Tour’s Books Blog

February 14, 2017

I’m BACK!

Yes, you have all been awaiting my return.  Or maybe not.  But I’m back!  And we the good, the bad, and OMG what the hell were they thinking?

I’m happy to report I can now see again – with both eyes.  Yes, it’s true.  You CANNOT see through cataracts.  I must admit to a certain feeling of persecution as my very blue-eyed dad never wore sunglasses and died at 85 cataract free.  My OLDER brother has hazel green eyes and also never wore sunglasses – and he’s CATARACT FREE!  Both spent/spend a LOT of time outdoors.  I have worn sunglasses – expensive polarized glasses – for decades and I’m the one with cataracts.  Gene pool lotto sucks.

Still, thanks to modern surgery, getting cataracts removed is stupidly expensive, but easy.  It’s the inability to see, and double vision, before, the two different focal points between, and the waiting on the healing to get results and news reading glasses, which I still need.  Then I have to get my driving confidence back.  It’s so nice that street signs are no longer blurry even wearing my distance glasses.  The downside, I might have the beginning of age-related macular degeneration, so add one more vitamin to the mix.  If you’re over 60, it’s actually a good idea.  PreserVision AREDS2 by Bausch & Lomb are recommended and I got mine on Amazon.

Between surgeries (2 weeks apart) I really couldn’t read much and frankly reading before had become a challenge.  But I’ve been playing catchup and plowing through print and ebooks.  So hoping you all had excellent holidays and are ready to check out what new – or at least new to me – in books!

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Big type, easy reading, mindless, predictable plot, short book.  Perfect for getting back in the game with my brain still in neutral.  Turbo Twenty-Three was better than her last book – which I remain convinced was written by someone else.  That’s it, that all the good to mention.

Evanovich is stretching her reader’s credulity more and more with each book as they get more and more like an I Love Lucy episode – but less funny.  Let’s face it, it’s tough to be Lucy and Ethyl packing chocolates, but she gives it a shot in an ice cream factory.  Sorry, that’s just visual comedy she can’t quite pull off.  Vaguely amusing is about it.

The plot is just painfully obvious, the trip to Disney was pointless except to give Ranger and Steph a reason to climb into bed.  And Ranger was insulted in the last book and this one she insults Morelli.

The eternally young Steph Plum has grown old, tired, and retreads dialogue and plots till you’re just so damn glad you got it through a book swap site and didn’t pay a dime is it a relief.  Frankly, a dime is about the fair price.

Turbo Twenty-Three gets a D+ to C- (2.5*) for a waste of perfectly good paper.  If it takes more than 3 hours to read, try staying awake more.  I know it’s kind of a snoozefest, but it’s fairly painless and you won’t be wincing at the continuity errors like those in her last book.  Highly missable and get it from your library.  Buying this is a waste of money.

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The new young adult Steampunk series by Shanna Swendson is a new genre for the humorous fantasy romance author.  Rebel Mechanics is the series and the book title is All is Fair in Love and Revolution.  Verity Newton is the ‘daughter’ of a Yale University professor who knows she’s not his own.  She is very well educated at 17 and gets a second class ticket to New York City to find a job as a governess.  In this world, England has kept hold of the colonies and conveniences are supplied by their ruling class, magisters, magic users who are titled and act pretty must like all aristocracy.  After being turned down for every job she interviewed for, she finds she must go into the heart of the magister area.  Much to her surprise, she is offered the job, complete with room and board.  Her charges youngish uncle bears a striking resemblance to the gang that held up her train and stole the crown’s money.

These improbable coincidences plague the book’s setup, including the way she meets the Mechanics. The plot is largely simplistic, Mechanics vs. Magisters, as the audience is young adult, and the prose matches that.  The pacing plods along at times and seems to race to cover her bald spots.  Verity is no fool and figures out both sides of the game but is now caught in the web while being governess to the grandchildren of the Duke who rules the city.  Set in 1888, it combines some historic elements with her Steampunk NYC, but at limes seems lacking the verve that make the best book have a sense of life.  I was always outside the story, never really engaged.

All is Fair in Love and Revolution gets high marks on Amazon, where I bought it for under $7 (but buy the ebook or borrow from the library -this is not a keeper).  Despite that, the best I can do is C- (2.8*)  It’s short and fairly fast read for an adult and not a struggle for kids 11 and up.  Not as well imagined as some of the recent Dystopian books and certainly no Harry Potter.  An uninspired read.

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Poison is the New Black is the most recent entry in the entertaining humorous mystery series Eat, Prey, Die by Chelsea Field.  In this, Izzy and her neighbor, overactive senior Etta, get involved in proving the innocence of Mr Black, the legbreaker who threatened Izzy in book one about paying off her ex-husband’s debt to some mob loan shark.  Turns out, Mr Black is just a family man trying to make a living after losing his job, house, and life savings caring for a sick wife and exceeding bright daughter.  Etta, convinced Izzy is a ‘honey trap’ for some secret government agency – not a Shade, a paid food taster highly trained to detect poisons, is convinced they can prove the cops are wrong.

She also has the assignment from hell, being a Shade masquerading as a PA to one of the obnoxious ‘Housewives of Beverly Hills’ type who is competing with other backstabbing females for a position in the annual nude calendar.  Apparently, poisoning the competition is a well-established tradition, all the while maintaining that brittle civility that masks bone-deep loathing among the rich and useless.  Another Shade – one that hates Izzy, is also on the job for another club member.  She makes Izzy’s life miserable.

Worse, her honey, the taciturn Connor, has become even more remote and she about ready to throw in the towel on him – except she needs access to his security company to help Etta and Mr Black.

Altogether a fun, fast-moving story that includes the Christmas short Taste of Christmas.  The author balances the 3 plots lines rather well, with a few bobbles here and there, but mostly dead on.  A good entry if a solid and entertaining series, one I recommend to anyone who enjoys a light, humorous mystery with well-done characters.

Poison is the New Black gets a B- (3.8*) and is recommended to fans of the Miss Fortune series, Whiskey Bayou series, and the Davis Way series.  I purchased the ebook online.

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We go back to Reacher’s past in the Military for this installment in the series, which was an improvement over the usual trope he’s kind of exhausted.  Night School is set in 1996 and takes place mostly in Europe.  It opens with Reacher finding himself sent to ‘school’ with just 3 other men, each coming off an equally highly successful case, one from the FBI and from the CIA.  Someone is trying to sell something for $100 million dollars – who, where, and what are the questions.  Lee brings back Sgt Neagley, who has made several appearances in the Reacher books past and present.

Each man in the class is briefed by members of the National Security Council.  This premise is off to a weak start and frankly, the plot is lame in many ways.  A high-level Iranian asset is at risk and these guys putter around Hamburg, but Reacher becomes convinced a murder in Hamburg is tied to the deal and does his usual off-grid independent routine with Neagley’s help.

The story complex, yet oddly flat and lifeless.  The bad guy – yes military – is no genius yet seems to defeat all the systems.  Even he is two-dimensional.  Yes, there are the usual fight scenes, yes, Reacher gets laid – and not by Neagley.  Yes, the day is saved.  And the whole thing was lackluster with occasional reminders of how good Child can be when he really tries.

Night School gets C- (2.8*) from me.  It good enough for a plane read or an evening’s diversion so long as you don’t ask for too much.  For fans only and borrow it from your library.  My copy of Night School came through the PBS book swap site and will go back out the same way.

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One Fell Sweep is once again one of the most original books I read in months.  Ilona Andrews’  Innkeeper series, of which this is book 3, just gets better and better.  I count it one of my top 5 series.  Unlike some, there is no over-arcing plot that must be advanced.  Each book is a complete story, the characters and secondary plot lines might move on a bit, that’s about it.

Ilona Andrews (a husband and wife team) started this series online on the author website.  A practice they continue.  But the final published book gets rewritten and polished and occasionally changed a bit.  You want to know how much I liked it? I bought the ebook AND the print book.

Dina DeMille’s Inn has been quiet since the ‘peace’ conference she hosted, but the sense of someone brushing her boundary wakes her and she goes to her balcony to find Sean, an alpha strain werewolf and neighbor/sort of boyfriend, is out and about.  He feels uneasy.  And they both soon know why.  A boost bike screams down her road, turns and comes back.  She hits it with EMP that kills the bike.  She and Sean just manage to hide the bike and it’s alien rider before her neighbor gets there.  Her anger at the disturbance is real, but when they get inside and she starts on the Ku rider, it’s lost when he gives her a necklace and a note with coordinates – to a hellhole in the Holy Anocracy – Kahari.  There’s nothing she can do but call Lord Arland Krahr, Marshall of House Krahr for help.  And she gets it – and him and his ship to take them to ‘the anus of the universe’ to get her sister Maude and niece Helen.

As usual, the rescue is the beginning and Arland is taken with Maud and decides to stay at the inn for a much needed ‘retreat’.

The story that unfolds is rich, complex and has multiple plot lines involving a race near the brink of extinction, the Hiru, seeking her help and in return offering her the chance to ask the Archivarius one question about her parents – who disappeared along with their Inn.  But they bring with them another race that declared a holy war on them for no know reason generations ago.  It’s the Hiru’s last chance at survival and the Draziri’s chance at reaching paradise.  Between them stands Dina, her Inn, Sean, Maud and daughter Helen, Arland, the ever-cunning Caldenia, Orro the drama king chef, and Wing the small Ku on a hero’s quest.

With a great story, humor, grief, fighting, adventure, and a touch of romance, this quirky group is as real as any characters you’ll meet.  One Fell Sweep earns an A (4.8*) rating and the whole series is highly recommended to lovers of original, well-plotted and written urban fantasy.

October 26, 2015

Frustration and Satisfaction: A Mixed Month of News and Books

You know, sometimes all you want is a good book, one that can hold your interest with characters you like and find interesting, good writing, well-paced plotting, and maybe some fun along the way.  Then life comes along and gives you lemons and you realize that had enough lemons to make you forever hate what used to be a favorite flavor.  Yeah, it’s been like that.  It’s “Does the author really think readers are THAT STUPID?”  Or, “OMG, not another witless heroine who has more perils than Pauline!”  In the midst of the sea of mediocrity, suddenly, something good.  Well, by comparison to the banal that has afflicted you.

You start counting down to when the next BIG release is due, the one you’ve been waiting for for over a year ……. and then you get an email from Amazon’s Customer Service:

AGAIN!  IT’S DELAYED AGAIN!

Hello,

We’re writing about the order you placed on XXXXXXXXX. Unfortunately, the release date for the item(s) listed below has changed, and we need to provide you with a new delivery estimate based on the new release date:

O’Malley, Daniel “Stiletto: A Novel”
Estimated arrival date: June 14, 2016  (For those keeping track, that about 18 months overdue.)

Then, after screaming yourself hoarse, you get ANOTHER DAMN EMAIL!

Hello,

We’re writing about the order you placed on XXXXXXXX. Unfortunately, the release date for the item(s) listed below has changed, and we need to provide you with a new delivery estimate based on the new release date:

Jones, Darynda “The Dirt on Ninth Grave (Charley Davidson Series)
Estimated arrival date: January 12, 2016

Then it got EVEN BETTER!

Thank you for shopping at Booksamillion.com, xxxxx! We have an update for you on your order #xxxxxxxx.

Qty Item # Description
1 9780451474834 Killer Takeout
Status: Advanced Order Item – product will ship when released.
1 9780451477767 Between a Book and a Hard Place
Status: Advanced Order Item – product will ship when released.
1 9781250077370 Rocked by Love
Status: Advanced Order Item – product will ship when released.
1 9780425282014 Take the Monkey and Run
Status: Advanced Order Item – product will ship when released.
1 9780425258941 Vanilla Beaned
Status: Advanced Order Item – product will ship when released.
1 9780451473448 Moss Hysteria
Status: Advanced Order Item – product will ship when released.

SO I go to Amazon and check the titles and get my original order and …….. EVERY SINGLE BOOK WILL BE AT LEAST 3-6 months LATE.

But wait, we’re not done!

Thank you for shopping at Booksamillion.com, xxxxxxxx! We have an update for you on your order #xxxxxxx.

Qty Item # Description
1 9780756408275 Legacy of the Demon
Status: This item is no longer available and has been cancelled

And this book shows still available with the SAME ISBN on Amazon, so I have NO idea WTF is going on!

OK, at this point, publishers are getting their very own voodoo dolls and I’m buying bigger pins.  Seriously, how many books does this make that have been delayed for MORE THAN A YEAR?  Suzanne Johnson stated she’d finished the next book in the Sentinels of New Orleans series before Pirate’s Alley was published and it had been with her publisher for SIX MONTHS and she’d had no feedback.   Come on people.  Surely publishers can get their butts in gear and writer’s need to stop doing so damn many conventions and do what made them famous – WRITE.  Yes, I understand there is a need to promote yourself and your books, but Kalayna Price laid off her Alex Craft/Grave Witch books for so long, WHO CARES ANYMORE?  It’s been YEARS since the last one because she was too caught up in the whole fan-con thing and lost herself – not to mention her fans and the whole damn plot.

So yeah, I’m getting really frustrated.  I know that authors have family and health issues, life happens and writing takes a backseat, but come on people.  Three sentences on your blog should be within reasonable limits.  Instead, MONTHS pass and blogs do not get updated.  Not even a FU!  To this day, I have no idea what happened to Madelyn Alt.  Her publisher, agent, and family never said a word.  She just stopped putting out books.

Many authors go public with their issues.  Vince Flynn did when he diagnosed with metastatic prostate cancer.  His death was not a shock though it was sad that a man so young and apparently healthy could die so suddenly.  Others just leave everyone wondering.  Vince Flynn was famous enough that his death and the decision to have Kyle Mills carry on the series (good choice, by the way), was public info.  Other authors, like Rob Thurman, got covered by her fans when she was seriously injured in a car accident.  Scott Lynch has health issues that impact his ability to write his Gentleman Bastards series (I waited 3 years for The Republic of Thieves).  I get that.  I understand, but this chronic delay thing is getting old.  So old, I lose interest in authors.

So, those lovely emails from Amazon, while not their fault, did nothing to improve my mood.  I’m glad they keep customers informed.  Books-A-Million is VERY lax about that – as is very obvious in the emails.  Amazon would have provided the new publication dates, not left me hanging.  I’d rather know, even if it makes me unhappy, than be left to wonder what the hell is going on.

But my LEAST favorite thing ……….. publisher’s changing the ISBN of a book that results in an order cancelation and THAT in turn results in me PAYING MORE FOR A BOOK – not because the book author, publisher or title changed, but because the damn ISBN changed.  Yes, that’s happened several times too.  And it drives me crazy.

So let’s just say Hatchette and a few other publishers and several authors have zoomed right to the top of my sh!tlist.

On the upside, most of the books reviewed below I read BEFORE all that good news about publication delays.  A few were actually good reads.  Most were unspectacular and one was very disappointing.  Anyway, here we go.

This latest installment of the Miss Fortune series set in Sinful, Lousiana was not the usual laugh riot that the series is known for, but it is the inevitable plot point that had to happen to move the story forward.  It all starts with Celia Arceneaux’s husband Max suddenly returning to Sinful and having a very public confrontation with Celia in the cafe where he makes it clear that Pansy was ‘no kin’ of his.  While Celia is heartily disliked and has been an ongoing disaster as the mayor, Max’s made no friends with his attitude and airing of very private dirty secrets.

But the morning has another surprise in the form of a tropical storm turned hurricane that’s changed direction and Sinful, while not in the direct path, has to prepare.  The storm blows in more than rain and wind, it blows in $100 bills.  Bills that Fortune believes are counterfeit.  Walter, Carter, and Fortune secure the church door and hide the bills so the folks in the church don’t stampede outside into the storm to get rich quick.  Then a phone call from Harrison changes everything.

With that bill, and the news that Ahmad’s men – and probably Ahmad – are in New Orleans because someone tried to pay for guns with counterfeit money, Fortune is al high risk of exposure.  Only there was no way for her to get out thanks to the storm.  In the end, it’s Harrison who comes to her and she, Gertie, and Ida Belle end up under FBI protection in New Orleans (and getting there is one of the funniest parts of the book).  Fortune goes with Harrison to the big takedown.

The end leaves Fortune still in hiding in Sinful, but with repercussions.  Now many readers were unhappy with how it ended, but it was really the only way the author COULD end the book and still keep the series going.  So be warned, it’s not what you might expect, but trust Jana DeLeon to tie it up in subsequent books.

Hurricane Force gets a B- (3.8*) from me a recommended read for those who like the series.  It advances the overall story arc more than previous books so it’s pivotal to the plot while also telling a story about a Sinful murder.  Had the murder been handled differently, I would have given it a higher score, but it got back burnered for the Ahmad plot line and had a kind of deus ex machina wrap-up.  I bought the ebooks and a print copy to share with my SIL.  The next book is due out in 2016.

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It’s been 2 years since Vince Flynn died and for awhile I thought Brian Haig would be the author to carry on the series, but it was Kyle Mills who picked up the task and he did a damn fine job of it.

The Survivor carries forward the story started in Flynn’s last book, The Last Man (2012), where Rapp is the only one who believes that Joe Rickman’s supposed death at the hands of terrorists never happened.  But Rapp changes that at the end.  In The Survivor, Rickman reaches out from the grave to start leaking CIA information about its most valued assets, even those Rickman had no business knowing about.  So Mitch goes hunting for the person who got the encrypted files with the ‘time bombs’ embedded to stop the slow and painful death of the CIA by endless leaks.

The story takes Rapp back to Pakistan where he unravels the intricate web of internal deceit and coup plans.  The pace and action are spot on and Mills brings all the characters to life without missing a beat.  If you’ve read Kyle Mills’ Mark Beamon books, you’ll see some of the same sly humor crop up in The Survivor, and I realized that his writing style and Vince Flynn’s were enough alike that story seemed to flow seamlessly between the two.

I’m not over-fond of having different authors carry a character forward.  Most must give way to very different styles and perspectives.  Anyone who read The Dragonlance Chronicles knows exactly what I mean.  Different authors see the same character from different perspectives, sometimes so much so, it hardly seems the same character at all.  Mills captured Rapp and the other key characters perfectly, so aside from Mills’ wit making the occasional appearance, Rapp fans should be very pleased with choice of author.  I know I was and I felt the price of the hardcover I purchased from an online bookseller was well worth it.

The Survivor gets a B+ (4.2*) from me a highly recommended read to fans of spy/espionage thrillers.

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A Red Rose Chain is the ninth entry in the intricate and well drawn October Daye series by Seanan McGuire.  Possibly one of the most consistently well-done series currently in progress.  Toby has to venture into a risky area for the new queen with Tybalt, the King of Cats, her squire Quentin and her fetch, May, go to The Silences to try and stop a war.

McGuire is a master of the intricate plot in a kaleidoscope alternate realm of the Fae.  Here, she enters The Silences, another part of the realms, to convince the king not to go to war with The Mists.  But nothing is as it seems.  It rarely is in the Toby Daye books.  The King of The Silences is not who everyone expects, there are wheels within wheels and Toby is supposed to be the diplomat that negotiates some kind of peace.  Not really her forte.  Toby is many things, but not diplomat material.  Probably just as well she is good at digging into anomalies and uncovering plots against her Queen.  She’s even better at risking her hide to make things right and save those she loves.

But will this sacrifice be her last – for 100 years?  The story is too complex to discuss here without too many spoilers, so just trust me on this – A Red Rose Chain is a worthy entry in one of the best UF/fantasy series currently in progress.  Highly recommended.  The book gets a B+ to A- (4.5*) from me and the whole series is strongly recommended for fantasy and UF fans.  For some reason, Amazon heavily discounted this book, so it should be readily available in used bookstores.  I got it from Amazon for under $5 + tax new.

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Perhaps my expectations were too high after the benchmark set last year by Mary Miley (The Impersonator, Silent Witness) in her Roaring Twenties books, or maybe Come Hell or Highball was just as blah as it seemed, but once you get past the clever title and intriguing combination of characters, the whole thing became a yawn.

Come Hell or Highball tells the story of a midwest girl, Lola, daughter of a family with pretensions, who marries well, but unhappily, and is busy burying her late and unlamented husband.  Once back at the mansion, even the house nameplate has changed and she learns fast that her late husband was not really rich, died in debt, and his snobby, patronizing brother inherited everything.  Unwilling to stay another minute, she grabs some clothes, her dog Cecile, and bails in an old Model T with the cook/housekeeper Berta, who also loathes the brother.  They end up in a tiny apartment that used to be her husband Alfie’s love nest and find themselves without funds and need to earn a living.

So, rather unwillingly, Lola takes up the offer from her late husband’s mistress to retrieve an incriminating reel of film and to do that, she must accept an invitation to a house party where everyone will know the truth about her circumstances.

The plot is almost too trite for words, has more holes than a colander, the writing average, and the characters are two-dimensional.  While Lola shows some grit and Berta has a sharp eye for truth, neither character is strong enough to hold this bit of fluff together.  The chemistry does not quite gel and the whole thing gets boring and redundant after 5 chapters.

Come Hell or Highball does make the cut for a 20’s period mystery with a C- to C (2.8*) rating.  Mary Miley’s books are light years better and the Phryne Fisher series far better done.  Plus Rhys Bowen could write rings around Maia Chance in her sleep, so her three period mystery series are ALL far better reading.  Skip this one.  I wish I had saved my money, even though I got it heavily discounted at under $13 from Amazon.  Even used, it will now cost more, so save your money and get it free from the library.

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Book 5 of Lynn Cahoon’s Tourist Trap mysteries was an almost decent read for an average cozy.  Killer Run continues the saga of former lawyer turned bookshop owner, Jill Gardner, her aunt Jackie, and the husband/wife team that act as event planners for the California Mission Society.  Needless to say, the obnoxious wife is found dead at the race (color me NOT SHOCKED) and Jill, as usual, pokes her nose in the investigation.  How she finds time to do that while apparently devouring a diet of junk food (you get all the details – it gets old) and working on restoring her house.

Once again, for a former lawyer, Jill shows a remarkable lack of astuteness about some very basic things.  OK, it’s a cozy, not a serious mystery, but still, some level of believability in a character is required.  More to the point, the author needs to do a better job of plotting.  The only thing missing is a flashing neon sign pointing to the obvious killer.  And for a woman in her 30’s, she often shows a level of immaturity that’s astonishing.  Throwing in extraneous events that do nothing but try and distract from the weak main plot, like blackmail and vandalism, just compounds the basic plotting mistakes.

The victim is so unpleasant you feel no sympathy.  The killer is so obvious, you wonder why you bothered.  In between are distractions that prove pointless and way too many scenes that should have been cut in favor of better character development and plot construction.

Killer Run gets a C- (2.7*) and at $4.61 for the ebook when I bought it for Kindle, over priced.   I suggest giving this one a pass or getting it from the library free.  Like too many writers, Ms Cahoon seems to go for quantity over quality.  This is not a series that’s improving over time.

July 14, 2015

Book Reviews – Various Genres in eBook and Print

Now first a word from Book Addicts Anonymous, or BAA – yes it does sound like sheep.  So, all you book addicts out there who are blaming me for enabling your addiction need sit back and take personal responsibility for your lack of control.  The fact that I’m a Book Addict does not mean you must be as well.  (If you think this sounds like your mother saying, “Don’t do as I do, DO AS I SAY!”, you’re right, it’s exactly like that.)  Just because I set a bad example is no reason to fault me for your personal addiction.  That’s YOUR problem.  I have my own.  Like an American Express card with way too many Amazon charges and towering piles of books to be read.  So deal with it ………… and pass the Cheetos.

Now, it’s been a busy month on the book front.  Let’s get started with some reviews.  And quit hogging the chocolate!

David Housewright is a very reliable and often inspired writer with his McKenzie books.  Here he does very good job with a rather predictable story arc about an ‘amnesiac’ young woman known only as Unidentified Woman #15.  He was there when two people threw her from a pickup and started a chain reaction accident on a snowy road when he stopped to keep from hitting her.  His old cop buddy, Bobby Dunston, asks him and his steady girlfriend, Nina, temporarily take her in when the hospital releases her.  Neither man quite believes her story.  When she disappears with some of his ready cash and 2 handguns from his collection, he and Nina both want know what’s going on.  She let one clue slip, Deer River.  And what might be a nickname, L, or Elle, or El.

Housewright creates a series of characters with a sure hand and begins spinning the tale of a supposedly nameless young woman who might be from Deer River.  As he begins unraveling the mystery that links garage sales to a series of thefts, to Big, the nameless power that has everyone scared, he slowly connects the dots.  He also becomes sure the one thing El isn’t is innocent or an amnesiac.

A highly readable combination of wry humor, action, and a mounting number of dead bodies that spin the mystery out.  For fans of classic PI style mysteries in the vein of Robert B. Parker and John D. McDonald, you can’t beat Housewright.

While not equal to his book, The Jade Lily, Unidentified Woman #15 is still a recommended read.  I give it a solid B (4*) rating and suggested read.  Housewright rarely comes out in mmpb, and the HC, which I bought from Amazon, rarely gets cheap, so if you’re looking for a price break, it will take awhile.  Book Closeouts does offer his titles at excellent remainder prices.  Used book prices tend to stay high as they are not that many available, but do look.  His books are worth the effort for fans of the genre.

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Amazon had a pre-publication price that was hard to refuse, so I bought this one.  I usually wait to get mine through PBS, but with their change to paid membership for full benefits, not easy to do for this author.

Gabriel Allon is about to become a father and head of The Office, what we would call Mossad.  An accomplished assassin and famed art restorer, he is not anxious to go back in the field, but he gets dragged in by a past debt to MI-5 and the young woman he rescued from Russia (The English Girl).  But what really pulls Gabriel back into the field is the chance to catch the man responsible for the bomb that killed his son and sent his ex-wife into life in an institution.

Eamon Quinn, the IRA bomber just blew up the yacht a British princess was on (a Diana clone moved to the current date), he was also the man who got away when a certain SAS operative was sold out as a Britsh spy in the Real IRA, the most violent offshoot of the IRA .  To destroy the peace process, Quinn planted a car bomb in Belfast that killed dozens and injured more after calling in a bomb threat that deliberately had police driving crowds TO the bomb.  Hunted by the IRA and the Britsh, Quinn becomes the bomb teach to terrorists from all over the world, especially the Mid-East.  Quinn’s current employer is a head of state furious at be denied the oil and gas leases in the North Sea he’d gotten the British PM to agree to under duress – the Russian Prime Minister.  Now he wants Britain and Allon to pay for thwarting him.

Allon is wise enough to know he’ll need help, that person is the British hitman who works for a Corsican Don, Christopher Keller.  Keller knows Quinn and has good reason to hate him.  More importantly he knows all the players in Northern Ireland where peace is a very uneasy condition with hate still running deep.  Quinn has worked with Gabriel a number of times, and he finds himself restless enough to agree and go back to his roots, roots he’d left behind in the Mid-East when he was a sole survivor.

The hunt is on and a thin trail of clues is all they have.  Too late they realize that trail was left by Quinn who is leading them into a trap.

A really well-done novel of international spies, intrigue, double-dealing, and three shrewd men playing a chess match with lives at stake.  The English Spy seems to continue the slow transition from Gabriel in the field to Christopher Keller taking the lead.  The one shortcoming is that lack of growth in Keller’s character.  While we get more background on him, he’s still lacking that third dimension that always made Allon an appealing protagonist.  Sill, Silva has done a marvelous and detailed job with the story on many other levels.

The English Spy gets a solid B (4*) from me and a suggested for lovers of spy, assassin, and intrigue novels.  I paid under $15 on an Amazon pre-order and it is current just over that mark, so remains a decent buy.    This author’s book do go mmpb and are usually available in your local library.  At just under 500 pages in HC, the mmpb will probably be around $10 and in small typeface, so take that into consideration.  You will be able to find good used copies before the mmpb is released.

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The first two books in A Lion’s Pride series by paranormal romance author Eve Langlais are both short, easy reads.  The plots are kind of thin and both sets of lead characters lack depth, but that’s not really her forte.   The bright breezy dialog in When an Alpha Purrs is classic Langlais.  Both books have a ‘woman in jeopardy’ element for the heroines, but otherwise they are different.  The heroines are very different people, but the pride males have a lot of common traits.

Arik Castiglione is not only a billion and alpha of his pack, he’s also something of a fashion plate and deeply attached to his perfectly styled mane, which is in dire need of a trim.  Too bad his long-time barber is off on a well earned visit with family and his mouthy niece is his substitute.  Kira is fresh off having her beauty salon burned down by her stalker ex-boyfriend who has gone off the deep end.  So she came half way across the country to her uncle’s NYC barbershop to find a new job and new life.  Instead, she found another controlling male who wanted to boss her around because he didn’t trust he ability.  HER!!!!!!  She was an excellent stylist and he was still wearing his hair like some rebellious teen!  His superior attitude finally drives her to do something drastic – and she expresses her intense displeasure by lopping off a huge hunk of his precious hair and raining down the now unattached hair in front of his face.

Arik, stunned by the temerity of the mouthy hairdresser, waits just a little too long to give chase and loses her on the streets near a fish market.  He vows to get even, especially after his beta teases him unmercifully about his pride and joy hair.  But Arik is surprised to find his planned revenge derailed by his attraction to the impossible woman.  Worse, when he delivers her home to her small apartment there’s a crude threat painted on her door.  Kira plays it off despite being obviously scared, but Arik smells wolf and calls in help from the local wolf pack.  From here on out, the story gets very formula and its brief length keeps and character  and plot depth shallow.

In When a Beta Roars, Arik’s beta, Hayder, is sulking as only a male lion can when he gets asked to babysit a wolf shifter that Arik granted protection in the well-guarded condo complex where the pride lives.  Arabella is the city wolf alpha’s sister, but Arik is the city Alpha of all shifter so even Jerrod answers to him.  Arabella had a miserable mating to a much older alpha wolf of a large clan.  His best feature is he’s now dead.  The worst is all the other males want to fight to make her their mate – with every intention of killing her for the inheritance.  It wasn’t any brilliant deduction, they flat out told her.  Jerrod’s pack is no match for her old one and she knows they’re hunting her, so the safest place to keep her is with a lion pride.

Then Hayder walks in like he owns the place.  Arabella has spent years with her head down and eyes averted to keep the abuse to a minimum.  It was so bad, her wolf left her and she hasn’t shifted in years.  Hayder is having none of that and his when she finally snaps at his bold and arrogant assumptions, he laughs and encourages her.  He seems to enjoy her feisty side.

Hayder is determined and patient.  Arabella is slow to emerge from her shell, but like a turtle, her fiery spirit peeks out more and more as she slowly grows more assured.

Despite the more serious theme, Langlais still manages a light and humorous edge to the romance of an abused woman.  This story had more substance than the slight and airy Alpha book, but remains a short, rather shallow novel, though a better one overall.

When an Alpha Purrs gets a C  (3*) and When a Beta Roars gets a C+ (3.5*) though both get much higher ratings on Amazon.  I bought the Alpha book in print and the Beta book in ebook.  Both are much too short for the price.  The book-length is under 200 pages for each title.  Frankly, at $3.99 the ebooks are overpriced for the length and the $8.99 for print is simply outrageous.  Both are modestly amusing and can be read in a fairly short single sitting.  She’s done better books.

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Kristen Painter is well known for her paranormal vampire series, the House of Comarré, a rather dark and complex series.  Here she takes a very different tone with an upbeat romance about a waitress who accidentally witnesses a murder which she records on her iPhone and finds herself on the run from mob killers.  Evading the people chasing her, Delaney James finds the file of a woman heading to a place called Nocturn Falls, Georgia to marry a man she’s never met or seen.  Well, the man has never seen her either, so it works out all around after she calls the woman from the road to say the arrangement has fallen through.

Hugh Ellingham cannot believe his grandmother arranged for a mail order bride for him through some ‘discrete match-making service’ because SHE wants great-grandbabies.  When he refuses, she threatens to take back the magic talisman that her 300-year-old witch created for each member of her remaining family.  A Duchess in England, she still rules her grandchildren with an iron hand and the threat to remove their ability to walk in the daylight.

Delaney has no intention of hanging around Nocturn Falls forever, even if it is Halloween every day.  It’s kitschy, over the top, and like candy irresistible.  And lordy, Hugh Ellingham’s place is an estate with a mansion!  Talk about out her element!  Yikes!  But her life is depending on laying low and making sure no one followed her from New York.  That means playing the game for at least week.  She just hoped she’d last that long.

Hugh is very drawn to Delaney, she’s sharp, witty, perceptive, and she’s pretty easy to look at, but Hugh had a terrible experience with his wife dying and hundreds of years later, so he’s still resistant to remarrying.  He quickly discovers she’s lying about her identity, thanks to the town’s werewolf sheriff, but the two make a deal – she’ll stay and they can tell his grandmother they are unsuited.  But plans sometimes don’t work out quite as expected.

At 370 pages in print, this lively paranormal romance was entertaining, had sharp dialog, well-drawn characters, and well done, if unoriginal cast.  Like all romances, there are improbable serendipitous events used to progress the plot that are contrived and the characters rather stock, especially the over-bearing grandmother and bitter ex-girlfriend, but nonetheless it succeeded in entertaining and keeping the reader’s interest.

The Vampire’s Mail Order Bride gets a C+ to B- (3.6*) from me.  Buy the ebook for a better deal, but the print book is not over priced.  Nothing like her better known series.

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The Magical Bakery series by Bailey Cates set in Savannah is one of the better cozy series out there – which is kind of damning with faint praise given the level of competition.  Like all cozies, it’s an easy read, but the writing quality, plot, and lively characters are a cut above.  This is the 5th book in the series and the author has kept it interesting so far.

Katie Lightfoot returned to Savannah to live and help her Aunt Lucy and newly retired fireman, Uncle Ben, open and run a bakery.  She a very good pastry chef and learning her craft as a hedgewitch, sometimes called ‘kitchen witches’ because they work with plants and nature to bring healing to the body and soul, is a big part of her life now.  The also believe in the threefold rule, whatever intent you send out into the universe will return to you threefold, so doing evil is highly self-destructive.  She and her Aunt Lucy, another hedgewitch, meet with the coven for their ‘Spell Book Club’.  This month Katie chose the book and it was written by a very young woman who obviously is under the thrall of a much older male poser.

As the conversation turns to other things there comes a pounding on the bakery door and woman calls for help.  She collapses and just manages to tell Katie she’s Franklin Tate’s niece and someone stole his gris gris before her heart stops..  Doctor’s are baffled as they can find no cause for her condition, but Cookie knows something, something from her past in Hati.  But there’s another surprise, Katie thought Franklin Tate dead for 3 months, he’d sent a message to her through a medium  Turns out that Detective Quinn, was once partnered with Tate, someone they once thought was a witch hunter, actually died right here in Savannah in the last couple of days.  What the hell is going on?

Cates weaves a tale centered on voodoo and it’s many flavors as practiced by its different branches.    As Katie dips her toes into voodoo with the reluctant help of Cookie, a Haitian immigrant, they find kind of a mixed bag of skills and willingness to help.  Former boyfriend Steven Dawes comes back for her to meet his new girlfriend, whom Katie thinks is a very manipulative young woman after his money.  She has no idea how right she is, or how deeply everything is tied together.

The plot moves quickly and, like all her books, comes back to the core beliefs of those who practice the craft.  Some very interesting characters in this one that I hope to see again.  Magic and Macaroons get a B- (3.7*) from me and a suggested read.  It’s one of the best paranormal mystery series out there.  I got a deeply discounted pre-release price on Amazon, but the book is now back at $7.99.  Try for Walmart or other discount stores if you want to buy it as Cates is a popular and widely carried author.

September 29, 2012

Man Plans, the Gods Laugh – and why I have so few reviews this week

Life rarely goes as planned.  It also reminds us that regardless of our problems, others have it far worse.  A friend in the book swaps took a fall and broke her back.  Her vertebra was glued together again using the surgical equivalent of Super Glue and she’s now in a rehab center in California.  Bored and in pain, she asked me to write a story for her using my groundhog character that exists on the swap forums of PBS (Paperback Swap).    It was supposed to be a simple two maybe 3 part story.  I’m on part 8 and I have one more to go to get the loose ends tied up.

Stories have a life of their own and often surprise even me.  I read that authors say their characters just won’t allow them to do certain things.  Well, over the years, this groundhog I created has developed some very definite ideas about what she will and will NOT do.  Over time, she didn’t exactly evolve the way I was expecting, and a large part of that was due to a group writing effort in a swap where each player contributed a character and story element to the game.    Unlike a Murder Mystery Weekend, it was not a play where the victims and perpetrators were determined in advance.  It was more like trying to knit together stories of Thieves World, where writers saw the same character from different perspectives and created characters for themselves.  In the swap, called Murder They Wrote, I laid the basic framework of the story and worked each contribution and character created into the plot as best I could.  I had to get pretty creative at times!  The whole thing came out surprisingly good.  Our patient and long suffering hostess, who played the part of the owner of The Myrtles Plantation in Louisiana, put the final version together as book, I did some last minutes edits and an epilogue, and she emailed it to all the players.  It was a perfect setting.  One player decided she was a ghost.  Another a voodoo priestess.  There were ‘extras’ that fleshed out the story.  But we had a great and creative group.

As a result of that swap, I created a character as a partner for my groundhog in an art theft recovery company.  He became a recurring player and I started doing multi-part stories in the swaps.  Each time my books were stolen, I’d tell another part of the story.  It takes time and often bits were in different swaps.  So another player began collecting my posts in a dedicated thread.  This lead to my friends’ request to do a story just for her.  But putting stories together takes time.  More time than I realized when I started writing the one for my friend.  Each day I’d do 4-7 pages, let it sit a day, then go back next day, do a quick edit and make minor changes, then move on to the next part.

Because I did the story like episodes in a 30 minute TV show, I actually had to put all the parts together today and start reading through from the beginning to see what I had to clean up – or questions left unanswered.  I found a few errors, but over all, for something thrown together by an amateur in a week, it really was pretty well done.

Was the story what I planned?  No.  Did it play out as I expected?  No.  Only two elements came through that I planned in advanced.  One happened because I gave my friend in CA a call to see how she’s doing.  She mentioned she really liked this one character I created, the opposite to my own temperamental, short-tempered, feisty, and sometimes vindictive character.  He’s a phlegmatic Southerner, unflappable, and and very much a loaner with a real fondness for moonshine.  In his own way, he’s fond of his cousin.  So the story changed and Cousin Cleatus came into the story.  But there had to be a reason why Cleatus was there, and that took me awhile to figure out.  Plus, the whole thing added about 14 pages to the length.  So far I have close to 20,000 words.  I’m amazed.  I’m also amazed at how much time it took and how much I enjoyed doing it.

Then I got a cold.  Just in time so I couldn’t go to the annual block party without giving it to all my neighbors.  Plus colds make my brain go dead.  Give me a simple cold and I can barely write simple sentences,  so the story sat while I pouted over being the victim of a common virus.  Nearly a week later I FINALLY finished it!   There’s another thing I learned.  If you write every day, you aren’t going to have a lot of time to read.  Get sick and trying to focus on books?  A double whammy.  I have books to be read backing up very quickly.  How authors – real authors – find time to do all that reading of other author’s works is beyond me.  My brain was so involved with my own characters and plot, I found it hard to change gears and get drawn into a different story, or I was just too sick to care.

Luckily, I’m over my cold and the associated fit of sulking.

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I finally did manage to get a few of books read.

Ashes of Honor by Seanan McGuire.  The October Daye series was not a hit for me from book one.  I really struggled to get into this world and accept the character.  But with each new book, I’ve liked it better and better – sort of.  This installment was an exception, not because it wasn’t good, but because it had a serious flaw.

One of the ongoing elements in the October Daye books has been her relationship with Tybalt, King of the Cait Sidhe.  That finally gets center stage here.  Toby is asked to find the changling daughter of knight in her lord’s service.  Finding things, especially lost and missing children has become something of a specialty of hers, it’s true, but of all people to have a half human child, the uptight, by the rules, knight Etienne would have been last on the list.

Etienne didn’t know he even had a daughter until the woman who was once his lover called.  She’d simply disappeared on her way home from school  But there are bigger problems.  Etienne has violated his knight’s oath and the rules of Fairie.  It also meant two more things, there was human out there who knew about Fairie and he never said a word, AND his daughter had come to her powers without anyone to teach her.

A large part of the story is also about a rebellion in the Court of Cats.  Toby spends a lot of time bleeding and being healed thanks to a disgruntled Samson, a cat who hates the fact that Tybalt, their king, involves himself with her.  The two elements overlap when Sampson is implicated in the abduction of Eitenne’s daughter.

Overall, this was a good story with two main, and different storylines.  The downside was, parts became repetitious with Toby and Tybalt no more than healed when they were once again attacked by the same group.  That brought my grade down to B- (3.7*) For fans of October Daye, it’s a must for the Tybalt story alone.  A word of warning, you really do need to read most, if not all, books in the series in order to follow the story.   The world is incredibly complex and layered and many plot elements are carried over from previous books.  While not the best in the series, I liked it for finally bringing the Tybalt/Toby relationship into focus.

Now we have the opposite – a series in decline.  A Wanted Man by Lee Child ended up a huge disappointment.  If there is one word no author ever wants to see attached to a thriller, it’s BORING.  And that is exactly what this book is – boring.   And tedious, especially the opening 130 pages or so.  If you think driving from Nebraska to Chicago in the winter is boring, try reading about – for a hundred pages!!!!!!!.  GAH!

The story moves from the boring to the absurd as an FBI agent starts chasing them then joins forces with Reacher and the waitress, who is really an undercover agent, and the whole thing ends in the most absurd terrorist kill ’em all shoot out I ever read – because the whole thing was one big terrorist Ponzi scheme.  Honestly, what nonsense.

Tedious, dull, a wild ending that seemed so blasted absurd.  I have NO idea what Lee Child was thinking, if he was actually thinking at all.  Opinion on Amazon is fractured and fairly evenly distributed 1 to 5 stars.  I’ve never seen anything quite like it.  Obviously, hardcore fans don’t care.  People who want a good thriller were soundly disgusted.  I can give this drivel a D+ (2.2*) and strongly urge you to get it from your library, but don’t spend ANY money on this thing, certainly not the discount price of $16.38 print or $12.99 Kindle.  Move on folks, nothing worth you time here.

I also read Physical Education by Maggie Barbieri, the most recent in her Murder 101 series featuring Alison Bergeron, a professor looking for tenure at a small Catholic college located on the Hudson River in the northern most part of NYC’s limits.  Now married to her detective boyfriend (second marriage for both) she finds herself the reluctant step-mother of college age twin girls and an even more reluctant replacement coach for the college’s D-III girl’s basketball team.

Alison is adjusting to married life, or so she wants to believe, but one thing you never quite adjust to is having bodies put in your car trunk.  Leaving the school, the retired cop, now school security guard helpfully goes to close her trunk only to have the thing pop open – and new college mail delivery hire has been shot, execution style, and thrown in her trunk.  Flashback to when mobster Pete Miceli was after her.  Now Allison was dealing with another murder, her detective husband lying about – too much and smelling of Channel #5, and her best friend, Father Kevin halfway to be defrocked for something her didn’t do, while his ambitious replacement Father Dwyer was single-handedly trying to undo Vatican II.

Now Allison has way more questions than she’s getting answers – from Kevin or Bobby or Bobby’s erstwhile detective partner and her volunteer assistant coach Fred.  Then there’s the gun with the silencer in the fridg in the garage and supposed rats in her basement.  Barbieri takes all these elements and spins them into a fast and entertaining story with several mysteries large and small for Allison to deal with.  Satisfying as few cozies are these days, with a sensible and intelligent lead character.

Physical Education gets a solid B (4*) rating and a recommendation to buy used or as a remainder.  I paid around $9 while a new copy on Amazon is selling for $16.49 – too high for light mystery.

Molly Harper is one one of my favorite paranormal romance authors.  Her Half-moon Hollow vampire series is mostly very well done and seriously amusing.  It was her name that prompted me to buy Undead in My Bed, a three author anthology that included stories by Katie MacAlister and Jessica Sims, two other authors I usually, but not always, enjoy.

I read Harper’s Undead Sublet first.  It was the longest of the 3 novellas at 165 pages, and I think the second best of the three.  Tess Maitland is a sleep deprived, overworked head chef at a well know Chicago gourmet restaurant Coda when she hears the arugula telling her ‘Knock, knock’ jokes.  She was promptly given a ‘sabbatical’ – code for ‘she has flipped out and taking time for recover’.  Her old mentor now lives in Half-moon Hollow, KY.  As the closest thing to family she has, she heads down there and rents a small house for a month of mental health time and rest.

Only problem is, the house has someone living there, the vampire owner.  Sam Clemson became a vampire by accident.  He came yo Half-moon Hollow with his soon to be ex-wife Lindy to try and save their marriage.  After building a daytime hiding spot for a vampire, the vamp decided having a human know about his ‘safe room’ was dangerous  so he drained him and left him in the woods.  Luckily, a member of the vampire council found him and turned him time, though the transition wasn’t easy.  Lindy freaked out and had him declared dead, then started divorcing him.  The new laws were a bit hazy in some areas after the Coming Out n 1999.  Sam was not exactly adjusting well and now he had a mouthy female in his house.

That’s when the war of pranks started, and some were hysterically funny.  Tess makes friends with Jolene, Jane and some others from Harper’s earlier books, and soon finds herself enjoying life in a small town again, the kind of town she grew up in.  The romance wasn’t the core of the story, rather two folks finding their own way and maybe each other while doing so.

Undead Sublet is good, but the ending is a bit flat.  Sam’s character is pushed to a minor roll for much of the story, but as a whole, it works.  I give this part a B (4.0*).

Katie MacAlister does her turn with a Dark Ones novella, Shades of Gray.  Now Ms MacAlister blows hot and cold for me, but she hit this just right.  Grayson Soucek finds a nun climbing over the wall of his ancestral home, knocks her out, ties her up, and tries to question her.  What the devil is a human doing on his property, especially a curvy nun who is anything but nun like and claims to be a Guardian and a Beloved.  But getting answers is impossible, as are her claims of being a Guardian and Beloved.  Only problem is, she smells amazing and seems to think he does too.

Noelle is thrilled to have found her Dark One, the one for whom she the Beloved.  Grayson is less than thrilled – uncomfortably excited, but he’s been cursed by a demon and can’t afford to get involved with this attractive, though possibly insane, female.  Then he learns his abby has been leased for 2 weeks to some halfwit film crew trying to capture ‘spectral phenomenon.  The thing is, dealing with them means getting near the delectable Noelle – and that leads to one thing he was trying to avoid, a joining.

Well done, with two good lead characters and a decent supporting cast (especially the ghost of the horny monk), the plot moves quickly, is kept lean and clear, and has a great ending.  My grade is B+ (4.3*).

The final entry is also the shortest, by design to to limit the length of the book is hard to say. Out with a Fang by Jessica Sims adds to her Otherworld Dating series with Ruby, the were-jaguar looking for love after spending 4 years missing the human she really did love and had to dump – dramatically – or risk his being killed.  She was on her first date tonight – with a vampire who oddly insists she wear a blindfold in the restaurant.  But it’s a supervised date, so she has an out of it gets too weird.  Something about him troubles Ruby ………… then she realizes, the vampire is actually Michael, her old human lover, no longer human.

She walks out, Michael trailing trying to explain, but she’s having none of it.  They part – but Ruby hears something in the alley and finds Michael caught by a bounty hunter trying to kill him with garlic juice injections.  Now the human Ruby is petite and curvy, buy the jaguar Ruby is an Apex predator – and a force to be reckoned with.  A force the bounty hunter is not ready to deal with.  She drives him off and goes back to rescue Michael and keep in safe.

Now it becomes a game of trying to elude the hunters.  They want Michael dead, not because he’s done anything, but because a female vampire has decided with wants him for a blood mate, kind of husband.  But another male vamp wants the females and is happy to kill the competition.  Thing is Michael doesn’t even know the woman.

Actually, all the running and hiding does is give Ruby and Michael a chance to talk about what happened since they parted.  It’s all rather dull, really, but not angsty, just not fun or exciting.  Some action, an HEA, but not in sync with the other two.  It lacked the humor and light hand with the plot.

I always maintain, every anthology has one weak entry, and for me, this was it.  It felt misplaced after two such amusing stories.  Thankfully, it was also the shortest of the three too.  My grade is a C (3*) for Out with a Fang.

Overall, Undead in My Bed gets a B (4*) as a book and a recommended read for fans of the lighter paranormal romances.  I got the book under the 4-for-3 promotion on Amazon.

 

July 8, 2012

Is imitation really the sincerest form of flattery?

A new book hit the market and zooms to the top of the bestseller list and in nothing flat, there are dozens of clones out there, all variations on the same theme.  I’m having a private bet with myself over how many 50 Shades of Grey rip-offs will saturate the market.  (This is one case where the clones might be better than the badly written original.) Even the originator of a series can be hard put to keep things fresh and new.  In fact, having a series almost precludes too much fresh and new, especially as books pass the 8th and 10th entry.

J.K. Rowling did a brilliant job with Harry Potter, telling the story and resisting the temptation to keep Harry and friends ‘forever young’.  As the books progressed, he matured and so did the stories, growing darker and grimmer and dealing with more adult themes.  Her dedication to the initial premise was worth it and the series is, as a whole, remarkable.  Before his death, Robert Jordan began his deep, complex and beautifully written Wheel of Time series, but by book 7 he became so lost in the minutiae, I just gave up on the series.  Other series are never meant to be anything but froth and fun – and there’s nothing wrong with that so long as they aren’t also boring and predictable.  It doesn’t matter the genre – mystery, romance, paranormal, fantasy, even historical fiction, author patterns emerge and ongoing characters begin to enter certain predictable sequences of events.  To me, a certain amount of this is forgivable, maybe even a bit desirable – kind of like finding old friends just as we remember them.  What isn’t so forgivable is copying another writer’s formula and creating a clone.

Clones are as inevitable as the sunrise, and some are so well done, they become icons in their own right.  Look at all the books based on famous fictional and historical characters recast into different perspectives.  Sherlock Holmes must have 6 or 7 different versions of himself walking about the pages of various books.   Everyone from Abraham Lincoln to Queen Victoria is hunting vampires and zombies.  Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and the Brontes’ must be spinning like tops in the graves.  Some authors can carry it off, others, simply cannot.  To purists, the whole thing is a massive insult, an abomination.  What can I say, even Shakespeare stole plots and characters, but, some of these books are, inadvertently perhaps, insults to the original.

Take The Innocent by David Baldacci.  CIA assassin Will Robie is 25% Jack Reacher, 25% John Rain, 25% early Bob Lee Swagger, 15% Mitch Rapp and 10% original.  The plot, which held great promise at the start, just didn’t stand up over the length of the book – especially when compared  with Barry Eisler’s standards in his early John Rain books.  It lacked the kind of detail in tradecraft that makes the stories seem more real and gives twisty spy novels their verisimilitude.  Still, it was good, had potential, but lacked the punch of a top of the line thriller.  Best I could do was a B- (3.7*) and a wait for the paperback, or borrow it from the library recommendation.

On the lighter side of the mystery/thriller genre sits Death, Taxes, and Extra Hold Hairspray by Diane Kelly.  This is her third installment of the Tara Halloway IRS Enforcement agent series and another winner.  There are shades of Stephanie Plum, but Tara Halloway is a very different person from the amateurish Steph.  Strong, competent, and tough, but with a real sense of humor for the eccentricities of people.  Kelly plots well, writes solid characters, has good cast of secondary characters and blends humor in without ever going over the top or forcing things to a ‘Lucy and Ethel’ farce.  With a B+ to A- (4.5*) it comes as a recommended buy for fans of classic style mysteries without the cozy oozing out.

On the romance front we have Scandal Wears Satin by Loretta Chase.  Chase is as reliable as any writer out there.  Her early books were fresh, original, and very well researched.  Personal favorites are Lord of Scoundrels, The Last Hellion, Lord Perfect, and my most re-read historical romance, Mr Impossible.  And it is the shade of Mr Impossible that hangs over Scandal Wears Satin, but nothing can disguise the slight story, which seems to wander aimlessly for 200 pages on weakest premise ever seen, then wrap up much to simply.  There were far to many, “You must joking” moments, and far too few moments of any real connection with the characters.  It wasn’t frothy, just a big ball of empty puff.  Even the romance was weak and had no real fire.  Mr Impossible had heart, laughs, and interesting plot and a great setting.  Scandal Wears Satin had a lot of detail about clothes and totally bland and unexciting characters playing out a minor plot for far too many pages.  Best I can muster for Ms Chase’s latest book is C- (2.8*) and a suggestion she go back to her more historical based books and leave the froth to others.

Once Burned, book 1 in the Night Prince series by Jeaniene Frost isn’t so much a new series and it is a spin off of her highly successful Cat and Bones Night Huntress books.  Spin-offs don’t just happen with TV shows, they happen with books all the time.  Generally speaking, Frost writes a lightweight paranormal with romance elements and a certain percentage of gore.  I’ve always felt it was used to cover up what the books lacked in character and plot.  She can’t seem to hold suspense well, and even her most ardent fan would have to admit, the books are kind of shallow.  By turning to the darker, more bloodthirsty Vlad Tepesh – who we met in the Night Huntress books – she ups the gruesome factor without with amping up the plot and characters to match.  Three-quarters of the way through, I was still waiting for the core of the story to start unfolding.  It was rather frustrating to say the least.  By the end, it was like a meal that might have filled you up, but not satisfied you appetite.  It just wasn’t an entertaining read.  I’m breaking with the majority of reviewers on Amazon and giving Once Burned a C (3.0*) and say this is for hardcore Jeaniene Frost fans only.  There are far better series out there, so give it a pass.

More to come, but I have to get away from dentists and oral surgeons long enough to be able to sit back and get some reading done!

December 6, 2009

Book Review: Pursuit of Honor by Vince Flynn

  • Title: Pursuit of Honor
  • Author: Vince Flynn
  • Type: Action Thriller
  • Genre: Mitch Rapp CIA Op series; betrayal and death
  • Sub-genre: Terrorists and assassins
  • My Grade: D+ (2.5*)
  • Rating: PG-13
  • Length and price:  Plus novel – 100,000+ words
  • Where Available: Available as a hardcover everywhere; paperback release Aug 2010
  • FTC Disclosure: Book purchased from online bookseller

Vince Flynn burst onto the action/thriller scene with a terrific book about revenge called Term Limits.   He introduced Mitch Rapp, an undercover op and assassin for the CIA in second book, one of my personal favorites, Transfer of Power.  His books have increasingly become a kind of a protracted editorial and justification for his personal political beliefs and Pursuit of Honor reads more like an editorial than an action/thriller.  That part wouldn’t be so bad, but he makes two fatal errors – the first is, Mitch Rapp is never wrong, the second more grievous error is forgetting his readers want AN ACTION/THRILLER STORY!  There was a time when Vince was an automatic buy for me, then after 9/11, with each subsequent book, there was less and less of interest and more and more about the power struggles in Washington, DC.  I stopped buying him until I could either get his books as remainders – or from a book swapping site. (more…)

May 30, 2009

BOOK REVIEW: Gone Tomorrow by Lee Child

That blissful, satisfied sigh you hear is me.  I devoured Gone Tomorrow in less than a day, all 421 pages.  No, it isn’t deathless prose, not even for an action thriller, but it is what Lee Child and his protagonist Jack Reacher do best – slam into you at full tilt from the opening lines and leave you hanging on for a wild thrill  ride.

“Suicide bombers are easy to spot.  They give out all kinds of telltale signs.  Mostly because they’re nervous.  By definition they’re all first timers.”

Jack Reacher is on the Lexington Avenue local at 2AM and remembering all the training he had by Israeli counterintelligence while watching a woman that fits the suicide bomber profile perfectly.  She’s wearing a bulky oversized parka on a hot fall day and it’s zipped to the neck.  She keeps muttering, as if reciting a prayer, her hands hidden in a small backpack on her lap wrapped around something hard – like the battery and detonator switch.  But surely it’s the wrong time – not enough people, but it was impossible for Reacher to ignore.  He figures he’s as dead where he sits as he will be closer, so he approaches.  Trying to calm her, he says he’s a cop.  Instead, she pulls out a gun and kills herself with a .357 Magnum through her head. (more…)

February 21, 2009

BOOK REVIEW: A Deadly Silver Sea by Bob Morris

I see a title like A Deadly Silver Sea and the first thing I think of is Travis Magee, John D. MacDonald’s iconic Florida investigator. Perhaps Morris was trying to channel MacDonald and Magee into this book. He missed and got Speed/Speed 2 and Keanu Reeves instead.

Bob Morris kicked off his Zack Chasteen series with Bahamarama, followed by Jamaica Me Dead, and Bermuda Schwartz. The first two books were B to B+ territory with Bermuda Schwartz a B-. Solid and entertaining enough that I bought this book in hardcover shortly after release. Unfortunately, something that started out with a decent plot took a strange left turn and the denouement was just downright silly.

Zack Chasteen, former NFL’er, ex-con (he was pardoned and paid off) and his wife, classy and very pregnant travel magazine editor, Nancy Pickering are being treated to an inaugural cruise aboard the ultra exclusive Royal Star. This state of the art super deluxe luxury ship has every comfort and safeguard in place, but didn’t count on a sleeper agent in the engine room. Soon, the crew not a part of the takeover are dead, the passengers are rounded up, men and women separated, and heavily armed crew members are taking money and jewelry away. Zack ends up trapped in a cabin with the slimy businessman Ron Diamond, who tries to buy his way off the ship, abandoning passengers to their fate, the elderly Royal Star designer Hurku Linblom and Kane Kinsey, a not very bright, but very good looking actor.

Zack starts doing what he does best – always trying to figure a way out. Everything goes well to page 133, where Zack jumps overboard to avoid getting shot by a trigger happy crew member. Zack survives his fall to the sea and watches the ship disappear as he fruitlessly tries to catch it. From here on, Zack’s tale gets completely unbelievable. Suffice it to say he eventually gets picked up, convinces his rescuers to go after the ship, finds the ship, catches the ship and gets back on board. At this point I was flashing back to Speed 2, one of the worst movies of all time.

Morris paints an unflattering but all too believable picture of the cruise industry and he has a secure grasp on the technology he plays so deftly with on the ship. Unfortunately, this was not one of Morris’ best efforts at plotting and the action/thriller sections were just not compelling enough to overlook their fundamental absurdity.

As the action moves between Zack and the others, the book jumps between first person and third person narrative. It’s a little distracting. Will I buy the next book in hardcover? Not if there is any mention of a terrorist. I would deeply appreciate it if Zack and Morris left the terrorists to Mitch Rapp and Vince Flynn.

My Grade: C-

Who would enjoy this book:  Fans of James Bond, action movies starring Dennis Hopper, Keanu Reeves or Sandra Bullock, and action/thriller readers.  The Rating is PG-17

February 20, 2009

BOOK REVIEW: The John Rain Series by Barry Eisler

Rain Fall My Grade: A-

Hard Rain My Grade: A

Rain Storm My Grade: A

Killing Rain My Grade: A-

The Last Assassin My Grade: B+ to A-

Requiem for an Assassin My Grade: B-

Have you read Solo by Jack Higgins? Shibumi by Trevanin? If you have, sit back, relax and meet the heir – John Rain, assassin extraordinaire.

The product of a Japanese father and American mother, Rain never belonged in either country. As a young man he joins the US military and shows a real aptitude for killing. Part of a Special Forces team, he ends doing work for the CIA. Living and working in that ‘grey zone’ where right/wrong and good/evil gets blurred, his own instincts save him. He ‘disappears’, moves to Japan, even goes so far as to have surgery to make himself appear more ‘Japanese’. Here he lives a shadow life and makes his living as an assassin for hire specializing in ‘natural’ deaths. Killing someone is easy. Killing someone and making it look like a natural death is art.

From page one, Rain Fall captivates and holds the reader. It is an unusually well written combination of action and intrigue with the kind of rich, compelling, textured backdrop of locations and characters that is rare in a genre that typically forsakes depth for action. It begins with the death of a government official in a subway during rush hour and just does not quit. Trust no one and cover your back. Written in the first person, Rain is a compelling narrator. Eisler’s ease with the Japanese setting comes from years living in the country.

Hard Rain sees Rain having tough choices to make. His affair with jazz pianist Midori ended when she learned who and what Rain was. Tatsu, the shrewd and manipulative police official who seems to be both friend and mentor to the assassin, wants to use him for his own ends. The murky world of Japanese politics and crime lords are front and center once again as a Yakuza leader is targeted and escapes. Midori ends up being responsible, indirectly, for the death of one of Rain’s friends.

With both the Yakuza and the CIA after him, an injured Rain flees to Brazil which is where book 3, Rain Storm, starts. The CIA makes an offer of much needed money he can’t refuse that lures him back to Asia to track the activities of an unscrupulous arms dealer (is there any other kind?). This book introduces two more recurring characters – the beautiful Israeli spy Delilah, who has her own agenda and Dox, short for unorthodox, a giant of a sniper with an extrovert’s personality that grates on the assassin who lives by clinging to anonymous shadows. Yet Dox may end up being the one thing that Rain does not have, a friend.

Killing Rain, fourth in the series, has the assassin asking himself some hard questions. Rain is hired by the Mossad to take out a renegade Israeli scientist, now terrorist for hire and bomb expert, before the man can transfer any more technical expertise and training to radical Islamic militants. Partnering with Dox again is not entirely comfortable for loner Rain. Then he misses his chance at a quick take down and ends up signaling the target he’s being hunted. To makes matters worse, he kills two bodyguards to escape. Unfortunately, the guards are former CIA and part of renegade operative Jim Hilger’s operation. Now Rain is targeted by a furious Hilger.  The very annoyed Mossad no longer trusts him to do the job so he’s on their hit list too. Where does Delilah stand? The action once again moves across Asia and brings Rain, Dox and Delilah to Hong Kong. There Rain and Hilgar again cross paths. The ending here has Rain thinking of retirement and the son he wants so much to see.

The Last Assassin brings Rain back to Japan to settle old scores. He cannot go to Midori and his son until his past is put to bed. To do that, he ends up having to call in his friend Dox. Eisler moves back to the shady underworld of Yakuza and Chinese triads in Japan for this novel. Delilah comes in to help out as a lure for the Yakuza boss with a weakness for tall blondes. His old friend Tatsu may be dying, but he’s still pulling Rain’s strings. The ending has Rain and Midori finally see each other again and it sees that all of Rain’s ghosts are finally laid to rest – one way or another. I was left feeling the author intended this to be the last book in the series, and it would have served as a perfect coda for Rain, but was convinced by his publisher to write another.

Requiem for an Assassin brings Rain back into the game when Dox is kidnapped by Hilger to force Rain into carrying out a series of assassinations or Dox is dead. Rain has to get rid of people involved in a deep black CIA operation that might not have had official sanction. Thing is, he’s now on American soil and not at all happy about it. Of all the John Rain novels, I liked this book the least. It felt like Eisler lost his mojo. It’s a good read, all the necessary twists and turns, lies and half truths, but the magic is missing. The intangible something that raises a book from good to WOW! Eisler seems less engaged with his story and his characters here. I guess it’s so noticeable because his previous entries were so strong.

Though the last book is the weakest, for me at least, all of the series is so much better than just about anything getting written in the thriller genre these days, they rank as DO NOT MISS!

The John Rain series would all be rated R

Who would enjoy these books: Readers of Jack Higgins, Trevanian, Eric Van Laustbader’s Ninja series, Frederick Forsyth, and Robert Ludlum’s Jason Bourne.

NOTE: The paperback books are eligible for Amazon’s 4-for-3 promotion

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