Tour’s Books Blog

January 2, 2016

Ebook Binge – cont’d

Yes, there are actually MORE ebooks to get through. When I binge, I BINGE! And after those football games yesterday (Just kill me now and put me out of my Fantasy football misery.), it was more ebooks or take up drinking something stronger than Fresca.

I hope everyone had a good holiday – or at least one that did not include tornadoes, blizzards, floods, or sleeping in airports or shelters.  The folks in Texas and other parts of the Great Plains and deep South sure have had a rough few days.  Our Christmas felt more like Easter and even though I did not make it to my brother’s this year, we did ‘tele-Yahtzee’ – playing Yahtzee by phone.  It was just as well I was home as I got sick as a dog Christmas night and 2 days later my SIL’s mother landed in the hospital.  Circumstances kept me home and apparently that was a good thing all the way around.  Funny how that happens.

I’m also starting to look for a new laptop or something like the Surface Pro 4.  Kind of pricey on that second option.  And naturally, ANOTHER crown fell out 2 days before Christmas and my dentist was nowhere to be found.  While I had one missing tooth over the holidays and a lovely hole where I am healing from my LAST oral surgery in October, I might just celebrate my New Year with another visit to oral surgeon.  YIPEE!  Then I KNOW my dentist will want a fixed bridge and ……………. dear God, the money makes me faint.  That expense must be handled before new computers of any type.

So solace was found in real Scotch shortbread – yes REAL, all butter so I can fail my bloodwork in January in style.  (Dr T – you will ignore that sentence!!!!!!!  I ate fruit and vegetables and saltines and have no idea why my bad cholesterol is so high!)  Then tele-Yahtzee and ebooks.  Football, my usual drug of choice, is best left undiscussed as I am still in mild shock and very close to the edge of murdering my TV – though what the poor innocent TV has to do with BAD OFFICIALS AND POOR CALLS I’m not sure.  But I seem to have this primal urge to cause it harm.  Dark chocolate covered figs from Spain have helped stabilize me.  Very high therapeutic value.

On the upside, no ebooks were damaged in the process of trying to pacify myself with harmless, entertaining books.  Though the whole ‘entertainment’ thing gets a bit shaky.  Anyway, here we go.

                           

         

We’ll start with the Lucky O’Toole series by Deborah Coonts set in Las Vegas.  Touted as humorous romantic mystery series supposedly similar to the Steph Plum books.  I can tell you they have only slight elements in common – mostly off the charts insanity.  Lucky is a much more complex, competent, mature character – or so it seems at the start, so the hapless fumbling, nutty sidekick, and crazy grandma are out.  Lucky does have a bordello owning mother, Mona, and a competent assistant, Miss P (Miss Patterson) in her job as head of Customer Relations at the swankiest, most coveted casino resort on the strip, the Babylon – and access to complementary Ferrari’s.

There are also numerous downsides.  The author seems attached to using antiquated technology, calls the casino owner ‘The Big Boss’ (yeah, that was original), she all but runs the whole operation and somehow manages to investigate murders when she has perfectly competent staff to handle such things.  Reality never had much to do with Vegas, so readers mostly gloss over all these annoying improbabilities and go along for the ride.  Hey, if Steph Plum can have giraffes running around Trenton, I guess Lucky O’Toole can have the only dinosaur Nextel in the state of Nevada – though one would think an iPhone would be more probable.

If the author’s last name sounds familiar, it should.  Her husband is NY Times best-selling author Stephen Coonts of the Jake Grafton/Tommy Carmelinni action thrillers.  I wonder how many reviews of this series were from his friends?

Anyway, let’s look at the books and keep in mind the highly improbable events in most cozies – and this would be closer to that than real mystery – so it’s like Steph Plum not having grown older during the 20+ years of the series.  (If you wonder why her sister and her kids disappeared, Evonavich had to get rid of them from the stories or they too would be ageless, despite state of the art electronics everywhere.  Robert B Parker made the same choice for his ageless Spencer.  It’s one of the wonders of FICTION.)

Wanna Get Lucky was free for Kindle to I gave it a shot.  Lucky OToole and the Babylon’s new security guy have a mystery to solve when a Vegas ‘working girl’ ends up getting dumped out of the Babylon’s helicopter into the Treasure Island Lagoon and killed.  And someone just ‘happened’ to be there to film it in high resolution.  Then there’s the 400-pound naked man by main staircase, and missing security tapes from certain floors and …….. well, a whole bunch of other stuff.

Lucky inserts herself into the investigation with the help of a very young, very green detective named Romeo.  The fast pace can’t quite cover the many flaws in logic, even for a lightweight mystery, and yes, it is cliché ridden.  If you can suspend your common sense long enough, it’s a decent read, albeit very annoying with its characters right from a TV script – including the female impersonator who is NOT gay and is interested in Lucky.  I will give Wanna Get Lucky a C- (2.8*) because it could have been really good with more attention to reality and fewer borrowed characters from all too familiar movies and TV.  It’s free, so try and see how you feel about it.

Lucky Stiff once again finds Lucky in the middle of a murder, problems with her now former female impersonator boyfriend, a convention of entomologists who bring in thousands of bees, sharks eating a Vegas odds maker with a shifty rep, and everything short of a circus act.  If book one was pushing credibility, this one entered comic book zone with a dose of soap opera thrown in – and if you didn’t see the ‘big reveal’ coming, you have to turn in your Nancy Drew card and promise to never work the Psychic Hotline.

Lucky Stiff had its amusing moments, but in many ways seemed to imitate the worst elements of the Steph Plum books with too much TV show Vegas.  You half expect James Cann to grab someone’s throat.  Anyway, it gets another C- (2.6*) and the same warning as above.  It’s heavy on the angst in parts too.  In fact, that’s true of this whole series.

 So Damn Lucky had a plot so over the top I actually enjoyed it.  You had Area 51, secret psychic warfare studies the government denies, a missing magician, a murder on the loose – or maybe not if Dimitri isn’t dead, boyfriend ‘Teddy’ now with a singing contract thanks to Lucky out on tour, a break in at her condo complex one floor blow her 30th floor unit, a French chef who looks even better than his food tastes – and he wouldn’t mind getting a taste of Lucky, and then there’s the whole, “How do I deal with Vegas knowing who my daddy is?”   Just to make life complete, Teddy shows up in Vegas unexpectedly – and so do his obnoxious parents.

OK, this one is hard for me because I kind of got a kick out of the magicians and the whole Area 51 thing, but you will have one of two reactions – SHE’S INSANE TO LIKE THIS (and many believe I am) to OMG THIS BOOK IS JUNK!  I give So Damn Lucky a B- (3.7*) because of the above points and despite the whole Teddy drama.  Plus I’m a sucker for mysteries involving magicians.

Lucky Bastard is the point at which I started giving up on this series.  Yes, it’s lighthearted fun, but there are just so many romance crisis I can stand before I hit a wall.  This is one of the problems with binge reading a series, the flaws leap out and start choking you.  Lucky’s waffling attraction to men in a kind of serial monogamy with no serious timeouts between them left me wondering how shallow she was.

Lucky O’Toole’s murder du jour is a body on the hood of a Ferrari on the showroom floor stabbed in the neck with the heel of her own Jimmy Choos – bringing a whole new meaning to ‘blood red sportscar.’  Lucky’s first thought was, “Where’s the other shoe?”  Then she learns the woman in question, well, DEAD woman in question, is actually the wife of one of the men who had been pursuing her since book 1 – former Babylon security man, undercover Gaming Commission Agent, now PI and partners with the Beautiful Jeremy Whitlock, Paxton Dane.  (Yeah, it really is that convoluted.)

Enter Detective Romeo, Lucky’s go to homicide cop who is showing the kind of growing as a character that makes his passingly interesting.  Too bad he’s always a bit player.  And the fact that Sylvie was cheating in the Babylon’s poker room, knew both the security code and the secret password to enter the Ferrari dealership after hours, and told Dane she had to speak with him about something urgent …………….. ok, we are now in ‘this is getting silly’ territory. Oh, and even though Lucky is moving on from Teddy to Jean-Charles, the famous gourmet chef The Big Boss hired, but is pissed at Dane (whom she rejected) for not telling her all about his marriage.  (All together now – EYE ROLL!)

Unlike So Damn Lucky, Lucky Bastard wanders in the personal wilderness of Lucky’s life and the mystery kind of just bobs and weaves in and out of her story.  And that’s my problem.  The books are half women’s fic romance/humor and half mystery and billed as the ‘Heartfelt Series’.  Being neither fish nor fowl, they probably appeal more to romance and romantic suspense lovers than mystery lovers.  Not a good genre for me to binge read after having finished the Savannah Martin series that fell into the same emotional quagmire, but with less humor.

The Lucky Bastard murder is not complex or exciting, but the surrounding endless distractions make it seem more than it is.  And how anyone can be responsible for largely running the biggest casino resort in Vegas AND have time to play amateur detective baffles me completely, especially since her only professional help is a PI and very young police detective is beyond comprehension.  Pacing is fast and if the lack of a real mystery plot and reality don’t bother you, it’s a decent read   I gets a C- (2.7*) from me.

We have now reached Lucky Catch – and in case you’re wondering, here’s the tally to far – Book 1, clear The Big Boss, book 2, clear the Beautiful Jeremy Whitlock, book 3, no close associate blamed (PHEW), book 4, clear Dane, book 5, clear new boyfriend Jean-Charles and his sister Desiree.  (And book 6, not reviewed here because I got fed up, clear Teddy, the ex-lover, who is back in Vegas.)
Romantic French chef, a renowned restaurateur, and new boyfriend Jean-Charles is the lead suspect in the death of his brother-in-law’s conniving mistress who helped him run J-C’s high-end food truck where chef tested potential new food offerings for yet to be opened restaurant at the completely rebuilt Athena – soon to be Cielo and run by Lucky.  (By the way, this will be fastest rebuild in the history of all hotel renovations.)

 Romeo focuses on the spurned wife – a wife with someone trying to sabotage her ultra high-end food supply company that specializes in truffles.  (Not the chocolate ones, the fungus ones.)  Too bad he did think to look closer to home ………….. Jean-Charles’ late wife.

You get a fair smattering of the ins and outs of behind the scenes food supply for top end eateries and enough French drama to fill several foreign language film festivals.  You know, the smoldering, moody, self-sacrificial, tragic crap.  Had this been a paper book, it would have gotten pitched against the wall about half way through.  I have no intention to wrecking my laptop for a cheap ebook, no matter how badly I wanted to stick a knife through the screen.  GAH!  The weakest entry in the series, (until book 6) with enough melodrama to fuel a month of soap operas.  Lucky Catch gets a D+to C- (2.5*) and read only if you’re following this series for the romance, not the mystery.

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 I received The Dirt on the Ninth Grave as an ARC ebook and hoped against hope that Darynda Jones would manage to set the story back on track after the ridiculous ‘amnesia’ ending on Eighth Grave.  You have no idea how hard I was pulling for Charley and Reyes.  SIGH!  I feared I was doomed to disappointment.  I was right and man, does that make me sad.

The Dirt on the Ninth Grave finds the still amnesiac Charley waiting tables at a diner in Sleepy Hollow, NY.  Yes, THAT Sleepy Hollow.  (It’s a scenic real town on the east side of the Hudson just north of Tarrytown where Sleepy Hollow author, Washington Irving, lived.)  Eye roll.  Reyes is now the cook there, Cookie, her PI business associate and best friend, a waitress, Detective Uncle Bob – all with obvious variations on their names and none willing to tell her about her past because she must remember on her own.  No, I am not making this crap up.  Oh, if you’re worried about Beep, the newborn from Eighth Grave, don’t bother.  Mr Wong has that handled.  Well eventually he was going to do SOMETHING.

We labor through pages of Charley seeing ghosts but not getting freaked out, serving coffee, food, and getting it on with handsome cook Ray.  And after several hundred pages, the evil demon inhabiting the body of the man who tormented Reyes and his sister comes back and kidnaps her and yes, hauls her off to a spooky house.

I will not tell you how she gets her memory back, but let me just say it ranks up there with Christina Henry’s Black Wings series ending with “Mother’s awake.”  Oh, she’s not at all freaked out about Beep being cared for elsewhere.  Not a single tear.  But she’s hot for Reyes.

OK, you’ll have one of two reactions – series lovers will LOVE, LOVE, LOVE this book.  People retaining some semblance of sanity will go WTF?  Yeah.  The ‘most powerful being in the universe’ not only got amnesia but is OK with her newborn being raised by strangers and ready to make out with Reyes after once again turning the tables at the last minute.  I simply cannot reconcile the contradictions in the supposed powers of the characters and the pedestrian troubles that they should easily fixed.  The rationals don’t mesh and the baby gets whisked away because it will hinder the romance angle.  Whisked away from ‘the most powerful being in the universe’ because ‘others’ can keep him safer – DOES NOT COMPUTE.  These persistent contradictions in logic just cannot be ignored.  ……….. Let me amend that.  I cannot ignore them.  Apparently fans have unlimited tolerance for such things.

Long sigh.  Time to wrap this up Ms Jones.  You’re pushing the plot well past the sell by date.  I will be a contrarian and give Ninth Grave a C- (2.7*) and acknowledge in advance I will be hated by CD fans everywhere.  The hardcover is very overpriced even at a discount given the short length of the book.  The ebook is insanely over-priced as well.  It does have better verve than Eight Grave, but not enough for me to overlook the basic flaws in logic.  If you’re a serious, SERIOUS fan, buy it.  If Eighth Grave put you on the fence – get it from your library for free or wait for a used book discount in a couple of months.  Regardless, spend as little as possible.

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Alyssa Day is famous for her paranormal romance books featuring Atlantis and an alternate version of our world where vampires attempted a takeover of the US.  In this hybrid reality, in modern Florida swamp country mystery, Dead Eye, Tess Callahan runs a pawn shop half of which she inherited from her former boss and father figure, Jeremiah Shepherd – a man who was murdered some months earlier.  The other half of the shops and Jeremiah’s house and personal belongings went to his nephew Jack Shepherd.  Jack left Dead End 10 years ago and was involved in the vampire wars.  Now he’s back and looking to just settle his uncle’s estate …………… until he learns Jeremiah didn’t just die, he was murdered and Tess has a tiger shifter by the tail.

Tess has a gift too.  One she’d rather not have.  She can ‘see’ a person’s death when she touches them or they touch her skin.  It doesn’t happen every time, but enough that she doesn’t touch folks.  Like witches and shifters, such gifts are not uncommon in Dead End.  Jack makes himself at home all too fast and decides to ‘get this over with’ and touches Tess.  She realizes he’s already ‘died’ – kind of a first for her.  She also learns that he was one of the two top people leading the rebellion.  Jack is also a really nice guy – but bossy.

Dead Eye is a bit different from Day’s usual trope, it’s more in the UF/paranormal mystery mash-up category like Sookie Stackhouse.  Although it is tangential to her other series, you do NOT need to have read them to follow this book as works as the start of a new a different series, but it does help to fill in the background.  The series will carry on more in the UF/paranormal mystery series with the Jack and Tess romance angle.  The plot, unfortunately, was obvious and the characters, especially Tess, lacked depth.  It just came off shallow on all key elements.  There was a sense of deja vu because the characters and dialogues and plot were so familiar it felt trite.  Much as I wanted to really like it, it was too cliché, including the corrupt town sheriff.  It gets a C (3*) rating and for Alyssa Day fans, buy or borrow the ebook.  It’s much too short to justify the price of the print copy.  A miss-able series, but fun for those who like paranormal mystery in the Sookie Stackhouse style, just shorter.

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 Here is my best advice to fans if the Miss Fortune series by Jana DeLeon – RUN AWAY NOW!  DO NOT LOOK BACK!  DO NOT SPEND ONE DIME ON THIS TRIPE!  This whole Sinful World novella craze has spawned some real garbage and but this one – good grief.  You want an example of how allowing other authors to write stories set in a world you created can go wrong – here is the perfect example.  Some of the Sinful World novellas have been good, most mediocre, one other awful, but this was Outer Limits Meets Sinful and almost singlehandedly trashed the series.

I understand that many of these novellas are little better than fan fic.  OK, that’s fine.  I remember back when multiple author series were all the rage in sword and sorcery fantasy and yes, different authors perceived the same character very differently.  But there is a HUGE difference between accomplished authors writing stories using common ‘worlds’ and characters from amateur hour in ebook-orama.  Sinful Science is almost a criminal offense.  A not believable overlay of poorly thought out science fiction/horror using characters who behave totally out of character, banal dialogue, and a plot that’s little short of an insult to both science fiction/horror fans and Sinful fans alike – and even managed to throw in shapeshifting swamp rat Federal Agents at the end.  I can’t believe I just wrote that.  I think I need to bleach my brain.  My WTF gauge just exploded.

Can you guess my rating?  Yes, Sinful Science gets an F (0*).  A rare and not at all coveted award.  I’m confident this author writes far better pieces than this, I just wish she refrained from inflicting this insane mashup of Outer Limits/Twilight Zone/Sinful on Sinful fans.  If I want to read Dystopian or horror, I’ll grab Sandman Slim or one of the other many UF/paranormal/horror mashups available.

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OK, I think I’ve aborted my near cranial meltdown and can manage one more ebook novella review – another entry in Thea Harrison’s Elder Races paranormal romance series.  Pia Does Hollywood is book 2 in a novella series that started with Dragos Goes to Washington.  In this, a pregnant Pia is required to go spend 1 week as a guest of Queen of the Light Fae, who seems oddly anxious to put the timing off.  But Pia is pregnant and unwilling to wait and risk exposing her condition.  Dragos plans to skirt the rules that forbid him to go with Pia by going to CA on his own and staying up the coast to be near.

But Pia sees a problem as soon as she arrives, it’s high security and watchfulness by the Light Fea that has Pia’s own bodyguards on edge.  Dragos arrives early thanks to a favor from a djinn and flies out to grab some fresh fish before heading to Rodeo Drive.  A spectacular necklace, bracelet, and earring catch his eye.  But when he announces himself, the usual sudden appearance of owners doesn’t happen, just a confused and near hysterical sales woman.  Something is obviously wrong as she explains how Light Fae have been disappearing.  But he’s Lord Dragos Culebre, so he takes the jewels, tells he to stay secure and send the bill to his NYC office and goes to investigate.  He finds packs of rabid, mindless Light Fae who attack and try to kill him despite his fire.

Pia is struck by the fact the Light Fae queen and her whole household is armed as if they expect a massive assault.  It seems some infection has struck, perhaps deliberate bio attack, the Light Fae.  Only Dragos, who arrives at the mansion in a stolen vehicle – and he’s been bitten by an infected Fae.

Ms Harrison, who is quite capable of drawing out a slender story to a tedious novel length, manages to write excellent novellas.  Funny how the shorter format seems to bring out the best in some authors and the worst in others.  She managed to create enough plot for a decent book into an excellent, tightly written, action-packed novella.  Pia Does Hollywood is not at all what I expected, but it was actually much better and gets a B+ (4.3*) and suggested read along with Dragos goes to Washington.

With that, I will wrap the ebook binge and hopefully get back to print books for my next entry.  As I sit writing this and watching the end of the Alamo Bowl (which became quite exciting in the second half), I want to wish you all Happy New Year and Good Reading in 2016!

 

 

 

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December 28, 2015

Ebook Binge – Who Done It?

Yeah, I’ve been on a binge reading marathon of ebooks, mostly light mystery, some novellas – mostly paranormal, and a smattering of (GASP!) paper books!   I’ve also been sick off and on (When I miss football games, I’M SICK!  But at least there was no oral surgery, thanks heavens.) and I find when I am sick, I don’t do well reading new stuff, so I go revisit old favorites – books I’ve read so often that I can start on any page and pick up the story just fine.  I think everyone in the family rereads good books.  Of course, we all have our preferences, but generally rereads are not edge of the seat thrillers simply because they don’t ever get as thrilling as they were the first time around – no surprises left.

I have a friend out in California who handles entry and pricing for her library’s FOL – something that is an ongoing thing, not a monthly event.  It includes all types of media, books, CD’s, DVD’s, etc.  She says she’s noticed a significant decline in donations over the last few months, even among their most reliable contributors.  We talked about it and wondered if it was due to the increasing use of ebooks or a decline in the number of books published in print each month.

We both noticed a sharp fall off in getting new books at bargain prices and escalating prices on ebooks.  We’ve also noticed more and more mass market paperback authors switching to self-publishing, following some big name authors who have promoted that route.  There’s good reason – the author keeps more from each book sale than they do when writing for traditional print houses.  Just 2 years ago I’d be getting 10 to 20 new print books a month.  Now that’s down to less than 10 even in big release months, like September.  She also noted publishing schedules show fewer books per months on certain imprints.  She’s mostly a mystery reader with some fantasy and paranormal thrown in, so she’d be less aware of romance, but I checked that category for a new release for a PBS game and was shocked at how few titles were getting released that month.

Now I read print books are staging a comeback of sorts.  Not sure about the truth of that, but I can tell you publishers are cutting series that don’t make a certain sales level really fast.  The traditional 3 book deal is now a 2 book contract with the author.  Whether this is cost driven or market driven or both, I just don’t know, but the long delays in getting print books to market are NOT helping traditional publishers keep their customers.  Sometimes those delays are the authors themselves, but other times it’s a publishing business trying to reduce staff till they can’t turn the work around in a timely fashion.  Not even for hot authors.  Only the traditional NY Times Bestsellers get that treatment.

The other trend I’ve noticed is that with the exception of a few authors, books are getting shorter – especially self-published ebooks.  A typical cozy mystery runs 275 to 320 pages.  Self-published light mystery runs around 200 pages to maybe 275 max.  Instead of a page count, I’d like Amazon to provide me with the word count of the book.  That way  I know exactly what I’m paying for.  That’s especially true for the many novellas authors publish, some of which have maybe 18,000 words while others have 35,000 words and both are the same price.  Ebooks are not always a good value.  And the price of the print versions has jumped almost 20% this year!

So be warned, ebooks are not as cheap as they were unless you’ll wait a long time for a deal.  And overall, the number of books getting printed is dropping noticeably.

That said, let’s take a look at what I plowed through this month.

OK, here we have 10 full novels and 1 longish novella.  From the top.  As a whole, this series would fall under Romantic Mystery more than any other sub-genre.

A Cutthroat Business – Introduces the main characters and a number of key secondary characters that will play ongoing roles in the series.  Savannah Martin was raised by a true Southern Belle.  Married and quickly divorced from a philandering husband, Savannah decides to take life into her own hands and tries to make it in Memphis as a real estate agent.  The older, far less ethical, Brenda Puckett steals her clients and then has the gall to ask her to sit an open house for her on Sunday.  Too bad the house comes complete with one bad boy from her hometown who’s grown into a hunk …….. and a corpse – Brenda’s.

The seamy underside of the real estate business is on full display, along with Savannah’s unfortunate attraction to convicted felon Rafe Collier.

A Cutthroat Business gets a B- (3.8*) and a suggest read (get a discount on the ebooks) for Souther style cozy lovers.  Savannah is an appealing, somewhat naive and sheltered character and Rafe is a perfect foil as an ambiguous good bad guy.  The plot is nicely convoluted too, so more interesting than most cozies.

In Hot Property, new real estate agent Lila Vaughn seems to be friendly with Savannah but then uses her.  There’s something not right with Lila and after finding out all the schemes Brenda had up to, Savannah was tired of always playing nice and getting mocked for it.  Unfortunately, Lila’s description of her robber fits Rafe to a tee, and Det Tamara Grimaldi thinks so too.  But once again, looks are deceiving.

When Lila turns up dead, Grimaldi is hot after Rafe, but having gotten to know her old hometown bad boy better, she refuses to believe Rafe had anything to with Lila’s death, so Savannah does her own sleuthing.  Hot Property is a good second book in the series and handles the progressing relationship of Savannah and Rafe nicely and realistically, especially given the issues with her small town’s opinion of Rafe and her own struggles to break from the role her mother molded her into as the society girl from Sweetwater. (She even went to finishing school before college!)   In some ways, that story is as compelling as the mystery itself as Savannah finds her feet as an independent adult.  Hot Property also gets a solid B- (3.9*) from and again a suggested read for cozy lovers.

In Contract Pending, Savannah and Rafe again cross paths as she checks on Rafe’s Grandmother, the owner of the house Brenda was murdered back in book 1.  His Grandma is back home and he’s MIA.  But people are watching the house, and now her, and suddenly the woman he hired to look after his grandmother is missing then found murdered – and Rafe is once again suspect 1.  Plus her momma is once again matchmaking with her old flame Todd, a District Attorney who, like her ex, wants to ‘take care of’ Savannah.  Too bad Savannah wants to take care of herself and not some smothering male.  All Savannah wants to do is pay her respects to Marquetta’s ex-husband, the deputy sheriff and go back to Memphis.

While the body count in these books stretches credulity, the same could be said of Jane Marple quite English village, St Mary Mead.  Discounting the unlikely involvement of anyone other than a serial killer or homicide cop in this many deaths, yes it would seem the third most likely person to be involved is the lead character in a cozy.  It comes with the territory.  But what is unusual for a cozy, is the way the author grows Savannah’s character out of her comfort zone of the Southern Belle and into a freer, independent woman who might love her family, but is determined to go her own way whether they like it or not.  Once again, I give the book a B- (3.9*) for the way it plays the life of small-town Southern America – far more authentically than most and a place most cozy writers would explore in their far more shallow stories.

Close to Home is a bit heavy on the melodrama as Savannah finds herself pregnant with Rafe’s child, looking for his son he never knew he had, and helping her sister-in-law clear a friend of murder charges brought by none other than her ex-boyfriend and would be suitor Todd, the Sweetwater DA.  As usual, Savannah seems to spend a lot more time being an amateur sleuth than a real estate agent, but this is to help a young mother, and with Rafe gone, she kind of glad for a distraction.

I had kind of mixed feelings on this book.  The mystery part is solid enough, but the whole angst thing kind of overwhelmed it with layer on layer of annoying distractions.  The mystery ends up secondary to the whole emotional mess.  Close to Home gets a C+ to B- (3.5*) in large party because I read books for the mystery party, not the whole soul searching angst thing.

Done Deal circles back to Alexandra Puckett, the teen daughter of the late and unlamented Brenda, who seeks Savannah’s help in keeping her dad from marrying the pushy and conniving Maybelle.  Plus there’s this new agent, Carmen, who has Savannah on edge and always seems to be up to something.  While a lot of this plot of obvious, more so than her previous books, it’s also more mystery than a few of the previous entries and I enjoyed it more.  It gets a C+ to B- (3.6*) and suggested read.

Change of Heart takes us back to the damn angst again.  Has Rafe changed is mind?  COME ON PEOPLE.  Can we put ONE plot point to bed?  Jeeze.  Everyone Savannah knows ends up being a killer, or a dead body, and frankly I’d be real cautious getting too close to her.  This time her gay friend and real estate mentor is implicated in a murder and Savannah sets out to clear his name.  If she put as much energy into selling houses, she’d be rich by now.

ASIDE: This is the point where most cozy series hit a wall.  In many ways this series did too, but the crash was not fatal like many other series where subsequent books slid downhill.  Nonetheless, so far the only ones not dead or other victim, suspects, or murderers are her mother and the sheriff of her hometown.  She needs a wider circle of people and its past time she got over all her teenage insecurities and just grew up.

OK, back to the review.  The biggest drawback here is the constant theme of Savannah’s curiosity nd near misses with disaster mixed with her personal insecurities, the same insecurities we’ve done several times now.  That’s irritating to me.  So despite the mystery portion being decent, the character is an angst loop that has passed annoying and entered the red zone of WILL YOU GROW UP?

As a result, the book gets C+ (3.3*) rating and if you can get past this one and the next, the series gets back on track.

In Kickout Clause, a pregnant Savannah is following her ex-husband at the request of his VERY pregnant current wife who think he’s cheating.  Reluctant Savannah agrees and her first effort gets her caught, but the second finds her tracking her ex to a strip bar – to talk to a man.  A man who he should NOT be talking to because the’s the lawyer for the husband in the divorce case the ex’s firm represents the wife.  It’s this kind of thing that spells disbarment.

This event is followed by dithering, more digging – and working to avoid her ex-boss who she helped put in prison for murder.  Kickout Clause is one of the better entries in the series and I give this one a B (4*).  The ending had a couple of great twists!

Past Due has Savannah heading back to her hometown for her high school reunion with Rafe in tow as her + one.  Of course, Momma still won’t speak directly to Rafe, her friends all think she’s crazy to be with the local bi-racial bad boy, and Savannah’s brother and sister seem to be the only ones who have no problem with him.  But it’s the local land development that draws Savannah because something feels wrong.

Once again, Savannah’s intuition gets her square in the middle of a problem, Rafe in trouble, and her almost killed.  And lots of things in her life seem long past due to be settled.  It gets a B- (3.7*) from me.  Liked the ending.

Dirty Deeds shows just some of the downsides of the short term apartment/spare room rental craze.  With Savannah and Rafe living in his grandmother’s old house that Rafe restored, her apartment is sitting empty so Savannah decides to rent it out.  Turns out her tenants were ladies of the evening – and now one of them is dead in her bed – and Tamara Grimaldi and Rafe are the lead investigators.  The real blow is when Tim, her friend nd the man she saved from being framed for murder, tells he to find another job.   – and it heads straight to Sweetwater and Savannah’s ex-boyfriend, and son of the sheriff – DA Todd.

Just when things seem like they can’t get worse, the detectives find out Savannah’s ex-boyfriend, and son of the sheriff – Todd.  On top of that someone is telling her apartment management she Savannah’s sister – only she isn’t, and the new woman in the real estate office, Liz, is a predator in high heels.

A nice twisty mystery that ties equal parts mystery and family issues together, something Bennett does in most of her books.  It gets a B- (3.8*).  And Savannah’s mom sees the light and wants see her daughter married ….. which leads to

Unfinished Business.  Rafe is missing.  Tough to get married with no groom.  Did he get cold feet or has someone in his past come back to get him?  It’s Wendell and Tamara who think he’s in trouble – and they’re right.  It’s kind of a tear-jerker mystery-romance book, and we all know how much I don’t enjoy that.  As a result, despite a decent mystery/thriller element, the angst part annoyed me enough to give it a C+ (3.5*).

Novella Busman’s Honeymoon (considered book 10.5) feature’s one of the more adventurous honeymoon’s at a bed and breakfast on the Gulf beach and a dead B&B owner for breakfast.  Tight, short, and a decent tangled tale of family resentment, con people, and a former owner who played too many games.  For a novella, it came off well done at about half the length and gets a B- (3.7*).

In Adverse Possession Savannah’s main success, selling a great house to a lesbian couple, is threatening to fall apart.  The young women are getting creepy, vaguely threatening mail and eventually the former owner ends up murdered and one of the girls ends up assaulted in the house when someone breaks in using a key.

There will be two schools of thought on this – the I Love Rafe and Savannah school and the I Thought This Was a Mystery club.  Guess which one I’m in.  Sigh – With book 11, the romance and schmaltz got too much for me.  Along with Savannah forgetting she’s supposed to be a real estate agent.  I kind of wish Ms Bennett ended this at book 10.5.  It gets a C+ (3.5*) – well below the fan rating for the book.

A word of warning, if you want to read the series, at $5.99 each for the ebooks, they are badly over-priced.  You could buy the multi-book sets as they are a decent price or try and borrow them from your public library.  Also, binge reading this series could put you off the two lead characters easily – unless you’re really into all the self-doubt and angst crap.  Pffffftttttt.  Give me more mystery.

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YEAH ELLIE ASHE!!!!!!!   Lucky Penny is exactly what I needed for an antidote to the whole marathon Rafe and Savannah thing.  Lucky Penny is the third Miranda Vaughn mystery featuring mergers and acquisitions specialist Miranda Vaughn that brings some zip to the dry world of accounting.  In book 1 she was framed by her bosses in and has been working for her defense attorney since being found not guilty.  Her reputation is still shot, but not as far a forensic account and all around tough, no-nonsense broad, Dorothy Elaine Russell – Dottie to everyone – is concerned.  70-ish, sharp as a tack, and shrewd as they come, Dottie hires Miranda to help with an audit of the famous luxury hotel, Whispering Pines for her old friend Max Emerson.  Miranda likes Dottie but isn’t certain she’s the right person for the job, but it’s just a one job contract for good money she needs badly, not a career commitment so she grabs it.

Up at Whispering Pines the boring audit getting interesting.  Seems the resort is largely closed during what would be its busiest season thanks to a contact with a movie company that Max’s nephew signed when Max was out recovering from a major heart problem.  Max’s dream was regaining ownership of the abandoned Lucky Penny Casino, formerly a part of the resort lost to supposed mobs ties.  His books have to be fully audited and he has to be squeaky clean to get a gaming license.  That’s what Dottie and Miranda are supposed to do …………. too bad the movie is starring the woman handsome horse trainer Quinn went to jail to protect and FBI agent and hopeful boyfriend Jake and his too beautiful and not very friendly partner Bethany end up called to Tahoe when Miranda stumbles into an illicit underground gambling ring setup in one of the guest houses for the movie crew.

The plot is good, the characters fun if a bit cliché, and the solution a bit different.  I like this series, it’s not the same old thing that many cozies are today.  I’ve read all three books and enjoyed them.  Well written, well plotted, and well paced.  If you prefer your books with a G rating, this series is for you.  Lucky Penny gets a B- (3.8*) and at $3.99 a fair price.

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Well, I hit gold here with the latest Lexi Carmichael book, No Room for Error.  First someone tries to kidnap Lexi in NYC while as she and Slash exit a concert.  She gets away, but there are a lot of unanswered questions.  Then Slash takes her to his apartment and shows her every room but one.  When she tells Basia about the locked room, her fried assume he’s hiding the fact he has a BDSM dungeon playroom – a la a thinly veiled reference to Fifty Shades of Grey.  Lexi, being Lexi, immediately starting researching this new thing and it’s kind of hilarious.

Then Lexi, Basia, Finn, and some security honchos from the ComQuest, the employers for the still battered Zimmerman twins, want her to go to Indonesia to oversee the manufacture of an experiment computer chip the twins designed because she’s the only one they trust.  Slash arranges to meet her in Jakarta for ‘vacation’.  The flight goes off course when the flight attendant and co-pilot hijack the plane.  In a struggle for the gun the flight attendant is holding on them, she shoots the fuselage and the crash land in the mountains of New Guinea.   One guy from ComQuest survives, and wouldn’t you know, he’s NOT on their side.

Ms Moffett somehow pulls off a jungle trek, help from a shunned local tribe’s woman and a few more twists and turns with her usual aplomb and surprising humor.  The scene at the end back in Slash’s place is worth the price alone.

Lexi Carmichael is one of the more interesting characters out there and this series is entertaining, fun, and just good stories.  No Room for Error gets an A- (4.3*) and suggested read, but at $4.99, it’s kind of the limit for an ebook, though at 270+ pages, it’s a better value than many.

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Cindy Blackburn’s Cueball Mysteries featuring a middle-aged, divorced writer of smutty romance and a police detective turned love interest/husband, has its ups and downs.  Five Spot was a real up!  Adelé Nightengale, the nom de plume of Jessie Hewitt, is about to be inducted into the Romance Writer’s Hall of Fame, a once in every 5 years event.  Her beyond buoyant agent, Geeze Lousie, has decided to up the ante in celebrating with a charity auction and ………… Jessie new husband, Wilson Rye, is the unsuspecting prize.  That is until one of the authors, freaks out over her placement at the head table and Jessie swaps places with her.  When she ends up head from poison, the big question is, was she or Jessie the target?

Along with Wilson, her slightly psychic 80-something mother, and Geeze Louise, Jessie works to figure out who did before her number is up too!

While I find Geeze Lousie and irritating character that wears thin quickly, level headed Jessie, her mom, and Wilson are all well done, the dialogue is quick and witty, the humor sharp, and story is well paced.  The who ………….. well, that’s actually a better solution than usual.  The screwball style might not suit some cozy readers, but it is still sold as a ‘humorous cozy’.  It’s lightweight style and easy to read plot is more reminiscent of the 1930’s  and 40’s style than what is currently considered a ‘cozy’.  It depends on your taste.

Five Spot is the latest in the series but can easily be read as a stand alone.  I give it a solid B- (3.8*) and suggested read, especially if read as a stand alone.  At $2.99, it’s a good buy.

 

 

September 2, 2012

Perfect Pairs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

September 23, 2010

Misc Book Reviews – Paranormal/UF Series

Let’s start with a very ‘chick’ book that’s second in a series, then on to two Urban Fantasy series entries.

  • Title: Deeply, Desperately
  • Author:  Heather Webber
  • Type:  Paranormal mystery lite
  • Genre:  Psychic gets involved in missing person’s case
  • Sub-genre:  Second in the Lucy Valentine series
  • My Grade: C (3.0*)
  • Rating:  PG-13
  • Length and price:  Full novel about 80,000+ words for $7.99
  • Where Available:  book available at any book store
  • FTC Disclosure:  purchased book from online bookseller (more…)

August 4, 2010

Two Mystery Reviews: Paranormal Mystery and Cozy from a New Author

  • Showdown in Mudbug
  • Author:  Jana Deleon
  • Type:  Paranormal romantic mystery
  • Genre:  Cozy style paranormal set in Louisiana; final in Ghost-in-law series
  • Sub-genre: Former under cover FBI agent living as a psychic tries to get cops on right trail of a child abductions
  • My Grade: C (3.0*)
  • Rating:  PG-13
  • Length and price:  Full novel; 80,000+ words for $7.99; some discounts available
  • Where Available:  book available wherever books are sold
  • FTC Disclosure:  purchased book from online bookseller website (more…)

October 7, 2009

Book Review: Grace Under Pressure by Melissa Schroeder

  • Title: Grace Under Pressure
  • Author: Melissa Schroeder
  • Type: Contemporary Romance
  • Genre: Romantic mystery with humor and hometown feel
  • Sub-genre: Small town, sneaky ex, reluctant lover
  • My Grade: C+ to B- (3.5*)
  • Rating: PG-13 to NC-17
  • Where Available: Mostly used book stores or sites like Half.com
  • FTC Disclosure: This book was part of a book swap on PBS

Grace Under Pressure isn’t my first Melissa Schroeder book, but it was a surprise as it was far more gentle and sweet than I was expecting.  This is something like a romance with a mystery cozy – not quite true romantic suspense, like Anne Stuart or Rozanne St Claire, but more like Denise Swanson’s Scrumble River meets contemporary romance.  Published by Samhain with a sexy cover, it does contain a few hot sex scenes, it is most definitely NOT erotic romance. (more…)

July 13, 2009

Short Reviews – More Romance and Erotic Romance

Here we go with a bunch more reviews, mostly ebooks – novellas, short novels, and full novels.

  • Title:  The Joy of Ex
  • Author: Brit Ryan
  • Type: Romantic Suspense
  • Genre: Murder Mystery
  • Sub-genre: First Book Lily MacInnes series
  • My Grade: C- (2.8*)
  • Rating: PG:17
  • Where Available: Samhain

This romantic mystery by new author Brit Ryan had a terrific start and initially I liked Lily MacInnes.  Unfortunately, the story got choppy and nearly unintelligible at points and Lily behaved like an idiot in a ‘too-stupid-too-live’ chick-lit book.  The worst was when they suspected she’d been slipped a ‘roofie’ and her new police superintendent boyfriend, Paul Mascara, insisted on a blood test and she threw a tantrum that would have annoyed me in an eight year old.  On top of that, the moron who drugged her may end up partner in her (more…)

April 2, 2009

BOOK REVIEW: Trouble in Mudbug by Jana DeLeon

I read Jana DeLeon’s first two books, Unlucky and Rumble in the Bayou, and enjoyed them, so when Trouble in Mudbug came out I bought it.  I’m glad I did.  Published by LoveSpell as a Romantic Mystery, the romantic part takes a back seat to the mystery.  In fact, through most of the first half or more of the book, Maryse Robicheaux, (A nod to mystery’s grand master James Lee Burke’s famous bayou detective Dave Robicheaux?) barely even sees Luc LeJeune, so calling it a ‘romance’ is kind of a stretch.  The ghost of Maryse’s late mother-in-law, Helene, has a bigger role than Luc, so I consider it more a paranormal cozy mystery.  Regardless of what you call it, it’s a good read.  Trouble in Mudbug is first in a series of Mudbug Ghost-in-law series.

Maryse Robicheaux and her best friend Sabine are in church for the funeral of Maryse’s mother-in-law from hell, Helene Henry, the richest woman in Mudbug but not its most loved.  Suddenly, Helene sits up in her casket and starts complaining – but no one seems to notice.  Maryse does her level best to pretend she doesn’t see her waving and yelling at people as she walks down the aisle, then faints when Helene does it to her.  That night, after assuring her friends Sabine and Mildred she’s really fine, Maryse makes a quick stop at the office.  A drop dead gorgeous stranger is sitting at HER desk!  Seems Luc LeJeune is a state zoologist on temporary assignment and will be working from the same office space.  Nosy man was trying to get into her computer ostensibly for business.  Hrumph!  She makes him feel unwelcome and leaves – being sure to close her computer down.  Damn it’s been a long day.

Marsey heads to her boat access only house out in the bayou to think about next day’s reading of Helena’s will.  Helene not exactly fond of Maryse.  For the last two years she’d been paying Helene back for the loan she needed to pay off the debtors her son Hank ran out on when he fled.  Would Helene leave her another bill?  Marsey is convinced the world’s goes mad when she sees Helene’s ghost walking on water to reach her house.  Helene claims she’s been murdered.  It’s obvious even to Mayse that Helene knows a lot more than she’s saying, but Marsey is stuck.  She wants Helene’s help finding her worthless son Hank so Maryse can finalize her damn divorce from the bum.  State law requires he be served.  Helene can’t move on till she figures out who murdered her and Maryse is the only one who sees her.  Neither is happy, but for the moment, they just might need each other. (more…)

March 29, 2009

BOOK REVIEW: Weddings Can Be Murder by Christie Craig

I finally decided to take a break from my attempts to get into Dead Silence by Randy Wayne White and went for something much lighter, a romantic mystery by Christie Craig – Weddings Can Be Murder.  I haven’t read any of her work before, but this looked interesting so, what the heck.  This is a Lovespell  Contemporary Romance, but honestly, it really is a romantic mystery.

First of all, let me just say that despite some reviewer comments, Craig did not have the same feel as Evanovich.  Yes, it has humor to it, but not the kind of ‘screwball’ edge that Evanovich always has, even early on in the Plum series.  Plus, this isn’t part of series, but a standalone that seems to follow Craig’s formula of ‘innocent female bystander caught up in a crime’ and ‘hunky detective’.  As formulas go, not new, but not bad and the success can be measured by how involved you get with the characters.

Someone is killing the clients of wedding planner Tabitha Jones.  She contacts Carl Hades, ex-cop turned PI, for help when the police just blow off her reports of missing brides.  Sunday afternoon finds him off to see Tabitha when he’d rather not.  Katie Ray is an art gallery owner who is a client of Tabitha’s, not so much by choice, but because Tabitha is a good customer and a bad woman to cross.  Unfortunately, Katie spent the morning throwing up and dealing with trying to convince herself and her best friend Leslie Grayson that she really did want to marry Joe Lyon.  She wasn’t getting married so she wouldn’t feel so alone after the accident that took both parents and her brother Mike – Les’s fiancée.  It wasn’t nerves causing the problem.  Really!  Right up to where she accidentally flushed her $8,000 diamond engagement ring.  Les may have moved away after the accident, but she’s been best friends with Katie since they were kids and she’s convinced the marriage is a big mistake.  Engagement rings don’t get ‘accidentally’ flushed.  Meanwhile, Joe is getting fitted for his tux when he realizes he has doubts of his own. (more…)

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