fodder for historical fiction as well, and much of it is centered around Venice.  Kate Quinn does a Borgia based series.  Even C.W. Gortner wrote The Confessions of Catherine de Medici  – another favorite historical family.  You even find some paranormal historical novels set back then – Jon Courtney Gimwood’s Assassini – Vampire Assassin series.  (I didn’t like it)

Spain and Portugal – The first name that springs to mind is Arturo Perez-Reverte with his Captain Diego Alariste historical swashbuckling mysteries.   His more modern The Club Dumas features hunts for rare books.  Spain may not be a hot bed for mysteries popular in the US, but is certainly plays host to plenty of historical fiction, much of it based on Isabella and Ferdinand and Columbus.  And the ever popular subject of the lovely Inquisition, just the happy time we all want to read about on vacation.  For genuine buckle and swash, go back to the original, Rafael Sabatini, an Italian who wrote everything from Captain Blood to Scaramouche to The Sea Hawk – and yeah Errol Flynn got the lead in 2 of those 3 made into films, but Stewart Granger was a memorable Scaramouche.  All worthy beach reads, but none set in Spain proper, though 2 of the 3 are about battles between Spain and England – and The Sea Hawk throws in Barbary coast pirates for luck.  His prolific output is scattered all over Europe and through many time periods.  From The Mapmaker’s Daughter to The Inquisitor’s Wife, historicals take us to many place and many perspectives on the complicated history that is Spain.  Portugal remains more of cipher, not often used even in spy novels except in passing, and it’s empire building taking place mostly in the New World and Africa.

Aztec is one of the best historical fiction novels written in the last 30 years.  Though set in Mexico, is as much about the Spanish and what they did in the name God, King, and Country as it is about the Aztecs themselves. Highly recommended.

Everywhere Else – Well, naturally we have the Dragon Tattoo series by Stieg Larson – which you’ll love or hate.  I kind of had enough after book 1. Too much social commentary for me.  Jo Nesbø has the very popular Harry Hole mysteries set in Norway.  Kjell Eriksson does the Ann Lindell and Ola Haver series in Sweden.  Russia gets tapped by Stuart Kaminsky and Martin Cruz Smith of Gorky Park fame for their mysteries.  And every spy from 007 to Gabriel Allon have tramped through Red Square.

All of these places have plenty of historical fiction, especially Russia, but you pick up The Brothers Karamazov for a beach read and don’t blame me if you get whacked by an irate student forced to read the damn thing.  You might get away with reading Dr Zhivago.  Catherine the Great, Ivan the Terrible, Peter the Great – all prime historical fiction characters.

Pick you poison – or gun – or knife, or romance if you prefer, or a little buckle and swash, and settle in under that beach umbrella or on a lounge on you lanai looking out at the water, and have some long and cold ones while reading for the sheer pleasure of the story.

 

 

 

July 16, 2014

Beach Reads 4 – International Part 1A – Historical Fiction/Non-Fiction

Filed under: Favorite book,General,Historical fiction,non-fiction — toursbooks @ 2:33 pm
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Historical fiction is not what it used to be.  There were a lot of truly excellent authors writing in this genre when I grew up, now, not so much at all.  Many historicals are romance or mystery, and some are really well researched and written, but most aren’t.  But really well done true historical fiction is a glorious treat.  Well written non-fiction is just as good.  These take place in the same regions as I just covered for mystery and romantic suspense.

Asia/Southeast Asia – You cannot even think about historical fiction or even modern fiction in Asia without thinking of James Clavell.  Sho-gun is his most famous, but Tai Pan and Nobel House are just as good, though completely different.  By the way, his first book was also made into a movie …………… King Rat, a WWII prisoner of war camp drama.  Another gem is Mika Waltari’s The Wanderer, one of 2 books on Marco Polo worth a read.  The other one Gary Jennings’, The Journeyer.  And for those who love non-fiction, Jon Krakauer’s Into Thin Air about the tragic assault on My Everest.  It’s short, but great.  And who can forget M.M. Kaye’s The Far Pavilions set in India, and for non-fiction, The Peacock Throne: The Drama of Mogul India.  (By the way, M.M. Kaye wrote a number of mysteries set in India, Asia, and Africa as well.)  And for those who love the period, The Raj Quartet by Paul Scott.

Australia/New Zealand– You MUST read The Thorn Birds if you’re heading this way.

Mid-East – Naturally for anyone traveling to Greece/Turkey, Mary Renault’s books are a must, especially her 3 book series on the legend of Theseus (The King Must Die, The Bull from the Sea, The Last of the Wine) and her 4 books following the short, but dramatic life of Alexander the Great.  Non-fiction is C.W. Ceram’s Gods, Grave, and Scholars.   Separated into easy to read, discrete sections, you can learn about the excavations of Troy by amateur Heinrich Schliemann or Howard Carter’s vindicating success in the Valley of the Kings in Egypt.  Each tale is told almost like an adventure, and each is separate.  Great for beginners or people with limited, specific interests to certain periods or locations.   Ben Hur was a book by General Lew Wallace long before Charleton Heston’s great abs and legs made it an award winning movie.  (That raft scene where he rescues Jack Hawkins wearing just a loin cloth is burned my memory banks.)

Africa/North Africa – The first book I think of is The Egyptian by Mika Waltari.  It was banned in Boston (Who knows why.  They were all nuts.), but it’s a great read.  For non-fiction that’s short and painless, in addition to C.W. Ceram’s book above, read a reprint of The Discovery of the Tomb of Tutankhamen by Howard Carter himself.  (Yes, a copy sits on my keep shelf along with the Ceram book.)  Also, an easy intro to all of Egyptian historical sites is Leonard Cottrell’ s The Lost Pharaoh’s.  The Assyrian by Nicholas Guild is also recommended.  For Africa in general, Wilbur Smith’s excellent family epics and stand alone historicals  are good fiction choices.  And if you’re looking for a fun, fluffy romance, try Loretta Chase’s Mr Impossible set in 1800’s Egypt.  And for a mystery that combines historical sites and dead bodies, Janice Hamerick’s Death on Tour, or the classic Christie book, Death on the Nile.  

Ancient Greece and Rome – This overlaps heavily with the Mid-East thanks to Alexander in Greece and Julius Caesar in Rome.  The Bull Of Minos by Cottrell weaves the story of the excavations of Heraklion with the legend of Theseus that Mary Renault spun into such a brilliant book.  (Her Mask of Apollo is another book that captures a different facet of Greek life many years after the legendary Theseus.)  Once again author Leonard Cottrell tells an easy to ready story behind the non-fiction account of the Minoan civilization and what is thought to be their capital city on Crete.  A larger Minoan city has since been unearthed on Santorini, but is not nearly as well known.  C.W. Ceram does a more professional job, but Cottrell is more accessible for those with only a passing interest.  For fiction, well, there’s a HUGE number of books to choose from.  Robert Harris wrote Pompeii to great acclaim, but I found it so-so.  I’m pretty harsh on judging historical fiction.  Mika Waltari again comes through with a brilliant book of the people who settled what is now Italy long before the Romans, The Estruscan.  He also wrote The Roman.  The downside is his books are VERY hard to find and so far have NOT made it to ebook.  See if your library has a copy of any of his works.  Actual print books are very valuable.  I, Claudius by Robert Graves became one of the first BBC series that garnered a strong US following on PBS, thanks to the sex and nudity.  Ah, those Romans were a randy bunch!  Seriously, any good book on ancient Rome, from Thomas Costain’s The Silver Chalice to Kate Quinn, to Ursula K LeGuin, to Conn Iggulden, give it a shot.

I would also highly recommend Edith Hamilton’s books on Greek and Roman Mythology: Timeless Tales of Gods and Heroes, and her non-fiction The Roman Way and The Greek Way.  If you are touring any of the ancient sites in either country, this helps a lot to understand and enjoy what you’re seeing.  Looking at the excavated graves of Mycenae that Schliemann thought to be those of Agamemnon and Clytemnestra, is a lot more meaningful having read Ceram’s and Hamilton’s books.

July 13, 2014

Beach Reads 3 – International Favorites Part 1

Filed under: Favorite book,General — toursbooks @ 3:47 pm
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Time to cruise the world looking for some fun, well written books set outside the US.  Now try and keep in mind, I’m only selecting books/authors that I’ve read, and hopefully still available, but there are many more out there.  You know, I started this thinking I could do the world in a single sweep, and I was doing pretty well …………….. until I hit Europe.  I’m breaking this into two parts, maybe 3, because Europe will have that many books and in far more genres than what’s here.

Asia/Southeast Asia – Number one on this list is ex-pat British author Colin Cotterill with his surprising Dr Siri series set in Laos in the 1970.  Just trust me on this one.  It sounds like a bummer, but his characters are so well developed you want to meet them for drinks at Raffles in the Long Bar.  You cannot talk Asia/Southeast Asia without talking about the best assassin series, Barry Eisler’s John Rain books based initially in Japan.  Not the OTT stuff of James Bond, but so rich in detail it’s like being there.  To be honest, it’s almost impossible for any author to measure up to the these two, despite the fact they could not be more different in their style or characters.  John Burdett and Timothy Halliman do very different series set in Thailand.  Shamini Flint sets her Inspector Singh books all over SE Asia, but the good inspector is based in Singapore.  Laura Joh Rowland does the well researched historical Sano Ichiro books set in the Edo period of Japan.  James Melville wrote the wonderful Inspector Otani series set in modern Japan, and naturally, there is the classic mysteries written before WWII featuring Mr Moto by John P. Marquand.  Judge Dee books, read long ago by me, are also historical and written Robert van Gulik based on a real historical character.  Written in the ’40’s to 60’s when books were a lot shorter than today.  For Romantic suspense, try Anne Stuart’s Ice Blue and her Fire and Ice.  Both have deep Japanese connections and are excellent romantic suspense type reads.

Australia/New Zealand– There are quite a few Australian mystery authors, mostly ones I’ve never read, but the Inspector ‘Boney’ (also ‘Bony’) Bonaparte books by Arthur Upfield remain in print featuring the half aboriginal detective.  Given the deep prejudice that existed against aboriginals at the time he was writing, they are remarkable books and he wrote them for nearly 40 years, starting back in the late 20’s and ending in the 60’s.  For fans of classic mysteries, this series, like Judge Dee, are a MUST READ.  Republished now and then.  Another book set largely in Australia is romantic suspense author Ann Maxwell’s (AKA Elizabeth Lowell) The Diamond Tiger.  One of her best books and it features a LOT of research on how the diamond market worked before the huge Canadian find broke the stranglehold of the cartel that stood for over a hundred years and still controls the majority of the diamond market today.

Mid-East – Well, more a hot bed of spies, intrigue, and assassins rather than mystery, there are still a surprising number to choose from.  John Land’s Ben Kamal, Johnathan Kellerman’s Daniel Sharavi, Batya Gur’s Michael Ohayon, and Matt Beynon Rees’ Omar Yussef Sihran.  The most famous author is obviously spy novelist Daniel Silva with his Mossad assassin Gabriel Allon series, but they actually take place all over the world, though largely in Europe.  In Turkey you have Jason Goodwin’s Yashim Togalu series that started with the best selling book, The Janissary Tree.   For classic mystery readers, Eric Ambler’s The Mask of Dimitrios (also sold as A Coffin for Dimitrios).  This was the book, written way back in 1939, that hooked me on foreign mysteries.  Like his more lighthearted caper book, Topkapi (The Light of Day in print), it too became a movie.

Africa/North Africa – Well, this is a lot of territory to cover, so I’ll just hand pick a few.  In South Africa, newspaperman turned author James McClure wrote the Tromp Kramer police detective books that accurately depicts the racist environment of the period.  If you can’t deal with it, skip the series.  Malla Nunn has won awards for her Emmanuel Cooper series.  Botswana is home to Mme Precious Ramotswe, not my favorite at all, but very popular.  Paul Doherty (real name Anna Apostolou) sets a number of series here in ancient Egypt.  Elizabeth Peters (Barbara Mertz) has her popular archaeology, amateur sleuth Amelia Peabody books set in the Egypt of the 1880’s to early 20th century.  The early ones are the best, especially when precocious son Ramses is young.  Peters is a trained archaeologist, so her details are both accurate and enhance her stories.

Ancient Greece and Rome – There are three or 4 key authors here that need to be separated from all the modern authors.  First is Gary Corby, fairly new to the mystery scene, he sets his books in the Golden Age of Pericles in Greece.  Steven Saylor hits best seller lists with what I consider a somewhat uneven series featuring Gordianus the Finder.  Again, Paul Doherty does several series and stand alone Roman mysteries.  But of all the writers in various periods of Ancient Rome and Greece, two stand out for mysteries, Lindsey Davis with her Falco books and John Maddox Roberts with his SPRQ series.  They are just the best of breed and highly recommended.  Both authors are very historically accurate.

 

 

June 28, 2014

Beach Reads – Part 2

Filed under: General,Reading list — toursbooks @ 5:33 pm
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OK, we’ve skipped around the US and are now in the Low Country of the coastal south.

Low Country/South – For screwball, laugh out loud family antics with dead bodies, try the Meg Langslow series by Donna Andrews.  Also David Baldacci sets his Camel Club series here and the King & Maxwell series.  The prolific husband/wife team of Jim and Joyce Laverne write 3 series set in North Carolina, but their Missing Pieces series set in an island beach town makes a good read for those heading that way.  Ellery Adams in the pen name of Jennifer Stanley, another very prolific cozy mystery author.  As Lucy Arlington she and fellow author Sylvia May write the Novel Idea series and as Ellery Adams she writes the popular Charmed Pie Shoppe paranormal mysteries set in Georgia.  Neither are real popular with me, but to each their own.   Savannah plays host to the paranormal Beaufort & Co mysteries by Mary Stanton and Magical Bakery mysteries by Bailey Cates (Cricket MacRea).  Oddly, for standard mysteries, Kay Hooper and Karen Slaughter are your two best bets.  Elle Jasper sets her dark UF series, Dark Ink Chronicles, in Savannah as well.  For romance and chick-lit, tough to beat anything by Mary Kay Andrews.

New England – How can I skip Donald Bain’s Jessica Fletcher books?  Cabot Cove, Maine is nearly as famous as St. Mary’s Mead, England!  Archer Mayor’s Joe Gunther series set in Vermont and Bruce DeSilva’s Liam Mulligan series set in Rhode Island.  Lauren Dane sets her de la Vega Cates shifter romance/smut in the Boston area and it’s pretty entertaining.

Tri-State (NY/NJ/CT) – Well, you’ve come to the right place for selection.  A surprising number of people make NYC part of their vacation plans.  Having been born and raised just outside the city, I kind of find it baffling, but I’m sure Londoners feel the same way.  Hannah Jayne writes the Underworld Detection Agency series set here, it’s average, but has followers.  The fast paced and often humorous new SPI paranormal series by Lisa Shearin and more serious Indexing by Seanan McGuire also use the city.  For mystery you have everything from Lawrence Block’s Bernie Rhodenbar to Stuart Woods’ Stone Barrington, to the slightly creepy Repairman Jack series by F. Paul Wilson.  Too many mystery authors to count here, so I’ll mention a few – Ethan Black police detective series, Walter Mosley’s Leonid McGill PI, Lawrence Block’s Matt Scudder, and Meg Cabot’s lively cozy series Heather Wells books.  As for classic mysteries, well Ellery Queen series, Rex Stout’s Nero Wolf, Clayton Rawson’s Merlini books (locked room style), and S.S. van Dine’s Philo Vance book.  Also Rhys Bowen sets her Molly Murphy books in the ’20’s and ’30’s period in NYC.  Laura Resnick her somewhat uneven, but mostly entertaining Esther Diamond UF series here.  Dopplegangster and Vamaprazzi were especially good and can be read as stand alones.

DC – Yeah, technically it’s Low Country, but DC is an entity onto itself.  For cozy fans, try Julie Hyzy’s White House Chef and White House Gardener books.  Interesting and a little off beat for a cozy is Ellen Byerrum’s Crime of Fashion series, which is actually pretty good.  For UF/horror fans, Christopher Farnsworth has Nathaniel Cade, The President’s Vampire series – which is going for a movie, so only one ebook installment has come out since 2012.  Very original.  Naturally, DC/VA plays home base for many political and police thrillers, Brad Thor’s Scott Hovarth series, the late Vince Flynn’s Mitch Rapp books, Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan, and James Patterson’s Alex Cross books – another series I find rather generic.

Chicagoland and the Great Lakes – It’s CHICAGO people, home of the only Wizard for Hire, Harry Dresden.  The daddy of modern UF, Harry is still going strong thanks to author Jim Butcher’s clever and twisty mind.  Chicago is also home to the really good Chicagoland Vampire UF series by Chloe Neill.  Barbara Annino has her Stacy Justice witchy mysteries set in a fictional town in Illinois and they too are entertaining on a more modest, cozy style level.  Ohio is home to Linda Robertson’s Persephone Alcmedi series, more UF or true paranormal, because they mostly lack the required ‘city setting’ needed for UF.  Connie Laux writes her Pepper Martin under pen name.Casey Daniels.  It’s a paranormal ghost mystery series set in Cleveland.  As Kylie Logan she writes her Button Shop books set in Chicago, and the League of Literary Ladies set in Michigan.  I liked the Casey Daniels books, but the others, not so much.  Jill Churchill’s Jane Jeffery’s books are fair to good, but she’s stopped writing so they can be hard to find.  Classic mystery has Ralph M. McInerny’s Father Dowling books.  Marcus Starkey writes good, though slightly dark, mysteries all set in the Chicago area.  One of my favorites authors, Loren D. Estleman, set his two ‘hard boiled’ series in Michigan, PI Amos Walker and hit man, Peter Macklin.  Minnesota has a wealth of great authors including John Sanford – but stick with his Kipp books for lighter fare.  David Housewright’s ‘Mac’ MacKenzie books make for good summer reads.  Willian Kent Krueger, Steve Hamilton, Brian Freeman, Owen Laukkanen are just a few of the many excellent mystery/suspense authors living and writing in the area.

Heartland and Prairie – JoanHess has her cozy Claire Malloy series set in Arkansas and paranormal author Charlaine has two cozy series set here, Lilly Baird and Harper Connelly.  Steven Hunter bases the Earl Swagger books here and the first of his Bob Lee Swagger sniper thriller books.  Maddy Hunter’s Passport to Peril series got picked up again and is back in action.  While set all over the world, her characters and their home base is in Iowa.

Alaska and Hawaii – Well, yeah, these utterly unrelated areas are not part of the ‘lower 48′ so I’m doing them separately.  Alaska is Dana Stabenow territory with her Kate Shugak mysteries, as well as the less well know Sue Henry Jessie Arnorld dog sled mysteries.  Like the Prairie and Heartland, not a prime paranormal location.   Hawaii – Well Earl Derr Biggers’ Charlie Chan had a lot more movie outings than he ever did books – written back in the 1920’s and early ’30’s, but six he did write are worth reading, providing you can deal with all the ‘politically incorrect’ stuff that was typical of the period.  About the only other notable series was 4 books by Charles Knief featuring John Caine, a sort of Travis McGee character who is a former SEAL back before SEAL’s become ubiquitous in romance and thrillers.  It also shows up as a place visited my everyone from Jack Reacher to cozy authors, but is not the home of any major paranormal series.

I’ll do an international beach reads next, as kind of a sweep of the world.

June 18, 2014

Beach Reads – Part 1

Filed under: Editorial,General — toursbooks @ 10:40 pm
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Summer in the publishing industry sees a rash of lightweight, mostly romantic ‘chick-lit’ type releases, commonly called ‘beach reads’.  Undemanding, usually a bit on the fluff side, sometimes tear-jerkers, but mostly just read once and toss type books.  It kind of gives ‘beach reads’ a bad name.  But there are other beach reads that can make your vacation more fun.  This whole thing became a topic of discussion on a travel forum, because lots of folks love to read on vacation and most wanted mystery – unaware of some of the very good UF out there.

Recently, a thread on the Sanibel forum on Trip Advisor talked about the closing of yet another small, independent book store that sold both new and used books.  For those of us who prefer to read a dead tree book, this is a serious matter.  Buying inexpensive used books while on vacation sure beats hauling them down to an island.  The poster asked for other locations to buy used books and several of us replied.  Obviously, a place like Sanibel does NOT attract the lovers of nightlife, but it does tend to attract readers, so yeah, books get sold even in the supermarkets.  It’s a very popular family spot, but it is also a very popular retirement and seasonal home spot for those who can afford such things.  The forum has a couple of doctors, a veterinarian, professional people of various types, and small business owners, but they all have one common interest beyond the natural environment of Sanibel and it’s most popular past-time, shelling, they like to read.

Years ago, in the early 90’s I was in another now defunct bookstore looking for more reading material and hoping to find a local author.  I found Randy Wayne White and his Doc Ford books.  I had to go back to get them, because the author actually had to stock the shelves himself!  Of course I’d already read every Travis McGee book, Charles Willeford’s books, Florida Straits by Lawrence Shames was fresh off the press that year, and I was reading the Lassiter books by Paul Levine, some of James Hall’s Thorn books,  John Lutz’s Fred Carver books, as well as Hiaasen’s books (loved Native Tongue), and Tim Dorsey’s equally off beat Serge Storms books, but so many other Florida authors had yet to hit the shelves – Tom Corcoran, Carolina Garcia-Aguilera, Jonathon King, James Grippordano, James O Born, were still unpublished.

Turns out, like me, folks like books that are set in the environment where they are.  Tony Hillerman’s wonderfully descriptive and evocative prose weighs heavily in his building of the Southwest as a setting and the Navajo culture as his ‘hook’ for his Jim Chee and Joe Leaphorn series.  He did it with such respect for the Navajo and their traditions, it was a cultural lesson on its own.  I had read quite a lot of Hillerman before my first visit to our Southwest and he captures its essence perfectly.

John D MacDonald set the stage for the many authors that came after him for Florida, much as Hillerman did, though their styles were very different.  Tom Corcoran does it for the Keys.  We may have had different favorites, but we all agreed, reading books set in the area you vacation in does seem to enhance the trip.  I love mystery as a genre, but some authors can be pretty heavy for a vacation.  I tend to enjoy action type books with some snark.  On the other end of the spectrum, you can get authors so quirky, not everyone likes them.  I also enjoy a good romantic suspense book for a beach type read, or cozy mystery – though good cozies are hard to find today and predictable ones are thick on the ground.

I cheerfully reread some books too.  One year, on St John in the USVI’s, the house I rented had a small library and there sat Jack Higgin’s Thunder Point, partly set on St John.  His boat captain and master diver character in the book was based from a real local he’d met while there researching his story locations.  It was such a different experience reading it sitting there, looking at the same amazing views as in the book.

So that brings me to ‘beach reads’, which is just code for “It ain’t War and Peace, thank God!”  Seriously, who wants to be bummed out on vacation?  Jeeze, leave the serial killers, and ‘great literature’ for some long winter night when there’s nothing on TV.  You’re on vacation.  Here are some authors and titles for different locations that make good ‘beach reads’, even if there is no beach in sight!

Jersey Shore/Jersey – Chris Grabenstein’s John Ceepak mystery series set in a fictional Jersey shore town.  Light reading by an author who is also a comedian and names each series book after an amusement park type ride.  Looking for a cozy?  E.J. Cooperman’s Haunted Guesthouse series set in a Cape May like town.  Also, Harlan Coben’s early Myron Bolitar books with North Jersey (where he lives) often used, or David Rosenfelt’s Andy Carpenter books also set in North Jersey, or the most famous one, Janet Evonavich’s Steph plum series set in Trenton – though I’d stick with books 1 to 7.  That said, they actually runs tours of Steph Plum’s Trenton.

Cape Cod/Massachusetts  – There are a bunch of options – Rick Boyer’s Doc Adams books if you can find them, or for a true classic, Phoebe Atwood Taylor’s Asey Mayo mysteries written in the ’30’s and ’40’s.  Or for Massachusetts in general, Spencer books by Robert B Parker. Looking for a cozy?  Try Charlotte MacLeod.  She’s written 4 of them, but try Max Bittersohn or Peter Shandy series first. UF?  The Connor Grey series by Marc Del Franco.

California – Well, it’s tough to beat California for a location with a huge range of settings.  Don Winslow does a 2 books series using a California surfer as his lead character (Dawn Patrol, The Gentleman’s Hour) and many stand alones, including The Winter of Frankie Machine.  Robert Crais has the ultimate wise-cracking PI in his early Elvis Cole/Joe Pike books that get more serious as the series progresses.  Marshall Karp started his Lomax & Briggs buddy cop series with The Rabbit Factory, set in a fictional Disneyland.  You also have Richard Kardey’s horror-UF Sandman Slim books take place there – and in Hell.  Sue Ann Jaffarian has a vampire mystery series, Fang-in-Cheek, set there using the very human Madison Rose as her lead – only 2 books so far.  Her Ghost of Granny Apples and Odelia Grey series are also California based.   And what could be more classic than Raymond Chandler’s Phillip Marlowe books set in LA?  Or for San Francisco, try Krysta Davis’s Sophie Katz books, on the lighter ‘chick-lit mystery’ level.  Jenn Bennett sets both her Arcadia Bell UF series, as well as her new paranormal romance series, Roaring Twenties, in the Bay Area as well.  The October Daye UF/Fantasy series is also set here and in Fairie and is one of the very best around written by Seanan McGuire.  It takes a bit to get into it, but her world building is complex and excellent.

North West – Seattle is the hometown for J. P. Beaumont in J.A. Jance’s fictional police detective books, but some are kind of grim.  Aaron Elkins does his Gideon Oliver series here and the early books include trips to the Olympic Peninsula.  G. M. Ford does two entertaining series here, his Leo Waterman books and his investigative reporter books featuring Frank Corso.  Yasmine Galenorm, a well known paranormal author, writes a cozy mystery series under the pen name, India Ink.  Speaking of paranormal, Kelley Armstrong sets her paranormal Darkness Rising YA triliogy here and Lauren Dane does the 4 book Bound by Magick series here as well as numerous romance and paranormal romance books in the Washington and Oregon areas.  Elizabeth Lowell (also writes as Ann Maxwell) set her Donovan romantic suspense books in the Seattle area.

Southwest – OMG where to start?  Tony Hillerman would top the list and maybe that’s all you’d need.  But cozy lovers rejoice, Old Scottsdale is home to Jenn McKinley’s Cupcake Bakery mysteries.  J.A. Jance has one set here too with female deputy Johanna Brady.  The Phoenix area is home to the start of one of the best new UF  series to come out lately, Kevin Hearne’s Iron Druid.  You’ll find Coyote is featured in a couple of books.  And over in New Mexico is one of my favorite UF/mystery/romance series, the Charley Davidson series by Darynda Jones.  She also wrote the YA Darklight trilogy set there.  For more traditional mystery lovers, there’s Michael McGarrity’s Kevin Kearny books or the late James D. Doss’s Charlie Moon series set in southern Colorado and New Mexico.

Scenic West/Big Sky Country – Welcome to Walt Longmire country, thanks to Craig Johnson and his now iconic sheriff in modern Wyoming.  My personal favorite is Junkyard Dogs.  C. J. Box has based his Joe Pickett series in Wyoming as well.  The amusing historical mystery series featuring Big Red and Old Red Amlingmeyer by Steve Hockensmith is set mostly in Montana in the late 1800’s.  Deadwood, SD is home to Ann Charles’ humorous/scary paranormal mysteries called – obviously – Deadwood Mysteries.  Cheaper in ebook, but all are also in print with illustrations.  Laura DiSilvero sets her ‘Charlie’ Swift mysteries in Colorado Springs – kind of CO’s answer to Steph Plum.  Carrie Vaughn sets her Kitty Norville parnormal/UF series largely here and the best of the series, IMO, is Kitty’s House of Horrors. It can be read as a stand alone.

Texas – Texas is home to many mystery series old and new.  Jeff Abbott set two series here, Jordan Poteet and Whit Mosley.  Bill Crider’s Sheriff Dan Rhodes is a series of short, easyt mystery reads with lots of character. D.R. Merideth is a native Texan and did the really good John Lloyd Branson series and Charles Matthews series.  Before he became famous as the children’s/YA mythological adventure writer, Rick Riordan did the Tres Navarre series.  Diane Kelly writes the Tara Holloway Death and Taxes series that’s not a cozy, but more of a classic old style mystery book.  She also started a similar series featuring a K-9 officer Bridget, and Officer Megan Lutz set in Fort Worth.

Louisiana and Deep South – OK, his books are filled with atmosphere and corruption, not exactly beach reads, but James Lee Burke has to head the class in this location.  Jana DeLeon sits on the opposite end of the spectrum with her light. humorous, Mudbug series.  A little more meaty, but still played for laughs, is her Sinful, Louisiana Miss Fortune series about a CIA assassin hiding with a price on her head, and she has several stand alone books.  Over in Alabama is one of the best of the cozy series, Southern Sisters, by the late Anne George.  In Mississippi, Peggy Webb does her Elvis series that never really appealed to me, but many like.  For paranormal/UF there is, naturally, Sookie Stackhouse books by Charlaine Harris (meh to they suck) and the very good in progress series, The Sentinels of New Orleans by Suzanne Johnson.  For some quality smut, try Lauren Dane’s Charvez Witches series. There are several really good, but rather dark series that I’m not mentioning, but look for authors Ace Atkins and Jack Kerley, if you like darker stuff.

That’s it for part 1.  I’ll begin Part 2 with the Low Country and cover the key major cities.  This should get you started.

 

 

June 12, 2014

Finis – The Problem of the Endless Series – Part 3 THE END?

I find I can only do so many series before my head explodes.  Honestly, authors resurrect characters and series, like soap operas, recycle characters.  There are so many epic fantasy series out there, some starting life as a stand alone – or as an outgrowth of early works where and author developed ideas.  Dune was such as book.  I recall how blown away I was by it when I read back when it first came out.  I never did make it to the end of the series, just book 1 and 2, because book 3 was published nearly 7 years after book 2 and I’d moved on.  It would take 5 more years for book 4 and 3 more for book 5 and then book 6 followed and was the last.  Sort of.  Now his son, Brian, along with Kevin Anderson, have continued Dune stories as prequels and sequels to the original series.

The unique universal appeal of Dune is surprising.  It’s themes and characters carry well into other cultures making it one of the best selling science fiction novels of all time at 20 million copies.  But to put that in context, the Harry Potter series sold over 400 million copies and (Lord help us) Fifty Shades of Gray eclipsed that number at over 450 million.  Of course Dune, Harry Potter, and many other books will still be popular long after Fifty Shades is lost in time.  But it does prove one thing, SEX SELLS! Trust me, Fifty Shades isn’t selling based on it’s unforgettable characters, original plot, and brilliant writing.  It’s selling for the same reason Peyton Place sold in the 1950’s, SEX and the lure of the forbidden, in this case, BDSM.  (Quick, who wrote Peyton Place and what was the lead character’s name?)  Yeah, I remembered the author’s name, but in all fairness, I couldn’t get past page 50 in that book either, though it was decades after publication when I actually tried, and I can’t even recall a plot.  Was there one?

Will most of the series so beloved of readers stand the test of time?  Unlikely.  Anyone over 40 would be hard put to find titles popular in their teens and 20’s still on the shelves in print.  Dune?  Yup, that’s there.  So is everything by Tolkien.  But those ARE classics.  I’ll bet in 20 years you’ll still find Harry Potter for the simple reason that his story is one we can all identify with – and the reason adults read so much YA fiction.  Like The Hobbit, Harry will age well.  Some experiences just continue to resonate over time, long after the cheap, voyeuristic thrills of Fifty Shades has been supplanted by the next hot item.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m all in favor of good, cheap voyeuristic thrills, just not a fan of BDSM.  Which segues nicely into another niche market, erotic paranormal romance and futuristic paranormal romance.  Kaitlyn O’Connor writes a lot of futuristic si-fi/paranormal erotic romance, spiced with humor.  She writes modern shifter romance as Madeline Montague.  I’ve kind of been avoiding this stuff because it is a small market, but I’ll include a few here, with fair warning, it’s for adults only.  Like most romance, alpha males abound, there is often some BDSM or at least D/s going on, but not the level of kink you get with true BDSM.

Si-fi and fantasy are no strangers to sex.  No less an icon than Robert A Heinlein got his book, Stranger in a Strange Land, pulled from school library shelves for a host of reasons including ‘cheap eroticism’.  Hey, if you can slog thru 160,000+ words and find a bit of ‘cheap eroticism’ along the way, more power to you!  Boy, did you earn it!

(Suggestion – if you actually enjoy reading BDSM, try Maya Banks (also writes mainstream), Shayla Black (also rites as Shelly Bradley), Sylvia Day, and Lorelei James among others.  All are light-years better than E.L. James.)

Joey W. Hill (living) – Vampire Queen series now up to book 13, future status unknown, paranormal vampire erotic romance.  Hill writes mostly in the BDSM vein, but does some more mainstream series, and stand alones in paranormal, historical, and contemporary genres; Arcane Shot series centers on witches (2 books so far), and she has a paranormal romance series based on mermaids.

Kaitlyn O’Connor (Madeline Montague) (living) – small press author that has gained a loyal following for her humorous ménage Cyberolution series futuristic si-fi romances, 6 books and complete, but as they were written out of chronological order, they can be read as stand alones; as Madeline Montague she writes Wolfen series, a loosely related group of werewolf shifter books, with some, but less humor. 3 books – status unknown.  Hard to find author.  Short books.  Buy the e-books.

Lara Santiago (living) – small press author; two futuristic stand alones – one intended as a possible series that never happened, Menagerie -is a clever apparently poly-amorous story that begins and ends in present day.  Rogue’s Run is an intersteller m/f/m ménage.  Reads like the start of a series, but she went from futuristic to Western.

Suzanne Collins (living) – Hunger Games – best-selling YA trilogy set in Dystopian future.  Complete.  Before writing Hunger Games, she authored a series of children’s fantasy books about Gregor the Overlander in her Underland series, 5 books, complete.

Veronica Roth (living) – Divergent trilogy – 3 books plus numbers short stories, novellas, complete, YA si-fi Dystopian; kind of a Hunger Games knock-off with shades of Twilight Zone

Pittacus Lore (living) – Lorien Legacies (5 books but on-going to 9?) and Lost Files (12 books complete); YA futuristic alien invasion; Another variation on Hunger Games type tropes

Jaye Wells (living) – Sabina Kane, 5 books, complete, UF, vampire, mage, assassin – worthwhile read; Prospero’s War – 2 books complete another under contract.  Status of additional books – unknown, UF/magic

Kelly Meding (living) – Dreg City – 5 books, complete, Dark UF, si-fi, horror; about a bounty hunter who is killed, loses her memory, is resurrected, and has 3 days to live, but sometimes, you get to die more than once; Meta Wars – futuristic UF/superhero, 4 books, complete, each book focuses on a specific ‘talent’ of a group/

Linda Robertson (living) – Persephone Alcmedi – 6 books so far and 1 more due this year.  Completion status unknown.  UF, witches, vamps, weres, Fey.  Young witch finds she might be one that was in a prophesy, making her a target for her coven and the only one that change the outcome of a potential war.

Harry Connolly(Living) – Twenty Places, 3 books – series cancelled by publisher; UF/Paranormal/fantasy mystery; well liked by those who read it, but not enough readers.

Rachel Caine (living) – Morganville Vampires – 15 books, complete, YA/UF/vampires; Weather Warden – 9 books, complete; UF/paranormal/magic/romance – weather warden (magic worker) is unjustly accused of crimes and goes on the run to look for the one that can offer proof of her innocence. Outcast Season – spin off of Weather Warden, 4 books, status complete.

M. J. Scott (living) – Half-Light City, 4 books, complete, Fantasy/UF/Fae/Vampires – a new author who seemed to be improving with each book.  Watch for more from her.

Marjorie M. Liu (living) – Hunter’s Kiss, 5 books and several short stories/novellas, complete, Paranormal Romance/shifters/magic;  Dirk & Steele, 13 books – status unknown, paranormal romance, can be read as stand alone books.

Lisa Shearin (living) – Raine Benares, 6 books, complete 2012, fantasy/magic/high fantasy/some romance; kind of a classic fantasy adventure series featuring a female thief; SPI Files – 1 book released this year, one on order, UF/modern paranormal; author has engaging humorous writing style that makes for quick easy reading.

Jeanne C. Stein (living) – Anna Strong, 9 books, novellas, shorts stories, Plus 1 to complete?, paranormal/UF/shapeahifter/vamp/ romance …. If anyone has any comments on this series. let me know

Richelle Mead (living) – Dark Swan, 4 books complete, UF/paranormal/magic/romance; Vampire Academy, 6 books, complete, YA paranormal/supernatural/magic;  popular with adult paranormal fans; Bloodlines – spin-off of Vampire Academy, 6 books, ongoing, YA/paranormal/fantasy

Rachel Vincent (living) – Shifters, 6 books, complete; UF/paranormal/paranormal romance, power plays and life among shifters; Soul Screamers, 7 books, plus novellas and short stories, complete, YA/paranormal/fantasy – school taken over by Hellions and the fight to take it back OK, that is a wrap.

 

And I know a missed a WHOLE LOT OF SERIES, but I’ll try and update Finis every so often.  But seriously, too many hours on Goodreads, Amazon, hunting for author websites and I’m DONE.  So for those who hate waiting, you now have a place to start.  Anyone wants me to add a series they really liked, just post a comment.  I review them all.

Finis – The Problem of the Endless Series – Part 2

We left our series reading enthusiasts with Sandman Slim watching over them and now we switch to a fan favorite – VAMPIRES!.  You can’t throw a stick in the paranormal romance or UF aisles of a bookstore – live or online – without hitting a dozen vampire books.  There is a massive vampire infestation.  SOMEBODY GET THE HOLY WATER!

Now it is true, each author has his or her own take on vampire mythology.  To paranormal romance author Lynsay Sands, Argeneau Vampires are really Atlanteans, people who escaped the fall of Atlantis with nanos in their blood to cure disease.  They need more blood than they can produce, so the fangs were a natural adaptation to allow them to get food for the nanos (human blood) as needed.  As for the whole ‘no sunlight’ that was just to reduce the need for blood as sunlight destroys skins cells and the nanos then need to to work harder to repair the damage and more blood is needed.

For Chloe Neill in her Chicagoland Vampires series and many other authors, vamps are variations on the traditional Dracula model.  In fact, the Night Prince books by Jeaniene Frost that I mentioned in Part 1 is ABOUT Dracula and he has a part in Karen Chance’s Cassie Palmer series, where vamps are major characters.

Almost all authors, other than horror writers, make vamps sexy.  After Navy SEAL’s and Spec Ops guys in general, they’re hottest selling stars in romance today.  (We’ve had shifter SEAL’s from several authors, but no vamp SEAL’s. (And bare-chested guys in kilts!!!!!!!  How did I forget them?)  There is, however, a sort of vamp James Bond and several vamp assassins.).  But given the overwhelming number of vamp romances, I’m only going to mention a few series, because frankly, it would take days to get them all down.  What can I say, sex sells.  Just ask E.L. James.

Many UF series have paranormal romance as an integral element in the plot line, but it is not the sole purpose of the series.  I’ll illustrate this with two very well known and hugely popualr series as my first two examples.

Chloe Neill (living) – Chicagoland Vampires, has many other species including Fae, elves and werewolves.  Best classified as UF with some romantic suspense, it is both character and plot driven in equal parts; contracted to book 13, so no end in sight; Also wrote the Dark Elite series, 3 books apparently complete

J.  R. Ward (Jessica Bird) (living) – Black Dagger Brotherhood – Paranormal romance centered on a group of vamps that act as protectors.  Each book features a specific romance, 12 books to date since 2005; Fallen Angel series, 6 books since 2009 to present; also writes stand alone historical and contemporary romance

Simon R. Green (living) – prolific author; Hawk & Fisher – complete, fantasy, UF 6 books that tie in loosely with- The Forest Kingdom Series 5 books, complete plus a ‘follow-up’ sixth book, fantasy.  Deathstalker series, complete at 8 books, creates a universe where his current Secret Histories series, 8 books to date, also takes place and the completed Nightside series, 12 books, also took place and also loosely ties ties with Hawk & Fisher in a fantasy future London.  Also Ghost Finder, a related series not as well received as the Nightside and the others, 4 books so far.

Kelly Gay (living) – Charlie Madigan series, 4 books, complete 2012, UF with some romance elements; might have more installments as certain plot elements not resolved, but none scheduled

Amber Benson (living) – Caliope Reaper Jones (Death’s Daughter) series, 5 books, complete 2013, UF/fantasy/magic; co-author Ghosts of Albion, YA, historical fantasy/magic/horror

C. E. Murphy (living)- Walker Papers series, completes this year with book 9, UF/paranormal/magic/time travel; Negotiator Trilogy, 3 books complete 2008, UF/Fantasy/vamps/dragons

Keri Arthur (living) – prolific author; Riley Jensen series, 9 books complete 2010, UF, paranormal, paranormal romance lead character is half vamp/half werewolf; Dark Angles series, 7 books, last book due 2014, UF, paranormal, fantasy; Spook Squad, 3 books complete, out of print and being re-issued; UF/paranormal/paranormal mystery; Nikki and Michael, 4 books, complete 2008 and re-issued 2013, UF/paranormal romance/vampires.

Jennifer Estep (living) – Elemental Assassin series, Gin Blanco barbecue restaurant owner, freelance assassin, and killer of underworld leader, Mab Malone.  A really good UF series with some romance, but mostly action and mystery, mostly character driver with one plot driver element, 13 books in print or scheduled and no end in sight, but as a more character driven series, you can skip around after 8 or so; Mythos Academy – YA; mythology, fantasy, UF – series complete with 6 books, a prequel and a novella, coming of age with gifted/special young adults to new adult.; Bigtime Superhero series – tongue in cheek paranormal romance/paranormal chick-lit – status, not known, 4 books so far.

Kevin Hearne (living) – The Iron Druid series – UF, fantasy, mythology, paranormal – multiple mythologies come together around a 2,000 year old druid, Atticus O’Sullivan, who looks like a 20-something hippie, up to book 7, the first HC, this month and a contract for at least 2 more, plot and character driven similar to Dresden, there are multiple short stories and novellas that come before book 1 or between books in anthologies or e-book only; no other series or stand alone novels; contributes to Carniepunk anthology.

Benedict Jacka (living) – Alex Verus, UF/magic kind of a poor man’s Harry Dresden a mage who never finished training but is useful to full mages, 5 books so far and no word on additional books, but likely.  Very character driven.

Douglas Hulick (living) – Tales of the Kin, fantasy/epic fantasy/dark fantasy, only 2 books so far with a contract for 1 more.  At least 2 years between books.  Interesting underworld anti-hero.  Character driven.

Rachel Bach (living) – Paradox series, 3 books, status unknown; si-fi/space opera/space paranormal, talented new author with a fresh, original voice.  Took some effort to get into book one after so many fantasy/paranormals, but she wrote a fine series with a strong female lead.  All published 2014; Additional books or more books set in same universe, unknown.

Meljean Brook (living) – Guardians series, 8 books complete 2014, paranormal romance/paranormal fantasy/demons, serial romance with some overarching elements.; Iron Seas – Steampunk, steampunk romance, 4 novels and multiple ebooks and serial releases.  Continuation status, not known, but books can be read as stand alone novels

Mark Del Franco (living) – Connor Grey series, complete at 6 books in 2012; UF/Dark UF/Magic, A mostly plot driven series that seemed a bit choppy at times about the Light and Dark Fey and the uneasy truce with humans and each other that Connor helps maintain through the series; His first YA book was released in 2014 titled Whirlwind; Be wary of the Kindle ebook.  Apparently is has numerous errors.  Series status in this unknown.

You know, there’s nothing quite like being a smartass to get the attention of the universe and have it slap you upside the head and yell, “IDIOT!” in your ear.  I thought I was making a joke about needing multiple entries to list the main complete series.  And the universe laughed.  Yes, I have included a few major series that character driven that could be read without spraining the brain, like would with the Wheel of Time series, but even so, with the help of fellow readers and their own input of completed series, I have at least one more entry to do.  So I rather humbly apologize for my maniacal laugh at the end of part 1.  It seems the joke might just be on me!  But I have to admit, I kind of enjoyed that evil laughing.  SO much so, maybe the joke is on you!?????

 

MUWAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAH!

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June 9, 2014

Finis – The Problem of the Endless Series – Part 1

Finis.  Shows up at the end of films and sometimes books.  It’s a welcome sign that the story is over.  Unfortunately, series books, especially in the UF, paranormal, and epic fantasy genres, are more the norm than a stand alone book.  In mystery and action thrillers, the plot finishes at the end, though characters and groups may carry-on over many books (character based series).  In romance, by definition, the story ends with a happily-ever-after – which is why they kind of belong in a sub-set of fantasy.  So-called ‘series romance’ usually involves interconnected characters, like members of a family or close friends, and may have some small over-arching element, the primary plot is about the two individuals featured in the book.  Christine Warren’s The Others series, written out of order in real time, and Shelley Laurenston’s Pack and Pride series, are examples of this.

For the sake of sanity, in this article, a series is a group of books that tell an on-going story (plot based series) that is not resolved till the last book.  So each book would be an installment or section of a story with an over-arcing plot.  This type of writing is common in the fantasy, Steampunk, and Dystopian fields of science and fantasy fiction.  The Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, The Belgariad are all examples of installments that unwound a long, continuous plot where each installment was a different segment of a whole, but the main story line does complete till the last book.  To make things simple, a plot based series needs to be read in order to makes sense of characters and events.  A character based series can be read in any order and the basic plot still makes sense, though some personal relationships may change.  Examples of character based series are James Bond, Travis McGee, Walt Longmier, Miss Marple, Dirk Pitt, or in UF, Garrett books by Glen Cook, Remy Chandler by Thomas E. Sniegoski (yes, I looked it up), the Joe Pitt series by legendary mystery author, Charlie Huston, and the Felix Gomez series, uneven in quality though it may be, by Mario Acevedo, but his best was his last Gomez book, Werewolf Smackdown.  It can easily be read as a stand alone.

The plot based series type of writing, though common,can be amazingly frustrating for readers.  Take for example the ultimate #epic fail – in multiple senses – Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time.   With a 2-3 year wait between books, his incredibly complex and demanding story ended unfinished at his death.  Personally, I grew tired after over 6 years and 7 books and gave up when the last one I read covered all of 72 hours in a 1,000 pages in hardcover and was published  TWO YEARS after book six.  His death in 2006 resulted in a 4 year wait for the next installment, which was supposed to be the last book that a greedy publisher split into 3.  In part, to get an installment out before everyone forgot the series, and in part to buy time while Brandon Sanderson worked on the next two part.  It still took Sanderson 3 years to finish the last of the 3 books he co-authored.  Unlike some authors, Jordan did not make arrangements with another author while still living to finish his work, though he knew he was dying.  Not unusual.  Authors protect their ‘baby’.  From the year the first book was published till the year the last book was published, the series took 23 years.  That is an entire generation of human existence.

So, fans are understandably concerned with aging Georger R.R. Martin and his Song of Fire and Ice series.  At 66 years, he’s not young and now spends much of his time working with HBO on the Game of Thrones series.  That takes a lot of time and focus AWAY from writing.  Ask Kaylana Price, whose latest Grave Witch book is now 3 YEARS OVERDUE!  Or Scott Lynch and his Gentleman Bastards series.  It took SIX YEARS before The Republic of Thieves was FINALLY published, and that’s just book 3 in his series.  He’s a young man, but still, that is a loooooooooooooooooong wait.  I should know.  I had the book on pre-order.

Patrick Rothfuss takes his time with the King Killer Chronicles as well – which is SUPPOSED to end at book 3.  It took 4 years between 1 and 2, so I’d advise against holding your breath.

Gee, and I wondered why I was asked to name some series that have finally wrapped.  Well, I don’t read every author, but I’ll give this a shot.

David Eddings (d. 2009) – The Belgariad, The Malloreon – epic fantasy

J. R. R. Tolkein (d. 1973) – The Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit (a stand alone and precursor of the Lord of the Rings) – epic fantasy

Robert Jordan (d. 2007)  (w/Brandon Sanderson) – The Wheel of Time (finished 6 years after his death)

Charlaine Harris (living) – Sookie Stackouse completed 2013 (and it sucked) – UF/paranormal/paranormal romance

Daryanda Jones (living) – The Darklight Trilogy (didn’t like the ending) 3 book series complete 2013 – YA, Paranormal, UF; Charley Davidson – ongoing with no indication of when the series will end – UF, Paranormal mystery, Paranormal romance

Gail Carriger – The Parasol Protectorate (5 books) complete 2012 – Steampunk, paranormal; Finishing School – in progress – YA Steampunk  NOTE:  Highly stylized writing for both series, so read a sample to be sure you can deal with it.  I liked it after I got over her style.

Jenn Bennett (living) – Arcadia Bell – complete 2014; Four novels and 1 novella – UF, paranormal romance; consistently well written, but the ending, while good, was not slam bang.

Devon Monk (living) – Allie Beckstrom complete 2012, 9 book series – UF; the latest novel, Dark Magic, is a spin-off of the series.  Another series, Broken Magic is as well.  She is also writing Age of Steam – Steampunk set in the old West.

Kim Harrison (living) – The Hollows (AKA Rachel Morgan) Series – Supposedly complete 2014 with book 13 of the series.  There are numerous novellas associated with it as well.  Dystopian, UF, Futuristic Fantasy

Jacqueline Carey (living) – Kushiel’s Legacy – 3 different series set in the same ‘universe’ complete 2011, 9 books total plus 1 companion book – fantasy; currently writing Agents of Hel

Karen Marie Moning (living) – Fever series complete 2011; 5 books; UF; new series set in the same ‘world’ Fever World AKA Dani O’Malley series in progress; uses the Irish myths for her world building

Molly Harper (living) – Jane Jameson (Nice Girl) series, 4 books complete 2012 – paranormal, paranormal romance, humor; the Half Moon Hollow series are stand alone books set in the same ‘world’- paranormal romance; Naked Werewolf series – stand alone humorous paranormal romance with common elements tying the series to the same ‘world’.

Lauren Dane (living) – Bound by Magic – UF, paranormal romance; 4 books series complete 2013; Tied several other series involving werewolves, were jaguars, and witches together.  For a strong author, the ending was lame and unsatisfying.  The Charvez Witches – erotic paranormal romance, UF series that stopped but was not finished

Kelley Armstrong – The Women of Otherworld – 13 books, numerous novellas and short stories, paranormal romance, UF, complete 2012; has published stand alone books set in Otherworld; Darkness Rising – 3 book series, YA paranormal completed 2013; also writes mystery

Jeaniene Frost (living) – Night Huntress series 6 books,paranormal, paranormal romance, UF complete 2014; stand alone books in Night Huntress Universe and related Night Prince books on-going

Yasmine Galenorn (living) – Indigo Court – 4 books complete 2013, UF; Otherworld series on-going at 13 and at 4 more scheduled; also writes mystery

Deborah Harkness (living) – All Souls Trilogy – completes July 2014 – Paranormal romance; Occult, paranormal romantic suspense, horror; the over-arching plot looses focus now and then, and she gets quite pedantic on some subjects which takes the characters out of character; despite its shortcomings, an original concept in a ‘me too’ field, but the author can’t seem to make up her mind what’s most important, the book or the relationship between her two lead characters.

Some books start as stand alones and end up the first of a series, but unlike a true series, these books are more like mystery or thriller books where the plot is resolved, but the characters continue.  The Rook by Daniel O’Malley is a perfect UF example of a style we’d normally associated with spy or action thrillers.  Complete in itself, readers want the characters to continue.  Stiletto, his second book scheduled for Feb 2015, will continue the characters, but the primary story has (in theory) been resolved, so a new, but related story will be told.  Rather SPECTER in James Bond.

Another apparent stand alone is Mr Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore is another first novel and author Robin Sloan seemed to have ended the plot.  It’s tough to classify this book as it feels like many genres at once, yet never fits into any one.  In Amazon it’s listed under Fantasy AND Techno-thriller, so take your pick.  Personally, I found it curious, but not enthralling or exciting in any way.

Jim Butcher’s Harry Dresden series – UF,  is one of those that is neither a character based series nor a plot based series, but instead moves between the two seamlessly.  You’ll get some virtual stand alones with only minor elements tied to earlier and later books, just as you’d get with a traditional mystery.  Then you’ll get several books primarily driven by a plot element that is resolved at some point.  Harry goes on – even after death, such as it is.  Butcher also writes Codex Alera, a separate fantasy series that has never gained the international following of his Dresden books, but sells very well.  He has signed a deal for a Steampunk series, which may well have an impact on the Dresden series.  Want a perfect example of how UF crosses into Mystery?  Butcher had a book-signing scheduled for the release date of Skin Tight at the famous mystery book store in Scottsdale, The Poisoned Pen.

Lois McMaster Bujold’s Vorkosigan Saga is science fantasy/science fiction and another one of those series that defies simple classification.  She wrote her Vor books in random order, moving back and forth in the timeline of Miles Vorkosigan’s life then spinning off related books in which he is not a major character.  So they can be viewed as related stand alone books or a character driven series, but the story actually starts with his mother and is plot driven!  It’s just one of the many frustrating things readers deal with.

Richard Kadrey’s Sandman Slim series is character driven in book one but turns to plot driven right at the very end.  Book 5 is due out this summer, The Getaway God.  The books read almost as stand alone novels, but link enough that reading them in order is necessary.  Horror, dystopian, UF.  His novel Dead Set is a stand alone dark fantasy/horror book.  By the way, Sandman Slim has been optioned for a movie.

Now, the real question is, when will I write Part 2????? MUWAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAH!!!!!!!!!!!!!

April 23, 2012

Reading Challenge – Lessons Learned

Filed under: Editorial,Musing on life — toursbooks @ 3:00 pm
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On the long list of foolish things I’ve done so far this year, joining a reading challenge ranked fairly high.  Luckily, the risks were low as it was on PBS and all that was at stake was a few credits.  The 5 week long challenge allowed for print books only and rereads didn’t count.  Neither did books you started, didn’t like, and tossed to one side.  (Page counts were not included)  Naturally, I read several ebooks and did a few rereads.  No, I’m not being contrary, just business as usual.  What shocked me most was the fact that I read 6-7 print books a week fairly consistently.

I was NOT the most prolific reader.  Yes, there people who read more than I do.  I find that comforting.  I was feeling like the world’s biggest book addict for awhile now and I’m reassured that others are actually worse than I am.  It was also run during tax season, which cut reading time for a lot of folks.  What did I read?  Well, let’s take a look.

Week 1

A Perfect Match Shelly Bradley
If You See Her Shiloh Walker
Highway 61* David Housewright
Fire Engine Dead Shiela Connolly
If Looks Could Chill Nina Bhruns
Heat Rises Richard Castle
No such Thing As a Good Bind Date Shelly Fredman

Week 2

Protector Catherine Mann
Bear Meets Girl Shelly Laurenston
Wanted: Undead or Alive Kerrelyn Sparks
Taming an Impossible Rogue Susan Enoch
Afterglow Cherry Adair
Generation 18 Keri Arthur
Penumbra Keri Arthur

Week 3

Bad Boys Do Victoria Dahl
A Devil is Waiting Jack Higgins
The Art of Duke Hunting Sophia Nash
50% Off Murder* Josie Belle
Werewolf in Seattle Vicki Lewis Thompson
The Taking of Libbie, SD* David Housewright

Week 4

Blood on the Bayou Stacey Jay
About That Night Julie James
The Calling Kelley Armstrong
Something About Witches Joey W Hill
Let Them Eat Stake* Sarah Zettel
Betrayal Christina Dodd

Week 5

A Bite Before Christmas Sands and Frost
The Probability of Murder Ada Madison
Devil’s Punch Ann Aguirre
Kill Me if You Can* Patterson and Karp
If You Know Her Shiloh Walker
Taking a Shot Jaci Burton

Most of the books I bought myself, but a number were through PBS.  What did I learn from this exercise?  Well, first, my favorite author can write lemons (Shelly Laurenston), a not al all favorite author can write a good book (Kill Me If You Can) – though in fairness, Marshall Karp’s humor gave it positive edge and the plot was could have held more surprises, and the vast majority of the books I read are average to good.  David Housewright made it all the way up to very good, but not a single book in 5 weeks made it to my Keeper Shelf.  Not one made me sit up and go – WOW!  The best of the lot?  Those are marked with an asterisk.  There were a few that just missed, Stacey Jay’s Blood on the Bayou, Kelly Armstrong’s The Calling, and Richard Castle’s Heat Rises.  I found Heat Rises much better than expected and The Calling disappointingly unsatisfying.  Blood on the Bayou had many of the same problems as Dead on the Delta, namely a choppy writing style and ‘heroine’ that is difficult to like or care about on so many different levels.  So 32 books and not one of them blew me away.  David Housewright’s two MacKenzie books came closest.  His writing style in mature, with lean prose, wry wit, sardonic humor, and lots of twists and turns in his plots.  They are what really good mysteries should be.  James Patterson take note.   Not that he cares given he’s now James Patterson, Cottage Industry Bank and Trust.

A few of the books above were reviewed in previous entries here, the rest probably won’t get reviewed.  Mystery fans, buy David Housewright!!!!!!!  Sarah Zettle’s Vampire Chef mystery is worth watching and reading.  Jenn McKinlay – writing as Josie Belle – is getting formulaic in her mysteries.  Her Cupcakes mysteries are still the best.  Christmas stories that include killing a long lost relative just aren’t my idea of festive fun and make me wonder what the hell the editor and author were thinking.  And Vicki Lewis Thompson needs some new ideas.  By the way, the ebook, Beneath the Skin (de la Vega Cats 3) by Lauren Dane gets a big thumbs up from me as well.  One of my favorite series by her, this entry is new and available as ebook only at the moment (so not listed above).  Try the Samhain web site or Amazon.

So, that my report for the month.  READ ON!

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