Tour’s Books Blog

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 17, 2014

Short Reviews – Mixed Genre

Plowing through a bunch of books so here are some quick reviews. basil-instinct Sorry, that’s the best image I could find.  Originally this book 2 in the Italian Restaurant series was to be called The Ziti That Never Sleeps, but it had a name changed to Basil Instinct before publication.  Regardless, it’s the second installment of the Miracolo Restaurant series.

Eve Angelotta has her hands full when her nonna gets an invitation to join a super secret chef society, Belfiere.  Nonna is over the moon and the restaurant will host a private dinner for 50 the following Friday.  How serious is she?  Nonna gets a tattoo.  Eve does not need this on top of her new teaching gig at vocational school – where she gets a bunch of delinquents and 2 potential hires with decent knife skills.  Her cousin Landon also discovers some very disconcerting things about Belfiere.  Then the day of the BIG EVENT, Eve finds her new student. sous chef dead in the foyer.  Choosing between the wrath on Maria Pia and possibly disturbing a crime scene, Eve and Landon move the body ………. and the farce starts.

The best thing about the Miracolo books is they don’t take themselves too seriously.  Shelly Costa makes it a character story and it’s a very quick read.  Entertaining, fast paced, not deep, or detailed, or meaningful – and violating laws right, left, and sideways.  Just a quick fun read.  The characters are a bit stereotyped, but that doesn’t stop them from being engaging and the prose itself is well done.  The best part, trying to scare the two would be gangsters in her cooking class.  The series is not old enough to be tiresome, but I can already see certain quirks will wear thin quickly, so lets hope the author can move on to other settings and away from the predictable and potentially tiresome.

Basil Instinct get a B- (3.7*) from me.  Purchased from Amazon and at $7.19 it’s more than it’s worth.  Wait for a free or used copy or get it at the library.  Good beach read material.

*********************************************** vampire trouble OK, there’s always one predictable vampire romance to be found and lucky me, I found it in Vampire Trouble.  Unfortunately, it had little to redeem it from the banal.  Maya Robertson is a vampire thanks to a rape that nearly lead to her death where she was saved by Olivia, her maker.  Now she works in the bar Olivia owns and follows her rules, but hates that she can’t just have the ‘live feeds’ she wants.  She chafes at the restrictions and wants to break away. Angsty, fearsome, brooding vampire enforcer Shane Quesada has more than a passing interest in Maya, but he can’t figure out what she is, but she’s more than just a vampire.  Thing is, even Maya doesn’t know.  Blah, blah, blah.  He decides to take the fledgling and train her to be an enforcer like him.

They go to New Orleans, an open city where many supernaturals are allowed to mingle.  Maya learns she’s Gypsy and her special gift is a dark magic that kills werewolves.  That’s why the king of the werewolves wants her necklace.  She and Shane are Bloodmates, but he decides she’s better of without him. (Of course he does, because alpha males run around with their heads up their butts all the time!)  Maya runs back to NYC to confront the wolves. (Naturally, she’s been rejected.  Let’s make another stupid decision.)  Blah, blah, blah.

Evil son of werewolf king attacks Maya thinking since the necklace is destroyed she’s helpless and Shane is injured and dying due to the werewolf bite ………… and we still manage a trite and predictable HEA. God this was so boring I barely managed to skim read it.  Not only were Maya and Shane plastic characters, the whole plot was dull and obvious.  It could have been a Regency with a change of costume.  That’s the thing with romances, they are just so predictable that without a clever plot twist and truly original characters, it just slides right down the ramp to ‘Toss this book” territory.

Vampire Trouble bets a C- (2.8*) and a suggested ‘Give it a miss’ rating.  I am in a minority here.  Apparently, vamp romance lovers really like this drivel and give it 4.5* on Amazon.  To each their own.

********************************************************   Resurrection in Mudbug

Resurrection in Mudbug is Book 4 in the Ghost-in-law series.  Just when you thought you were FINALLY rid of the ghost of Helena Henry and her unsuitable wardrobe, she’s back.  Apparently, she argued with God.  Not quite sure how THAT happens, but there you go.  Since she married Luc and started full time research, Maryse’s job as Game Warden opens up and her cousin Jayden takes it thinking she’s finally escaped her mother’s disapproving clutches.  And she did, except she now she see’s and hears this weird ghost woman well past middle age but wearing – or not wearing – clothes that would make a hooker blush.  Then Maryse explains that being able to see Helena is not a good thing.  It means her life is in danger.  After her day with the idiots on the bayou jumping into gator infested water to grab bags of cash, anything was possible.

So now Jayden has an unwanted sidekick, a handsome sheriff who talks down to her (even if was an ex-detective in New Orleans, she wasn’t stupid!), a gruesome murder scene, and someone shooting at her. The plot is a bit thin, but it moves quickly, Helena remains the same self-adsorbed person she always was, even when wearing pasties and hot pants that should never be on someone her age.  The bodies piles up along with the questions about what the hell is really going on.

Unlike her Miss Fortune series set Sinful, LA,  a town near Mudbug, this series is more paranormal romantic suspense as each book features a couple who get together along with a mystery, often with some gruesome bits.   The resolution to the mystery is usually a surprise and this is not the best in the series, but it a good, entertaining, fast read with characters old and new.  The only real ‘screwball’ element is Helena and her outrageous outfits.

Resurrection in Mudbug gets a B- (3.8*) from and a suggested read in ebook form for those who enjoy fun romantic suspense.   Purchased in print from Amazon

************************************************* Breaking Danger

You know, every so often have I wonder what possesses me to buy yet another installment in a series I just don’t like.  I wish I knew, because this was as big a waste of money as her earlier two books.  Now I kind of liked Lisa Marie Rice’s early work, especially Midnight Man, the best thing she ever wrote, but her Ghost Ops Dystopian, paranormal, claptrap is just off the map melodrama.  On the upside, Breaking Danger is the last book.  On the downside, I just wasted almost $10 and nearly 3 hours of my life I’ll never get back. OK, what do we have …… Brave, beautiful, delicate, smart woman in jeopardy, CHECK.  Hulking, brave, Alpha male warrior type risking everything to get her out alive, CHECK.  Sex in the first 30 pages between two strangers, CHECK.  Alpha male keeps erection after climax,  CHECK.  Female is sore because he’s so big and she doesn’t have much sexual experience, especially lately, CHECK. Desperate situation that only brave warrior can rescue damsel from, CHECK.  Witty dialogue …………………. hummmmmm, no, can’t find that.  Angsty finish with each trying to die for the other – CHECK.  OK, we have your classic Lisa Marie Rice book where the story arc is completely predictable.

The virus that was developed by Arka Pharmaceuticals has gotten loose and turned San Francisco into a city of mindless killers.  It’s side effects, aside from destroying whole sections of the human brain, are high body temperatures and rapid heart rates, so the older adults and sick die quickly, and the young are left.  But they too are dead men walking, even though they no longer have anything left brain functions left to realize it, but they do have a primitive instinct to swarm and attack things that smell human.  But never fear Jon Ryan is on his way to say Sophie Daniels and get the vaccine she stole from the CEO’s office to Haven where there are facilities to mass produce it.  Now it’s a race against the infected, the military that has deployed to try and confine the contagion (oh yeah, that works ……. NOT), and our two dauntless protagonists fighting to save the world – and each other.

I’d love to say Breaking Danger was a good read, but I just can’t.  If you can overlook the many holes in the plot, and care more about Jon and Sophie regardless of the silliness, then it will be OK.  If you’re looking for a tight plot that includes a love story, look elsewhere.  Rice does not have the chops for Dystopian and leaving the ‘fate of the world’ in the hands of just 2 people, one untrained in combat, yeah, so not working for me.  My grade D+ to C- (2.5*) and if you MUST read this, buy the ebook at under $6.  Better still, borrow it for free from the library.

July 13, 2014

Beach Reads 3 – International Favorites Part 1

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

June 18, 2014

Beach Reads – Part 1

Filed under: Editorial,General — toursbooks @ 10:40 pm
Tags: , , , , ,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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.

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.

August 20, 2012

OMG – Summer is Almost Over

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

December 10, 2011

Happy Holidays and Short Reviews

Well, between work, reading, and football, life has been busy – yet somehow I seem to have little to show for it.  Except a pile of finished books.  Honestly, I am such a book hog.  It’s amazing how quickly time passes these days.  First days seem to fly by, then weeks, and before I know it, Christmas is almost here.  So dressed in my holiday best, here are some very short reviews on a few of the books I’ve plowed through.

  • Title:  The Ideal Man
  • Author:  Julie Garwood
  • Type:  Romantic Suspense
  • Genre:  Lightweight romance with some suspense and weird family
  • Sub-genre:  Brilliant woman doctor with stalker meets hunky FBI agent and chasing a killer arms dealer
  • My Grade: C- (2.8*)
  • Rating:  PG-13
  • Length and price:  Novel – about 90,000+ $7-17 (used to new)
  • Where Available:  Available at most bookstores, online, and used
  • FTC Disclosure: rec’d through an online book swap site

Julie Garwood made her writing bones with Regency romance novels with unusual, plucky heroines.  The settings have changed with the clothes and technology, but the plots remain the same.  Competent, intelligent woman meets big, protective man who wants to save her ….. and basically just wants her.  Light on plot, Garwood, as always, uses characters rather than research to drive her stories.  The results are pretty predictable, basically, you read one Garwood book, you’ve read them all. (more…)

August 24, 2011

Four Short Reviews: Paranormal and Paranormal Mystery

Well, when you get lots of heat and humidity – though nothing like they’ve had in the mid-west and south – it does encourage loafing around and reading.  I was the mood for mysteries and paranormals and we have some winners and losers and a couple of recommended reads.

  • Title:  Dead in the Family
  • Author:  Charlaine Harris
  • Type:  Paranormal/fantasy
  • Genre:  Sookie Stackhouse #10 – the never ending story
  • Sub-genre:  Fae, vamps, shifter and their coming out of the closet
  • My Grade:  C- (2.7*)
  • Rating:  PG-13
  • Length and price:  Novel – about 100,000+ $15-$17
  • Where Available:  Available at most bookstores
  • FTC Disclosure:  acquired through and online book swap site

OK, I haven’t read a Sookie Stackhouse book in years and now I remember why.  I just got sick of Sookie.   What is it with her and men – or perhaps males would be better?  It’s like she allows herself to be emotionally abused – not to mention physical abuse and misuse.  I know lots of folks follow this ft the ‘love story’ aspect of the novels, but jeeze, if this is ‘love’ with vampires, spare me.

The ‘two natured’, namely were, have come out to the public.  Werewolves, being the largest group, have taken the brunt of the backlash.  Vamps are already out, but the weres seem to worry folks more because they work and live like ordinary humans.  Sookie, a telepath with some fae blood, is not quite unique, but she talents are very rare.  The plot, such as it is, revolves around Sookie and her efforts to to keep her romance with Eric going under difficult circumstances.  Mostly, he’s off the radar for one reason or another for much of the book.  First because of concerns about the new leader for Louisiana, Victor, who is looking for reasons to force Eric out, and second because Eric’s maker, an ancient Roman called Appius, shows up and demands his assistance with his ‘young’ vampire, the last living Romanov.

A ‘child’ of a vampire must do its makers bidding and Eric is drawn from Sookie into trying to control the vicious Alexander Romanov, so looks frail and childlike, but is actually an insane killer.  Sookie is also involved with the Long Tooth Pack of werewolves and the fact that Sam, the owner of the bar where she works and a long time friend, has come out as one of the ‘two natured’.  Despite his family’s long time history and his own military service, he gets a lot of backlash.

The ending is bloody and inevitable, but the plot is weak and lightweight.  The real question is ………….. Is Dead in the Family worth the $15-18 hardcover price or the $9.50 to $11 trade paperback price?  Nope.  Obviously, if you are a dedicated fan, you’ll disagree, but this is a family drama that has run its course and is, thankfully coming to an end soon.  Get it from the library or buy a cheap used used copy.  Nothing original here.

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