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.

January 29, 2016

New Releases in Print and Ebook Reviews

OK all you savvy readers out there, in case you missed it, the number of books being released per month is dropping like a stone.  I know there are more and more budding epubs out there even as many of the older, more established ones, like AmberQuill, are closing for good.  Others, including Samhain, have drastically cut back on the releases per week.  Since half of what they sell is novella-length ebook smut, it’s something of a surprise to me, but it could be the market for that genre is shrinking.  I checked out what was on Siren and the quality of what was on offer was way below the material they offered even 3 years ago.  I almost never read smut anymore myself, except for a few of the funny authors.  Meanwhile, Gemma Halliday’s light mystery/romance publishing effort is going strong, but some of her ‘new author’ releases are just awful lifeless junk reading while others are OK to good.  She needs a much better editor to approve manuscripts, yet some are really good and her $0.99 specials encourage folks to get books a try.

Romance, especially historical romance, cozy mystery, and even UF/paranormal are also seeing serious cuts in books released – print publishers are quick to cut any series that does not sell up to a certain level no matter how loyal the readers.  That makes it hard for authors to build readership through word of mouth, a generally slow process.  I just read the latest Jenn McKinley Hat Shop book (reviewed below) and found that like too many other ‘bankable’ authors, she’s spread too thin over too many series and the quality is suffering.  On top of that Alyssa Day is delaying her Dead Eye paranormal mystery books from SilverHart Publishing due to family issues and two other series disappeared (one historical mystery, one UF) and the authors had to write and publish their final books through services like CreateSpace.

Then Barry Eisler, with a new female lead thriller in what might be first in a new series is staying in Amazon’s playhouse.  He seems to have passed his zenith as an author and is now coasting on a shrinking fan base – or trying to get the best of both worlds – more money/book, but fewer buyers.  I just bought his new release on sale for $0.99 as an ebook while the print is going for $14+ in hardcover.  That’s not a lot of bank for the author or publisher – Amazon’s Mercer division.

There’s no question that self-promoting is a huge deal for authors as publishers put out less money for advertising and promoting books.  It can consume so much of an author’s time they lose their fan base by not writing.  Kaylana Price is a perfect example if that, plus that was compounded by health issues.  Her lastest in the Grave Witch series is over 3 years late, which for a mmpb is a LIFETIME.  There are various fan conventions and writers and genre association conventions that are ‘must do’ to keep the fan base happy, but I know from experience that kind of thing is a huge distraction from work and the flow of your thoughts.

Most writers I’ve met and seen speak, and it’s only few, seem more extemporaneous than practiced, but breaking your thoughts while writing can often mean taking a long time to get back into the right mindset,  If that happens during an especially key area of a story, you might have a huge rewrite on your hands.  I found most writers friendly and thrilled to meet fans – and it’s kind of fun to meet them.   I enjoy the experience, but I wouldn’t spend a lot of money doing it.  Other fans are the kind who wouldn’t miss a chance at meeting their favorite author and are happy to spend lots of money to travel and stay conventions.  It’s a big business and book signings give authors a shot at a HUGE and loyal fan base – but at a price in their productivity.

Not many authors get to be multi-millionaires like the James Patterson or JK Rowling.  Most toil away for the sheer love of writing and making a living.  A few make a very good living.  A tiny number get rich.  But most keep their day job.  I know how much time it takes me to just do a few thousand words for an RF story installment, or one of these blog entries, and it is not easy.  Creating stories for RF and the gang is harder as I actually need a plot, at least here, all I need is a kind loose theme and opinion.  And we all know what opinions are like!  I spent a career writing technical reports, white papers, and journal articles and believe me, it takes TIME.

So why am I discussing this?  I whine a lot about waiting on books in a series.  It’s not entirely fair, especially since I know better.  Yes, I do prefer quality over quantity.  Am I anxious for the next book?  Of course.  But I also what it to be just as good and just as creative as the first few.  There is nothing more disappointing than an author who writes half a dozen great books and rather than wrap up the series, rides the characters popularity into the ground, slowly losing fans with each book.  An epic fantasy writer was asked why he always stopped at 3 books when his fans wanted more.  His reply was along the lines of he’d rather leave then wanting more than wishing the series would END.  I only wish more authors felt that way instead of milking popular characters till people are sick of them and just stop reading.

So let’s get to the reviews and see what wonders – good and bad – came our way recently.

The First Order is the latest in Jeff Abbott’s Sam Capra series could only have one ending.  That was obvious from the beginning.  Still, I had been hoping for a better thrill ride along the way. Abbott does deliver plenty of twists and turns in his plot using Seaforth, an old CIA contact of Sam’s as a key character.  Mila, becomes equal parts friend and foe as a hidden group, the ones responsible for Sam spending time in a black site prison, starts pulling strings of plots within plots.

This story centers on Sam’s hunt for Danny, his older brother supposedly killed by terrorists in Pakistan – but apparently still alive.  Who and what Danny has become is obvious from the outset, but with each bother getting betrayed by the very people that supposedly support them, it is obviously headed for disaster.

The ending was about the only way Abbott could end the book given Danny’s character.  That was obvious early on, but it was still a good read with an interesting conclusion as hidden powerbrokers get exposed.

I’m giving The First Order a B- (3.7*) as a good, but not a great read.  Fans should make note, unlike the other books, this one was written in the third person.  Some prefer that, some do not.  It did not affect the quality of the story ar all and given the larger cast, was probably his best choice.  At nearly $18 in print and $14 in ebook, borrow this one from the library or wait for a cheap used copy.  No urgency here.  Purchased from an online book store.

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Another of Jenn McKinley cozy mysteries, the Hat Shop books have been one of her better series, but I found Copy Cap Murder predictable.  I like her characters and a lot of other things, but I knew who would die, who would be implicated, and who was guilty by page 50.  When I can essentially write the book in my head, that’s not good news.

Yes, I realize cozy mysteries have limited scope and drama, but even Agatha Christie wrote better puzzles just by creating wonderful characters.  Unlike Ellery Queen, who did Byzantine puzzles and dared readers to solve the crime by presenting all the clues, she did character studies, an art that seems lost with today’s cozie writers.  And I am suffering from Jenn McKinley fatigue.

The murder takes place at a Straw Man burning at Harrison’s boss’s mansion when his arch rival at the firm is killed and substituted for the straw man.  Obviously, Scarlette’s love interest is #1 on the suspect list and for some reason, a normally fair police Inspector seems very biased and willing to impede certain discoveries.  The ending was well done and did have a few surprises.

Copy Cap Murder was far better written than A Likely Story and had a much better-developed plot, some drama, and a bit of ingenuity.  The best I can do here is a C+ to B- (3.6*) for the book and a suggestion to wait for a used copy unless you’re a diehard fan unless you can find a good discount off the $7.99 list price.   Purchased from an online book store.

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OK, the biggest problem here is the book reads like it was drafted by Evanovich but written by someone else entirely.  Not a single character in the long-running series stayed fully true to form.  Not one.  In addition to that, Tricky Twenty-Two had many ‘factual’ errors in basic things, like where Ranger’s office was, the building size, and also subtle things, like how Steph saw her relationship with Ranger and the fundamental character of both Morelli and Ranger and even Steph’s mother.  It was a reflection in a fun-house mirror – distorted.

As usual, Steph and Lula had their escapades with the ‘Bacon Bandit’ – anyone recall the naked guy who smeared his body with Vaseline?  Yeah, me too.   And Gobbles – a Rider College student who is FTA and his protective frat brothers, a nutty professor, and Dean of Students with a giant grudge supposedly assaulted by Gobbles.  Morelli breaking up with Steph after sex with nothing but, “We should date other people.”  I was surprised to find that by page 55, I had laughed just once.  In fact, I was bored and annoyed.  And became more and more convinced she’s either lost it, her editor quit, or she’s hired a ghost writer.

Naturally, after the highly unlikely plot unfolds (This was less believable than the giraffe running down a main street in Trenton.) and Steph gets in the middle of what could biological warfare (yeah, seriously) we end with – a you guessed it! – car explosion!  (I know, done so often it’s not even amusing anymore.)  Oh, and Mrs Plum tackles the bad guy.  Well, there’s a groundbreaking change.

Tricky Twenty-Two will be hard for old fans to take.  I began reading this series when she published her first book. now I stopped buying them and wait to get a copy from an online book swap site.  I am beyond glad I did NOT waste money on this.  Yes, it was past time for her characters to evolve, but this was not character evolution, it was complete personality transplants.  Tricky Twenty-Two gets a D+ (2.4*) and a strong suggestion to real fans to go reread and enjoy books 1-8.  If you MUST read this get it free.  I’ll pass my copy on fast.

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This is one of the better entries in Ms Painter’s Nocturn Falls paranormal romance series.  The Vampire’s Fake Fiancée has a rather predictable start with Sebastian Ellingham, the eldest, most reclusive, and serious of the 3 Ellingham brothers, learning his sort-of-ex-wife who left him 300 years ago is staying in town and wants to reconcile.  To Sebastian, that means, “She wants a LOT more money.”  Unwilling to seem easily available, the sister of the town deputy – and a Valkyrie – librarian is there for a job interview for what seems to be a dream job as head librarian at the local academy.  Much to a sister’s surprise, Tessa agrees to play the role providing it gets her the librarian’s job.  It’s just a couple of days.

Sebastian’s romancing skills, if he ever had any, are long gone, so his businesslike approach makes Tess feel comfortable and she’s rather surprised at how at ease she feels with him.  They have a trial kiss that’s way more than either expected.  And then get in deeper when what was supposed to be a dinner to prove he had another love, becomes a challenge to allow the ex to live in the mansion and watch them to make sure she can’t ‘win’ Sebastion back.

The pacing is quick, the action mostly light and humorous, and the selfish, self-absorbed ex turns out to want something else entirely than Sebastian.  The ending was good and realistic and I liked both Tessa and Sebastian and enjoyed watching them get more comfortable with themselves and each other.

For a paranormal romance, I give The Vampire’s Fake Fiancée a B (4*) rating.  I bought the ebook for $4.99 and it was worth it.  Print is $10 and since this is not a keeper kind of book, get it at the library and enjoy!

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Gemma Halliday Publishing offered this new release, first in a series featuring female PI, Barb Jackson.  Bubblegum Blonde by Anna Snow is in the same humorous mystery vein as Steph Plum.  It’s a short read, under 200 pages, and it moves fast enough that the many shortcomings get missed.  A few too many.  The it ended with a thud.

First, aside from being prone to the same silly accidents as Steph Plum, I’m not sure I have a clear mental picture of Barb beyond short, busty, blond, and not dumb – though given her actions, I have my doubts.  All the guys but one are hunks, including Tyler Black the detective who apparently falls for her at first sight.  Barb gets hired by

Barb gets hired by he ex-fiancée, Jason King, who is the prime suspect in the murder of the wife of his boss, a powerful agent in town.  Jason swears he was NOT doing the wife (yup, sure), but his jacket and money clip were found in the bedroom.  Barb wants to put the agency on the map for things other than cheating spouses, so she reluctantly accepts.  At this point, her IQ drops and she commits felony illegal entering into the Hastings estate and house to investigate the crime scene because she’s so experienced she’ll find things CSI didn’t!

By golly, she DOES find a hidden compartment in the drawer of a bedside stand – along with a porn DVD.  (Like cops wouldn’t take that!)  Then gets caught my the maid, makes an escape, and gets beaten by a frozen chicken and rips out the seat of her jeans dashing bare butt to her inconspicuous red VW beetle getaway car.  The motel receipts lead her to a small town, a lying night clerk, and a house the victim bought which turns out to be a brothel – one full of hunky guys and horny women.  My goodness, it’s a miracle the police ever solve a crime without her help!  On the way back she gets run off the road and is lucky to live.

OK, just let me say, at this point, the author lost steam and wrapped the book up with a deus ex machina ending that was as improbable as any I ever read.  The bad guy was barely a shadow on the wall, much less a character.  I LOATHE that trick.  It means the author could not think of a plausible way to find the killer.  It’s lazy and insulting to readers.

Oddly enough, this book – short novel – long novella – gets a really high score from Amazon readers.  I am assuming they are not actually mystery fans, just chick lit readers.  Bubblegum Blonde gets a D+ to C- (2.5*) as the first half was almost decent.  Amazon readers give it 5*.  To be honest, it wasn’t worth the $.99 I spent for it.

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Tom Corcoran is the author of the Alex Rutledge mysteries based in Key West expands his to add Southernmost Aristocratic Investigations featuring his friend Dubbie Tanner and former street person Wiley Fecko in Crime Almost Pays.  They guys share a house and in home office, but Wiley is too soon off the streets to be fully at home in Dubbie’s spare room.  Kim Salazar is a local taxi driver and something of a love interest for Dubbie.  Alex is their friend and sometimes crime scene photographers for the cops who is involved with a homicide detective, the same detective that gets mixed up in what becomes a perfect example of “no good deed goes unpunished.”

It’s Tuesday night and Sloppy Joe’s has as many tourists as always, but Dubbie spots a good looking young woman at the bar who seems to be getting too drunk for what she had – and 3 Hispanic men around her, chatting her up and waiting.  The whole thing looks like they slipped her a roofie.  With the help of the bouncer, Dubbie gets her out and Kim, who was driving that night, helps get her to his place and settled on the sofa.

Morning brings out the nasty side of the woman, Lauren, who thinks everything is his fault and he’s kind of glad to see the back of her – and her multiple passports and the guys who were starting to look more like kidnappers than rapists.  When he sees Harpoon, the bouncer, he learns the 3 men sounded like they were Cuban and from the east end of the island.  Then Lauren leaves money and asks him for his professional PI help and Dubbie and Fecko are butt deep in murder, Cuban military criminals, and a lying client.

Corcoran is a Key Wester, photographer, buddy of Jimmy Buffett, and Mustang enthusiast.  His writing is the classic brisk, PI style of short sentences, quick exchanges, and fast pacing.  If you’ve read his Alex Rutledge books, this is the same style,  He knows Key West inside and out and his knowledge and love for the island with all its warts comes through.  The story has his trademark twists and turns and keeps readers guessing.  The ‘Homeland Security’ agent becomes quite a character himself.  The extra twist at the end is completely unexpected.

I give Crime Almost Pays a solid B (4*) rating.  I broke my cardinal rule on this one and spent $5.99 on the ebook and it was worth is.  I’ve missed Tom Corcoran and classic style of mystery writing.  He is now self-publishing.  Get the ebook if you like classic style PI stories, especially Florida-based ones, despite the price.  Yes, I’m a sucker.  You could try your library, but most won’t carry such a niche author.

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The last review for this installment and another book I enjoyed more than expected.  I bought the ebook of Boundry Lines at $4.99.  I read book 1 where ‘Lex’ Luther, the sole survivor of an attack on her platoon in the Mideast learns she’s a ‘Boundry Witch’, one who works between life and death.  They’re rare and mostly feared by other witches.  While the local head of the coven tries to be friendly and her one daughter is a close friend to Lex, the other witches are very unwelcoming.  Made worse by the fact that Lex works for Maven, the head vampire in Colorado.

Lex just returns from LA where she tried to learn about her magic (apparently that’s a novella 1.5 or something I missed, so there seems to be story gaps to me) and she immediately notices something seems ‘off’ about the magic in Boulder.  Then there are these unexplained attacks on humans, werewolves being driven to attack the borders, and an ancient creature – somewhere between a land Nessie and worm-snake – and only Lex can kill it, but she needs to heal her mind.

Let’s just say the plot of too convoluted to go into here, but the three key elements are the behavior of the werewolves, the appearance of a long dormant monster, and Lex getting all her memories back so she can fully use her witch powers and the fact that Maven was key to locking down the coven’s powers after a supernatural war between the wolves, vamps, and witches years ago.  And, of course, her niece (a rare magical null) is a piece of the puzzle.

Olsen’s world building sometimes defies logic, but the book was much better than book one, moved key character development along, and began laying more groundwork to flesh out this patchwork world.  Boundary Lines gets a C+ to B- (3.5*) from me and a read if you like Olsen’s work, but it’s not the best UF out there, so a series that can be safely missed.

 

 

 

January 2, 2016

Ebook Binge – cont’d

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

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

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

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

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

                           

         

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

August 13, 2015

Recent Reads – The Long and the Short of Print and eBook Reviews

Obviously, I can’t write a review of every book I read, so here are some short ones to fill in a few blanks as well as some longer ones for more anticipated books.  All books below were purchased by me from online booksellers.

Better Homes and Corpses by Kathleen Bridge –  Clever title, great location, some original ideas, but in the end, another fairly predictable cozy with too much moodiness and not enough humor to make it likable.  First in a series and gets a C (3*) rating.  For cozy lovers and those who like the scenic areas of eastern Long Island with its rich, famous, and spoiled only.  Kind of tedious and yet another ‘disappointed in love’ heroine.

Grave on Grand Avenue by Naomi Hirahara – Well written and interesting story involving a Chinese cellist, a Hispanic gardener, and a valuable Stradivarius cello.  With bike cop Ellie Rush squarely in the middle of what may or may not be a tangled web.  Far better read than the typical cozy with complex, multi-dimensional characters and good plot.  Book 2 of the Ellie Rush series that deserves more attention and wider readership.  Recommended for mystery fans who enjoy some substance to their characters.  Gets a solid B (4*) rating.

Crushed Velvet is book 2 in the Material Witness cozy series by Diane Vallere.  Yet another shop owner in a small town struggling to make her business work when her new ‘bestie’s’ husband is found dead in the van used to transport Poly Monroe’s shipment of velvet.  It’s a shade better than some, but still lacks the verve that brings cozies up a level to good.  Another largely uninspired C (3*) effort in an overcrowded field with nothing special to recommend it.

The Gargoyle Gets His Girl is book 3 in Kristin Painter’s Nocturn Falls paranormal romance series.  Like book 2, Werewolf Meets His Mate, this one is a mix of light humor and more straightforward paranormal romance.  Not as clever as book 1, but a decent read in ebook.  It gets a C (3*) rating from me because I liked the characters despite the predictable plot.

The Housewife Assassin’s Tips for Wedding, Weapons, and Warfare (Housewife Assassin, Bk 13) by Josie Brown is yet another rather solid entry into this half humorous, half serious tale of independent contract assassin/security agents and the war war against a SPECTER like group of powerful, yet shadowy, adversaries bent of controlling the world – at least the economic portions.  In the middle of all this Donna Stone and Jack Craig are trying to get married with extreme interference of the First Lady, one of their prime suspects.  It’s as well dome as her earlier books blending family drama of teen and child angst, against humor and deadly serious threats.  The ending is another cliffhanger.  One of the better light assassin series out there.  It gets a B- (3.8*) from me and the whole series is a suggested read for those who like the Bombay Assassin and Miss Fortune books.  I have the ebooks, but paperback is available.

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Yes, the author shamelessly pays homage – or just flat-out plagiarized – The Thin Man movies from the 30’s and 40’s.  Murder with a Twist by Tracy Kiely has exactly the same kind of characters, atmosphere, wit, and insouciant attitude of Myrna Loy and William Powell, except here Nic is Nicola, the former cop, and Nigel is the scion of old money and instead of tiny Asta, we have a huge Bullmastiff because, “The man in the pet store said you wouldn’t like the piranha.”

Nic is not exactly welcome in Nigel’s extended family, one of the reason’s they live in California.  But it’s Christmas and they’re in NYC where Nic used to be a detective till getting shot consigned her to desk duty and complete boredom.  Nigel’s Aunt Olive nearly chokes asking Nic to help find Leo, the ne’er do well philandering husband of her niece Audrey, a shy, plain girl about to come into a huge inheritance.

Reluctantly, Nic agrees to help, mostly to watch Olive squirm when Skippy (the mastiff), makes himself at home in Olive’s very formal co-op.

The story does not take itself to seriously, much like the movies were played for character and witty banter, not complex  plot, though the book does have a decent, if obvious, plot going on and a denouement in a restaurant where Nic unravels a whole bunch of dirty family secrets.

Murder with a Twist is the first in the Nic and Nigel Martini series and despite the unapologetic copying of Nick and Nora Charles, it’s actually a fun read.  Or maybe BECAUSE it’s so obviously a borrowed pattern makes it easier to relax and enjoy a nostalgic and entertaining excursion back to a time when mystery and humor blended seamlessly into high society.  It gets a B- (3.8*) and recommended read for anyone who won’t mind the plagiarism of The Thin Man movies.

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Benedict Jacka writes the Alex Verus UF series in much the same style as Jim Butcher’s Harry Dresden or Kevin Hearne’s Iron Druid.   While Harry Dresden is easily the most complex, fully realized of the three characters, the other two are no slouches.  Veiled is the latest entry in the continuing story of Verus, his young mage and adept friends, and his rocky relation with the Light Mage Council and some members who want his dead.

Verus is a Divination mage, one who can see many immediate futures.  Each class of mage has its own gift, some, like air and fire mages are usually battle mages, other choose various kinds of magical police work, mages called Keepers.  And Alex wants to find a way into the Council by becoming an Auxillary to the Order of the Star, the largest group of Keepers handling everyday magic-related crimes.  Caught between his former master, Richard, a powerful dark mage who seems to be staging a comeback, and the treachery of the Light mages, who are just as prone to corruption and greed as anyone, Alex finds himself working for a Keeper named Caldera with whom he has some history.

Alex has to start as a probationary Keeper, one step below Auxillary, but a toe in the door.  That means getting all the crap jobs, including what seems to be a wild goose chase to an automated rail station in a London suburb where all he finds is a focus, a stone or object that mages use to store various things.  No evidence of any other magical events.  But like the tip of an iceberg, Alex keeps digging for information and ends up uncovering a plot involving Light and Dark mages and a vast store of secrets about both.

Like all of Jacka’s books, you have the core mystery involving the immediate problem and the over-arcing plot about Richard and the Dark mages and the conniving and back-stabbing of the Council.  Jacka imbues Alex with a dry wit, an insatiable curiosity. and a very approachable character.  I like Alex Verus and Jacka’s writing, but Veiled has too much rehashing of previous books/plots and makes limited – and predictable – progress with the over-arcing plot.  It gets a solid B- (3.8*) and is a suggested read for Verus fans, but not Jacka’s best.

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Chloe Neill made her name with the Chicagoland Vampires series and Mythos Academy young Adult series.  I like the Chicagoland Vamp books, but they aren’t exactly groundbreakers.  Kind of UF light.  With The Veil, she tries to enter the darker UF genre with limited success.

Lousiana is a favorite location for UF series, everything Sookie Stackhouse (gag) to the Sentinels of New Orleans.  It’s atmospheric, one of America’s oldest cities with past laced with pirates, voodoo, and a character uniquely it’s own.  It all but begs for supernatural happenings.  So Neill chose it to be the nexus of a magical war that was launched against humans by the supernatural world through a rip in the fabric of space and time separating them.  But magic is like an infection and ‘sensitives’ are sent to live in Devil’s Isle, an area of New Orleans where sensitives and supernaturals caught on this side of the veil are kept in isolation.  Being a ‘sensitive’ is a kind of death sentence.  The magic drives them mad and eventually turns them into wraiths who feed on humans.

Claire Connelly is the only child of an old New Orleans family that has run a mercantile store for generations.  She’s also began manifesting as a sensitive with telekinetic power a few years ago.  The city is blanketed with magic sensors, and should she ever use her power, it would be an automatic sentence to Devil’s Isle.  Then War Night, the citywide celebration of the win over the supernaturals, finds Claire leaving her friends and walking home – only to see a young woman fleeing two wraiths – wraiths that seem to be thinking and acting in coordination, something thought impossible.  She uses her power to save herself, but she’s been caught on camera and must run to avoid Devil’s Isle.

Liam Quinn, a bounty hunter, sees the whole thing, but instead of hauling her in, offers her a deal.  He’ll get the tapes erased if she’ll learn to control her magic.  The plot unfolds as one might expect with a blend of romance, magic, and conspiracy.  And that’s Neill’s big weakness in UF.  Her characters are good, but not original, the plot of good, but not breakthrough, and the overall feel of the writing lacks the extra dimension that elevates a book from good to great.

The Veil is good.  But kind of an average good, not in any way remarkable or innovative.  The trope is well worn, decently written and ultimately ordinary.  It gets a C+ (3.3*) and is suggested for Neill fans only.  Not a barn burner.

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Katie MacAlister is back with a new entry in her Light Dragons paranormal romance series, and Dragon Fall is classic MacAlister.  Sharp, witty, banter, sensible women, stubborn males (well they are dragons), curses, evil forces, and a doggie demon named Jim who talks a lot and has no memory of once belonging to Aisling Grey.

Aoife (EE-fuh) Dakar is the daughter of an Irish mother, African father, born in the US and raised in Sweden where her dad was an engineer for IKEA.  Her parents were killed in a car crash a few years earlier and her brother and sister lived elsewhere in Europe, but Aoife was still living in the house her dad built.  She has a rare date to a RenFaire type event, as much Goth as anything, with a man named Terrin.  She sees Terrin killed, then sees him very much alive talking to a man he said was a Black Dragon.  And there’s a ring he gave her, one he said was looking for an owner.  She tells the police about the murder, even the victim apparently being alive the killer who disappeared in a puff of black smoke.  Her brother and sister convince her commitment for a ‘psychotic break’ is the only way she’ll get over her delusions.

Two years later she’s ‘cured’ and out.  Her doctor convinced her she needed to confront her past and go back to the fair to see it was not what she thought.  Against her sister Bea’s wishes, she does and walks away, satisfied she really is cured ….. till she runs something over.  A huge black dog.  She rushes it to a vet, but he seems fine.  She gets home and the dog takes off and when she finds him, he’s sitting by an unconscious naked man on the beach.  He seems more dead than alive and getting an ambulance is impossible, so once again, Aoife has to drag this huge man up to her car and drive him to the nearest doctor that does emergencies.  Funny thing is, the man looks a lot like one of the guys Terrin called a Black Dragon.

This starts a whole string of events that twines prior books and this story together, and the reader needs at least some level of familiarity with her earlier books to understand the plot.   The conclusion lays the foundation for the next installment due in the fall.  (MacAlister often writes in trilogy form)

Dragon Fall is not MacAlister at her best.  The plot was almost painfully contrived in parts and lacked the complexity of her Aisling Grey series, so it came across as MacAlister light, which given her style was still an enjoyable read for a paranormal romance, just not up to her usual quality.  I give it a C+ to B- (3.4*) mostly because I just needed something like this and there was nothing better out there.  For MacAlister Dragon series fans, but with the caveat it not as good as her earlier ones.  If you’ve read none of her dragon books, you’ll be lost for sure.

July 30, 2015

Reviews: New Releases in Print and eBook

Here it is nearly August and parents are busy calculating how long before the kids are back in school and the routine starts again. The kids are trying really hard to forget all about it.  And I’m trying to forget about winter, which is getting closer every day.  Obviously not in time to do anything about the current heatwave.

Books, like life, sometimes come in cycles.  So do book discounts.  I thought Amazon’s Prime Day was blah, but that’s me.  I understand WalMart kicked their butt online, but Amazon will be making this event an annual mid-summer sale for Prime members – expect WalMart to follow.  WalMart requires NO MEMBER FEE and offers Free Shipping (though NOT 2 day) on orders over $35.  They had better electronics options.  Me, I’m a lot more interested in books unless shopping for something I need.  With BAM offering routine discounts on pre-orders and current stock books with free shipping for members ($25/yr), and Amazon offering some deep discounts, I ordered a LOT of to-be-released titles from both companies.  Amazon got all the trade and hardcovers and about 40% of the mmpb’s.  BAM got one large ($100.00+) mmpb order.  Many titles are due out next year and some hardcovers were discounted all the way down to $13-$14.75 – 46% to 52% off on a PRE-ORDER.  Grab when you can.  Discounts can be fleeting and by October they often stop offering them.  Remember, Amazon allows you to cancel any part of an order, BAM does NOT.

It’s not just sales that come in bunches, you’ll get a bunch of good books then a bunch that descend into, “What a waste of money!” territory ….. and you realize ‘boring’ is insufficient to the task at hand and you need to hit the old thesaurus for reviews.  I just want you to know, these reviews are not because I hate the dog days of summer (I do), but because I really hate spending money on books that are tedious and boring.  I sharpened the knives and I’m ready to work.  And it won’t be pretty, but I did save 2 good ones for last.

Here it is, one of two big releases in July and a much-touted hardcover by JR Ward, the author who made a name for herself with the angsty vamps of the Black Dagger Brotherhood.  Pardon me while I yawn.

The Bourbon Kings is a classic “sweeping family epic” replete with stereotypical characters and tired plot elements:

Daddy Dearest (who married the family with the fortune) – Abusive, controlling, hateful, liar, cheat, embezzler, and all around utterly despicable man.  (He probably had bad breath too.)

Absent Mother – Weak, insipid, lame, and a nonentity.  Rather than crawling into a bottle of the family’s bourbon she climbed into doctor’s drugs and lives – if you can call it that – in her bedroom.

Eldest Son – Heir to the business and respected by the board, he was quickly moving into position to take over the family business.  Physically broken by a South American kidnapping (likely engineered by said Despicable Daddy Dearest) who turns alcoholic horse-breeder.

Youngest Prodigal Son – Our ‘brooding reluctant hero’.  Screws clinging deb, leaves deb, falls for head gardener, declares love for gardener, learns deb is preggers, marries deb, leaves for NYC and the sofa of an old college chum where he crashes for 2 years trying to drink himself to death while torturing self for his mistakes.  Oddly, he seems incapable of calling a divorce attorney, so stupid comes in here too, though I think we’re supposed to see tortured hero.  hummmm ………. Apparently ‘stupid’ has a new definition.

Vacuous Deb – Gets knocked up deliberately to coerce youngest to marry her.  Stays at family mansion when new hubby deserts her for a couch in NYC.  Gets abortion to keep her figure.  Is screwing Daddy Dearest and …….. well, some history just repeats itself.

Middle Son – WHO?????

Slutty Sister – Vain, vapid and manipulative and does phone sex while hairdresser works on her, so throw in tacky.  (Or just throw up.  Your choice.) Complete with out of wedlock child at 17 and now a parasite on the family fortune.  Sold to a yucky toad son of liquor distributor by Despicable Daddy Dearest for an advantageous contract.  Realizes family is broke – runs to toad.  Underwear optional.

Daughter of Arch Competitor – In love with broken eldest son and holds mortgage on Bradford family estate.  Juliet to his unwilling, alcoholic, self-loathing Romeo.  These people all need shrinks.

Loyal Head Cook – and the ‘real’ mother to the boys.  Her being taken to the hospital means the Prodigal returns to the bosom of his family.  Oh joy.

Head Gardener – Blond, hard-working, honest, loyal, and a glutton for punishment for hanging around this estate despite a masters in horticulture.  Leaps to conclusions.  Maybe she should have applied to Longwood Gardens and skipped the whole nightmare of ‘forbidden love’.

Assorted hangers on, supporting players, fast cars, family jet.

Missing – Shoulder pads, big hair, catchy, dramatic theme song while panning opening film of dynastic estate, and JR Ewing – who would have at least made things interesting.  (Just a moment, I’m having an ’80’s flashback to Loverboy doing Everybody’s Working for the Weekend and need to regain my sanity.)  Great, now I have an earworm.  OK, so let’s assume you miss the original Dallas, Falcon Crest, and Dynasty, (and I’ll ignore your obvious need for therapy), well rejoice!!!!  You have found your book!  Shallow, predictable, boring, trite, tedious, boring, …… wait I said that, hang on …… insipid, dull, humdrum, and ………….. zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.

OK, there you go, if you have trouble figuring out the plot, you’re a- too young to remember nighttime soap operas, or b – as dull as this book.

Best line in the book:

Preacher to Prodigal Son at Faithful Retainers Church: “We haven’t seen you here in awhile, son.”

Prodigal: “I’ve spent the last two years up north.”

Preacher: “I’m sorry to hear that.”

Redeeming characteristics – it has an attractive cover and Daddy Dearest gets his in the end – but there’s a twist!  (Oh, just kill me now.)  HINT: It sure as hell isn’t Who Shot JR!!!!!!!!!!!!!

The Bourbon Kings is a melodramatic, overwrought, snoozefest and gets a resounding D (2*) and a suggestion that you SAVE YOURSELF!  Go buy something else, I beg you!  I swear I could feel brain cells dying by page 60.  Purchased from BAM and I should have just burned the money.  I could have toasted some marshmallows in the flames.

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If it weren’t for the fact I won Fatal Fortune in a swap game, I would never have read it.  It’s a series I liked and then it just got silly and unbelievable.  That was compounded by author Victoria Laurie getting into a very nasty ego-driven spat with a negative reviewer on Amazon.  Apparently the self-proclaimed psychic failed to predict the huge backlash her unpleasant and threatening comments caused.  It was so bad, she shut down her own blog and left Amazon.  She was lucky to not be sued into oblivion.

Well, after sitting here looking at this damn book for 6 months (I kept hoping it would just move on in another game), I figured I should at least give it a shot.  By page 100 I remembered all the many reasons I stopped reading this series, starting with improbable plots and moving onto seriously idiotic FBI relationships.

Psychic Abby is now married to FBI agent Dutch.  Candice, her best friend and business partner, is married to Dutch’s boss, Brice.  Abby wakes at just after 3AM with a feeling of dread.  She checks her cell and has a cryptic message from a stressed out Candice telling her to nothing is what it looks to be and go to the office and get a file and cash from the wall safe hidden in her closet then HIDE them.  By the time she gets home, she knows something is seriously wrong.  She hides the file and money in a vacationing neighbor’s garage and goes home ………. and starts lying to Dutch, Brice, and the police.

Candice was caught on a very clear garage camera recording getting out of her car shooting a retired physician then calmly driving away.  Now let’s be clear here, lying to a detective in a homicide investigation and hiding evidence, however well intentioned as a friend, is a one-way ticket to criminal prosecution.  That’s why I had to stop reading this series.  It gets worse.  To ‘protect’ Dutch and Brice, Abby leaves her consultant role as ‘profiler’ to investigate Candice.  She as qualified for that as I am as a heart transplant surgeon.  Worse, both men know what she’s doing and let it happen!!!!!  (Hiring standards for the FBI apparently do not include IQ tests.)

You know, there are just so many WTF moments any author is allowed before I ring the bell and yell, “YOU’RE FINISHED!”  Ms Laurie hit that magic number at page 95. I skimmed the rest of book, which unfolded as I had already predicted (Hey!  Maybe I have a future as a psychic!) and the big finale was …………. hang on, I need the thesaurus again ………  mind numbingly mundane!!!!!!!

Fatal Fortune had fatal flaws, mostly in the credibility department and then in the, ‘who gives a crap about these idiots’ department.  As a lightweight cozy, with all the flaws of that genre, it gets a D+ to C- (2.6*) and a suggestion to not bother with this series.  I cannot believe I subjected myself to this witless tripe again.  I read the hardcover, but it is available in paperback and even as a ‘free’ book, it wasn’t worth the money.  To think a tree died for this.  It’s just all kinds of wrong.

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One Mile Under is the half way point between some bad reads and decent reads, an uninspired outing for Ty Hauck.  Ty is basking in the sun being a boat bum in the Caribbean when a message from by an old friend asks to help out his daughter, Hauck’s goddaughter, a Colorado River guide.  Dani Whalen is all grown up and working a job she loves, guiding newbies and tourists on white water rafting trips.  In the middle of a trip, she spies something in the river and discovers an old friend, now a responsible young father and store owner, Trey Watkins, dead in his river kayak.

Dani’s step-father, Wade Dunn, is the small town sheriff, formerly the Aspen police chief till drink caught up with him.  His adamant refusal to investigate what he calls ‘an accident’ gets compounded when Dani learns he’s also hiding something.  Dani asks questions on her own and a not too reliable balloon pilot claims he saw what happened and he’d tell her the next day after his early flight.  Another ‘tragic accident’ kills him and his passengers.

When her Uncle Ty shows up, she finally has an ally, albeit one who initially sides with the sheriff’s version of events.  An extreme sportsman taking that one chance too many.  To satisfy his goddaughter, they head to northern Colorado farm country where the Watkins family still has their farm and find the company who was assigned the license plate Dani got from the park exit camera.  When an attempt is made by two oil tankers to kill him by running him off the road after he talks with the head honcho, Ty knows Dani is onto something.  But what?

This could have been a very suspenseful and interesting story, but read more like a ‘paint by numbers’ version of a great painting, close, but no cigar.  You know who the bad guys are early, you even know WHAT is happening (or this is your first mystery), then after that it’s all ‘follow the money’ and the usual ‘Perils of Pauline’ stuff.

One Mile Under is neither awful nor good, just blah.  It has some really good moments and a decent showdown at the end but was never compelling because too much is obvious at the 1/3 point.  It gets a C* (3.3*) and read only if you’re a Ty Hauck fan.  I bought it used from an Amazon reseller.

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Finally something that was fun, tongue-in-cheek punny, snarky, and just a hoot of a paranormal romantic mystery read are the first two books in the Shift Happens series by Robyn Peterman, Ready to Were and Some Were in Time. (Enas, pay attention here.  These are included for you!)

Essie McGee is hauling ass back to Hung Island, GA on an assignment from WTF (Werewolf Treaty Federation) with her bestie, gay vampire Dwayne.  The opening pages are a hoot and Essie is sassy, feisty, and all around solid character.  But it’s Grannie and Dwayne who keep stealing the show.  Staying with her grandmother, a former stripper, who’s 80+ and looks 40 and acts 20, is never wracking enough.  See her ex, pack Alpha, sheriff, and 6’3″ hunka, hunka of burning love, Hank Wilson, was hell on her nerves.  Plus he still smelled like her mate.  Damn.

Young pack females have gone missing and she’s there to find out what’s happening.  Why can’t Hank back off and stop driving her wild?  Somehow, she manages to work around Dwayne and Grannie’s antics, Hanks unrelenting pursuit, and her own raging hormones, to find the common denominator – a photography studio.  With a helping of Dwayne’s vampire blood, she’s able to not only save herself, but kill bad guys and rescue the other females with help from Hank, Grannie, Dwayne, and the pack.

The HEA has a catch when Grannie reveals some family secrets and we’re off to book 2 with Hank and Essie now a pair of WTF agents and Grannie ….. well, she was a lot more than a stripper.

Some Were in Time picks up at the end of the week long Jamaica vacation that Dwayne cheerfully paid for (300-year-old vamps being the wealthy kind) when Angela, looking frazzled and scared, gives them a new assignment.  Find out who on the council were working with the kidnappers of the werewolf females Essie and Hank just set free.  Of course, she does NOT care that Essie and Hank are trying to arrange their wedding, something werewolves do to keep up the human front.  Dwayne is determined to ‘help’ since is ‘maid of honor’ and can wear a dress!!!!!!!!  And Hank has to convince his older brother, the pack man-slut, it’s time to take up his position as Alpha.  It’s hard to say a lot more without giving away the whole plot of book 1, so just trust me, it’s worth the effort.

Ready to Were is an enlarged novella at 168 quick pages and free on Amazon Kindle.  Some Were in Time is full-length novel at 330 pages, still an easy fun read, and $4.99 in ebook.  Other ebook formats are available through links on the author’s website, some with lower prices.  Both get B+ (4.2*) as good, rollicking reads with solid plots, fun characters, and enough romance to add that extra something.  I got both from Amazon as ebooks.  Recommended.


July 1, 2014

Quick Review – Short Shots – Assorted Genre New Releases

I’ve been busy compiling lists for people and writing reviews for the PBS Book Blog, I haven’t really had time to do my own damn reviews.  JEEZE.  So here are some short ones on books I read this past month.

Sixth Grave

 

The sixth book in the Charley Davidson UF/mystery series was not up to Jones’s usual high standards.  It seemed to spin quickly, yet advanced the over-arching plot not much all.  It did add a few questions about Charley’s actions at the end when she altered Reyes’ fate, but otherwise, it was not her best stuff.  The usual dual mystery, half of which is a naked ghost who doesn’t talk, and the other half a man who sold his soul to a demon and needs it back before he dies.   A typical day in the life of Charley Davidson.

There is a kind of funny, but predictable, set piece about ‘encouraging Uncle Bob to ask Cookie, Charley’s neighbor, best friend, and business receptionist.  It was the kind of this that was probably drafted as a skit and just placed in a book otherwise short on diversions. All that said, average Darynda Jones is better than 90% of the rest of the UF writers, especially for more female based readers.

Sixth Grave on the Edge earned a B- (3.8*) from me and it remains a recommended series.  I just hope she has a slam bang ending to this series and it doesn’t go the route of never ending.  Love stories, for better or worse, must END, and Jones better be up to the job after all this build up.

Purchased from Amazon for just over $16.

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shattered

This is one of the series that can cast even Jones’ work in the shade, though not like the master, Jim Butcher when he hits all 8 cylinders.  Shattered by Kevin Hearne is his first hardcover release and I expected great things.  I was disappointed.  As is often the case, we have too many cooks – or in this case, too many druids – spoiling what should have been a tightly plotted book.  Instead, Hearne moved his POV from Atticus, to Granuaile, to the Archdruid Owen in rotation.  Unfortunately, he simply he could not establish and maintain a really distinctive ‘voice’ for each character, so the reader had to work out the who and the where each chapter was.  Owen came closest to being unique, but even he assimilated in the modern world in a really unrealistic speed.  Sorry no one does a move of 2000 years in time and not have profound culture shock.

The plot revolves around Atticus’ trying to uncover who in Tir na nÓg is betraying him.  Granuaile is off in India trying to save her father and stop a demon infestation.  The plots barely meet in the end and frankly Granuaile’s, other than trying to establish her as an independent character, was just a distraction to the main plot.

And there is the problem.  The plot is messy, Atticus loses a lot of his strongest character traits, washed out or assigned to these other characters.  Much of the strength in the story telling goes with this bizarre split.  The resulting story is an interesting, fast moving (helps hide the flaws), rather shallow and messy book, that while entertaining, lacked the depth and substance of his early work.

Once again, my grade is B- (3.7*).  It’s a good read but not at the HC price.  Purchased from Amazon.

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The Devil may care

And three cheers for David Housewright, ‘Mac” McKenzie, and The Devil May Care.  Housewright, like Craig Johnson and C.J. Box just holds to his style and character and even when writing something with a less audacious plot than Jade Lily or Taking Libby, SD, he just comes through for readers.

Like Travis McGee, Rushmore ‘Mac’ McKenzie does ‘favors’ and he’s asked to do a gem for the granddaughter of one of Minnesota’s most powerful movers and shakers – find the young man who was courting her and disappeared.  Other than crossing the Muehlenhaus family, again, what could wrong?  Riley Brodin has some rough edges, but she seems a decent young woman, so he gives it a shot and walks into a hall of mirrors and dangerous people, one true psychopath, and a man who isn’t what or who he claims and everyone looking for a lot of stolen money.

The story mixes light and dark in Housewright’s ever readable tale.  Mac is a great narrator, observant, and equal parts dispassionate and deeply affected.  It’s not just about who, but why and plot has plenty of twists and the ending was just ambiguous enough on some things and final on others.

My score for The Devil May Care is B (4.0*) and a recommended read.  his books often are not printed mmpb, so grab a used copy, get the ebook, or borrow it.  At just over $16 for the HC from Amazon, it’s a bit high for a short read, even a really good one like this

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After dead

DING:::::DING::::DING:::::DING – RIP-OFF ALERT!  DO NOT BUY THIS BOOK!

If there is one thing I despise, it’s an author taking shameless advantage of fans with worthless tripe disguised as a book.  Let me detail this paean to greed touted as a series of short stories that tell the tales of the various characters in the Sookie Stackhouse series in After Dead.

As if the boring, self-indulgent, nearly plotless and pointless crap in Dead Ever After wasn’t insult enough, here the author and publisher come with another money grab by – I am NOT exaggerating – turning a few sentences into a claim of ‘stories’ about characters.  Yup, ‘stories’.  This undersized apparent novella length book is 200 pages – but 200 pages of what?  Well, let me break this down:

Page 169 – the letter ‘U’

page 170 – blank

page 171 – 81 words.  the word ‘a’ is used 8 times – 10%  81 words = story

page 172 – blank

page 173 – the letter ‘V’

page 174 – blank

page 175 – 30 words = a story

page 176 – 24 words = a story (I think we’re redefining ‘short story’ here.)

page 177 – 57 words.  the word ‘a’ is only used 5 times.  (She really worked on this one, huh?)

page 178 – blank

page 179 – the letter ‘W’

page 180 – blank (this is the favorite of author an publisher alike.  No wonder they use it so often!)

page 181 – 29 word ‘story’.

GET THE PICTURE??????????????????

My grade for After Dead is F (0*) , two thumbs down and I spit on it for the insult it is.  In a tribute to hubris, the ‘hardcover’ is selling for just over $10, the paperback – some kind of trade size – will discount at $11 and even the stupid ebook sells for just under $10.  Save the money some something important, like toilet paper.  Got it for free from a book swapping site and it’s so awful I’ll just offer it as an add-on for free because I’d feel guilty taking a credit for it.  Obviously, Charlaine Harris does not share my values.

June 12, 2014

Finis – The Problem of the Endless Series – Part 3 THE END?

I find I can only do so many series before my head explodes.  Honestly, authors resurrect characters and series, like soap operas, recycle characters.  There are so many epic fantasy series out there, some starting life as a stand alone – or as an outgrowth of early works where and author developed ideas.  Dune was such as book.  I recall how blown away I was by it when I read back when it first came out.  I never did make it to the end of the series, just book 1 and 2, because book 3 was published nearly 7 years after book 2 and I’d moved on.  It would take 5 more years for book 4 and 3 more for book 5 and then book 6 followed and was the last.  Sort of.  Now his son, Brian, along with Kevin Anderson, have continued Dune stories as prequels and sequels to the original series.

The unique universal appeal of Dune is surprising.  It’s themes and characters carry well into other cultures making it one of the best selling science fiction novels of all time at 20 million copies.  But to put that in context, the Harry Potter series sold over 400 million copies and (Lord help us) Fifty Shades of Gray eclipsed that number at over 450 million.  Of course Dune, Harry Potter, and many other books will still be popular long after Fifty Shades is lost in time.  But it does prove one thing, SEX SELLS! Trust me, Fifty Shades isn’t selling based on it’s unforgettable characters, original plot, and brilliant writing.  It’s selling for the same reason Peyton Place sold in the 1950’s, SEX and the lure of the forbidden, in this case, BDSM.  (Quick, who wrote Peyton Place and what was the lead character’s name?)  Yeah, I remembered the author’s name, but in all fairness, I couldn’t get past page 50 in that book either, though it was decades after publication when I actually tried, and I can’t even recall a plot.  Was there one?

Will most of the series so beloved of readers stand the test of time?  Unlikely.  Anyone over 40 would be hard put to find titles popular in their teens and 20’s still on the shelves in print.  Dune?  Yup, that’s there.  So is everything by Tolkien.  But those ARE classics.  I’ll bet in 20 years you’ll still find Harry Potter for the simple reason that his story is one we can all identify with – and the reason adults read so much YA fiction.  Like The Hobbit, Harry will age well.  Some experiences just continue to resonate over time, long after the cheap, voyeuristic thrills of Fifty Shades has been supplanted by the next hot item.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m all in favor of good, cheap voyeuristic thrills, just not a fan of BDSM.  Which segues nicely into another niche market, erotic paranormal romance and futuristic paranormal romance.  Kaitlyn O’Connor writes a lot of futuristic si-fi/paranormal erotic romance, spiced with humor.  She writes modern shifter romance as Madeline Montague.  I’ve kind of been avoiding this stuff because it is a small market, but I’ll include a few here, with fair warning, it’s for adults only.  Like most romance, alpha males abound, there is often some BDSM or at least D/s going on, but not the level of kink you get with true BDSM.

Si-fi and fantasy are no strangers to sex.  No less an icon than Robert A Heinlein got his book, Stranger in a Strange Land, pulled from school library shelves for a host of reasons including ‘cheap eroticism’.  Hey, if you can slog thru 160,000+ words and find a bit of ‘cheap eroticism’ along the way, more power to you!  Boy, did you earn it!

(Suggestion – if you actually enjoy reading BDSM, try Maya Banks (also writes mainstream), Shayla Black (also rites as Shelly Bradley), Sylvia Day, and Lorelei James among others.  All are light-years better than E.L. James.)

Joey W. Hill (living) – Vampire Queen series now up to book 13, future status unknown, paranormal vampire erotic romance.  Hill writes mostly in the BDSM vein, but does some more mainstream series, and stand alones in paranormal, historical, and contemporary genres; Arcane Shot series centers on witches (2 books so far), and she has a paranormal romance series based on mermaids.

Kaitlyn O’Connor (Madeline Montague) (living) – small press author that has gained a loyal following for her humorous ménage Cyberolution series futuristic si-fi romances, 6 books and complete, but as they were written out of chronological order, they can be read as stand alones; as Madeline Montague she writes Wolfen series, a loosely related group of werewolf shifter books, with some, but less humor. 3 books – status unknown.  Hard to find author.  Short books.  Buy the e-books.

Lara Santiago (living) – small press author; two futuristic stand alones – one intended as a possible series that never happened, Menagerie -is a clever apparently poly-amorous story that begins and ends in present day.  Rogue’s Run is an intersteller m/f/m ménage.  Reads like the start of a series, but she went from futuristic to Western.

Suzanne Collins (living) – Hunger Games – best-selling YA trilogy set in Dystopian future.  Complete.  Before writing Hunger Games, she authored a series of children’s fantasy books about Gregor the Overlander in her Underland series, 5 books, complete.

Veronica Roth (living) – Divergent trilogy – 3 books plus numbers short stories, novellas, complete, YA si-fi Dystopian; kind of a Hunger Games knock-off with shades of Twilight Zone

Pittacus Lore (living) – Lorien Legacies (5 books but on-going to 9?) and Lost Files (12 books complete); YA futuristic alien invasion; Another variation on Hunger Games type tropes

Jaye Wells (living) – Sabina Kane, 5 books, complete, UF, vampire, mage, assassin – worthwhile read; Prospero’s War – 2 books complete another under contract.  Status of additional books – unknown, UF/magic

Kelly Meding (living) – Dreg City – 5 books, complete, Dark UF, si-fi, horror; about a bounty hunter who is killed, loses her memory, is resurrected, and has 3 days to live, but sometimes, you get to die more than once; Meta Wars – futuristic UF/superhero, 4 books, complete, each book focuses on a specific ‘talent’ of a group/

Linda Robertson (living) – Persephone Alcmedi – 6 books so far and 1 more due this year.  Completion status unknown.  UF, witches, vamps, weres, Fey.  Young witch finds she might be one that was in a prophesy, making her a target for her coven and the only one that change the outcome of a potential war.

Harry Connolly(Living) – Twenty Places, 3 books – series cancelled by publisher; UF/Paranormal/fantasy mystery; well liked by those who read it, but not enough readers.

Rachel Caine (living) – Morganville Vampires – 15 books, complete, YA/UF/vampires; Weather Warden – 9 books, complete; UF/paranormal/magic/romance – weather warden (magic worker) is unjustly accused of crimes and goes on the run to look for the one that can offer proof of her innocence. Outcast Season – spin off of Weather Warden, 4 books, status complete.

M. J. Scott (living) – Half-Light City, 4 books, complete, Fantasy/UF/Fae/Vampires – a new author who seemed to be improving with each book.  Watch for more from her.

Marjorie M. Liu (living) – Hunter’s Kiss, 5 books and several short stories/novellas, complete, Paranormal Romance/shifters/magic;  Dirk & Steele, 13 books – status unknown, paranormal romance, can be read as stand alone books.

Lisa Shearin (living) – Raine Benares, 6 books, complete 2012, fantasy/magic/high fantasy/some romance; kind of a classic fantasy adventure series featuring a female thief; SPI Files – 1 book released this year, one on order, UF/modern paranormal; author has engaging humorous writing style that makes for quick easy reading.

Jeanne C. Stein (living) – Anna Strong, 9 books, novellas, shorts stories, Plus 1 to complete?, paranormal/UF/shapeahifter/vamp/ romance …. If anyone has any comments on this series. let me know

Richelle Mead (living) – Dark Swan, 4 books complete, UF/paranormal/magic/romance; Vampire Academy, 6 books, complete, YA paranormal/supernatural/magic;  popular with adult paranormal fans; Bloodlines – spin-off of Vampire Academy, 6 books, ongoing, YA/paranormal/fantasy

Rachel Vincent (living) – Shifters, 6 books, complete; UF/paranormal/paranormal romance, power plays and life among shifters; Soul Screamers, 7 books, plus novellas and short stories, complete, YA/paranormal/fantasy – school taken over by Hellions and the fight to take it back OK, that is a wrap.

 

And I know a missed a WHOLE LOT OF SERIES, but I’ll try and update Finis every so often.  But seriously, too many hours on Goodreads, Amazon, hunting for author websites and I’m DONE.  So for those who hate waiting, you now have a place to start.  Anyone wants me to add a series they really liked, just post a comment.  I review them all.

Finis – The Problem of the Endless Series – Part 2

We left our series reading enthusiasts with Sandman Slim watching over them and now we switch to a fan favorite – VAMPIRES!.  You can’t throw a stick in the paranormal romance or UF aisles of a bookstore – live or online – without hitting a dozen vampire books.  There is a massive vampire infestation.  SOMEBODY GET THE HOLY WATER!

Now it is true, each author has his or her own take on vampire mythology.  To paranormal romance author Lynsay Sands, Argeneau Vampires are really Atlanteans, people who escaped the fall of Atlantis with nanos in their blood to cure disease.  They need more blood than they can produce, so the fangs were a natural adaptation to allow them to get food for the nanos (human blood) as needed.  As for the whole ‘no sunlight’ that was just to reduce the need for blood as sunlight destroys skins cells and the nanos then need to to work harder to repair the damage and more blood is needed.

For Chloe Neill in her Chicagoland Vampires series and many other authors, vamps are variations on the traditional Dracula model.  In fact, the Night Prince books by Jeaniene Frost that I mentioned in Part 1 is ABOUT Dracula and he has a part in Karen Chance’s Cassie Palmer series, where vamps are major characters.

Almost all authors, other than horror writers, make vamps sexy.  After Navy SEAL’s and Spec Ops guys in general, they’re hottest selling stars in romance today.  (We’ve had shifter SEAL’s from several authors, but no vamp SEAL’s. (And bare-chested guys in kilts!!!!!!!  How did I forget them?)  There is, however, a sort of vamp James Bond and several vamp assassins.).  But given the overwhelming number of vamp romances, I’m only going to mention a few series, because frankly, it would take days to get them all down.  What can I say, sex sells.  Just ask E.L. James.

Many UF series have paranormal romance as an integral element in the plot line, but it is not the sole purpose of the series.  I’ll illustrate this with two very well known and hugely popualr series as my first two examples.

Chloe Neill (living) – Chicagoland Vampires, has many other species including Fae, elves and werewolves.  Best classified as UF with some romantic suspense, it is both character and plot driven in equal parts; contracted to book 13, so no end in sight; Also wrote the Dark Elite series, 3 books apparently complete

J.  R. Ward (Jessica Bird) (living) – Black Dagger Brotherhood – Paranormal romance centered on a group of vamps that act as protectors.  Each book features a specific romance, 12 books to date since 2005; Fallen Angel series, 6 books since 2009 to present; also writes stand alone historical and contemporary romance

Simon R. Green (living) – prolific author; Hawk & Fisher – complete, fantasy, UF 6 books that tie in loosely with- The Forest Kingdom Series 5 books, complete plus a ‘follow-up’ sixth book, fantasy.  Deathstalker series, complete at 8 books, creates a universe where his current Secret Histories series, 8 books to date, also takes place and the completed Nightside series, 12 books, also took place and also loosely ties ties with Hawk & Fisher in a fantasy future London.  Also Ghost Finder, a related series not as well received as the Nightside and the others, 4 books so far.

Kelly Gay (living) – Charlie Madigan series, 4 books, complete 2012, UF with some romance elements; might have more installments as certain plot elements not resolved, but none scheduled

Amber Benson (living) – Caliope Reaper Jones (Death’s Daughter) series, 5 books, complete 2013, UF/fantasy/magic; co-author Ghosts of Albion, YA, historical fantasy/magic/horror

C. E. Murphy (living)- Walker Papers series, completes this year with book 9, UF/paranormal/magic/time travel; Negotiator Trilogy, 3 books complete 2008, UF/Fantasy/vamps/dragons

Keri Arthur (living) – prolific author; Riley Jensen series, 9 books complete 2010, UF, paranormal, paranormal romance lead character is half vamp/half werewolf; Dark Angles series, 7 books, last book due 2014, UF, paranormal, fantasy; Spook Squad, 3 books complete, out of print and being re-issued; UF/paranormal/paranormal mystery; Nikki and Michael, 4 books, complete 2008 and re-issued 2013, UF/paranormal romance/vampires.

Jennifer Estep (living) – Elemental Assassin series, Gin Blanco barbecue restaurant owner, freelance assassin, and killer of underworld leader, Mab Malone.  A really good UF series with some romance, but mostly action and mystery, mostly character driver with one plot driver element, 13 books in print or scheduled and no end in sight, but as a more character driven series, you can skip around after 8 or so; Mythos Academy – YA; mythology, fantasy, UF – series complete with 6 books, a prequel and a novella, coming of age with gifted/special young adults to new adult.; Bigtime Superhero series – tongue in cheek paranormal romance/paranormal chick-lit – status, not known, 4 books so far.

Kevin Hearne (living) – The Iron Druid series – UF, fantasy, mythology, paranormal – multiple mythologies come together around a 2,000 year old druid, Atticus O’Sullivan, who looks like a 20-something hippie, up to book 7, the first HC, this month and a contract for at least 2 more, plot and character driven similar to Dresden, there are multiple short stories and novellas that come before book 1 or between books in anthologies or e-book only; no other series or stand alone novels; contributes to Carniepunk anthology.

Benedict Jacka (living) – Alex Verus, UF/magic kind of a poor man’s Harry Dresden a mage who never finished training but is useful to full mages, 5 books so far and no word on additional books, but likely.  Very character driven.

Douglas Hulick (living) – Tales of the Kin, fantasy/epic fantasy/dark fantasy, only 2 books so far with a contract for 1 more.  At least 2 years between books.  Interesting underworld anti-hero.  Character driven.

Rachel Bach (living) – Paradox series, 3 books, status unknown; si-fi/space opera/space paranormal, talented new author with a fresh, original voice.  Took some effort to get into book one after so many fantasy/paranormals, but she wrote a fine series with a strong female lead.  All published 2014; Additional books or more books set in same universe, unknown.

Meljean Brook (living) – Guardians series, 8 books complete 2014, paranormal romance/paranormal fantasy/demons, serial romance with some overarching elements.; Iron Seas – Steampunk, steampunk romance, 4 novels and multiple ebooks and serial releases.  Continuation status, not known, but books can be read as stand alone novels

Mark Del Franco (living) – Connor Grey series, complete at 6 books in 2012; UF/Dark UF/Magic, A mostly plot driven series that seemed a bit choppy at times about the Light and Dark Fey and the uneasy truce with humans and each other that Connor helps maintain through the series; His first YA book was released in 2014 titled Whirlwind; Be wary of the Kindle ebook.  Apparently is has numerous errors.  Series status in this unknown.

You know, there’s nothing quite like being a smartass to get the attention of the universe and have it slap you upside the head and yell, “IDIOT!” in your ear.  I thought I was making a joke about needing multiple entries to list the main complete series.  And the universe laughed.  Yes, I have included a few major series that character driven that could be read without spraining the brain, like would with the Wheel of Time series, but even so, with the help of fellow readers and their own input of completed series, I have at least one more entry to do.  So I rather humbly apologize for my maniacal laugh at the end of part 1.  It seems the joke might just be on me!  But I have to admit, I kind of enjoyed that evil laughing.  SO much so, maybe the joke is on you!?????

 

MUWAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAH!

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June 9, 2014

Finis – The Problem of the Endless Series – Part 1

Finis.  Shows up at the end of films and sometimes books.  It’s a welcome sign that the story is over.  Unfortunately, series books, especially in the UF, paranormal, and epic fantasy genres, are more the norm than a stand alone book.  In mystery and action thrillers, the plot finishes at the end, though characters and groups may carry-on over many books (character based series).  In romance, by definition, the story ends with a happily-ever-after – which is why they kind of belong in a sub-set of fantasy.  So-called ‘series romance’ usually involves interconnected characters, like members of a family or close friends, and may have some small over-arching element, the primary plot is about the two individuals featured in the book.  Christine Warren’s The Others series, written out of order in real time, and Shelley Laurenston’s Pack and Pride series, are examples of this.

For the sake of sanity, in this article, a series is a group of books that tell an on-going story (plot based series) that is not resolved till the last book.  So each book would be an installment or section of a story with an over-arcing plot.  This type of writing is common in the fantasy, Steampunk, and Dystopian fields of science and fantasy fiction.  The Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, The Belgariad are all examples of installments that unwound a long, continuous plot where each installment was a different segment of a whole, but the main story line does complete till the last book.  To make things simple, a plot based series needs to be read in order to makes sense of characters and events.  A character based series can be read in any order and the basic plot still makes sense, though some personal relationships may change.  Examples of character based series are James Bond, Travis McGee, Walt Longmier, Miss Marple, Dirk Pitt, or in UF, Garrett books by Glen Cook, Remy Chandler by Thomas E. Sniegoski (yes, I looked it up), the Joe Pitt series by legendary mystery author, Charlie Huston, and the Felix Gomez series, uneven in quality though it may be, by Mario Acevedo, but his best was his last Gomez book, Werewolf Smackdown.  It can easily be read as a stand alone.

The plot based series type of writing, though common,can be amazingly frustrating for readers.  Take for example the ultimate #epic fail – in multiple senses – Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time.   With a 2-3 year wait between books, his incredibly complex and demanding story ended unfinished at his death.  Personally, I grew tired after over 6 years and 7 books and gave up when the last one I read covered all of 72 hours in a 1,000 pages in hardcover and was published  TWO YEARS after book six.  His death in 2006 resulted in a 4 year wait for the next installment, which was supposed to be the last book that a greedy publisher split into 3.  In part, to get an installment out before everyone forgot the series, and in part to buy time while Brandon Sanderson worked on the next two part.  It still took Sanderson 3 years to finish the last of the 3 books he co-authored.  Unlike some authors, Jordan did not make arrangements with another author while still living to finish his work, though he knew he was dying.  Not unusual.  Authors protect their ‘baby’.  From the year the first book was published till the year the last book was published, the series took 23 years.  That is an entire generation of human existence.

So, fans are understandably concerned with aging Georger R.R. Martin and his Song of Fire and Ice series.  At 66 years, he’s not young and now spends much of his time working with HBO on the Game of Thrones series.  That takes a lot of time and focus AWAY from writing.  Ask Kaylana Price, whose latest Grave Witch book is now 3 YEARS OVERDUE!  Or Scott Lynch and his Gentleman Bastards series.  It took SIX YEARS before The Republic of Thieves was FINALLY published, and that’s just book 3 in his series.  He’s a young man, but still, that is a loooooooooooooooooong wait.  I should know.  I had the book on pre-order.

Patrick Rothfuss takes his time with the King Killer Chronicles as well – which is SUPPOSED to end at book 3.  It took 4 years between 1 and 2, so I’d advise against holding your breath.

Gee, and I wondered why I was asked to name some series that have finally wrapped.  Well, I don’t read every author, but I’ll give this a shot.

David Eddings (d. 2009) – The Belgariad, The Malloreon – epic fantasy

J. R. R. Tolkein (d. 1973) – The Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit (a stand alone and precursor of the Lord of the Rings) – epic fantasy

Robert Jordan (d. 2007)  (w/Brandon Sanderson) – The Wheel of Time (finished 6 years after his death)

Charlaine Harris (living) – Sookie Stackouse completed 2013 (and it sucked) – UF/paranormal/paranormal romance

Daryanda Jones (living) – The Darklight Trilogy (didn’t like the ending) 3 book series complete 2013 – YA, Paranormal, UF; Charley Davidson – ongoing with no indication of when the series will end – UF, Paranormal mystery, Paranormal romance

Gail Carriger – The Parasol Protectorate (5 books) complete 2012 – Steampunk, paranormal; Finishing School – in progress – YA Steampunk  NOTE:  Highly stylized writing for both series, so read a sample to be sure you can deal with it.  I liked it after I got over her style.

Jenn Bennett (living) – Arcadia Bell – complete 2014; Four novels and 1 novella – UF, paranormal romance; consistently well written, but the ending, while good, was not slam bang.

Devon Monk (living) – Allie Beckstrom complete 2012, 9 book series – UF; the latest novel, Dark Magic, is a spin-off of the series.  Another series, Broken Magic is as well.  She is also writing Age of Steam – Steampunk set in the old West.

Kim Harrison (living) – The Hollows (AKA Rachel Morgan) Series – Supposedly complete 2014 with book 13 of the series.  There are numerous novellas associated with it as well.  Dystopian, UF, Futuristic Fantasy

Jacqueline Carey (living) – Kushiel’s Legacy – 3 different series set in the same ‘universe’ complete 2011, 9 books total plus 1 companion book – fantasy; currently writing Agents of Hel

Karen Marie Moning (living) – Fever series complete 2011; 5 books; UF; new series set in the same ‘world’ Fever World AKA Dani O’Malley series in progress; uses the Irish myths for her world building

Molly Harper (living) – Jane Jameson (Nice Girl) series, 4 books complete 2012 – paranormal, paranormal romance, humor; the Half Moon Hollow series are stand alone books set in the same ‘world’- paranormal romance; Naked Werewolf series – stand alone humorous paranormal romance with common elements tying the series to the same ‘world’.

Lauren Dane (living) – Bound by Magic – UF, paranormal romance; 4 books series complete 2013; Tied several other series involving werewolves, were jaguars, and witches together.  For a strong author, the ending was lame and unsatisfying.  The Charvez Witches – erotic paranormal romance, UF series that stopped but was not finished

Kelley Armstrong – The Women of Otherworld – 13 books, numerous novellas and short stories, paranormal romance, UF, complete 2012; has published stand alone books set in Otherworld; Darkness Rising – 3 book series, YA paranormal completed 2013; also writes mystery

Jeaniene Frost (living) – Night Huntress series 6 books,paranormal, paranormal romance, UF complete 2014; stand alone books in Night Huntress Universe and related Night Prince books on-going

Yasmine Galenorn (living) – Indigo Court – 4 books complete 2013, UF; Otherworld series on-going at 13 and at 4 more scheduled; also writes mystery

Deborah Harkness (living) – All Souls Trilogy – completes July 2014 – Paranormal romance; Occult, paranormal romantic suspense, horror; the over-arching plot looses focus now and then, and she gets quite pedantic on some subjects which takes the characters out of character; despite its shortcomings, an original concept in a ‘me too’ field, but the author can’t seem to make up her mind what’s most important, the book or the relationship between her two lead characters.

Some books start as stand alones and end up the first of a series, but unlike a true series, these books are more like mystery or thriller books where the plot is resolved, but the characters continue.  The Rook by Daniel O’Malley is a perfect UF example of a style we’d normally associated with spy or action thrillers.  Complete in itself, readers want the characters to continue.  Stiletto, his second book scheduled for Feb 2015, will continue the characters, but the primary story has (in theory) been resolved, so a new, but related story will be told.  Rather SPECTER in James Bond.

Another apparent stand alone is Mr Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore is another first novel and author Robin Sloan seemed to have ended the plot.  It’s tough to classify this book as it feels like many genres at once, yet never fits into any one.  In Amazon it’s listed under Fantasy AND Techno-thriller, so take your pick.  Personally, I found it curious, but not enthralling or exciting in any way.

Jim Butcher’s Harry Dresden series – UF,  is one of those that is neither a character based series nor a plot based series, but instead moves between the two seamlessly.  You’ll get some virtual stand alones with only minor elements tied to earlier and later books, just as you’d get with a traditional mystery.  Then you’ll get several books primarily driven by a plot element that is resolved at some point.  Harry goes on – even after death, such as it is.  Butcher also writes Codex Alera, a separate fantasy series that has never gained the international following of his Dresden books, but sells very well.  He has signed a deal for a Steampunk series, which may well have an impact on the Dresden series.  Want a perfect example of how UF crosses into Mystery?  Butcher had a book-signing scheduled for the release date of Skin Tight at the famous mystery book store in Scottsdale, The Poisoned Pen.

Lois McMaster Bujold’s Vorkosigan Saga is science fantasy/science fiction and another one of those series that defies simple classification.  She wrote her Vor books in random order, moving back and forth in the timeline of Miles Vorkosigan’s life then spinning off related books in which he is not a major character.  So they can be viewed as related stand alone books or a character driven series, but the story actually starts with his mother and is plot driven!  It’s just one of the many frustrating things readers deal with.

Richard Kadrey’s Sandman Slim series is character driven in book one but turns to plot driven right at the very end.  Book 5 is due out this summer, The Getaway God.  The books read almost as stand alone novels, but link enough that reading them in order is necessary.  Horror, dystopian, UF.  His novel Dead Set is a stand alone dark fantasy/horror book.  By the way, Sandman Slim has been optioned for a movie.

Now, the real question is, when will I write Part 2????? MUWAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAH!!!!!!!!!!!!!

February 21, 2014

Short reviews: eBooks and ARC’s of Humorous Mysteries and Paranormals

I HATE SNOW!  OK, let me modify that, I HATE WINTER!  There, that’s better.  I hate snow, ice, wind, cold, and short days.  And with snow almost up to my windowsills, I’ve had it with the white stuff.  I keep reminding myself that winter is almost over.  It could be worse.  We could have had all this crap since December. …………….. It’s not working.  Anyone foolish enough to send me a postcard with a beach and palm trees is getting wiped off the face of the Earth.  Not that I’m in a bad mood or or anything, but I HATE WINTER!

Maybe I am kind of in a bad mood, but jeeze, this has been one long, cold winter.  Now I know parts of the country have had it far worse than we have, but when the snow on your lawn is piled about 9 feet high, and your front walk is a sheet of ice, that’s not a lot of consolation.  That thaw scheduled for later this week better happen, because getting rid of all this crap will take a LONG time and it needs to hurry up and START NOW!

It has been good weather for reading, it being kind of the perfect indoor activity that requires no effort at all.  I’ve done a lot of it in the last 6 weeks.  Print and a surprising number of ebooks.  While I don’t much care for reading books on my old Kindle, the Kindle app for my laptop works well for me.  Plus I can get a lot of ‘throw away’ mysteries for low prices and most ARC’s (advance reading copies) are ebooks.  Frankly, I wouldn’t spend a lot on an ebook due to the sharing restrictions, but it is convenient.

So, one of my favorite ‘entertainment’ genres is humorous mystery, and I’ve reviewed the Diner series by Terri L. Austin, the Dirty series by Liliana Hart, and the Deadwood series by Ann Charles before.  This time its the Cueball series by Cindy Blackburn.  While not quite as good as Austin’s Diner books, there were a lot fun.

In addition to the Cue Ball mysteries, I also received 3 ARC’s of soon to be released paranormals and mysteries.  So this post will be all ebooks.  The new releases I bought will wait for a later post.  Now ARC’s have not been proofed, so I hope all the grammatical errors are fixed, but for once, no complaints about the books themselves.  Certainly, many of the self-published books have errors, but then I’m a bit more forgiving on them.  When I’m paying $10-$12 for a trade paperback, I get bit more critical.  SO here we go, new series, new installments, and and ending for one of favorite series.

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  Cue Ball 1  Cue ball 2  Cue Ball Mysteries  Cue Ball 4

In Playing with Poison, Ms Blackburn introduces the core set of characters for the series.  Police Captain Wilson Rye, has seen a lot in his years as a cop, but Jessica Hewitt is something else.  Well, really something else.  Divorced, a romance author of ‘near pornographic’ romances under pen name Adelé (pronounced Add-a-lay, homage to her writing style) Nightingale, and a pool shark taught by one of the best in the game, her late father Leon “Cue It” Hewitt.  Jessie is also briefly a murder suspect when her neighbor Candy’s fiance Stanley staggers into her apartment and dies on her sofa.  Candy is a slightly ditsy lingerie saleswoman, and very sweet girl.  Now Jessie involvement causes lots of unwanted publicity, thanks to obnoxious reporter Jimmy Beak, but that does nothing but cause her book sales to go thru the roof, making Geez Louise her agent very happy.  It also has Jessie playing amateur detective, much to the annoyance of Captain Rye, who is quite taken with Jessie, despite her being 5 years older.  Also in the small circle of friends of the recently divorced Jessie made is Karen, brilliant at woodworking and building custom furniture, and downstairs neighbor in the home turned condo she bought after her divorce.  The original owner of the building, an aged music teacher and cranky old man, Mr Henderson, has the first floor, and finally, bartender Bryce, perennial student and their good buddy from the local watering hole just across the street.

The plot of Playing with Poison is decent, the characters enjoyable and prose light and breezy in the Steph Plum mold, but with the OTT animal nonsense.  I’d give a C+ to B- (3.7*) and say it was worth $2.99 it cost.

Book 2 is Double Shot and it has Jessie going ‘undercover’ for Rye at a bar cum pool dive to investigate a murder.  Despite the far fetched premise, it was a decent read and Mr Henderson becomes is normal cheerful self now that his medications are straightened out.  Again, about a C+ (3.5*) and worth the $2.99 for entertainment.

Three Odd Balls finds everyone except Mr Henderson in Hawaii for a sudden Christmas trip – that Jessie planned for her and Rye, but ended up with not only the whole gang, but her 80-something mother and Rye’s teen son from his first marriage as well.  Strangely, they’re alone at a beautiful, if badly managed resort run by two brothers, one surly and unpleasant, the other cheerful, but none too bright or organized.  Of the four books, I thought this one the best plotted and with the best extra characters.  My score is B- (3.8*) and a suggested read.  At $2.99, it was the best buy.

While Three Odd Balls was the best, Four Play was the most annoying.  The plot was decent enough, but the dialogue was lame with way too many “She’s scary, isn’t she?”  Centered around the death of a much loved high school teacher, who’s body was found on Jessie’s car that she loaned to her former neighbor, now a high school junior.  Jessie also becomes the target of demonstrators who want to ‘ban’ her smutty books – too bad Jessie can’t seem to dredge up a single sex scene for her current novel set in the old West.  This one gets a C (3*) from me.  While all the books have diversions into what are supposedly Adelé’s lurid novels, this one kind of drove me nuts because it’s so focused on her ‘plot plight’ and Jimmy Beak.  The best part is the ending where she catches the killer on stage on camera.

Overall, the series was pretty good and well worth the $2.99 per ebook. I will follow this one.

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Bite Me Laurenston

Bite Me is due out March 25 and I got an advance ebook to read.  Shelly Laurenston writes a really funny apology for the cover art that’s a must read.  The story is one I looked forward to, the one of Livy, the honey badger friend of Toni Jean-Lousie Parker, and Victor Barinov, a bear-tiger hybrid that occasionally works with Dee Ann.  Both were introduced in Wolf With Benefits and, frankly, were the best part of that otherwise tedious story.

Bite Me sees Laurenston back in her usual off-beat form with strong characters, a really good plot (something she usually wings), hot sex, a unique set of supporting characters, and plot twists to keep things interesting.  It’s almost impossible to give a plot synopsis without giving too much away, so I’ll just say a giant panda is added to the cast along a group of honey badgers that are memorable.

Now Livy and Vic Barinov are characters that many people won’t like.  I loved them.  They aren’t the usual type for Laurenston and she really seemed to enjoy writing this one.  Livy is more like one of her female leads in her GA Aiken Dragon Kin books – reminding me of Annwyl the Bloody.  If you like Dragon, Actually, then you’ll like Bite Me.  It worth reading for the visit to Honeyville and jousting alone.  It gets a solid B (4*) from me, in large part do to the well above average plot and unique characters.

I have the print book on order and I left it on order after reading the ARC.  Print is currently $9 on Amazon and I’d say it was a suggested buy for fans of Laurenston’s G. A. Aiken Dragon Kin books as they come closer to characters here than the bulk of her Pride series books do.

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White Magic five and dime

Steve Hockensmith is well known for his Holmes on the Range series of mysteries set in the 1890’s out West featuring Big Red and Old Red Amlingmeyer.  This contemporary series he co-authors with Lisa Falco, a new author, and apparently the reason the lead characters here are female.

Alanis McLaughlin made a new life for herself, free of her grifter con-artist mother, but her past comes back when a lawyer contacts her to let her know her mother died and she is named sole heir in her will.  It not an inheritance she wants, but she leaves her job the best the best loan seller in a Chicago boiler room operation that’s legit, and heads to a small town north of Sedona where tarot readers and general con-artists fleece willing tourists and locals alike.  Much to her surprise, her mom managed to settle down and actually OWNED The White Magic Five and Dime, a shop full of mystic junk with a room tarot readings where her mom made her real money.  But it’s apartment upstairs that holds the real shock, a young woman who live with

Weaving current events surrounding her mother’s less than legal activities and flashbacks to her unconventional childhood, the story unfolds.   While interesting, I never really connected completely with the characters.  The solution was very well done and unlike far too many mysteries, it was a surprise.  The setting, a small version of new age Sedona, was fairly well drawn and the many side stories had interesting characters.

The White Magic Five and Dime gets a C+ to B- (3.5*) from me.  While interesting and well paced, I never connected with Alanis the way I did with, say, Jonathan Gnash’s Lovejoy or other rather seedy lead characters.  Currently selling at $12-13.50 in pre-order, I can’t rate it a buy, but for lover’s of the Holmes books, it might be worth the price of a used copy or make sure the local library gets it in.  Due for release in July this year.

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Banishing the dar

Banishing the Dark is the final installment of the Arcadia Bell series, one of better and more original urban fantasy series out there, and at just 4 books, one of the shorter ones.  Due for publication late May, I had an ebook ARC.

When we left Cady in Binding the Shadows, she’d killed the head of the Hellfire Club and been dealing with her becoming scaly – complete with tail – and her mom planning on taking over her body, her baby, and ruling Earth.  Seriously, the woman is the biggest egomaniac ever!  She also had to tell her partner in the bar the truth about who she was.  Frightened of what she’s becoming, afraid of hurting Lon or his son Jupe, not to mention the coming confrontation with evil, and very powerful, mother, Cady plans to go it alone, but nether Lon or Jupe are going to let that happen.

Cady is thwarted at every turn.  The one leader who knew the truth of her existence and might offer clues on how to defeat her mother is dead.  Having killed the head of the Hellfire Club, she’s in deep trouble with the locals.  And somehow, she must unravel the complex spell her mother created when conceiving her, it’s the only way to stop the changes and to stop her mother from taking over the world.

The story is not just about events, but how you perceive them, the interpretation of what it means.  And to some extent, it is also about the power of love.  Banishing the Dark was a satisfying, if slightly predictable, ending to a really well written series.  I give it a B- (3.8*) and a must read for anyone who has enjoyed the earlier books, and the whole series is a recommended read for fans of urban fantasy.  I give Ms Bennett credit for a solid, well written, and original series with an equally solid wrap-up.  Too many times these things string past the point where they should end.  This one did not. Kudos.

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