Tour’s Books Blog

October 30, 2013

Some Thoughts on Fall and Reviews

What is it about fall that makes us reflective?  Is it the knowledge that yet another year is slipping away?  That the cycle of our lives that crawled so slowly as children is suddenly speeding up, making us want to linger longer in the various seasons?  Spring lightens our hearts as the barren trees and gardens spring to life in a burst of green, pinks, white, purple with highlights of yellow.  Cool, soothing, young colors. Then summer sees all the local foods in farmer’s markets and gardens in full bloom and the smell of fresh cut grass.

Then fall comes ………………

Trees turn the colors of warm jewels, and I think the very fleeting nature of such amazing beauty is what makes it so memorable.  It also has a certain melancholy to it – fall is the final shining moment before winter closes in and shrouds our short days in cold and snow, or just leaves us barren trees and lifeless gardens till spring comes and begins the cycle with a riot of new colors.  Are the seasons a metaphor of life itself?  Maybe.  And maybe, as we grow older we appreciate just how truly fleeting perfect moments are, and how little we appreciated some in our past.  So on that perfect fall day, stop and remember and enjoy it.  Each day is unique and will not come your way again.

Fall also brings a surge of book releases, and not just the usual stuff.  This is when publishers release all those glorious ‘coffee table’ books intended as Christmas gifts.  When I was I kid, books like that were always on my Christmas list, but these days, fewer and fewer are printed.  Another victim of technology.  Cookbooks are still big sellers, reliably so.  But hey, Halloween is is almost here, so let’s do some paranormal and UF books!

Tempt the Stars

The Cassie Palmer series by Karen Chance is a good one, but with two huge drawbacks – first, it’s complex, yet lacks the subtle detail to fully flesh it out, and second, it’s a looooong wait between books.  So long, you’ve pretty much forgotten the characters and plot from the previous book!  Since each installment builds on a previous one, that’s a major stumbling block.

Tempt the Stars starts more or less where Hunt the Moon left off.  Pritkin gave his life to save Cassie in the battle with Ares – not by dying, but by returning to his father’s court – he’s an incubus.  Las Vegas, especially the casino, suffered in some of the fallout, leaving quite a mess.   But Cassie made up her mind – and a Pythia’s mind if tough to change when she can move thru time and space – she’s getting Pritkin back!  It helps that’s she’s the daughter of Artemis.  But the magic the goddess worked so long ago shutting out her other gods and goddesses from access to Earth is breaking down, and Cassie needs to talk to her mother, which means she has to move thru space and time.

First she has to get rid of the witches that showed up demanding an audience.  Witches, vampires, and war mages are not a great mix, especially for a Pythia that never had formal training in any of the court etiquette required – thanks to Master Vampire and the ultimate manipulator – Micrea, who is oddly absent here.  Cassie is determined to rescue Pritkin from his father, but in doing so, frightens the rulers into thinking her mother, Artemis, may try and stage a comeback.  As usual, the whining Casanova provides comic relief as our daring trio journey thru Hell.

Lightweight entertainment, following the rather complex and scattered plot can be a challenge, but over all a decent read.    Tempting the Stars gets a C+ to B- (3.5*) from me and is decent fun for fans of the series.  The book was purchased from Books-a-Million for $5.39 and worth a read for series fans.

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deathandthegirlheloves

Darynda Jones’ final installment in her young adult Darklight trilogy about a teenage girl and her association with Death and saving the world.  Now understand, I’m not a huge fan of young adult books, but this series had a good start and a good middle, aimed as it was at older YA readers, not early teens.   While she has worked wonders with her Charlie Davidson books, here, book 3, Death, and the Girl He Loves, got off to what still seems a pointless and diversion to a private school in Maine where Lorelei McAlister makes one friend, acquires a male sidekick, and ends up under the watchful eye of what seems to be the school tough girl, Kenya.  Again we have a trio of students, a girl, and boy, and Lorelei, just like back in New Mexico, and then the local tough – this time Kenya.

Lorelei is struggling to adjust to her loneliness away from her grandparents and friends, but suddenly, everyone she touches triggers visions of death and darkness.  EVERYONE.  Plus, someone wants her dead and his killing her will start the Apocalypse.  She needs to get back to New Mexico and fix whatever is wrong.  Turns out Kenya is not bad but, but her guardian, raised by members of the group her grandfather leads and rescues her form a supposed friend and gets her safely back to New Mexico.  Well that was a complete waste of 75 pointless pages as only the Kenya character actually stays thru the book and the whole thing serves no other purpose.

And we’re back to the bickering Brooke and Glitch, the brooding Jared and testy Nathaniel and her loving grandparents.  Now that ‘the end’ is near, Lorelei has to figure out how to save the world.  This is when I have to start reminding myself this is YA paranormal, because frankly, the premise was a bit thin from the start, and the many shortcomings were hidden behind the facile charm of the characters.  Or maybe we are conditioned to the ‘Harry Potter Complex’ of an 18 year old saving the world.  The difference between the two, though, is Harry Potter suffered and grew wise beyond his years, but here, Lorelei solves it all in the nick of time without paying the price of her wisdom.

I am in a distinct minority in saying the ending just didn’t work for me.  The characters didn’t evolve in any meaningful way to earn insight and wisdom and Death should really have been the mentor – or at least a much more mature character given his age.  That was kind of creepy, even is Death appears as a teen, he ISN’T.

In many ways, the Darklight plot is pale shadow, suitably watered down for teens, of her darker and funnier Charlie Davidson story.  But for me, the ending didn’t work.  OK, I suppose within the context of the story it was acceptable, but my credulity broke and couldn’t be mended.  What should have been the strongest of the 3 books was the weakest redeemed, in part, only by the last few pages.

Death, and the Girl He Loves gets a C+ (3.5*) from me.  I was not impressed, but if you’ve followed the series, it is a must read.  I just think better ones are out there.  A ‘chick book trilogy’ in that teen girls will swoon.  Judging by the Amazon reviews, so did the moms, but I was still kind of astonished by the ‘ick factor’ that was seen as romance between ageless Death and a high school girl.  Did no one else get kind of creeped out by this?  Putting a character that existed since the beginning of time into an ‘apparent’ 18 year old body, does NOT make him 18.  EWWWWWWWW!

Death, and the Girl He Loves was purchased from Amazon for about $9-10.  I think it over priced, but then, I’m not a hormonal teen.

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Curtsies and Conspiracies by Gail Carriger

OK, here is another Young Adult book aimed at younger readers – the 14 to 16 set.  No romance, just the further adventures of Sophronia Teminnick and her friends at Miss Geraldine’s Finishing Academy.  Finishing School is a very different kind of series from the Darklight books, focusing on the growth, curiosity, and indomitable Sophronia.  Shrewd, observant, and very intelligent, Sophronia had all the making of a spy and is given a scholarship of sorts to the floating school, a ‘finishing school’ for spies that protect England.

In book two, we are back to the problem of the device that went missing and what exactly that device can do.  It seems everyone wants it and Bunsen’s and Miss Geraldine’s are collaborating on building a replacement.  Boys on board!  And one young lord tries to ‘court’ Sophronia, which puzzles her no end as there are too many far more interesting things than boys.  Especially self adsorbed young lords.   The escapades that the girls get into while trying to unravel what’s going on move at a swift pace.  Sophronia is perfect lead character, oblivious to anything but her insatiable curiosity.  She does, however, recognize the value that good manners has in this kind of ‘war’ where battles can be won or lost in the drawings rooms of society.

With her classic wit and style, Ms Carriger spins a good tale here with lots of thrills and more than enough plot, but it is a very short novel.   Too short.  Yes, 14 year olds are not big on long stories, but I was left with the impression it would have been fleshed out more had there not been a rush to publish book 2 in the series.

Curtsies and Conspiracies gets a solid B- (3.8*) and might have earned more had it been more polished.  It’s a great series for young teen girls and anyone who enjoyed Harry Potter.  Sophronia is smart, likable character with quirks and a gift for observation and a shrewd mind that has just the right amount of over-active teen imagination that many lack.  I received a free ebook pre-publication copy of Curtsies and Conspiracies.  It’s current price on Amazon is $12, though it had been lower.  Frankly, I’d say stick with an ebook version as this one is too short a novel for the money being asked.

October 16, 2012

Some New Releases

The past two months have seen the usually rash of fall releases, and it’s no exception this year.  My TBR pile grew exponentially again.  Trying to keep up is a challenge.   So here are some recent releases and a few from the summer I’m just catching up with.

First up is new author Owen Laukkanen with his first book, a thriller, The Professionals, about college kids with no job prospects who somehow find themselves in the easy business of kidnapping wealthy upper management types, mostly banking and investment types, and holding them for reasonable ransoms, and letting them go the next day.  A simple business plan.  Don’t get greedy, ask for an amount that the wife would have available, don’t call the cops.  But finally one victim DOES call the cops and the cops call the Minnesota BCA (Bureau of Criminal Apprehension made famous by John Sanford’s Lucas Davenport books) – the state criminal investigation unit.

Overworked and world-weary detective Kirk Stevens catches the unwanted call about a kidnapping in Minnesota.  Talk about a rare occurrence.  Curious, Stevens goes to investigate. As Stevens starts finding bits and pieces, our enterprising gang, lead by Pender and girlfriend Marie, tough guy Sawyer, and ‘Mouse’, the computer hacker, have moved on to another city.   The next target leaves town with his family for vacation the day they plan to snatch him.  So now they have leave town or quickly change targets.  They find a back-up and snatch him – and things start to go terribly wrong.

At the same time, Stevens gets permission to get the FBI involved with his case and Agent Windermere start working together. Donald Beneteau isn’t frightened about being snatched, he’s mad.  He keeps telling them “You don’t know who you’re messing with.”  The phone call to the wife for the ransom demand doesn’t go as scripted, just “You know what to do.”  The gang is nervous and Mouse digs deeper, the kind of digging he should have done before the snatch.  Donald isn’t the big problem, his wife Patricia is.  It’s a worst case thing, they just grabbed a guy with mob ties.  Worse he learned one of their names – and foolishly taunts them with by asking, “Who’s Pender?”  That’s when Sawyer shoots him in the head on street in front of his house.

Now they’re running from the police, the Feds, and the mob – and from themselves for suddenly being part of a murder.  Shocked by what happened, and the magnitude of what they’ve done, Maria takes off for home – Seattle while the 3 guys head for Florida.  The mob is hot on their tail, so are Stevens and Windermere.

The story switches point of view between characters – the cops, the mob, and our gang.  The characters are well drawn, especially the 4 young gang members.  The author does a decent job of watching them go from treating kidnapping as a virtual ‘victim-less’ crime to to the realization they are serious criminals and now killers.  When Mouse gets shot by mob guys there for bayback, he lives, but the mob guys don’t and Pender has to deal with the fact he remorselessly killed a man.  The change is realistic, but not their ease with weapons, but I found that credibility factor not too hard to hurdle.

It’s a long book at over 400 pages in paperback, but it held together. The Professionals is a good first novel and apparently the start of a series featuring BCA Agent Stevens and FBI Agent Windermere.  It get a B- (3.8*) from and a suggested read for thriller readers.  I got the book thru the Amazon 4-for-3 promotion for about $8 ($9.99 list) and it was worth that as entertainment.  The second book, Criminal Enterprise, is due out in hardcover in early 2013.

Daryanda Jones hit the paranormal market with a real breakthrough book First Grave on the Right, first in the Charlie Davidson series.  She has now turned the same bright, sassy, irreverent style to the lucrative young adult market with Death and the Girl Next Door.   Lorelei MacALister was left an orphan when her parents were killed – though in truth, she just remembers their ……. disappearing.  Raised in a small New Mexico town she and BFF’s Brooklyn, an irreverent and loyal friend since they fought it out at 6 years of age, and Glitch, the boy who’s kind of skinny and funny and tight with both of them.  Inseparable friends who keep Lori’s secret – she can see things when she touches people.

As if being sophomores in high school isn’t bad enough, Lori finds herself the centerpiece of a battle between loner Cameron Lusk and a supposedly ‘new kid’ Jared Kovach.  Neither is what they seem to be – but then neither is Lori.  Luckily, her two quirky friends and loving grandparents seem OK with what she is.  When the high school principal seems to recognize Jared, and Lori quickly realizes he’s made his name up, and she starts having lots of questions.  She has a lot more when Jared seemingly does the impossible and saves her from dying when she’s hit by a truck.  Literally.  And why isn’t she hurt far worse than she is?  And where did Jared disappear to?  And why does Josh hate him and warn her away from him?  And what’s going on with the school principal?

A quick read, and suitable for teens, as young adult books should be, yet still entertaining enough for adults.  It’s a lighter version of  characters that are in many ways similar to those in her Charley Davidson series.  The same humor is here too and the kids seem only slightly too mature for sophomores.  The plot doesn’t move a smoothly as it should, digressing into various side stories, and tension levels are not all that high.  The ‘Big Reveal’ about Lori is a bit flat and more than a little confusing in its mythology/history.  Without spoilers, I can’t give the details, but I can’t say where this is going from here.

Overall, it was average at the end with some excellent moments in spots.  I’d give Death and the Girl Next Door a C+ to B- (3.5*) and say for $9.99 on the 4-for-3 promotion, it’s a decent buy with 3 other books, especially if you have a young adult reader in the family.  Got my copy thru the Amazon promotion for about $8.

Christie Craig writes romantic mysteries that are on the frothy side.  Her latest series centers on three PI’s – cops wrongly convicted of murder who were exonerated after 18 months in prison.  Blame it on Texas is about Tyler Lopez.  Tyler Lopez is convinced he’ll never find happiness like his partner did, but he has god a big family that loves him.  Unfortunately, the command performance at his niece’s birthday party ended up with him in a clown costume.  And punching her stepfather who hit his sister.

Zoe Adams is a grade school teacher on a one month leave of absence while she investigates the strange story of a supposedly kidnapped and murdered girl, granddaughter of a billionaire, in a house she has vague memories of.  His ordinary and loving parents claimed she was born in Alabama, yet her birth certificate was from Texas, this small town she faintly recalls.  She had years of therapy convincing her the ‘memories’ she had as a child were all false.  By the time she graduated college, her dad had died and then her mom.  It was going thru their belongings that lead her to the birth certificate.  Working as a waitress in a diner helps pay the rent while she tries to find the truth.  Her boss suggests she go see the PI’s that come in to eat lunch.

Now Zoe is no wimp, but she’s getting threatening phone calls and decides maybe talking to the PI’s isn’t a bad idea.  She goes to the office – but it seems empty.  The sign says ring the bell.  Looking, for the bell, she sees a file on the Bradford’s when her oversize purse knocks the file on the floor.  Crawling on the floor to pick up the papers, she suddenly sees the one thing she has an irrational phobia of – a clown.

It’s not everyday a beautiful redhead is crawling around the floor of the office, and Trey assumes this is the new receptionist, Ellen.  Except for the complete panic when she sees him – and the certainty he knows her from ….. somewhere.  But she’s out of there and running before he can do anything and all he gets is the fact her plate is from Alabama.  Finally, he remembers where he saw her before – and next day heads there for breakfast – one that he ends up wearing when he startles Zoe while holding a tray full of food.

Finally Trey and Zoe talk, and he’s not exactly believing her theory.  But he becomes a believer when someone starts shooting at her in her apartment.  No question, someone wants her GONE.  Taking her to the agency ‘safe house’ – well he invented that because he had to say something to get her out of there, he takes her back to the agency where the upstairs apartment he was planning to move into.  He more of a believer because of the yearbook photo in one of partner’s father’s HS class, but when the man walks in, he takes one look at Zoe and says she’s the image of her real mother.

But why try and kill Zoe?  A simple DNA test would prove whether she was the kidnapped granddaughter.  The story twists and turns and Trey and Zoe get romantically involved, but he believes he’s a bad bet for marriage.   But there’s another story, why did two decent, ordinary, loving people kidnap a child and raise her to believe she was theirs?

That answer is tied up a bit conveniently in a letter from her dead mother, along with the suicide of one of the men involved.  There is an HEA and a not very happy family reunion, one that tells Zoe that maybe what happened to her was in fact, good luck.  Confusing things is a second story line of policeman and part time PI agency agent Rick and the new agency receptionist Ellen.  With two romances running, the old kidnapping, current attempts to frighten or hurt Zoe, and the the whole spousal abuse element with Trey’s sister, it was kind of on overload

Ms Craig draws her characters well, even if they are a bit unoriginal, but the ‘humorous meeting’ thing is forced here.  I general, Zoe is grounded and feisty and I liked her.  Trey was a bit too angsty.  Give him fangs and he could have been a vampire.  It was fluff, but a decent read.  Overall I give Blame It on Texas a C+ (3.7*) though Amazon readers rate it much higher.  On the 4-for-3 rate of $6.00 it’s an OK read, but not not recommended unless you’re a fan of Craig.

Terry Spear favors writing stand alone shifter novels and Savage Hunger is no exception.  Set mostly in the Amazon where Jaguar shifter Conner Anderson and his sister Maya are camping.  She wants him to find a mate, instead he finds Captain Kathleen McKnight a prisoner of men that work for the local drug lord, Carlos Gonzolas.  Things go wrong.  She’s badly injured and vaguely recalls being rescued by a jaguar and a man named Connor.   Eventually, what’s left of her team rescues her, and she spends a long time in military hospitals and then gets discharged from the only life she’s known, the military and her fiance breaks up with her.

She goes back to the jungle in hopes of finding the man who saved her only to be save again – by a pair of jaguars.   After what had happened to her on her first trip, Kat did a lot of reading on jaguars and she finally decides this male and female pair must have been raised as cubs by her mystery rescuer.  And sure enough, Connor shows up.

Kat’s pheromones are driving Connor crazy.  But she’s human, not a suitable mate for him.  Maya thinks differently and scratches Kat with her claws, then licks the wounds, hoping the virus transfers to her and she becomes a jaguar shifter too – and a mate for Connor.  She knows he’ll be furious at what she’s done, but he needs a mate.

The local drug lord has not forgotten what happened the year before when all his men were killed and when he hears that the woman is back in the jungle, he comes hunting her.  There’s a mysterious ‘jaguar god’ that gets sighted now and then that may, or may not have something to do with Connor and Maya’s parents, but that is one mystery left unsolved.

We have our HEA and then Kat’s ex-fiance shows up to ‘patch things up’.  This, after he used her as bait to lure out the drug lord.  Men are idiots.  You can imagine the reaction.

Savage Hunger was a decent paranormal romance, but I did prefer her A SEAL in Wolf’s Clothing.  Not her best effort, but with some good parts.  C+ (3.5*) and a suggestion to buy used or get it through book swapping.  I paid $5.99 on the Amazon 4-for-3 promotion.

Last review is one of the better action thriller reads of the year, Black List by Brad Thor book 11 in his Scot Havarth series.  Thor has a bad habit of using his characters to preach his own ideas about national security and terrorism, but here he went back to basics and wrote a traditional action thriller that was scary in that I can see this happening.  In an odd quirk of fate, I read this book just before Leon Panetta, Secretary of Defense, spoke about ‘Cyber Pearl Harbor’.  On the cover page –

“All of the technology contained in this novel is based upon systems currently being deployed, or in the final stages of development, by the United States government and its partners.”

Caroline Romero once saved the life of an enigmatic computer genius nicknamed “The Troll”.  Now she stumbled onto something so black and so unbelievable, she reaches out to the one person who would never be linked to the conspiracy.  But she’s being followed and knows they’ll kill her.  She has to get this to someone who can get to the Troll in her place.  Goes the one place the men won’t follow – Victoria Secrets.  Then she runs.  And dies.

Scot Havarth meets with Riley Turner in an apartment in Europe.  He no more than arrives when they get attacked.  Riley is killed and he uses his SEAL training to make use of what weapons he has to take down the killers.  Killers his own government sent.  He runs, using cover passports and still he’s tracked.  Unable to reach any of the other operators or their boss, he manages to get back to the US to try and find out why he and the other operators have become targets.

Meanwhile, back in the US, the Troll lands in Texas at a private ranch owned by someone who owes him more than a few favors.  He rarely sets foot in the US, but for the woman who saved his life and never asked for anything from him, he came.  A dwarf with two huge dogs, he keeps the lowest profile someone can.  But when he makes the meet at a parking garage, it’s not Caroline running to his SUV – but she knew all about how they met and he saves her – and the memory stick Caroline mailed her.

In Northern Virginia, Reed Carlton, founder of the Carlton Group for whom Havarth works, as do many other skilled spec ops  people is awakened in the middle of the night by a fire.  A fire that’s engulfing his whole house and all the electronic safety measures, including the safe room, into a prison.  But it’s a prison with a secret escape hatch and the shrewd old man makes use of it and very quickly realizes that everything electronic can’t be trusted.  But he was a spy back before all the electronics existed, so he uses his old tradecraft to evade detection.  Then he enlists his own mentor for help.

The three men manage to link up to get the man who put them on the Black List – a list of ‘Enemies of the State’.

Thor takes the three separate story lines and weaves them together through a private security company turned rogue by their CEO – Craig Middleton.  Devoid of his usual editorialism for most of the book, Black List is a first rate thriller and one of the best he’s done.  I had trouble putting it down and knocked it off in a few hours.  Thor’s writing isn’t in the same class as Daniel Silva’s more elegant prose, but for this story, his straight-forward, spare style suits.

Black List gets a solid B+ (4.3*) and a recommended read for action thriller lovers.  It’s selling for $16+ on Amazon, but I got my copy through a book swap site.  Either buy used or get it from the library.  Or if you can, wait for the paperback, but do read it.

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