Tour’s Books Blog

April 7, 2015

A Worthy Read – and Some Reviews

Where are all the worthy reads?  You know, the ‘good books’, the ones that are hard to put down!  Yeah, they are kind of thin on the ground.  Sometimes I feel like a broken record saying ‘same old same old’, ‘average’, ‘not great’, and all those other trite phrases that tag a read that was a classic C student ordinary.

The thing is, what I deem a ‘worthy read’ is only worthy to me.  Like music, art, and even movies, we all want something different.  I’m probably NOT the target audience for many authors, but more and more women cross over into what was formerly ‘male reader’ territory – action thrillers, assassin, and spy novels.  James Bond has many female fans even as every young male dreams of being, “Bond.  James Bond.”  (Preferably in Sean Connery’s lilting voice.)

Barry Eisler recognized the value female readers brought – after all, women buy and read more books than men – and even attended the Romantic Times annual convention.  Women are discovering Craig Johnson, Lee Child, Brad Thor, and many more.  Some, like me, read them from book 1, but I’m a fan of thrillers.  Even I don’t read everything.  Take Dystopian, (I feel a Henny Youngman, “PLEASE!” coming on here.) a genre I just don’t much like, yet I generally like the Sandman Slim books by Richard Kadrey.  I don’t like ‘chick-lit’, women’s lit, 97.9% of historical romance, or almost anything that ever won the Booker prize.  I’m a proud troglodyte and happy reader of what used to be called ‘pulp fiction’.

Yup, I slum with the mystery, thriller, si-fi/fantasy, and paranormal writers.  Bottom of the literature food chain.  So, my idea of a ‘worthy read’ has no redeeming social value for anything other than good entertainment for the length of the book and to hell with all the high moral character and ‘profound social insights’.  I’d rather laugh or get so engrossed I can’t put the book down.   After all, no one ever had wet dreams about Theodor Dreiser’s books.  Ian Flemming ……….. well please.  James is drool worthy and guys get skimpily clad hot chicks.   I don’t know about you, but that works for me.

Thank heavens for a few reliable authors!  Good books might be hard to find, but authors C. J. Box and Craig Johnson have stayed steady and dependable – and not gone off trying to create 5 other series with co-writers to make the ‘great money grab’ that’s become so popular.  Box’s Endangered is reviewed below – and dubbed by me a ‘worthy read’.

But even proven and consistent authors have lemons and one that seems to have slipped into a predictable pattern can suddenly break free and do a very original book.  One of the most reliable mystery writers – a man with limited output and almost every book nominated for some award is Robert Crais.  His Elvis Cole and Joe Pike are great though the last 2 Joe Pike ones were weaker than his Watchman.  Crais’s next book is due out this fall.

Author style differs a lot as well.  The late Tony Hillerman was one of the most atmospheric and evocative mystery writers I’ve read.  He breathed life into modern Navajo society and gave us a chance to see through other eyes.   William Kent Kruger is profoundly lyrical in his prose – sometimes to the detriment of his plots.  Gail Carriger has a unique over the top style that worked very well with her Parasol Protectorate series, but she lost her touch with the two latest books.  (Prudence is reviewed below.)  That’s the problem with stylized writing, an author gets so wrapped up in style, they lose sight of other things.  Her sharp humor is markedly missing of late and without it, the style is just annoying.

Randy Wayne White has been a curious author to watch.    His early Doc Ford books feel so different from his more recent ones on many levels.  He’s always researched heavily and that shows, but his characters and plots suffered after hitting the New York Times Bestseller list.  Doc Ford became everything he didn’t want to be and quit the CIA to avoid.  Tomlinson, his hippy, erratic, headcase friend became almost a caricature of himself.  The writing, often narrated thru Tomlinson’s drugged haze, has that soft focus dream-like quality that’s confusing and irritating by turns.  It makes his books heavy slogging.  I’ve always thought action thrillers needed a clear, crispy style to succeed completely, so I find the combination of angsty hero and soft-focus prose combined just kind of annoys the reader.

Molly Harper is another is another paranormal romance writer who can really hit it home, but again, her most recent didn’t work.  The review is below.  Daniel O’Malley used some pretty unique writing tricks to pull off his first book, The Rook, an extraordinary amalgam of styles.  His second is due out this summer, so let’s see if he can sustain the quality – always a difficult task.  First books carry no expectations, second books do.  Shelly Laurenston has an offbeat sense of humor and a way with strong female lead characters that most paranormal authors couldn’t pull off.  For all that, her books are lightweight reads, but they are amusing and very entertaining.  Her most recent is set in the world she created in The Gathering and is titled Unleashed, due out 3/31.  We’ll see how she does.

And unfortunately, I – and by dint of reading this blog, YOU – will be subjected to more of my, “average”, “OK, but not special”, “not awful” reviews.  SIGH.  Just be glad you aren’t reading all the books too!

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Endangered is the latest installment of the Joe Pickett series by Western mystery writer C. J. Box.  It opens with an interesting look at the slaughter of sage grouse, a small, flightless bird that mates and nests in the spring and ends up being a major plot point.  As Joe documents the slaughter of a lek, he gets a call that a girl resembling Alice, his adopted daughter, was found badly beaten in a ditch by the road.  Alice ran off with bull rider Dallas Cates in a previous installment, and Dallas, with a history of abuse, is suspect #1.  Joe abandons the slaughtered birds and heads for the clinic to arrive as a Flight-for-Life helicopter is about to take his wife Marybeth and daughter to a medical center.

Left behind, Joe gets involved with the sheriff department’s investigation, which takes a strange turn, pointing the finger at not the Cates family, but a survivalist.  The sage grouse twins get short shrift as Joe and his youngest daughter try and manage on their own.  A second story line involving Nate Romanowski gets woven in and eventually the two meet in an unexpected manner.

Tautly written and satisfyingly complex, the plot spins evenly to multiple conclusions that ultimately are very satisfying as they tie together various plot elements.   Endangered is a ‘worthy’ and recommended read for all mystery fans, and particularly western mystery fans.  I give Endangered an A- (4.5*) and a recommended read.

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Molly Harper is a favorite author and I was really looking forward to this book.  Too bad The Dangers of Dating a Rebound Vampire fell flat.  Gigi, the younger sister of Iris, the lead character in The Care and Feeding of Stray Vampires (a really entertaining read) has been hired by the Vampire Council to help develop software to help the undead trace living descendants.  If her job works out, she’ll have employment after graduation the next year.  Iris is against the decision despite her having turned vampire herself.

She no more than starts her job when she’s assaulted by a vampire on her way to her car.  Nikolai Dragomirov is the tall blonde she kept catching glimpses of over Christmas, only now he seems to want to kill her and drain her blood.  She meets him with her brother-in-law Cal and challenges him on their history – of which he remembers nothing.  Way to shatter a girl’s ego.

So the story goes and it could have been great, but Nikolai never becomes a well rounded character.  Gigi carries the story and Nik is little more a love interest cutout.  Curses by a witch and an evil co-worker all figure in, but the book lacked the kind of spirited dueling between the leads that her other books had, in large part hindered by Nik’s condition and Gigi’s youth.  Without that repartee, the whole thing felt flat and the ending was predictable.

The Dangers of Dating a Rebound Vampire gets a C (3.0*) from me and is on OK read.  Get only if you’re desperate for a Molly Harper fix.  It’s not much, but the best you’ll get.

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Slayed on the Slopes is the second installment of the Pacific Northwest series by Kate Dyer-Seeley.  It picks up new journalist Meg Reed as she starts her second assignment for a feature article at Northwest Extreme, the online magazine she works for.  Having spent the summer training with the volunteer Crag Rats rescue team to get over her fear of heights, Meg feels ready to tackle the start up of a new group of extreme winter sports guides called Ridge Rangers being created by a tech millionaire and with several of the Crag Rats she knows looking at working for him.

As you might guess the obnoxious, drunk, rich, sneering, a-hole boss ends up dead.  GASP.  The guy did everything but wear a tee shirt saying “TODAY’S VICTIM”.  Then Meg goes out looking for the knucklehead and finds Henry instead.  There’s plenty of suspicion to go around.  Amazingly (color me stunned – NOT), the good old Sheriff from book one is with her grandmother at the main lodge for the same wedding Meg will attend and as the only available law enforcement, he’s investigating.

Despite all the predictable crap. this is actually a decent read in large part because the author winds in a second plot line about Meg’s dad, a discredited investigative journalist.  That ends up way more interesting than the primary mystery and is not resolved, but turns into an over-arching plot line.  Seems cozy writes are taking their cues from the likes of Darynda Jones and her wildly successful Charlie Davidson series, though none can duplicate that sharp wit.

Slayed on the Slopes gets a B- (3.8*) from me and a suggested read for all cozy fans.  Not as lighthearted as some, but overall, a cut well above average.

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Gail Carriger is back with her next series featuring the daughter of Alexia Tarabotti and Lord Maccon, an alpha werewolf, Prudence (Rue to everyone), is the only metanatural in Empire and the adopted daughter of vampire Lord Akeldama.  Lord Akeldama gifts her with an extravagant dirigible – and an assignment – go to India a secure his tea samples and find land where he can begin cultivating the highly desired plant.

Rue assembles her teams, including the son and daughter, and her best friend Primrose, the children on the Westminster Hive Queen of vampires.  Naturally, the son of Professor Lafoux is here as well.  Despite the cast, the exotic locale, and all the potential of the plot involving weremonkeys, the book is flat and dull.  The spirit and knife like wit in the Parasol Protectorate is missing and Ms Carriger seems rather at loss as to how to give a 20 year old the maturity to carry off a persona similar to that of Alexia.  Answer is, she can’t, or at least she didn’t.

A disappointment, especially after her very average Waistcoats and Weaponry installment in the Finishing School series.  That two mediocre books in a row.  The lack of wit and charm is not unnoticed by her fans, though many seem ready to overlook it.  I assume the ‘bargain price’ has something to do with the weak first book, a critical piece of getting followers for a series.  She needed a home run and got a base hit.

Prudence gets a C+ (3.3*) mostly for 2 characters, Spoo and Miss Sekmet.  It is not a must read, but isn’t an avoid.  I suggest waiting for the mmpb as $7.99 is still more than this is really worth.

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September 27, 2014

Mixed Genres – and Mixed Reviews

Well, I’ve been lax this month.  It’s not been an AWFUL month for books, but like most of this year, it’s not great either and I’ve found myself rereading old favorites rather than new releases.  This simply has not been a year for outstanding books.  Some good ones, yes, but nothing great.  Now I know the rabid fans of some writers would heartily disagree, but it’s true for me.   In fact, unlike most years, not a single books I’ve read has grabbed me strongly enough to even consider it for the keeper shelf.  Yeah, I’m getting real picky about that keeper shelf thing.  I keep looking for that next Daniel O’Malley, or Kevin Hearne, or Robert Crais, or Barry Eisler to break into the field and bring a refreshing new voice to any one my favorite genres.  SIGH!

OK, I realize that cozy mysteries will never be barn burners.  That isn’t what they are as a genre, but damn, could we just leave food and shoes OUT OF IT?  And thriller writers, where’s the thrill?  Too many plots read like reworked movie plots.  And UF/paranormal writers, give me a break.  Enough with the whole ‘fairy tale’ jag you’ve been on.  It’s just annoying.  Jeeze.  And please, authors, if you’re going to take that book you e-published in chapters and have it printed, you might want to polish the thing up a bit.

Editing is sloppy, proofreading – jeeze, just forget that, and even calling characters by the WRONG NAME!  You do know Word has a Search and Replace function, right?  So if you change a character’s name, DO IT EVERYWHERE.  Nothing like stumbling across a chapter where there’s an apparently new character who appears from nowhere at 2AM.  Took me a few minutes to start mentally substituting the correct name.

So, in desperation, I’ve been buying old books by new to me authors.  The Matt Royal series by H. Terrell Griffin, Joseph Heywoods’  Woods Cop mysteries, the early books in Clive Cussler, Justin Scott Issac Bell series things like that.  All in all, I’ve felt the move away from traditional publishing with it’s overly long lead times and high book prices, to the more streamlined self-publishing embraced by many authors is a two edged sword.  You often have a better, and faster cycle for new books, but you also have less polished prose and frequently less challenging plots.

I’m not saying there are no good books, there have been many good to very good books, but no OMG this is GREAT moments this year from either traditional or ebook authors.  Not yet, anyway.  We have a few months left.  Let’s hope for a breakthrough.

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Fast Track

Once upon a time, Julie Garwood wrote historical, mostly Regency, romance.  Then she moved to ‘romantic suspense’.  Two problems, she can’t write good suspense and somewhere along the way, she lost that bright, caustic wit that made her early work good.  That leaves the reader with a not very suspenseful book filled with cookie cutter characters in various set pieces with no particular spark, verve, or thrilling plot.  The clothes have changed, the characters haven’t.  All in all, slightly less exciting (and interesting) than Scooby-Doo!  Pirates Ahoy!

In Fast Track, Cordelia Kane has had a near life-long crush on Aiden Madison, the older brother of Regan Madison, one of her best friends. Then Cordie’s much loved father Andrew dies of a heart attack.  She was raised by him, a single father, who went from being a mechanic to owner of a chain of auto repair shops that he sold and retired as a multi-millionaire.  But he was still a blue collar guy and when Cordie started teaching math in a school for at risk students, and they lost their shop teacher, her dad stepped in and didn’t just teach the kids, he mentored them, taught them values, the same ones he’d instilled in his own daughter.  (The funeral is possible the best part of the book, as it’s very well done.)  Her best friends Regan and Sophie come back to Chicago for the funeral with husbands in tow – as well as 2 of the 3 Madison bothers, including Aiden.

Cordie finds a letter from her dad explaining she isn’t his daughter and her mother isn’t dead.  Her search for her mother triggers an unexpected reaction – someone shoves her into the street and she’s lucky to be alive – and even luckier that 2 of her students saw what happened – and her best friends married FBI agents.  In the end, finding her mother is a bit anti-climatic.  A narcissist and spoiled daughter of privilege, she’s horrified to see Cordie, and even more horrified to find she’s with Aiden Madison.

The plot is shallow as a saucer, so are the plastic people that inhabit it.  The big resolution was flat as a pancake, and the HEA – meh.  It took a maximum of 3 working brain cells to read, so it’s a good book for a day when you can’t concentrate.  Forgettable on every level.  I got the book for free thru a book swap site and I’ll pass it on the same way.  Save your money – and those last few brain cells.

Fast Track gets a  C- (2.7*) and yes I know it gets 4.5* on Amazon, but I’m warning you, it’s a big a waste of money.  And even the ebook is way over priced, so wait and read it for free from your library or for die hard fans, buy is cheaply used.  Really CHEAP.

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nights-honor

OK, here we have another kind of romantic suspense, this one done with vampires and things that go bump in the night and it’s a much better read.  Night’s Honor opens at the Vampire Ball on New Year’s Eve.  Those who wish to become attendants of vampires have a fix amount of time to make their case and any vampire interested can indicated they would like to interview that candidate.  Tess, upset by the utter indifference the vamps show the candidates, simply walks out and says, “I’m smarter than anyone else here,” and leaves the stage.  Unexpectedly, she has an interview with none other than Xavier dell Toro, the infamous enforcer for the Nightkynd King Julian.

I’ve seen this book described as a ‘slow burn romance’, which it is, and the main characters are well drawn.  Tess is no fan of vampires, but with a djinn after her, she looking for safety.  Xavier challenges all she thinks she knows about ‘monsters’, especially vampires.  Xavier is deeply drawn to her, but his personal code of honor does not permit him to take it beyond their current status.  She’s part of his household and has one year to become a donor – if she cannot bring herself to willingly allow him to take her blood, she will have to leave.  And slowly she comes to realize he a man of honor, not a monster as she assumed the Elder Races to be, especially vampires.

That’s the good part, the bad part is the increasing annoying references to Malphas, a banished djinn who runs a casino in Vegas.  Honestly, Ms Harrison danced around this for most of the damn book and it was beyond annoying.  Other than her first book, Dragon Bound, and her fourth book, Oracle’s Moon, I’ve had mixed reactions to her books.  I liked the characters in Night’s Honor, but felt she didn’t do them justice with the way she told their story.  I liked nearly 80%, but that other 20% was like a sore tooth that just kept get getting poked.

It’s the bad part that brought down my rating on Night’s Honor to C+ to B- (3.5*).  If you read this strictly as romance, it’s a bit old fashioned, not steamy.  All of her books have the common element of either or both sides presuming to ‘know’ what the other is, and it’s that slow building fascination that and shifting perspective that makes them interesting.  It takes really good characters to make each one unique enough to feel like a different story rather than variations on a theme.

Purchased from Amazon.  Not worth $7.99, so get it used.

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whiskey youre devil

Whiskey You’re the Devil is the fourth installment in the Addison Holmes series is almost good as the 3 previous stories.  Off-beat, over-the-top, and realistic is equal parts, it’s just what quirky, funny mystery should be – almost.  Well, if you’re looking for a substitute for Janet Evanovich that entertains and manages to tell a story, try Liliana Hart’s Addison Holmes and her J.J. Graves mysteries, a somewhat more serious mystery series.  BUT, this entry is a bit TOO over the top too much of the time.  A little Rosemarie goes a long way and frankly, she got on my last nerve.

Addy and detective boyfriend, Nick, are alternately having sex and fighting.  Both are stressed out and Addy’s friend, Rosemarie, self-appointed side-kick, and sex fiend, is implicated in the murder of the owner of sex shop where she bought her ‘defective’ vibrator.  But the victim is a lot more than just the owner of shop selling things usually delivered in a plain brown wrapper, she’s also the former leading ‘lady’ of porn movies and owner of an extensive studio that is still making them right in Savannah.

Even while trying to keep Rosemarie from a total meltdown – and arrest – she’s also investigating her former neighbor ‘Spock’ over the theft of his Enterprise model worth over $100K, the insurance company thinks he lying and hired the PI company she works for to help.  She’s also trying to get ready for her PI exam.  She HAS to score near the top to get a job offer from her BFF, and current boss, Kate.

While the setup was good, Rosemarie’s constant hysterics wore thin quickly.  The solution came out of nowhere, but the Spock investigation was fun and Agent Savage was back on the scene, so that’s good.

I’m not offended by the obvious Steph Plum copycat cast, or even some of the OTT stuff, but the book was not as well plotted as the earlier ones in the series.  I bought the print book for under $9 on pre-order from Amazon and its Create Space self publishing platform.  While the quality of the book itself was good as always, the content was not.

Whiskey You’re the Devil get a C+ to B- (3.5*) from me.  A good read, if annoying at times, it makes more sense to get the ebook or get this used.  No point in rushing.  I do NOT buy Kindle Unlimited because I can only look at an LCD screen so long and then I need the ease of reading paper books, but should you have it, use it here.  I’ll give the series a few more to she which way the plots go – outrageously silly, or back to reality with only SMALL doses of Rosemarie and her near constant hysterics.

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Murder of a needled knitter

If there is a book character I could vote off the page it would be May Dennison, mother to Skye Dennison, a 30 something school psychologist who just married the town police chief, May’s boss, Wally Boyd.  In Murder of a Needled Knitter, Ms Swanson FINALLY got the series mostly back on track, but even on her honeymoon cruise, May shows up.  There is something disturbing about that – both the fact that May would do it and that Skye would not confront her mother and FINALLY tell her to back off.

The books goes well as Skye and Wally finally get time alone to explore their married life and enjoy being spoiled in their suite with the special perks that come along with it, like special dining areas and reserved show seating.  But dining out brings its own drama when they see an unpleasant exchange between a woman and man.  The woman is definition of rude.  She also the ‘expert’ doing the knitter workshops and activities they got an earful about from the knitters gathered at a lookout.  Skye, whose mother is a dedicated knitter, decides to check out the group and finds Guinevere Sterling dying with a knitting needle stabbed in her jugular.

Murder on a cruise ship is not like murder on land.  The security staff is more concerned about keeping guests happy than doing a true investigation.  They have no CSI’s or procedures to secure a scene.  It’s ‘the show must go on’ to the n-th degree.  May is the leading contender for killer, so Skye and Wally get involved and find her BFF Trixie and her workaholic farmer husband, Owen, are on their deck in another suit thanks to a plumbing catastrophe that destroyed not just their inside room, but most of their belongings along with it.

Unlike most of her recent books, Murder of a Kneedled Knitter was NOT a simple, obvious solution that had me tossing the book away by page 30.  The victim was a no brainer even before she first appeared.  While May Dennison is still my candidate for the fictional character I most want to murder, the book was a decent read, despite the annoying parts.  I’ll give it a C+ to B- (3.5*) for being a decent cozy and a major step up for her usual Scrumble River book, but not nearly as good as her Devereaux Dime series.  Purchased from Amazon and frankly over priced.  Buy it used unless you’re a die hard fan – then read and enjoy.

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House Immortal.indd

The first in a new series by an author that I’ve always felt somewhat ambivalent about, got off to a slow and rather confusing start in her world building.  I had the same problem with the first Allie Beckstrom book and was never a big fan of that series, which just never gelled into an exciting story that I could lose myself in.  That’s the same issue I had here.  By page 120, I was getting tired of Matilda (Tilly) Case, her secrets, her world, and the lying people around her, so House Immortal got off on the wrong foot and never quite got back on.

Adding to the confusion that the world building caused, a second plot line involving her brother, a dying House leader who will not let him go, and a group of ‘Immortals’ who keep the peace, but who aren’t actually immortal.  In the end, though the plot itself is as old as time, driven by greed, the lust for immortality, exploitation of everything to acquire greater power.  Unfortunately, the characters are not strong enough to pull it off.  The second half of the book is better than the first, as it transitions into the blackmail, betrayal, and action.  Tilly is a strong character, but too much in the Allie Bechstrom mold.  I wish she had a different set of vulnerabilities.  Still, her strengths are different and one of the most interesting parts of the book.  But the real hook for me – the Galvanized (read Immortal) Abraham is possibly the most interesting character and his interaction with Tilly is the saving grace of the book.

My real problem here is I just couldn’t get excited about the story or really involved with the characters.  Taken on their own, they were interesting, but the various plots just didn’t get going till too late for me to care.  House Immortal gets a C+ (3.4*) rating from me.  If you liked Devon Monk’s Allie Beckstrom, you’ll like this series, especially for fans of Dystopian and Alternate Future books.  But you will have to deal with her strange jigsaw approach to world building and constant rerunning of the whole House thing.   Purchased from Amazon for $7.19, it wasn’t worth it and was overlong.  It gets a higher rating on Amazon, mostly by fans of her earlier series.

July 11, 2014

Paranormal New Releases – Book Reviews

This being prime release months for all kinds of books, a bunch of various paranormal types have hit the shelves.  Now these are not the heavy hitters like May and early June, these are all mmpb type books.  They range from romance to mystery to …….. hard to say.  It’s hot out, so sunning on a beach, by a pool, or staying cool in the shade or a/c, here are few choices for less weighty reads.

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Juliet Blackwell (Julie Goodson-Lawes) writes two series under the Blackwell name, the Lily Ivory Witchcraft series of books about a witch running a vintage clothing store in San Francisco and the Haunted Home Renovation series set in Maine featuring Melanie Turner.  The Witchcraft series start in 2009 and each installment has been good.  This series is a bit harder to slip into an easy category.  The themes are darker and more complex than a typical cozy, yet cozy readers are the target audience.  With A Vision in Velvet, the plot goes very close to UF territory, but manages to just stay inside the lines enough to keep her largely female audience happy.  Perhaps that’s why it appeals to me – the series has less fluff, a strong lead character, good supporting cast, and better writing than the usual lightweight cozy.

Lily is negotiating with a local ‘antiques’ shop owner Sebastian Crowley in her hunt to see the contents of a trunk he’s just bought.  He spins the usual yarn about it making the westward trek back in 1850, so it’s really old.  Lily can ‘read’ clothing and there’s something in that trunk.  Finally, he let’s her look and yes, it’s full of very old clothes, but like a LOT of very old material, it almost crumbles when you touch it.  Nothing here is salable and it all should be handed to a museum with the skills to preserve natural fiber clothing.  But there is a golden velvet cloak with a shattered silk liming that all but vibrates power.  In the end, she buys the trunk – and ends up getting more than she bargained for.

When she gets back to Aunt Cora’s Closet, she finds Conrad, the homeless man who often acts as her store guardian, getting petition signatures to save an old oak from being cut down.  But Con looks worse than usual and complains of bad dreams, even though he and others sleep in the park under that dying oak.  Then a bus load of tourists show up and all Lily’s plans go out the window.  That evening she gets another surprise, Sailor is back.  Her sort of enigmatic boyfriend disappeared after a falling out with Aiden, the most powerful warlock in the Bay area.  Now he’s back, his powers still dampened, but still as sexy as ever.  After a good night enjoying their reunion, Lily heads to Golden Gate Park to see this oak tree ……….. and finds a dying Sebastian Crowley instead.  This brings another man into her life again, Inspector Carlos Romero.

With a cloak that gives her vision of a woman burned at the stake, a dead ‘antiques’ dealer, and Con gone missing, Lily is off investigating the trunk, the family it came from, a supposed curse laid on them, and the abduction of her familiar, Oscar, a globgoyle who appears as potbelly pig in public, by what seems to be a malevolent oak tree.

The plot was rich and complex with the kind of attention to detail on various topics usually missing in cozy mysteries.  A Vision in Velvet gets a B (4*) rating from and the series as a whole comes with a recommended read, this being one of her best entries.  The series need not be read in order, or even all books read.  This can be read as a stand alone without confusing a reader.

Purchased from Amazon and it was worth the price.

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Ghost Seer

One morning Robin Owens woke up and said, “Oh, what the hell, let’s do a paranormal mystery,” without developing any original, colorful, characters, or a clever plot, she then wrote Book 1 of a new series, Ghost Seer.  It was promoted as paranormal/UF, but read far more like a straight forward paranormal mystery, only duller.  The paranormal mystery world would have been a better place if she’d just gone back to bed with a headache and forgotten all about it.

Don’t be mislead by the cover, Claire Cermak, the lead character, is a conservative former CPA that inherited more from her eccentric Aunt Sandra than a whole LOT of money and huge house full of antiques, she inherited the ability to see ghosts and the obligation to help then pass over.  Her sane and sensible mind rejects the fact she has a ghost dog, Enzo, who actually TALKS to her.  And it’s not just apparitions at night.  Driving into downtown Denver becomes impossible as she sees ghosts everywhere.  Unfortunately, Claire herself is as bland as white toast.

Convinced she’s losing her mind (that would have been so much more interesting!), she sees a psychiatrist.  She’s freezing cold all the time, can’t eat, and see ghosts everywhere.  Then she meets Zach.   Jackson Zachary Slade is a deputy sheriff wounded in the line of duty by a drunken former police detective who wanted to shoot his way out of a DUI from a probationary cop under Zach’s training.  He’s left with a permanent limp, the offer of a desk job, and a chip on his broad shoulder.  But the sheriff has another job offer him, down in Denver, with a highly respected private security company.  Since they hire mostly ex-spec ops, what would they want with an ex-cop that needs a cane to walk?  (OK, pity party at 5PM in the bakery.  Bring your own beverage.)

The first ghost to appear to Claire is a famous gunman/outlaw, Jack Slade.  She has to find the ears he cut off the man trying to kill him and return them to where that man died, not by Slade’s hand, but at his men’s hands, by a certain time for him to pass over.  One of the things she must get is a wooden box up for auction in Denver.  As she researches Slade while in a diner, she says his name out loud and a tall, handsome man with a cane walks over – he’s Jack Slade, though he prefers Zach.  There’s no questioning the attraction, but Zack is called back by the head of the security company he visited earlier.  They need him for a job that night.

At the auction, Claire and Zach meet again with his elderly client who is delighted to meet Claire AND Enzo, who she also sees.  Turns out Zach has a ‘touch of the sight’ too, something he’s in denial about as well.  But not in denial about the con man trying to palm off faked ‘antiques’ on Mrs. Flinton, his very nice client.  One look at Zach and his ‘cop eyes’. and the con man disappears. (YAWN!) Claire gets invited to tea.  She finally accepts her gift when a cowboy ghost warns her and Zach about a robbery at a check cashing place just a few doors up.  Despite his cane, Zach gets all three robbers, Claire accepts she sees ghosts and voila – the world is righted.  There’s a sleazy a guy looking for Jack Slade’s treasure and the search for the second ear, but basically, it’s blah.

Taken as a whole, the story lacked zest – oh hell, it was lifeless – SOMEONE CALL THE CRASH CART!  I CAN’T FIND A PULSE!  It wasn’t really original, nor did it have a creative spin on a traditional cozy trope.  (That’s a polite way of calling it BORING!)  Substitute a witch or psychic and POOF, reuse the plot with just a few modifications.  Unimpressive.  It was written well enough, but held not a single surprise in character or plot.  It could have done with a livelier, more spirited (no pun intended ….. OK, that’s a lie) style, witty dialogue, a more observant and acerbic lead character, but Claire was so bland she all but blended with the scenery.  Zach too was kind of straight from central casting.  I never even formed a mental picture of either character.

Ghost Seer gets a C- (2.8*).  It was ok, without actually being particularly entertaining or enthralling or offensive in any way.  I’m certainly not yearning for more, so her next two are NOT on pre-order.  There are better series out there.  Give this a pass.  Purchased from Amazon and not worth the money.

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BETTER HOMES and hauntings

 

Molly Harper takes a break from her vampires and witches in Half Moon Hollow and tries her hand at a paranormal mystery, or maybe paranormal romantic suspense is a better classification, set on a private island just off the coast of Rhode Island.  This is another ghost story, but the difference between Better Homes and Hauntings and Ghost Seer are significant.  Ms Harper builds an interesting and lively cast of characters living on the island to renovate and rehabilitate a family estate now owned by the tech billionaire heir, the only member of the family that went out and made the money prior generations lost.

Here’s the setup, Nina Linden is at desperate for work due to cascading bad luck and identity theft.  Somehow, she wins the contract to redo the Whitney grounds on the private island with the run down mansion that social media billionaire Deacon Whitney is restoring.  His best friend and GQ cover model material, Jake Rumsen, is the architect in charge at the Crane’s Nest restoration, as well as the yacht operator.  The blonde bombshell is Cindy Ellis, a business woman like Nina, except very successful, running a cleaning agency and professional organizer service with the efficiency of drill sergeant.  Now Jake is eyeing Cindy like a kid in a pastry shop looking at his dream cake.  She’s giving him the cold shoulder.  Deacon, as befitting his billionaire status, and the fact he was late, arrived by helicopter.  While Nina was grateful for the job, one she hoped would pull her company out of looming bankruptcy, the catch was having to STAY on the island.  And oh yeah, seeing that woman’s ghost on the window’s walk as the boat approached the private dock.  That wasn’t a Hallmark moment she expected.

Turns out not much was.  Deacon is a geeky guy, but really just a nice super smart man with a deep attachment to Star Wars and what might be a crush on Nina.  Cindy turns out to be smart, funny, self-assured, and planning to get even with Jake for forgetting he dated her twice and ditched her.  Jake is a funny, fairly down to Earth son of privilege who became the best fried of Deacon many years ago and a good architect to boot.  That big catch, they would all live on the property while doing the renovation so Deacon could be sure to have their undivided attention – in the renovated servants quarters they’ll share has another little problem ……. ghosts. Yeah, and the whole ghost thing ……… there was a possible suicide or, ahem, murder that was the cause of the fall of the family fortune and, you know, maybe the ghosts haunting the place.

Where Ghost Seer was all formula, Better Homes and Hauntings did a nice job of folding together multiple story lines with some real creepy bits, enough clever dialogue and smart characters that it was entertaining, though not the same level of amusement as her Half Moon Hollow series.  This is Ms Harper’s first shot at something that could be considered a paranormal mystery with some romance, as opposed to paranormal romance.  There are none of the hysterically funny made-up quotes at the beginning of each chapter, but she keeps things moving and the story unfolding at a good pace.  The characters are likable and entertaining and the plotting solid.

Better Homes and Hauntings isn’t the best paranormal mystery/paranormal romantic suspense out there, but it was very good.  I’m just not sure how her Jane Jameson and Half Moon Hollow folks will react as this is not ‘paranormal’ except for the ghosts, and lacks much of her trademark humor, being a bit more on the serious side while staying light and spritely, rather than laugh out loud funny.  No vamps or shifters or witches.  If someone bought it expecting another ‘Hollow’ story, they are due for a disappointment.  I was a bit surprised when I checked and saw it WASN’T in that series, but I let the order stand.  I’m glad I did.  Ms Harper pulled it off with verve, if not the rollicking style of her other books, and it was still a better than average paranormal mystery/paranormal romantic suspense.  I don’t say this often, but I think she might have been better served to publish this book under a pen name.  Too many readers will be looking for the signature Molly Harper writing style, rathen than what was delivered here, and that will disappoint them.

I’m giving Better Homes and Hauntings a B- (3.8*) and a suggested read, with the clear understanding this NOT one of her paranormal romances, so it should not be compared to them, but to other paranormal mysteries.  The book was purchased from Amazon and is currently selling for $6.29 making it a bargain for prime members.

June 28, 2014

Beach Reads – Part 2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

May 31, 2014

Finding the Right Book

Have you ever had one of those spells when no matter what you try and read, you just can’t get into it?  I get them now and again, and the past few weeks or so have been awful, I put down at least 10 different books.  Then I do what I usually do and go back and read a book I’ve read before and liked.  Well only a few of the books I rec’d this month could catch and hold my interest.  The rest ……………. BORING.  OK, maybe boring to different degrees, or maybe a character really annoyed me, or maybe the writing annoyed me, but damn, I just kept putting down book after book thanks to complete disinterest.

Finally, Amazon dropped new releases I’d been waiting for and one hit the spot, two were kind of ok, and finally, Craig Johnson saved me with his new Walt Longmire.  Suzanne Brockmann proved yet again she can write over 500 pages and still say nothing memorable.  I swear her last good book was Out of Control way back in 2002.  SO, here we go with a VERY mixed bag of reviews by a cranky reader ready to throttle the next cozy writer who makes the killer so obvious they’re all but wearing a neon sign.

Do or Die

Epic romantic suspense that wasn’t all that romantic or suspenseful.  Do or Die is the first book in a new series, Reluctant Heroes.  It starts with a jewel heist at a consulate, where our hero takes a cache of jewelry stolen from Jewish families by the grandfather of the current slimeball and getting sold to an equally scummy foreign diplomat.

Fast forward 2 years.  Two lawyers visiting a maximum security prison to see Ian Dunn, former Navy SEAL, former possible jewel thief – or maybe Robin Hood – and security expert.  Either way, he’s not interested.  Too bad, he’s sprung anyway.  Now he has to make sure the crime boos he did a deal with knows he isn’t out for spilling any secrets.

In her now usual convoluted fashion we have a gay romance (gay son of a Cuban gangster is married to Ian’s brother and they have a daughter that needs protection).  Ian somehow gets his old team together and we have guns fights, chases, threats, desperate battles – all the usual stuff.  Ian get his girl, his brother his ‘wife’, and we have  Détente with the new crime boss.  YAWN.

Do Or Die gets a D+ to C- (2.5*) and a suggestion you give it a miss.  Forgettable.  Thank heavens I got this for trade through a book swapping site.  It’s a 500+ page sleeping pill.

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A Tiger's Tale

A Tiger’s Tale, Book 2 in the Call of the Wilde series featuring a psychic ex-vet that is now an ‘animal behaviorist’ was as good as author’s first, Woof at the Door.  This time Grace Wilde is dressed for an important fundraiser where her sister is auctioning off her services as an animal behaviorist, so she dressed to the nines when she gets a call a teenage girl is missing from a big cat rescue operation and there’s a tiger in distress.  Grace chooses to help the rescue and the tiger in the pouring rain.

But it turns out everything isn’t quite what it seems.  Brooke’s mother and step-father seem matched and fed-up with a difficult teen.  But the family cat tells a story of abuse.  In dragging her sexy almost boyfriend, police crime scene investigator Kai Duncan into the problem of the missing girl, he ends up in trouble.  But she and Moss, her half wolf hybrid, are determined and they find Brooke hiding, and they find a killer, and an all to too clever donkey helps save the day.

A Tiger’s Tale get a B- (3.8*) from me.   The plot was a little predictable, but the characters, human and animal, are so well done, it was just a good read.  Nothing outstanding, but what a good cozy should be.  Buy, borrow it, or get it used, but cozy lovers should give this series a try.  Purchased from Amazon and worth it!

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death of a mad hatter

And speaking of cozies, book 2 in Jenn McKinley’s Hat Shop series came out this month – Death of a Mad Hatter.  Dotty Grisby is well ……. dotty.  Her husband died and she wants to throw a fundraiser in her garden to add a wing to the hospital in his name.  She is convinced he was away on business …… for 30 years.  Actually, he was living in Italy with a much younger mistress and simply abandoned his family.  She’s also convinced Vivian, Scarlet’s cousin the hat design guru at Min’s Whim’s, the hat shop the two inherited from their aunt, is in fact her old friend ‘Ginny’, their deceased aunt.  She wants the theme of the party to be the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party from Alice in Wonderland.  Viv is already right on board with designs.

But Dotty’s three daughter’s have a different view, one that’s a bit bitter, as their useless brother just inherited the entire estate and they got nothing.  Daddy Dearest is not high on any ‘wonderful person’ list, and neither is their snotty brother Geoffrey.  With a lot more verve and a larger then usual cast, Ms McKinley makes the surreal events seem almost normal, in a slightly off-kilter way.  Who did it and why was not obvious and was well done.

Death of a Mad Hatter gets a B- (3.7*) rating from me and is a suggested read.  The one downside is Scarlet’s tendency to be childish and petulant about Harrison, their account – and it turns out, business partner.  Her childish fits annoyed me.  Otherwise, it was a good book with a few neat surprises at the end.  Purchased from Amazon and worth the money.

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slightlyspellbound-200x323

It’s be awhile since Kimberly Frost published her last Southern Witch book.  Halfway Hexed was way back in 2011 and she’s done 2 books since, but unrelated to this series.  Berkley republished her first three books in mmpb and finally published Book 4, Slightly Spellbound.  And now I’ve kind of hit a wall.

I really enjoyed books 1 to 3 of this series and I had very high expectations for books 4, instead, what we got was variation on a theme that’s gotten OLD.  Tammy Jo Trask has discovered why her magic never quite worked – she’s half Fae.  Unfortunately she’s all indecisive and fickle too.  Against years of being told to avoid Bryn, she not only stops avoiding the powerful warlock, she starts sleeping with him.  And well, she also keeps sleeping with her ex-husband too and Bryn will just have to understand.  SERIOUSLY?  Someone set off the alarm – we have a CODE RED – DINGBAT ALERT!

And really, how many immature, stupid decisions does one person get to make before you just haul off and smack them with a skillet?  Tammy Jo is a a poster child for stunted emotional and intellectual growth.  Incapable of learning from REPEATED mistakes, always excusing her bad decisions (now it’s the fault of her ‘fae nature’ as opposed to too few functioning brain cells) and wandering around like a child failing to make any effort to become astute, insightful, or take responsibility for handling what life is throwing at her.  GROW UP AND GET A FREAKING BRAIN!  And learn how to keep it!

You know, I was really looking forward to this book.  What a MAJOR disappointment.  Slightly Spellbound gets a D+ to C- (2.5*) from me and only readers with a much higher threshold for dimwits should read this books.  Purchased from Amazon and what a waste of money.

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Craig-johnson Any Other Name

 

Well, if there is a reliable author out there, it’s Craig Johnson.  In Any Other Name he tells another complex Longmire type tale of corruption and greed and all those good old-fashoined All American past times.  Lucian Connally, Walt’s old boss and his fried, asks Walt to help and old friend of his when her husband, a police detective working cold cases, commits suicide.  It’s not Walt’s jurisdiction, but as Lucian says at the beginning, once you turn him loose, he’ll run the case till he finds the truth and nothing can stop him.

Walt is working against the clock.  His daughter is due to have a baby and he’s going to be late getting to Philly to greet his first grandchild.  But the obnoxious cop who now has cold cases hates Walt on sight.  The Campbell County sheriff knows Walt, but something is off.  Everyone wants this to be suicide and the more Walt learns, the less it seems like it was suicide.  In the end, you have all of Walt’s help from Absaroka County up in Campbell helping him do what the Campbell sheriff should be doing.  And as usual, the big man stirs up a hornet’s nest and turns over enough rocks to find what folks are working so damn hard to hide, and it’s ugly.

Johnson’s writing lends itself well to usually cold and lonely parts of the US (it’s always winter in his books, or so it seems), and Walt is no hayseed sheriff.  He’s shrewd and great student of human nature, especially the dark side.  While this may not be the best book in the series, it’s still better than 99% of the crap out there.  At barely 300 pages, so not as long as most of his books, which might explain why some areas seemed a bit too lean or slightly disjointed.

Any Other Name gets a B- (3.8*) and a recommended read, but wait for a library copy or used book.  I paid just over $16+tax, it’s at the top of the price range.

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This month saw the last of my aunts pass away.  Now before you get all sad and feel like saying, “Sorry for your loss” – trust me, that woman was no loss.   There was a scene with my dad and after that my brother and I no longer existed to them.  When my mother got sick, not a call, or a card, and aunt and her sister (OK technically another aunt) were childhood friends of my mother’s before she ever married their brother.  When mom died, they walked into the funeral home wearing black and crying.

Now I have to stop here and admit I have a temper.  A really, really bad temper.  I am normally a very good natured, affable person who enjoys laughing and likes talking to people, but I do not suffer fools gladly and something like that is like tossing gas on a fire and I go from calm to ‘I’m going kill them’ in about 10 seconds flat.  My all time favorite Great Aunt Lil stopped me from getting up and throwing the out (wouldn’t let go of my arm and would kick me in the ankle if it seemed like I was going to go after them).  I’m kind of sorry she did.  She kept saying, “Stay calm, don’t cause a scene.”  Oh did I want to cause a scene.  But I behaved and managed, barely, to be civil, but I know my look screamed, “DROP DEAD!”  Why is there never a voodoo doll handy when you need one?

That happened 40 years.  Yup, 40 years and that is still crystal clear in my mind.  Now the last one is dead.  My brother, in an uncommon show of wisdom and good sense, urged me to go home rather than stop at the funeral home to see my cousins.  I think he realized I might very well break into a chorus of “Ding dong the witch is dead, which old witch, the wicked witch….”  Or possibly try and drive a stake thru her heart, put garlic in the coffin, or ask if anyone had remembered to call an exorcist.  You know, just to be sure.  At any rate, I was the one local cousin who wasn’t there (the two dead ones were excused).  I do believe the two cousins who really know me fairly well, breathed easier when my brother showed up alone.

But despite all this history, this was a changing of the guard.  She was the last aunt or uncle on either side of my family.  Now my cousins, brother and I are the ‘oldest ones’.  EEK!  Damn.  I should be wiser, and have more gray hair, and be able to offer sage council.  Then again, that would go so against my character, my brother might commit me for being possessed.  He understands my yelling at the TV during football games telling refs to, ‘Eat dirt and die, you scum-suckers.”  He also is immune to my breaking my sentences to scream obscenities at another driver and then calmly finish what I was saying.  It’s taken him decades to reach this point without even taking any medication.  It was probably best that we didn’t stress our relationship too far.

So mom, if you’re listening, you asked ……. well yelled, 40 years ago, “There’s just the two of you!  Can’t you get along?”  It’s taken us some time Mom, but we’ve learned to manage to avoid situations where one of us wishes to assault the other … mostly.  Unless he does that damn channel surfing thing.  But I can usually make it out of the room before the urge to kill overcomes me.

 

February 1, 2014

Starting 2014 with a …………. THUD and Some Modest Applause

The year got off to a busy start with a raft of ebook humorous mysteries that I enjoyed and will review separately.  It also started with a bunch of dead tree books that honestly could have been skipped.

OK, I know not every book is good, but seriously, some authors just phone it in these days.  Janet Evanovich is famous for it, cozy writers have formulas that are so predictable, 30 pages in, you’re done.  Now Julie Garwood is doing it.  Yeah, yeah, I know she was hardly a great romantic suspense writer to start with, her early historicals being the best and most polished work she’s done, but seriously, she is plumbing new lows.

Hotshot

In Hotshot, we have a classic Garwood set up of an insanely handsome FBI agent/lawyer/former Olympic gold medalist/champion triathlete (who is likely also an organ donor and loves animals), and woman in jeopardy (who is also a trained chef) – of course it follows they were childhood neighbors and he saved her from drowning when he was a teen and she was a small child.  And naturally they meet at a wedding, Finn MacBain being the older brother of the groom and Peyton Lockhart being the little girl who is now all grown up – and naturally beautiful.  She’s also the woman with a serious problem.  Her dream job of food critic at a well known publication came with more strings than she knew of – namely a boss who is a sexual predator.  But she records him and runs, leaving him thinking he’s erased the recording, not realizing she had a back-up.  So we now have the kind of lame villain of the piece – who is friends with a psycho not averse to killing and married to an equally skanky and amoral woman who is the magazine owner’s daughter.

Enter wealthy Uncle Len who offers Peyton and her two sisters a shot at owning one of his resorts if they can pull off the renovations and increase profit 20% – it’s theirs.  Or they can each have $500,000.  They take the resort on an island off the coast of Florida and Peyton thinks she’s free of the sleazeball former boss.  Soon Finn is back in the picture and the story, which was about a lifelike as cutout dolls manages to go downhill.  Finn is a alpha moron wallowing in angst of ‘I am a loner’ crap.  Peyton is ……….. jeeze, not much.  A quip?  A bit of snark?  Sadly 2 dimensional and the whole magazine thing is just ludicrous.

No real tension, flat characters, only occasionally intelligent, spritely dialogue, and so BORING it was just stupid.  Honestly, there was not one memorable character in the book and the really unbelievable final scene that had me rolling my eyes.  Hotshot was a waste of time, money, and paper.  Only ardent Garwood fans will think this good.  Save your money and buy something else.  A comic book would be an improvement.

My grade is D+ (2.7*) and that’s mostly for a couple of supporting characters.  Skip it.  Purchased used from Amazon for $6 – which is $5.99 more than it was worth.

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takedown twenty

And the current Queen of Phone It In strikes again.  In Takedown Twenty Janet Evanovich does another feather light, plotless piece of fluff.  I honestly would love to give you story highlights, but a giraffe running through the streets of Trenton and being ignored by the area residents is beyond even my wild imagination.  Steph needs to bring in Morelli’s godfather and Uncle, a mob hit man, who jumped bail.  His feared Gramdma Bella keeps giving Steph ‘the eye’ and even Morelli, still recovering from the gunshot wound, won’t help.  He and his cohorts are busy looking for a serial killer of elderly ladies.

The elusive Uncle Lou and the giraffe are the only plot in the book – meringue has more substance.  Plus it’s short.  Maybe 3 hours if you read at a modest pace.  Given the fact book is selling for over $15 new, and it has little to offer, you have a “Give this one a miss” recommendation.  Borrow it from the library – or just sit and read it there, because it won’t take long.  You’ll laugh in a couple of places, just like you would at the Three Stooges, but when it’s over it will disappear in a puff of smoke.

Takedown Twenty gets a D+ (2.7*).  I got the book for free from an online book swap site.  If you MUST read this, buy it super cheap used or borrow it.  Even the mmpb will be over priced at $7.99.  Not worth the money.

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Grendel affair

Lisa Shearin is well known to fantasy readers for her Raine Benares series, but in The Grendel Affair, first in her new SPI series, she enters the wide world of Urban Fantasy.  Combining her fantasy skills with an action/mystery element set in today’s NYC, Ms Shearin has another winner.  Told in the first person by her female lead character, seer Makenna ‘Mac’ Fraser, this fast paced story weaves together a set of characters in a plot that is interesting and a bit different.

Makeena has her degree in journalism, but the only job she can get is with a sleazy tabloid that runs stories about space invaders and leprechauns.  Thing is, as a seer, Makeena does see all manner of paranormal beings for what they really are, not the human illusions they use to mask their true selves, so her stories are actually true – even though no one believes it and she can’t tell them how she knows without running the risk of getting locked up for being nuts.  Many are just ordinary creatures working like anyone else, but some are not.  Some are predators.  Mac gets a job offer for a private security company run by a female dragon lady – that is a real dragon who looks like a very classy lady.  She’s partnered with a former cop, the human Ian Byrne, who shows up just as she’s about to try and capture a nachtgnome at the slightly illegal ‘antiques’ business her sort of friend and snitch Ollie runs.  The night went south when she was almost mugged then attacked by a vampire who knew her name – and chased off by the mysterious would be mugger.

A murder in the office above the shop – a gruesome murder that they should have heard – lands them in jail and then on the trial of what the creatures were after.  The complex plot spins out with action and interest.  A relative short book at just under 300 pages, it’s both entertaining and well written.  Parts of the plot are a bit predictable, but it’s big short-coming the world building.  The reader must buy into the premise that a huge paranormal security business could run in New York City, interfere in police cases, and get very publicly involved in accidents and such, and go undetected by the police and FBI.  Now you either ignore this and enjoy The Grendel Affair, or it will nag at you and you won’t.

The other issue is Mac herself.  Supposedly from down south, she’s a bit ‘girly’ for the role she plays.  Granted, part of the book is about her getting respect for abilities beyond being a seer, a rare gift that few humans have, but part of it is the credibility gap this creates.  The quality of Ms Shearin’s writing mostly covers this and allows the reader to just enjoy the book, but in retrospect, you see the holes.  The dialogue is sharp and witty, the plot fast moving – which helps to hide things – and the ending rather predictable.

The Grendel Affair gets a C+ to B- (3.5*) from with a tentative suggested read.  It’s not top quality, but is a fast, enjoyable read.  We’ll see how she does with characters and world building issues in subsequent books.  At $7.19 + tax, it’s kind of borderline, so buy it used if you can.  Got it free thru a book swap site.  I’ll pass it along.

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Something About Harry

The latest in Dakota Cassidy’s Accidental series of paranormal romance set at Pack Cosmetics.  Harry Ralph Emmerson calls OOPS (Out in the Open Paranormal Support) hotline and gets the anything but supportive, razor tongued vampire, Nina.  The opening scene with the two of them on the phone is a highlight of the whole book.  Harry took an online test that seems to indicate he’s turning into a werewolf, which is very freaky given he thinks he got it from drinking vitamin water.

Only thing is, it wasn’t vitamin water, is was a formulation created by the pack alpha’s sister and research scientist, Mara Flaherty.  Mara has a crush on Harry, a human employee of the pack’s cosmetic business and she made an awkward pass at him at a company party, something that still makes her squirm in embarrassment, so she decides heck with finding a mate, she’ invent a formulation to get herself pregnant (which is without doubt the dumbest plot device ever invented) and puts it in a vitamin water bottle – the one Harry drank right before he started getting furry.  And that is where I kind of lost it.  Mara is a scientist who thinks she needs to drink an elixir to get pregnant?  Did she miss basic biology for mammals??????  OK, it’s fantasy, but still, you don’t get to rewrite something as basic as that for the sake of a plot device.

Anyway, if you can get past that bonehead issue, the book is actually pretty decent, but that’s a BIG issue to get past.  Then you have the tension created by the fact Harry is a widower with a young daughter who needs care as he very unwillingly becomes a werewolf, and the fact that Mara violated pack law by turning a human without permission, something even her pack alpha brother can’t fix.  So the ladies of OOPS step up and try and help – though Nina’s idea of ‘helping’ is a half bubble off plum – and usually pretty funny.

The accidental series is basically lighthearted fun paranormal romance.  The plots often stretch credulity to the break point, but they have good time doing it and they usually have a serious side, as this one does.  If you can check you common sense at the door, they are fun reads, but the plot devices are outrageous, and this one a bit harder because the Mara is a scientist.

Something About Harry gets a C- (2.8*) from me, but gets 4.5* on Amazon.  Obviously romance fans can buy into the premise more easily than I did.  Dakota Cassidy writes well, and has quite a sense of humor.  If you can get past the ‘pregnancy elixir’ thing, this will be a fun read with a surprising twist at the end.  For hardcore fans of Cassidy and paranormal romance this is a good choice, but at $11-$12, I suggest buying it used.  My copy came thru a online book swap site.

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Bitter-Spirits-final-high-res

I’m a big fan of Jenn Bennett’s Arcadia Bell series, so I didn’t hesitate to pre-order this first book in her new Roaring Twenties series.  I have to admit, it is NOT what I expected, but it was still good.   I honestly thought this would a 1920’s Steampunk book, but instead, I got a paranormal romance.

Aida Palmer makes her way in the world with the precarious living of a medium act in speakeasies around the country.  It’s a hard living, but she’s slowly built a reputation and hopes someday she can settle down and eventually have enough private customers to stop traveling and make a home for herself.  For now, a tiny apartment in San Francisco’s Chinatown new where she works is home while she performs at the Gris-Gris speakeasy in Chinatown for SF’s elite.  Winter Magnusson is a bootlegger who is attracted to her.  A widower with a lot of emotional baggage and someone trying to destroy his business.

The book capture’s the atmosphere, setting, and time period well enough.  The bad guy was obvious to me, but then I’m a mystery reader.  The characters are well drawn and like Aida’s spirit and her independence.  She reminded me of two great aunts who actually WERE flappers in their youth.  Well written and supporting characters were good.  BUT …….. this is not anything like her far more complex world of Arcadia Bell.  So, if you’re in the mood for a romance with some woo woo spiritual stuff, this will fit the bill just fine.

Bitter Spirits gets a C+ to B- (3.5*) from me, but 4.5* on Amazon.  At $7.19 is is typical, so try and buy a used copy.  Recommended for paranormal romance fans and those who enjoy Amanda Quick’s Ladies of Lantern Street series.

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Cursed by Destiny

This third book in the Weird Girls series kept up with the strong first two entries – except for dwelling on romantic angst.  Cursed by Destiny finds Celia Weird in the care of Misha, the master vampire she accidentally gave a soul back to.  Alpha werewolf Aric has been ordered to take a werewolf mate for the sake of the species.  Celia is not just a cat, she’s a shifter and has other powers, but she isn’t part of the pack.  Her gifts are a curse placed on her family and each sister is different.  Two of her sisters mated to weres in Aric’s pack, but Aric is like werewolf royalty, and his line must continue – or so the elders insist.  Despite refusing her entry to the pack, the elders have no trouble calling on her and her powers to help put down a demon uprising.

There is a huge problem, it seems someone is trying to kill Celia – blowing up Misha’s car, having the ‘Cathloic school girl’s’ her nickname for a group of female vamps that dislike her, and others want her dead.  And there’s this collective outbreak of demons coming after her like she’s a huge threat to them.  It makes no sense …………. until the very end of the book, which sends the plot down a whole new path.

Cursed by Destiny gets a B- (3.8*) rating from me and recommended reading for fans of the series and the series is suggested for fans of paranormal, like the Arcadia Bell series and the Persephone Alcmedi series.  If it had been more angst free with the whole forbidden love thing it might have scored higher, but that’s one part that’s wearing on my nerves.  I bought Cursed by Destiny from an online book seller for $7.19 and that’s slightly more than it’s worth, but the series is an overall good read.

December 31, 2013

New Year’s Quickies

Well, another year has passed and a few hundred more books have been read.  I figure I’ll just take this last chance to do a few quickie reviews and wish everyone a happy, healthy, safe 2014.

This is the 6th book in the King and Maxwell series, and the one that the TV series was loosely based on.  You can tell it was written with an eye to TV or movie conversion, much like many of Michael Crichton’s later books, but it’s still a good read and better plotted than a lot of his books lately featuring a teenage client who seems trapped in a web of lies that his father initially helped build, and his father, trying to get back to his son and find out who set him up to die and what the hell was going on.  And naturally, there’s no better way to get Maxwell involved than to tell her to back off.

Baldacci blows hot and cold on his books, but this one hits the mark.  I give it a B- (3.8*) and recommended read for thriller fans – but try and buy the ebook.  At $15-16 for the hardcover, it’s a bit steep.

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This being the 50th anniversary of JFK’s assassination, who better than Bob Lee Swagger to look into conspiracy theories about The Third Bullet.  An unwilling Swagger is waited out by the window of a writer who had been investigating the assassination, she asks him to look into his murder and see if it’s possible it was related to his research on the assassination.  Swagger refuses her again and again, but the one thing the widow has in abundance is patience – and a clue that probably only Swagger would understand – a bicycle like tire track on a rain coat found at a different building.  So the man who said no, suddenly changes his mind and gets involved.

Followers of the series will like the way the ending of this books ties in with Point of Impact.  In a series that has ranged from excellent to awful, The Third Bullet comes in at the high end with a solid B- (3.7*).  To his credit, Hunter did not twist the facts of the actual shooting, which makes the plot more interesting.  The usual unlikely death defying events for Swagger stresses the reader’s credulity, but otherwise a solid outing.  A must for Swagger fans.  I got the book free thru an online book swapping site in hardcover.  Borrow it, buy the ebook, or wait for the mmpb.

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A new entry in the paranormal romance genre, Dragon Awakened is book 1 The Hidden series.  Like other paranormal series, this one is set in the ‘normal’ world, but must remain ‘Hidden’ to survive humans.  This is the story of of an assassin dragon who gets an assignment he ends up questioning and in the end pays for his act of compassion.  Fun, fast paced, the two protagonists, Ruby Salazaar and Cyntag Valeron are likable and entertaining.

Dragon Awakened is a fast, easy read with enough meat to be entertaining, but devoid of any innovation or surprising plot twists.  My score is C+ (3.2*) and a pleasant way to pass your time for a few hours, but only if cheap or free.  I paid $5.40+tax from an online book store.  I certainly wouldn’t pay more than that.

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In The Art Forger, Barbara Shapiro wrote an interesting study in human nature enmeshed in the closed and clannish art world weaving in the theft of the paintings from the Isabella Stanley Gardner Museum, art forgery as its own art form, historical looks at the artists ‘Bella’ collected and her disdain for ‘impressionist’ art, and how a struggling artist copes with moral quandaries and ‘Faustian’ bargains – and rationalizes her choices.  It’s stories within stories within stories, like Russian nesting dolls, taking semi-disgraced artist Claire Roth on a path she never expected to walk – and finds her inadvertently discovering a well hidden secret of the art world.

The changing time frames and POV’s are mostly smooth, and I found the ‘letters’ by Mrs Gardner lively and interesting – and my favorite part of the book in many ways.  The mystery was more predictable than I expected.  The art world is neatly skewered and pretty accurate.  The details on the whole painting process will bore some interest others.  Me, I wavered between the two, but leaned toward bored.  The brief cover synopsis pretty much covers the whole plot.  Characters are flat and two dimensional and dialogue uninspired, which seriously detracted from an interesting plot.

My score for The Art Forger is C+ (3.2*) because the writing itself was largely tedious and saturated with the type of pretensions that annoy the crap out of me.  I bought The Art Forger from Book Outlet, a site that sells remainders, for under $3.00 on sale.  It’s current price for the same trade size on Amazon is $11-12.  It was interesting enough for a fast read and as intro to the art world few see, but buy a remainder or used copy.

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November 27, 2013

Thanksgiving Quickies

Thanksgiving-2014 (1)

OK, this is a tough time of year to keep up with everything.  Football, Thanksgiving, football, Christmas, football …….. oh, yeah, making dinner.  My days of massive Thanksgiving and Christmas meals are behind me (thanks heavens) and things are more relaxed, but relaxed is still not ‘nothing to do.  On top of that, DAYS ARE TOO DAMN SHORT!  By 7:30 at night it feels like 10 PM.  But it’s getting cold enough that cuddling under blankets with a good book and a good game are the way to pass the time.  Of course Thanksgiving weekend is a football orgy as is New Year and the weeks the follow as bowl games kick in and play-offs start for the pros.

I was asked by a non-cooking friend for a simple appetizer and I suggested stuffed endive.  You can use almost anything and those leaves look great as ‘boats’ holding various goodies.  Since she had a vegetarian in the family (who does not consider eating shrimp wrong??!!!!!) I said use chopped pear (ripe Anjou are best for this) and crumpled goat cheese with or without shredded prosciutto and a light drizzle of aged balsamic.  Goat cheese is very versatile with foods like fruit and salty meats.  Endive can be stuffed with anything from egg salad to elaborate honeyed nuts, cheese and diced apples or homemade Waldorf salad.  The other veggie that works well is English cucumber – those long skinny ones in plastic.  You can peel strips, cut 1.5″ chunks and use a melon baller to scoop out the inside and stuff with shrimp salad, a puree of salmon and cream cheese topped with some diced hard boiled eggs or for fancy, black caviar.  Hey, you don’t need to do much any more.  Lots of good stuff is ready to use at your local market or gourmet store.  Skip the cheese and crackers and try something new and simple this year.

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The Mystery Woman

Amanda Quick (Jayne Ann Krentz) is about as predictable as a metronome, and about as exciting.  I won The Mystery Woman in a swap and figured I’d at least try her so-called paranormal historical romance series based on a female detection agency.  I would love to say it was great, or even good.  It wasn’t.  The plot is the same one she’s used time and again with a few new riffs to freshen the stale and well used key elements.  A real snooze fest for anyone not a die hard Quick fan – and they are legion.

My grade is C- (2.7*) and it only gets that because despite the stale plot, she still writes well and paces her action.  The Mystery Woman is not worth the price of a hardcover, so borrow it or get it really cheap.  Better still, buy something more original.  Got it free in a book swap and it will move along.

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Bombshell

Now if Amanda Quick is plowing the same field again and again, Catherine Coulter is not far behind, but she does get points for getting back in some kind of romantic suspense groove with Bombshell after wandering far afield in her FBI series.  Still, it is very predictable, but with some original story elements.  This time we have an FBI agent’s sister at an elite music school in Virginia to study composition when she’s assaulted after finding a dead body in her bathtub.  Turns out the body is an undercover DEA agent and given the deep denial of them to confirm it, the FBI assumes the undercover operation is till ongoing.  The partner is so obvious it’s painful.  You have repeated attacks by a violent drug gang that is imitating Dumb and Dumber, two egomaniacal  brothers who are – maybe – tied up with the Gang That Couldn’t Shoot Straight.

Bombshell is slightly better than average for a romantic suspense novel at C+ (3.2*), but is not worth the hardcover price.  Borrow it, or wait for a super cheap remainder.  Won in a book swap.  Going out to another person.

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The Final Cut

With the able assistance of mystery author, J. T. Ellison, Catherine Coulter introduces a new central character, Nicholas Drummond.  Descended from lower level aristocracy with an American mother mother, Nicholas has always made his way.  After a career with MI5 he went to Scotland Yard.  His former lover and sill friend Elaine Scott is killed while on assignment in NYC as special security for the display of the Crown Jewels at the Met (Metropolitan Museum of Art, not the opera house).  Sherlock and Savage get called in and their good friend and Nicholas’ uncle, the former SAC in NYC and now the Met’s special security consultant, Bo Horsely, is Drummond’s uncle – so we have now neatly tied up a relationship with the main background characters.

At the heart of The Final Cut is the legend that the Koh-i-Noor diamond is one of 3 from huge diamond held by a Mogul leader in India as their empire there fades and they return to the mid-east homelands.  By uniting the three stones, separated for hundreds of years, the family will once again reign supreme.  Having kept the largest part of the diamond in the family, the heir commissions the theft of the other two parts of the original stone – one held by a Russian mobster, the other – the Koh-i-Noor.

The plot is improbable, but no more so than many action thrillers, and the mystery is above the usual romantic suspense level.  The Final Cut gets an unlikely B- (3.7*) from me.  One of the downsides is Ellison’s style is sufficiently different from Coulter’s I could almost pick out where one was driving a scene, especially Coulter.  Not that unusual for collaborations.  Is The Final Cut worth $16-$17 asking price?  No.  Get it at the library or wait for the mmpb or a CHEAP used copy.  I bought mine online for $9 with shipping used.

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The art of stealing time

Book 2 of Katie MacAlister’s Time Thief series, The Art of Stealing Time picks up the story of Gregory Faa starts his career as member of the Watch, the supernatural police.  And he starts it by breaking ALL the rules, stealing time from an immortal to save the beautiful witch he’s trying to arrest from death at the hands of a crazy lawyer.

Gwenhwyfar ‘Gwen’ Byron Owens is visiting her two moms and planning on getting some rare ingredients she needs for a quintessence she’s been working on for years.  Unlike her mother and Mom 2, Gwen is not a witch, she’s an alchemist.  And unlike her moms, she isn’t always getting in trouble with the Watch – or worse.  But she is always protecting them, which is how she ended up getting tossed off a cliff by an evil lawyer only to have Gregory steal time and manage to save her the second time.

Gregory Faa might be cover model handsome with blond good looks to die for, but Gwen needs to get away from him and get her moms to safety.  Unfortunately, they kidnapped a very elderly lady, Mrs Vanilla, who draws a map and insists on going to a Dunkin’ Donuts despite having the police and the Watch after them.  She runs thru the store, the Moms and Gwen racing after her and the run into a store room and out into Anwyn, the Welsh Underworld.

Written in her usual screwball, headlong, breezy style, The Art of Stealing Time is an amusing and painless way to spend a few hours.  I found it more entertaining than Time Thief, and the setting of Anwyn was a good part of that enjoyment.  For paranormal romance, it’s blessedly angst free.  Ms MacAlister plays her books with a balance of plot and laughs, this series is for those who like comedy.  My rating is C+ to B- (3.5*), and suggested for those who like their laughs with a just a dash of romance.  My copy of The Art of Stealing Time came from a book swapping site, and will move along the same way.  It’s selling at $7.19 for the print book and $5.99 for the ebook.  Go for the ebook, or wait for a used copy.  She’s popular and her books usually land in used book store fairly fast.

November 12, 2013

Genre Sampler – Reviews and Comments

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

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

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

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Read It and Weep

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Wild Darkness

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

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

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

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

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Mr Penumbra's

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

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

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

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

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

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wicked Autumn

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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