Tour’s Books Blog

September 21, 2016

Binge Reading – again

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

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

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 Lest we forget

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

May 31, 2016

More Books – Playing Catchup with Short Reviews

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

October 22, 2014

October Reviews – Mystery Week!

I love fall, but it came much to early thanks to a drought.  After several years of wicked fall storms and epic floods, this year we haven’t had anywhere near enough rain.  The trees behind my place turned in September and peaked just as October arrived.  Usually it’s the 3rd week of October before peak color on those trees. Now it’s not even mid-month and they’re nearly bare.  Too many months with nothing green except the pines now lay ahead.  God, I hate winter!  I hate the cold, the snow, the cold, the ice, the cold, the short days, the cold………  I HATE COLD!  I’m not sure how my parents managed it, but they had a son who is apparently part polar bear and a daughter who is part hot house plant.  My poor brother sweats (Really, like beads running down his face when he does any work at all.) when I’m up at Christmas and keep the thermostat up even while bundled in layers of sweaters and fleece.  That’s the price of being family.  He’s learned to live with it a few days a year.

It’s already dark so early, the nights seem endless.  The light was noticeably  different in July and now, the sun is in a very different part of the sky, light slanting and a different color.  It is nice to live in the country with hills.  Nice color, and very scenic drives everywhere.  Unfortunately, that means folks taking day trips in the area to ‘see the color’.  It’s much worse up by my brother in the Berkshires.  This weekend the roads will be packed with ‘leaf peepers’.  The historic main street of Deerfield with it’s beautiful houses dating back to early 1700’s is over run with tour buses.  He’ll drive down on a beautiful day during the week, often taking his 1912 Buick roadster, and should be park, even for a few minutes, crowds will gather around his brass age car as it it were another museum attraction.  Soon, he’ll be draining the radiator and crankcase and putting the car up for the winter.  He’s already been bringing in wood for the stove.

October new releases have mostly arrived and still nothing amazing.  SIGH!  Where is that gem of book by a new author?  Apparently very well hidden.  But, let’s see what’s been passing through my hot little hands.

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The Impersonator

New author with a new series and award winner from the Mystery Writers of America, The Impersonator by Mary Miley made it’s debut last year in hardcover and I got it this year in trade paperback shortly after its release.  I bought the next book in the series, Silent Murder.  The Impersonator has a fascinating historical setting in the 1920’s with its lead character part of a vaudeville act.  Throughout the book, the author slips in tidbits about many acts that later became famous on the screen and much later on TV.

She calls herself Leah Randell, but for this act she is known as Carrie Darling.  She was raised in vaudeville and made her own since her mother died years ago when she was 12.  Small and youthful looking, she can still pass as a teen despite her 24 years.  She sees a fat man in her show several nites running. Luckily, the other older members of the ‘Seven Little Darlings’ stick together, even though they’re not related, so when the fat, old man calls her Jessie, she isn’t alone.  But ‘Uncle Oliver’ is insistent she and her two friends dine with him at the best hotel in town.  That’s where he makes his pitch.

Jessie Carr was his niece and would now be 20 years old.  She ran away from the family estate in Oregon after her parents died and her aunt came to live there with her 4 children to raise her.  Her own family had been disinherited because of the wayward nature of her husband, so despite the fact her sons were Carr’s, they stood to inherit nothing if she appeared by the age of 21.  That birthday is fast approaching and her ‘Uncle Oliver’ needs to gain access to the Carr fortune – or at least some of it  Then along came Leah, a dead ringer for her cousin.  So he’ll train her to be Jessie and she can get rich, then he can get a small share of the family fortune his sister married into.

Initially, Leah refuses.  The act breaks up and finding work is hard.  Eventually, she agrees to impersonate Jessie Carr.  Oliver trains her in everything from correct fork and spoon to who is who in the family, where she lived as a child, the lawyers managing the estate, etc.  Then the accidents start.  The boarding house she lived in burns down.  She feels like she’s being watched and switches trains and hotels – and the hotel she was booked in has another ‘accident’.  Oliver feels she’s being sensitive.   Then she passes the first test, Oliver’s mother, Jessie’s grandmother, and the family lawyers.  Arriving at the ‘cottage’ in Oregon, the real fear starts.  Her two male cousins had spent the last nearly 7 years expecting to inherit, now Jessie is back and they want her gone.  As in dead and gone.

And suddenly, the book stalls.  It loops between a small town and the isolated ‘cottage’ with her creepy cousins and their sweet mother.  A ‘cowboy’ shows up and becomes part of the gang, but he’s not creepy, he’s cute.  Unfortunately, I knew what happened by page 120.

The Impersonator has very strong beginning, a stalled middle that was meant to build tension, but basically just looped because physically, it could go nowhere, and then it had a good ending that seemed a bit rushed with revelations about family all coming at once.  It was a good read, but not great.  Had the middle of the book paced as well as the first 100 pages, it would have been great, but the isolation, though authentic, had limited opportunities for characters and plot twists.  You can only do so much with running a car into and out of a small coastal town.

The Impersonator gets a C+ to B- (3.6*) from me mostly due to middle of the book and the rushed pacing at the end with one surprise after another.  The killer is anticlimactic, but the rest is good.  As an historical, Mary Miley does a great job of capturing the period and the character of Leah/Jessie.  The book is certainly well above the usual crop of new authors.  Ms Miley is a former history professor at the U of V, and worked at Williamsburg, so she has a sound background for the kind of research into vaudeville and period settings here and it shows to great advantage.  Enjoyable and you can speed read the middle.  I bought the second book in the series set in early Hollywood.  Looking forward to it.

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One Potion in the grave

Heather Blake writes two paranormal cozy series, the Wishcraft series that I’m not fond of and Magic Potion series that I like.   One Potion in the Grave is book two of the Potion series and as enjoyable as book 1.  Hitching Post, Alabama is one busy small town with Senator Calhoun’s son getting married this weekend at Carly Hartwell’s mother’s chapel.   But there’s another surprise for Carly, her old friend, Katie Sue Perriwinkle has come back to town after leaving to get away from her greedy relatives.  Katie Sue cared for grandfather and younger sister when her Momma moved out and her sister married and left.  Turns out, granddad was a shrewd investor and his estate was several million dollars.  After fighting her mother in court and winning, Katie Sue took off and got her MD, living in the big city in a gated community.  She was known as Kathryn Perry now and at a B&B operated by one of Carly’s aunts.  She’s here for the wedding ……………. and to make trouble for the Calhoun’s, a dangerous family to cross.  Carly’s ‘spidey sense’ is screaming danger all around her old friend.

As if that wasn’t surprise enough, the bride to be, beauty queen Gabi Greenleigh, comes in looking for a love potion for her groom.  And her cousin, with whom she has the beginnings of a relationship, Delia, stops in.  Just a day for surprises – including her cranky aunt having coffee with her mom’s arch competitor and looking mighty friendly ………. and conniving.  Kathryn has her room ransacked at the B&B, then she’s found dead and the groom is a prime suspect.

With verve and lively characters, Ms Blake keeps the story rolling and Carly involved in investigating her death.  When the younger sister she tried to gain custody of lands in the hospital on life support, she starts to look at who benefits ……….. and finds two different answers.  The answers were given away to any mystery fan in a scene well before the big denouement.

One Potion in the Grave is a good paranormal cozy read.  Ms Blake writes well, but I like this setting and group of characters more than her Wishcraft books set in Massachusetts.  I give One Potion a B- (3.8*) and suggested read for any cozy lover.  The series deserves more fans than it has garnered so far.  I got it for just over $7 at Amazon and I’m passing it along to a PBS cozy fan.  Like most cozies, an easy, fast read, but with much better than average plot and characters.

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the skeleton takes a bow

The Skeleton Takes a Bow by Leigh Perry, book two in the Family Skeleton series, is another amusing story featuring Sid the skeleton, one of the livelier skeletons out there, and often a hoot.  Playing Yorick in Madison’s high school production of Hamlet (which, according to Richard Armour is Twisted Tales from Shakespeare, means ‘little ham’), and Sid is ready and willing to play his part.  Sitting in Madison’s locker during the day is like Nirvana for the busybody skeleton.  Dr. Georgia Thackery, adjunct professor at the local college reluctantly agrees.  Then Madison does what too many teens do.  She got busy, left school and forgot Sid’s skull in the prop room.  Mother and daughter go back, but no answers their banging and they leave Sid for the night.  And what a night it was.  Sid overheard a murder.

The fun begins when Georgia gives in and allows Sid to investigate.  Then it seems an unrelated natural death from pancreatic cancer of fellow college adjunct seems to somehow be related.  Despite two anonymous calls to the cops, there’s no evidence of a crime or a body.  At least only her very practical sister thinks she’s nuts.  Soon, strange letters from a foundation that has to internet presence or apparent records starts cropping up all over.  Then the two start tying back to a powerful local politician.

The book moves along quickly and Sid is by turns funny and occasionally a drama queen.  He certainly has a personality.  It will be interesting to see where the author goes with this when Georgia’s parents, both tenured faculty at the college, come home from their sabbatical.  I give The Skeleton Takes a Bow a B- (3.7*) for a good cozy read.  Funny and a bit fluffy, but kind of what a cozy should be.  I bought this from Amazon for $7.19, which to be honest is a bit high.  Try and get it cheaper.  Cozies don’t exactly make the keeper shelf.  And for true laughs, try Richard Armour’s Twisted Tales from Shakespeare.  It remains one of my favorite humor books and the more you know his works, the funnier it is.  Available used, but not as an ebook.

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Children of war

In book 7 of the Bruno Chief of Police series, Children of War, Martin Walker once again takes readers on a sad journey into France’s past, this time to Algeria.  Published in the UK, it is not due out in the US till 2015 under the title The Children Return.  I purchased this from The Book Depository in the UK, a company started by a former Amazon employee and now owned by them.  They have free worldwide shipping via media mail, but waiting 10 to 2 weeks beats waiting 10 months for the US publisher.

The book opens with the brutal torture killing of an undercover policeman that Bruno knew well.  The manner of his death takes him back to years he served in the French military in Algeria and later in Sarajevo.  Such brutality seems so out of place in the bucolic French countryside where the grape harvest is starting and people still largely in the old way.  But the world stops for no one, as Bruno well knows, and all he can do for his colleague now is find the killer.

This book introduces a new love interest for Bruno, an American, and like all his love interests, she is badly injured.  As usual, he’s cooking, watching out for his investment in a winery, and training his new hound.  But the mystery is darker and more gruesome than the early books and it deals with a less than stellar bit of French history in North Africa.  Even worse, the bad guy is smart and lives.

This little patch of bucolic French countryside does seem to have the highest violent crime rate outside St Mary Mead where Miss Marple lived.  Unfortunately, this entry in the really good series was a little too dark to be enjoyable.  That level of gruesome torture/murder, while accurate for what it portrayed, is not an easy or entertaining read.  When juxtapositioned with the country village life in St Denis, well, it was hard to understand how anyone could compartmentalize to the extent that Bruno did.  Still, the nature of the crime is what drives everything that comes after, so it was essential to the plot.

By now, Walker has established a pattern to his Bruno books and it’s a formula he follows here.  Mixing ordinary village life with the plague of fighting off the encroachment of the larger world, the simple pleasures of living against the greater backdrop of violence and dark deeds.  As usual, an ongoing character has a secret in her past that gets revealed and dealt with by the truly evil man at the center of all this, as does another issue, again tied to this man, tying up the seeming disparate sub-plots.

Children of War gets a B- (3.8*) because the darkness of the crimes seemed to overwhelm the rest of the story and frankly, I wanted the bad guy D-E-A-D, preferably in some horrible way.  A good mystery, but far more in the noir genre than traditional mystery.  Will I buy his next book?  Yes, but if he continues down this grim path, I might hesitate on future ones.  My copy has moved on to someone in PBS through a swap.  Mostly, Bruno fans are women and this book was not aimed to please those readers.  As a devout action thriller/spy- assassin book reader, I found myself a bit put off.

August 25, 2014

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

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

lordgrayslist-270x405

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

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

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

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

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Muscle for Hire

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

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

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

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

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WellRead_2 (1)

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

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

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

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

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

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cursed moon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

July 27, 2014

Book Reviews – Mystery Week!

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

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

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

scene of the climb

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

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

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

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Top Secret Twenty one

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

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

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

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

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

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A dangerous talent

 

A Cruise to die for

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

October 8, 2013

New Releases, Three New Authors and the Usual Suspects

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

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

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

etiquette and espionage

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Aunty-Lees-Delights

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

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

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

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

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Murder and Marinara

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

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

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

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

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

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The Rook

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

August 7, 2013

End of Summer Reviews and a View on Author Popularity

I wrote a review of Fifth Grave Past the Light for PBS’s (Paperback Swap) book blog  You think opinions like mine mean nothing, or at least I think that.   Maybe my doctor, who has similar tastes in UF/paranormal might listen, and my brother and sister-in-law who have come to trust my taste in mysteries, action thrillers, and romantic suspense, listen to me, but otherwise, no.  I have twice now recommended additional reads when doing a recent review on PBS, either in addition to a good book or in lieu of a not so good one on the PBS Blog.  I am gratified to see the wishlist for River Road and Royal Street by Suzanne Johnson growing.  I know my doctor bought the ebooks to read while on vacation.  It’s hard for good authors to get noticed, so I try and wave a flag to fellow readers when I can.

Years ago, I read a news column on the internet about buying ‘airport books’.  At the time, I was doing a lot of domestic and international travel myself, so airport bookstores were my savior more than once.  Action thrillers tend to be big sellers in airports because of how many business men look for some mindless entertainment during layovers and flight delays.  The columnist talked about several authors, but missed two fairly new ones – well, new at that time.  As it happened, he included an email address and I sent him a recommendation to read two new authors – Barry Eisler and Lee Child.  Eisler has already released two books in his John Rain series and Child had only Killing Floor out in the Reacher series.  The columnist wrote back, he’d never heard of them, but would give them a try.  He wrote about them some time later.  Yes, even small voices get heard.  It’s why I write this blog, and why I try and promote reading in general.  And every so often, I get rewarded with a friend trying a new genre, my SIL calling, laughing her head off over the old Sharyn McCrumb books I told her to try, and my doctor passing on to her staff a UF book I loaned her and telling me she LOVED Harry Dresden.  I even got a chat board friend to read the Charley Davidson series by Darynda Jones!  (She just yelled at me that number 5 better not be the end.  I assured her it wasn’t.)

For years I read Craig Johnson’s Walt Longmire books and all but had to beat my brother into trying them.  Now he and his wife read them, so do his friends in Vermont.  When Longmire hit A&E all his books saw a big jump in wish list number on PBS.  I even got them reading C.J. Box and David Housewright!!!!!  I feel like I should have a soapbox on the corner of Hyde Park to promote overlooked books and authors.

Justified or not, authors get famous and their names on the covers generate sales.  Thing is, often there are BETTER authors, but never having gotten ‘the big break’ their sales are much more limited and they remain known only to hardcore readers of a specific genre, not supermarket self types who grab the latest Jayne Ann Krentz or James Patterson – or (I cringe saying this) Fifty Shades of Gray (insert dramatic retching sounds).

One of the benefits to playing in swaps is getting books by authors you’ve never heard of, but someone you trust said, “READ THIS BOOK!”  It’s how I found Colin Cotterill, Phillipa Bornikova, Patrick Rothfuss, Martin Walker, Dayanda Jones and many others.  So when a friend you trust says, “Try this book.  It might start slow, but it’s worth it.”  Give the book a try.  I find about an 80% or better agreement with folks who like similar authors.  There are some great authors out there that deserve more notice and some seriously over-hyped average writers who are long past their prime.  (Evanovich, Harris, and Higgins all come to mind)  Amazon helps, but friends help more.  There is no better way to shed the stress of the day than by getting lost in a good book.  And having someone become a new fan of a favorite author makes reading so much crap (and man, there is a LOT of crap out there) all worthwhile.

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Well, I’ve been in a Reading Challenge on PBS trying to whittle down my Mt TBR and I did a fair to middling job of it.  Doctor’s appointments and fatigue brought on by getting used to new drugs have slowed me down a bit.  Here are some quick reviews of books I recently read, some new releases, some old ones sitting and waiting for me to get to them for far too long.  As usual, a mixed bag of paranormal, mystery and UF and very mixed results as well.

You Cannoli Die Once

Another foodie cozy entry by a new author – Shelly Costa.  Ms Costa does have some short stories and such published, but this is her first mystery novel.  You Cannoli Die Once is another in that circle the Earth conga line of food mysteries, this time centered around a family owned Italian restaurant, Miracolo.  You have the usual mix of zany friends, an eccentric grandma, a dead body, a handsome cop, and a nosy female – in this case, a chef.

While I enjoyed the mystery part, I found when I was done, not one character stayed with me as 3-dimensional person.  They all were sort of generic personalities, bit players that never gained any substance.  I even forgot their names.  And therein lies the problem.  The story arc might have moved quickly, with plenty going on – maybe too much going on – but there was no character development.  No chance to really connect with anyone in this too large cast of characters.  End result was an OK book, but with nothing memorable – good or bad.

I’m giving You Cannoli Die Once a C- (2.8*) rating because of the forgettable characters.  The plot was OK, though not original.  I might try book two, but if things don’t improve, this is a series I’ll forget.  I got You Cannoli Die Once through a book swapping site.

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untitled

I bought The Devil’s Cave book from Book Depository in the UK, owned by Amazon, simply because they published it nearly a year ahead of the US publisher.  In the end it made no difference, it sat on Mt TBR for all this time and I finally got to it because I put it on the Reading Challenge list.  Why did I wait so long?

The Bruno Chief of Police series is one I seem to always enjoy, and this one is no exception.  While Martin Walker never quite hits the best of breed, he is consistently very good and captures the Perigord region of rural France and populates it with memorable people and an atmosphere that almost palpable.  Tony Hillerman had that gift with his Jim Chee and Joe Leaphorn books.  Colin Cotterill has it with his Dr Siri books.  Even when parts of the story stretch the readers credibility, it’s still a pleasurable read.

The Devil’s Cave combines a little Satanic ritual, with a naked dead body floating on the river, with a questionable investment scheme, some shadowy Mid-Easterners, a too slick and glib young promoter and local domestic violence.  Perhaps the stew has just a few too many elements, but the end result is satisfying – even if Bruno seems a little too competent at EVERYTHING.

In the end, The Devil’s Cave gets a B- (3.8*) from me, mostly because of the over busy, not quite credible plot with the con-men investors.  No one leaves due diligence to a cop rather than an experienced banker.  Recommended for fans of the series, but try and wait for the paperback.  My book was a hardcover size book, but with soft cover, typical of UK publishers.  I paid less that US price, about $14.00.

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                                                          boyfriend from hell                                             Damn Him to Hell

This is another book that got lost in Mt TBR and book two in the series was delivered last month, so I figured I’d better sift it in gear.  Boyfriend from Hell was actually fairly good.  Imaginative, original, but not quite there with the characters or the world building.  The end result was a bit choppy and confusing as neither Tina nor the reader knows what’s happening with Tina’s suddenly having these ‘powers’ – and getting ‘rewarded’ for sending souls to hell, with things like great hair and a leg that is no longer partly crippled.

Since book 2 was sitting there, I read that immediately and ………………… wow, disappointment time.  Many series start slowly, Sentinel’s Of New Orleans is an example, and other is The Rift War Saga by Raymond Feist (And no, I have not forgiven him for naming a key character ‘Pug’.  That almost killed the story and the book.  Plus it served no useful purpose.), but book two just stalled.  I get the feeling Jamie Quaid isn’t sure where to take this, so she spun the wheel in place.  And she did so with more choppy plotting and confusing scenes.

I give most series a 3 book limit, unless they’re so awful I can’t even finish book 1.  I’m not sure I’ll buy 3 in this one.  Boyfriend from Hell gets a C (3*) rating and Damn Him to Hell gets a C- (2.6*).  This is a series that can be skipped.

Both books were purchased from online booksellers for $5.99 and $7.19 respectively.  If you feel you must at least try these books, get them as cheaply as possible.  Not worth the money or your time.

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Biting Bad

So this hit the house yesterday thanks to Amazon’s ‘release day delivery’ program – which BAM DOES NOT DO – and naturally, I read it first thing.  Well of course I did.  I like the Chicagoland Vampire series and this was no exception.  Like many series, this one coasts a bit now and then for much of the book, and Biting Bad did that a series of well timed assaults happen against three very different targets – a blood bank that supplies vamps, albeit very quietly, Grey House – one of the three Houses in Chicago, and the third attack is far more personal – it’s on Merit’s grandfather’s house.  Merit and Jeff, the nerdy shapeshifter colleague of her grandfather’s barely manage to save him.

Through all this, the GP – the governing vampire group that Cadogan House quit, has declared them essentially enemies of all vamps and any dealing with them with be an act of treason.  But when Grey House is hit, it’s Cadogan that comes to help and gives them temporary shelter, while House Navarre does nothing AND refused to offer the homeless Gray House vamps even temporary shelter.  (If you just missed the signal on the story arc for future books, well shame on you!) So despite the GP’s outlawing Cadogan, the Grey’s stay there.

But vampires are the drama queens of the supernatural world, and close proximity of two houses leads to conflict, which is nothing compared with what happens when Harold Monmonth, the GP vamp with hate on for Eric and Cadogan House shows up, kills two humans and ends up dead by Eric’s sword.

The story line is complex and weaves in Mallory’s redemption struggles, Merit’s father’s angling for control over a vampire house, even though he’s human, McKitterick’s real goal, and the internal conflict that the potential of his success has for many vamps.  It was an interesting twist, but kind of X-Men plot stealing.

Biting Bad was a good read, a bit shorter than usual, but packed with action.  It wasn’t the best book in the series, and the pot twists weren’t as original as her previous books, but then the flack Ms Neill took over the Eric story arc might have made her more cautious, which is unfortunate.  I was cheering her on myself for her daring and her clever resolution.  Still, it remains very entertaining and a cut above average.  Biting Bad gets a B- (3.8*) from me because the Harold Monmonth and Navarre House bits deserved more attention and a bigger part in the story, and in part because McKitterick’s end didn’t feel like an end to me and some things do need to end.

Biting Bad is a must for Chicagoland Vampire fans  My copy was $8.82 + tax on Amazon pre-order, but the price is $9.00.  It was $12+ the other day.  Amazon does that a LOT.  Very annoying.  I got my money’s worth.  This series is one that needs to read in order to follow the plot lines.

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Hunters-Rise-21

Shiloh Walker began her Hunter’s series way back in her Ellora’s Cave days, so anyone expecting another x-rated paranormal will be disappointed.  If you’re looking for emotionally tortured, angsty lead characters, well, Ms Walker seems to specialize in that, so you’re in luck.  Hunter’s Rise is another book that has languished on Mt TBR for a long time.  Now I remember why.  Not a big fan of angst, even well done angst.

Toronto is a werewolf without a past – or least no childhood he could remember.  He’s also one of the best Hunter’s, but is too independent and too much an alpha to take order’s well, even from an Alpha Vampire.  Sylvia James is a vampire assassin for hire who picks and chooses her jobs very carefully.  She specializes in helping abused women, but trying to con her turns into a huge mistake for a greedy young wife who doesn’t want to waste her youth waiting for her rich, elderly husband to die.

The Hunter and the assassin cross paths looking for a murderous vampire and a child prostitution ring.  Eventually, the trail leads the to where both must face their pasts, Toronto to remember and come to terms, and Sylvia to finally find the strength to face the monster that created her.

Paranormal romance for the angst lovers out there and like most of her work, well written.  Not my thing, but still, well plotted and with strong lead characters that get over their PTSD a bit too easily, even if Toronto does take longer.  Hunter’s Rise get a C+ to B- (3.5*) from me because I found the plot too predictable, but Shiloh Walker fans will be happy with the book.

Hunter’s Rise $5.99 on the now defunct 4-for-3 plan at Amazon.  It should be readily available in used book stores.  Her earlier Hunter books were partly republished since, but no new ones in this series.  Ms Walker is now mostly publishing her steamy romantic suspense series and novellas in various hot anthologies where she goes back to her ‘lady smut’ roots.

February 20, 2013

More New Authors and Some Well Established Ones

One of the good things about playing in games on PBS (PaperBack Swap) is the chance to ask a person you know what they think of a new author and/or series.  Many adult paranormal romance type authors actually write something between romance and UF – like Chloe Neill with her Chicagoland Vampire series.   That concept has become more and more the territory staked out by this new generation of paranormal writers.  For me, it’s like the difference between a Michael Connelly book and Janet Evonovich, both are mysteries, but very different.  Unfortunately, no new genre title has come along to go with this new style, so I’ll stick with UF for now.  One recent swap I played in was called Unusual Suspects – and the requirement was the lead character NOT be a vampire of any type of shifter, the two most popular ‘species’ – always excluding Jim Butcher’s Harry Dresden, Wizard for Hire.

I won a set of books (you only get to pick one) from someone who has very similar reading habits and favorite authors as I do.  I don’t read as much historical fiction as she does.  So I requested a book I had never heard of but that looked quite interesting, providing it wasn’t ‘a sucky read’.  She assured me she enjoyed it a lot and it arrived about the same time as House Rules by Chloe Neill.  Yeah, I read House Rules first, but then I read not one but 2 books by new authors.

The upside, I really liked both books.  The downside, the next book in BOTH series will be released in HARDCOVER!  Now getting a new author and series off the ground in this crowed field isn’t easy.  Why publishers immediately jump to hardcovers is beyond me.  They’re doing it in cozies, they’ve always done with action thrillers and hardcore mysteries, and now they’re bumping up trade paperbacks to hardcovers.  Why?  Greed.  They want to milk fans.  Kind of the reverse logic to Barry Eisler releasing his self-published The Detachment as a cheap e-book 6 months before releasing a print edition in trade paperback.  I find the whole thing really annoying – and expensive!  Both books were published by TOR, so beware their trade sized first in series.  If it works out, they’ll do their level best to leech more money out of you to read the rest!

This Case Kill Me

This Case is Gonna Kill Me by Phillipa Bornikova is set in a world where vampires and weres came out during the Viet Nam war and both are exclusively male groups.  The Álfar are the beautiful ones – Fae.  They are attracted to acting where their glamour and unnatural beauty draws legions of adoring fans, something they love.  Vamps lean more toward law, and were to finance and things like protection and Spec Ops for hire.  Only the Álfar have females and propagate the usual way.  There are NO female weres or vamps.  Weres can still father children, normal human ones.  Not so vamps.  So if you’re born female and human, you’re out of luck in the whole ‘becoming immortal’ category – and the status that goes with it.  Being female also closes a lot of doors in firms run by vamps and weres – and those were the most successful ones.  This group of long lived supernaturals are referred to as The Powers, or by the slang word, ‘spooks’ – widely considered insulting.

Linnet Ellery was fostered in a vamp household and came third in her class at Harvard Law, but it was her connections to one of the partners at Ishmael, McGillary, and Gold that got her a job as an associate.  Too bad ‘Shade’ Ishmael is the only one who likes her.  Gold and McGillary want her gone.  The Ellery’s might be an old, well established, and well to do New England family with an ancestor who sat in the Continental Congress and signed the Deceleration of Independence, but she was nothing but a female who took a slot in one of the top two ‘White-fang’ law firms that was usually reserved for a male who stood a chance of making partner – and being turned.  Not only that, she was assigned to a long time lawyer who had only 1 real case, Chip Westin.  His first words to her, “This case is gonna kill me.”  He’s short, bald, out of shape, and at a career dead-end with a case representing the worst clients possible – the greedy and vindictive ex-wife of a human turned were who established a security and protection firm that is now worth close to a billion dollars.  Too bad he started his business after their divorce AND left a will leaving it to his ‘natural’ child, a man he turned were Deegan, who now runs the company.  Standing in her way is a Supreme Court ruling that supports ‘made’ children rights over natural children.  It’s been going on for 17 years, and the bitter window will not let it go.

Witnesses are dying of old age, people’s memories are failing, and Chip is stuck with once again taking this to court against a well funded corporation that has the largest private army in the world.  So not only is Linnet stuck with Chip, she’s stuck with a no-win case.  Chip has Linnet going through files, re-reading everything.  But he’s been getting mysterious phone calls and after an all-nighter he says thinks he’s finally found something, something that matters.  Just as she tries to get him to the elevators, they get attacked by a werewolf.  In a stroke of luck, Linnet falls and the wolf chasing her slides on the floor, through open elevator doors and down the shaft.  Chip, however, is dead.  Then she’s attacked again, at home, and again manages to kill a werewolf.  Her luck is more than just luck.

The firm PI is a changeling, a Áflar baby left in exchange for a human one.  John is as gorgeous as all Áflar, but is as grounded as any human thanks to his parents.  A former cop, he starts helping Linnet re-investigate the old case.  He’s also very attracted to her – and she to him, but then, he’s Áflar, so women tend to fall all over him.

The characters are well defined, the story flows well, and the world building is solid – that unique UF blend of the familiar and fantasy working very well together.  I have pre-ordered the next book in the series, despite it being a hardcover.

This Case is Gonna Kill Me was acquired thru an online book swapping site at no cost.  Trade is available at $11-$12 new and the mass market paperback will be available in July at $7.99.  Is it worth the price?  The MMPB, absolutely.   The trade size, I suggest buying used.  My rating is B+ (4.1*) and recommended.

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Royal Street

Next up is Royal Street by Suzanne Johnson with Book 1 in the Sentinels of New Orleans.  Set in New Orleans as Katrina approaches, it captures the city and it’s devastation, while spinning a tale about about those things that exist beyond the Boundaries that the Sentinels guard.  With the evacuation orders, Drusilla Jaco AKA DJ, evacuates, reluctantly leaving behind her mentor and substitute father, Gerald St. Simon.  Back in Alabama with her grandmother she watches as Katrina unleashes her fury on the Gulf coast – and the winds and rain get the better of New Orlean’s levee system.

Then Gerald goes missing.  Fearing he’s dead, DJ heads back into the city with fake credentials and finds nothing at his house except mud and transport circle of ash.  The Borders were shredded by the storm and Others were crossing over into New Orleans.  The Council of Wizards were working to reestablish the boundaries between the worlds, but something was working against them, and it had something to do with a series of ritual murders taking place – mostly National Guardsmen.  DJ is a Green Wizard, one the specializes in potions, not a powerful Red like Gerald, so the Council sends her unasked for help.

Among those coming thru the rifts in the boundaries is none other than Jean Lafitte, an ‘undead’ being who keeps getting back into New Orleans.  Now ‘undead’ here is not vampires, though they too were banished during the Wizard Wars in the 1970’s.  The ‘undead’ are the people from the past who ‘live’ in Old Orleans in eternal night.  They live because people remember them.  Obviously, Lafitte is well remembered well enough that he can ‘live’ in the modern world, not just Beyond.  And being a pirate, he keeps finding ways back.  She’d sent him back to Old Orleans just before Katrina.  Now he’s back and Alex shoots him.  Now the ‘undead’ don’t really die, but after a shotgun blast to the chest, he would be awhile recovering the strength to return – most likely mad as hell when he did.  Talk about getting off on the wrong foot.  Then to find out that not only isn’t Alex a wizard, he’s a ‘co-sentinel’, well, that really frosted DJ.  Yeah, she was young, and as a Green, not that powerful, but she didn’t need some gun happy alpha male bossing her around and ‘protecting’ her!  The fact he was also FBI meant they could get an inside track on the murders.

Then, a month after Katrina, the city is hit by a second storm, Hurricane Rita, tearing apart even more of the boundaries.  One of the legends to crossover is none other than Louis Armstrong, ‘Pops’.  Rather than send him back, DJ gets him a job at Jake Warin’s bar, Alex’s cousin, playing live, and tries using him as an informant about other undead and what’s going on with these murders.  Then she finally discovers that Gerry really has done the unthinkable, gone into Old Orleans to help a voodoo god gain power to destroy the boundaries and allow free passage between the two worlds.

Voodoo, music, pirates, and murder combine to make an interesting and very readable story, made even better by DJ’s wit and humor.  DJ’s growing pains and slow but sure blossoming of her power and self assurance is rocked time and again.  Yet it never went for cheap sentiment.  Royal Street was a book that surprised and entertained me and honestly deserves more attention than it’s getting.  I got so involved, I stayed up till I was done.  Then went and bought a discounted hardcover copy on book 2 in the series, River Road, unwilling to wait for the release of the trade paperback.  Like the previous book, this one was obtained through Paperback Swap, new author’s best friend!  Like all first books, it had flaws, mostly with building and maintaining suspense of the plot.  Many of the elements were easy to anticipate, even in the big climax.  But in all honesty, it didn’t really detract from my enjoyment.  My grade is B+ (4.2*).  The trade paperback is currently selling between $11-12 at discount.  I’d suggest buying used, but I did enjoy it $10 worth.

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house_rules

Third in this line up is the latest installment of Chloe Neill’s Chicagoland Vampires series, House Rules.  Previously, in Biting Cold, Merit, Sentinel for Chicago’s Cadogan House and house Master Ethan Sullivan finally got together.  His undead life fully free from the dark magic wielded by Merit’s best friend turned rogue mage, Mallory, now doing ‘time’ in a werewolf kitchen, forbidden to use magic.

Now Cadogan must deal with their decision to the Grand Presidium, the official vampire governing body.  The silence from the GP is deafening.  One thing Ethan was sure of, they were up to something.  The contracts between the house and the GP had no surprises, but upon a deeper look, his fussy librarian and researcher found additional agreements referenced in the primary contract – and that gives the GP most of the wealth of Cadogan House.

On top of that, the new Chicago mayor wants all vamps and weres to register.  And vamps are being killed – in gruesome ways.  The Red Guard is hunting for the perps, while a security consultant works with Cadogan to make sure their House will be secure once they break from the GP.  To really put things in overdrive, the mayor appoints the vamp and were hunter, McKetrick, to the office of Ombudsman, the position formerly help by Merit’s grandfather.  But her grandfather, Jeff the young were with a crush on Merit and a way with the river nymphs, and Catcher, another mage and Malloy’s boyfriend are still working with him trying to keep a lid on Chicago’s supernaturals calm and the mayor keeps making things worse.

With a three prong threat, from the city, from a vamp killer, and devious GP, Merit and Ethan work to keep the house together and city from going in flames – and find a way to keep the GP from causing complete financial ruin to Cadogan House.

While a good, quick read, House Rules lacks the interest and full tilt energy of the earlier books.  The best I could do is B- to c+ (3.5*) for this entry.  Is House Rules worth the $10.20 I paid for it from an online bookseller?  Only if you’re a fan.  But if you don’t need it right now, wait a bit and buy a used copy.

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Murder on Half Shelf

For a change of pace, I read Murder on the Half Shelf by Lorna Barrett, the most recent Booktown mystery featuring mystery bookstore owner Trisha Miles and her cookbook author sister Angelica.  In a recent Chamber of Commerce meeting, Angelica was one of the winners of a one night stay at the town of Stoneham, New Hampshire’s newest business, and bed and breakfast.  Of course, Angelica is in a snit with Bob, her on again, off again, boyfriend and head of the Chamber – and the person who fully expected to be spending this night with her.  So Tricia finds herself playing porter to Angelica as they enter the B&B.  Their hostess Pippa is less than thrilled to find Tricia and not Bob with Angelica and somewhat ungraciously show them to the master suite on the third floor.  A man, who makes a quick appearance, sees Tricia and turns and ran out must be the missing husband.

With her usual blithe disregard for rules, Angelica has smuggled in her dog Sarge and asks Tricia to walk him before they leave for a quick dinner in town.  After bickering, Tricia caves for the sake of her stomach and sneaks into the yard with Sarge.  Like all dogs, he finds something……. it’s Pippa with her head caved in.  Tricia is getting quite the reputation for finding bodies – this being her 4th in 3 years.

Hours pass with police and questions – and no food, then finally, Pippa’s missing husband puts in an appearance – and Tricia knows why he ran.  His name isn’t Joe Comfort, it’s Henry Tyler, a one hit wonder in the mystery world and her old boyfriend who supposedly ‘died’ in a boating accident 20 years ago.  Now she a serious suspect and her sort of boyfriend Grant, the new town Chief starts pulling away.  They’d been down this commitment road with him before.  The excuse is sort of valid, but She’s fed up.

Struggling to find a new store manager, and trying to help out Mr Everett  town lottery winner and benefactor, get his wife’s priorities straight, and solve a damn murder, again, Tricia finds Bob got bought off in the raffle for the free stays at the inn, the man running local nudist camp was being blackmailed, one of her fellow shop keepers orders from her store – convinced she chasing the woman’s husband, and her sister is part owner of the inn.  Oh yeah, she finds the killer too.

Lorna Barrett writes classic style cozies, small towns, limited suspect list, lots of small domestic/business issues fleshing out life, and she writes them well.  While I still find Angelica a grating personality, I am happy to see that Tricia demonstrates backbone, both with her old flame and Russ, her current one.  The who-done-it is better than usual and the why good too.

Murder on the Half Shelf was a good read with well drawn, if overly familiar characters, but is it worth the discount price of $15-16?  Nope.  This is a $7.99 that’s been published in the new small size paperback, even then it doesn’t quite reach 300 pages.   My grade is B- (3.8*) and a recommendation to get it from the library, buy used, or wait on the paperback.

October 16, 2012

Some New Releases

The past two months have seen the usually rash of fall releases, and it’s no exception this year.  My TBR pile grew exponentially again.  Trying to keep up is a challenge.   So here are some recent releases and a few from the summer I’m just catching up with.

First up is new author Owen Laukkanen with his first book, a thriller, The Professionals, about college kids with no job prospects who somehow find themselves in the easy business of kidnapping wealthy upper management types, mostly banking and investment types, and holding them for reasonable ransoms, and letting them go the next day.  A simple business plan.  Don’t get greedy, ask for an amount that the wife would have available, don’t call the cops.  But finally one victim DOES call the cops and the cops call the Minnesota BCA (Bureau of Criminal Apprehension made famous by John Sanford’s Lucas Davenport books) – the state criminal investigation unit.

Overworked and world-weary detective Kirk Stevens catches the unwanted call about a kidnapping in Minnesota.  Talk about a rare occurrence.  Curious, Stevens goes to investigate. As Stevens starts finding bits and pieces, our enterprising gang, lead by Pender and girlfriend Marie, tough guy Sawyer, and ‘Mouse’, the computer hacker, have moved on to another city.   The next target leaves town with his family for vacation the day they plan to snatch him.  So now they have leave town or quickly change targets.  They find a back-up and snatch him – and things start to go terribly wrong.

At the same time, Stevens gets permission to get the FBI involved with his case and Agent Windermere start working together. Donald Beneteau isn’t frightened about being snatched, he’s mad.  He keeps telling them “You don’t know who you’re messing with.”  The phone call to the wife for the ransom demand doesn’t go as scripted, just “You know what to do.”  The gang is nervous and Mouse digs deeper, the kind of digging he should have done before the snatch.  Donald isn’t the big problem, his wife Patricia is.  It’s a worst case thing, they just grabbed a guy with mob ties.  Worse he learned one of their names – and foolishly taunts them with by asking, “Who’s Pender?”  That’s when Sawyer shoots him in the head on street in front of his house.

Now they’re running from the police, the Feds, and the mob – and from themselves for suddenly being part of a murder.  Shocked by what happened, and the magnitude of what they’ve done, Maria takes off for home – Seattle while the 3 guys head for Florida.  The mob is hot on their tail, so are Stevens and Windermere.

The story switches point of view between characters – the cops, the mob, and our gang.  The characters are well drawn, especially the 4 young gang members.  The author does a decent job of watching them go from treating kidnapping as a virtual ‘victim-less’ crime to to the realization they are serious criminals and now killers.  When Mouse gets shot by mob guys there for bayback, he lives, but the mob guys don’t and Pender has to deal with the fact he remorselessly killed a man.  The change is realistic, but not their ease with weapons, but I found that credibility factor not too hard to hurdle.

It’s a long book at over 400 pages in paperback, but it held together. The Professionals is a good first novel and apparently the start of a series featuring BCA Agent Stevens and FBI Agent Windermere.  It get a B- (3.8*) from and a suggested read for thriller readers.  I got the book thru the Amazon 4-for-3 promotion for about $8 ($9.99 list) and it was worth that as entertainment.  The second book, Criminal Enterprise, is due out in hardcover in early 2013.

Daryanda Jones hit the paranormal market with a real breakthrough book First Grave on the Right, first in the Charlie Davidson series.  She has now turned the same bright, sassy, irreverent style to the lucrative young adult market with Death and the Girl Next Door.   Lorelei MacALister was left an orphan when her parents were killed – though in truth, she just remembers their ……. disappearing.  Raised in a small New Mexico town she and BFF’s Brooklyn, an irreverent and loyal friend since they fought it out at 6 years of age, and Glitch, the boy who’s kind of skinny and funny and tight with both of them.  Inseparable friends who keep Lori’s secret – she can see things when she touches people.

As if being sophomores in high school isn’t bad enough, Lori finds herself the centerpiece of a battle between loner Cameron Lusk and a supposedly ‘new kid’ Jared Kovach.  Neither is what they seem to be – but then neither is Lori.  Luckily, her two quirky friends and loving grandparents seem OK with what she is.  When the high school principal seems to recognize Jared, and Lori quickly realizes he’s made his name up, and she starts having lots of questions.  She has a lot more when Jared seemingly does the impossible and saves her from dying when she’s hit by a truck.  Literally.  And why isn’t she hurt far worse than she is?  And where did Jared disappear to?  And why does Josh hate him and warn her away from him?  And what’s going on with the school principal?

A quick read, and suitable for teens, as young adult books should be, yet still entertaining enough for adults.  It’s a lighter version of  characters that are in many ways similar to those in her Charley Davidson series.  The same humor is here too and the kids seem only slightly too mature for sophomores.  The plot doesn’t move a smoothly as it should, digressing into various side stories, and tension levels are not all that high.  The ‘Big Reveal’ about Lori is a bit flat and more than a little confusing in its mythology/history.  Without spoilers, I can’t give the details, but I can’t say where this is going from here.

Overall, it was average at the end with some excellent moments in spots.  I’d give Death and the Girl Next Door a C+ to B- (3.5*) and say for $9.99 on the 4-for-3 promotion, it’s a decent buy with 3 other books, especially if you have a young adult reader in the family.  Got my copy thru the Amazon promotion for about $8.

Christie Craig writes romantic mysteries that are on the frothy side.  Her latest series centers on three PI’s – cops wrongly convicted of murder who were exonerated after 18 months in prison.  Blame it on Texas is about Tyler Lopez.  Tyler Lopez is convinced he’ll never find happiness like his partner did, but he has god a big family that loves him.  Unfortunately, the command performance at his niece’s birthday party ended up with him in a clown costume.  And punching her stepfather who hit his sister.

Zoe Adams is a grade school teacher on a one month leave of absence while she investigates the strange story of a supposedly kidnapped and murdered girl, granddaughter of a billionaire, in a house she has vague memories of.  His ordinary and loving parents claimed she was born in Alabama, yet her birth certificate was from Texas, this small town she faintly recalls.  She had years of therapy convincing her the ‘memories’ she had as a child were all false.  By the time she graduated college, her dad had died and then her mom.  It was going thru their belongings that lead her to the birth certificate.  Working as a waitress in a diner helps pay the rent while she tries to find the truth.  Her boss suggests she go see the PI’s that come in to eat lunch.

Now Zoe is no wimp, but she’s getting threatening phone calls and decides maybe talking to the PI’s isn’t a bad idea.  She goes to the office – but it seems empty.  The sign says ring the bell.  Looking, for the bell, she sees a file on the Bradford’s when her oversize purse knocks the file on the floor.  Crawling on the floor to pick up the papers, she suddenly sees the one thing she has an irrational phobia of – a clown.

It’s not everyday a beautiful redhead is crawling around the floor of the office, and Trey assumes this is the new receptionist, Ellen.  Except for the complete panic when she sees him – and the certainty he knows her from ….. somewhere.  But she’s out of there and running before he can do anything and all he gets is the fact her plate is from Alabama.  Finally, he remembers where he saw her before – and next day heads there for breakfast – one that he ends up wearing when he startles Zoe while holding a tray full of food.

Finally Trey and Zoe talk, and he’s not exactly believing her theory.  But he becomes a believer when someone starts shooting at her in her apartment.  No question, someone wants her GONE.  Taking her to the agency ‘safe house’ – well he invented that because he had to say something to get her out of there, he takes her back to the agency where the upstairs apartment he was planning to move into.  He more of a believer because of the yearbook photo in one of partner’s father’s HS class, but when the man walks in, he takes one look at Zoe and says she’s the image of her real mother.

But why try and kill Zoe?  A simple DNA test would prove whether she was the kidnapped granddaughter.  The story twists and turns and Trey and Zoe get romantically involved, but he believes he’s a bad bet for marriage.   But there’s another story, why did two decent, ordinary, loving people kidnap a child and raise her to believe she was theirs?

That answer is tied up a bit conveniently in a letter from her dead mother, along with the suicide of one of the men involved.  There is an HEA and a not very happy family reunion, one that tells Zoe that maybe what happened to her was in fact, good luck.  Confusing things is a second story line of policeman and part time PI agency agent Rick and the new agency receptionist Ellen.  With two romances running, the old kidnapping, current attempts to frighten or hurt Zoe, and the the whole spousal abuse element with Trey’s sister, it was kind of on overload

Ms Craig draws her characters well, even if they are a bit unoriginal, but the ‘humorous meeting’ thing is forced here.  I general, Zoe is grounded and feisty and I liked her.  Trey was a bit too angsty.  Give him fangs and he could have been a vampire.  It was fluff, but a decent read.  Overall I give Blame It on Texas a C+ (3.7*) though Amazon readers rate it much higher.  On the 4-for-3 rate of $6.00 it’s an OK read, but not not recommended unless you’re a fan of Craig.

Terry Spear favors writing stand alone shifter novels and Savage Hunger is no exception.  Set mostly in the Amazon where Jaguar shifter Conner Anderson and his sister Maya are camping.  She wants him to find a mate, instead he finds Captain Kathleen McKnight a prisoner of men that work for the local drug lord, Carlos Gonzolas.  Things go wrong.  She’s badly injured and vaguely recalls being rescued by a jaguar and a man named Connor.   Eventually, what’s left of her team rescues her, and she spends a long time in military hospitals and then gets discharged from the only life she’s known, the military and her fiance breaks up with her.

She goes back to the jungle in hopes of finding the man who saved her only to be save again – by a pair of jaguars.   After what had happened to her on her first trip, Kat did a lot of reading on jaguars and she finally decides this male and female pair must have been raised as cubs by her mystery rescuer.  And sure enough, Connor shows up.

Kat’s pheromones are driving Connor crazy.  But she’s human, not a suitable mate for him.  Maya thinks differently and scratches Kat with her claws, then licks the wounds, hoping the virus transfers to her and she becomes a jaguar shifter too – and a mate for Connor.  She knows he’ll be furious at what she’s done, but he needs a mate.

The local drug lord has not forgotten what happened the year before when all his men were killed and when he hears that the woman is back in the jungle, he comes hunting her.  There’s a mysterious ‘jaguar god’ that gets sighted now and then that may, or may not have something to do with Connor and Maya’s parents, but that is one mystery left unsolved.

We have our HEA and then Kat’s ex-fiance shows up to ‘patch things up’.  This, after he used her as bait to lure out the drug lord.  Men are idiots.  You can imagine the reaction.

Savage Hunger was a decent paranormal romance, but I did prefer her A SEAL in Wolf’s Clothing.  Not her best effort, but with some good parts.  C+ (3.5*) and a suggestion to buy used or get it through book swapping.  I paid $5.99 on the Amazon 4-for-3 promotion.

Last review is one of the better action thriller reads of the year, Black List by Brad Thor book 11 in his Scot Havarth series.  Thor has a bad habit of using his characters to preach his own ideas about national security and terrorism, but here he went back to basics and wrote a traditional action thriller that was scary in that I can see this happening.  In an odd quirk of fate, I read this book just before Leon Panetta, Secretary of Defense, spoke about ‘Cyber Pearl Harbor’.  On the cover page –

“All of the technology contained in this novel is based upon systems currently being deployed, or in the final stages of development, by the United States government and its partners.”

Caroline Romero once saved the life of an enigmatic computer genius nicknamed “The Troll”.  Now she stumbled onto something so black and so unbelievable, she reaches out to the one person who would never be linked to the conspiracy.  But she’s being followed and knows they’ll kill her.  She has to get this to someone who can get to the Troll in her place.  Goes the one place the men won’t follow – Victoria Secrets.  Then she runs.  And dies.

Scot Havarth meets with Riley Turner in an apartment in Europe.  He no more than arrives when they get attacked.  Riley is killed and he uses his SEAL training to make use of what weapons he has to take down the killers.  Killers his own government sent.  He runs, using cover passports and still he’s tracked.  Unable to reach any of the other operators or their boss, he manages to get back to the US to try and find out why he and the other operators have become targets.

Meanwhile, back in the US, the Troll lands in Texas at a private ranch owned by someone who owes him more than a few favors.  He rarely sets foot in the US, but for the woman who saved his life and never asked for anything from him, he came.  A dwarf with two huge dogs, he keeps the lowest profile someone can.  But when he makes the meet at a parking garage, it’s not Caroline running to his SUV – but she knew all about how they met and he saves her – and the memory stick Caroline mailed her.

In Northern Virginia, Reed Carlton, founder of the Carlton Group for whom Havarth works, as do many other skilled spec ops  people is awakened in the middle of the night by a fire.  A fire that’s engulfing his whole house and all the electronic safety measures, including the safe room, into a prison.  But it’s a prison with a secret escape hatch and the shrewd old man makes use of it and very quickly realizes that everything electronic can’t be trusted.  But he was a spy back before all the electronics existed, so he uses his old tradecraft to evade detection.  Then he enlists his own mentor for help.

The three men manage to link up to get the man who put them on the Black List – a list of ‘Enemies of the State’.

Thor takes the three separate story lines and weaves them together through a private security company turned rogue by their CEO – Craig Middleton.  Devoid of his usual editorialism for most of the book, Black List is a first rate thriller and one of the best he’s done.  I had trouble putting it down and knocked it off in a few hours.  Thor’s writing isn’t in the same class as Daniel Silva’s more elegant prose, but for this story, his straight-forward, spare style suits.

Black List gets a solid B+ (4.3*) and a recommended read for action thriller lovers.  It’s selling for $16+ on Amazon, but I got my copy through a book swap site.  Either buy used or get it from the library.  Or if you can, wait for the paperback, but do read it.

February 12, 2012

Recent Reads – A Mixed Bag of Brief Reviews

I’ve been hauling in deliveries from Amazon almost daily – like a true book addict looking for fix.  I have no defense, some authors are ‘must have’ even at hard cover prices, and many trade paperbacks would take forever to get through a book swapping site, then there’s the lure of the 4-for-3 promotion that extends to unreleased titles on pre-order.  What can I say, I’m just weak.

For the first time in awhile, I read some erotic romance.  With so many of the ebook authors moving from small press publishers to major print houses, I ended up trying 3 new to me authors at Siren.  Keep in mind, the current popularity of m/m, f/f, and BDSM books cuts way back on what I might read.  Not opposed to them and many good ones have m/m or BDSM elements, they just don’t have a lot of interest for me.  With what I did buy, the results were not encouraging.  In print, yet another anthology came up, meh!, another a cut average thanks to good wring – and there were two winners – Cipher by Moira Rogers and Jory Strong’s Inked Magic!  YEAH!!!!!   I had other winners too –  in the mystery category Boca Daze by Steven M. Forman, in the historical cozy category The Cocoa Conspiracy by Andrea Penrose, and in the noir Urban Fantasy category Aloha from Hell by Richard Kadrey.

First up are the Erotic Romance ebooks and print books:

  • Title:  Cowboy Commandos Seduce Their Woman (Wyoming Warriors 3)
  • Author: Paige Cameron
  • Type:  Contemporary erotic romance
  • Genre: ménage
  • My Grade: C (3.0*)
  • Rating:  NC-17
  • Length and price:  Short/ Category Novel – under 60,000+ $5.99
  • Where Available:  Available online at Siren
  • FTC Disclosure: purchased through an online publisher bookstore

I know, the title should have been a dead give away.  I bought it anyway.  Actually, it was the pick of the litter, even though the shopworn plot has one used so many times, by so many authors, it embodied trite.  Still, the characters had some personality and  for a short novel, it managed a beginning,  middle, and end.  The sex was OK, but not really pulse racing. (more…)

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