Tag Archives: series

February and March reads

Named of the Dragon by Susanna Kearsley – This is an older/earlier book, and it shows in the development of the plot, such as it is.  The ending of the baby mystery was out of nowhere and didn’t really fit with the tone of the rest of the piece.  It felt sort of wedged in, as if the author had written herself into a corner with the paranormal bit and then – voila! – came up with a practical/real solution that hadn’t been signaled in any way earlier in the book.

Echoes in Death by J.D Robb – Meh. Guessed whodunnit as soon as the character was introduced and the “twist” earlier on (during the post mortem).

The Chemist  by Stephenie Meyer  – Really trope-y heroine. Dreamy and not really believable hero. Split with twin to get all skills. Author had a couple of faux pas re: DC, especially re the Metro (there are no ladies rooms in Metro stops).

Silence Fallen by Patricia Briggs – Glad this was a library loaner, because paying for it would have irritated me.  Miscellaneous sloppy typos missed in copy edits (the for then, ambitions for ambitious, etc.).  Disjointed narration. If you have to tell me at the outset of each chapter the setting, then you are doing something wrong, too much telling. More everyone loves Mercy. More power pulled out of nowhere to serve the plot. Meh.

Mira’s Last Dance by Lois McMaster Bujold – The writing was fine, but this novella felt kind of purposeless to me.  Penric’s situation wasn’t really advanced from the end of the last story, on the run with a potential ladylove and her refugee brother.  They are in a slightly safer locale, but the conflict isn’t resolved or even moved forward at all.  It was vaguely interesting to get a different personality of Desdemona has a role, but absent actual progression, I felt like the novella was a disappointment; I wouldn’t call in a money-grab, exactly, but it felt purposeless and like fluff or filler.

Currently reading Empires of Light (nonfiction) and a biography of Ida Tarbell.

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Emptying the junk drawer

When I was a kid, my sister and I would spend part of the summer with my grandparents, who spoiled us rotten.  (I’m not exaggerating:  we were the first grandbabies and could do NO WRONG.)  One of the mysteries and treasures of the summer was Mommom’s junk drawer.  You could find amazing, magical, useful things in the drawer; whenever you needed something, it could be found there.  Spare keys, a screwdriver, twist-ties, lids for canning, a ruler, etc.  The drawer collected the flotsam of the household, the bits and bobs that wound up in the kitchen for some reason, and held it all securely until we needed it.  Because sooner or later someone would need that key chain or a green ink pen or whatever other oddity might’ve gotten added to the jumble.

As an adult, I recognize the pack-rat tendencies and Depression-era mentality of my grandmother that led to the junk drawer — don’t get rid of anything still usable because it might be useful at some point.  I’ve managed to avoid having my own junk drawer in the kitchen, but I still manage to have a sort of book related equivalent:  not just this blog, but a collection of notebooks, some expensive and some not, that reside in my shoulder bag, being filled with notes about books to buy, reviews to write, links to share, and things to look up.

  • The Economist on the success of Nordic crime fiction
  • An interview with Gore Vidal that was banned.  I have thoughts about Vidal’s play, The Best Man, and how it reflects on the current election season, but haven’t managed to string them together coherently other than to think that John Stamos’s character seems like a frighteningly accurate portrayal of the GOP veep nominee and also any tea party candidate.
  • Matt Taibbi on Romney the archipelago man.
  • This article on David Ferrer made me ::head desk:: when I read it.  Really? Has that journalist (assuming he is a legitimate sports journalist) paid more than cursory attention to professional tennis?

 

On the reading front, I’ve finished Aaronovitch’s first and third Peter Grant urban fantasy novels.  As I mentioned earlier, I found them at the Strand, but unfortunately could not find a copy of the second book of the series.  I’ve broken down and bought a copy of the ebook, but read #3 before doing so.  I’m kind of sorry I skipped around now, because some of Grant’s behavior in the second book changes my opinion of his reliability as a narrator and a detective/constable, which would make a difference to my reading of the third book (although it wouldn’t change my enjoyment of the series.)  Will have to reread book three once I’ve finished book two.

I’ve also fallen prey to the lure of Audible.com.  I used to borrow a lot of audiobooks from the library, but fell out of the habit.  A recommendation over at Dear Author in a comment thread got me started again.  ::sigh::  Just what I needed:  more books, just in another format…

 

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SBD: PsyCop series by Jordan Castillo Price

Today’s SBD is brought to you courtesy of Sunita’s review of the first PsyCop novella, Among the Living, by Jordan Castillo Price.

I feel vaguely guilty for not reading this series earlier.  I’ve had one other book by the author in my TBR for several years now, but never got past the first chapter.  As a result, whenever I saw a PsyCop recommendation via Amazon or other booksellers online, I tended to skip them.  And even though I loved some of the JCP Press Petit Morts, I hadn’t read most of the author’s entries.  Until Sunita’s review made me circle back and check the series out.

Victor Bayne, the psychic half a PsyCop team, is a gay medium who’s more concerned with flying under the radar than in making waves.

He hooks up with handsome Jacob Marks, a non-psychic (or “Stiff”) from an adjacent precinct at his ex-partner’s retirement party and it seems like his dubious luck has taken a turn for the better. But then a serial killer surfaces who can change his appearance to match any witness’ idea of the world’s hottest guy.

Solving murders is a snap when you can ask the victims whodunit, but this killer’s not leaving any spirits behind.

Spoilerish statements follow

I loved Vic as narrator.  He’s so…not the typical hero or narrator, even for a mystery series.  He’s absolutely not a sterling police officer, or he doesn’t appear to be interested in becoming a model detective although he does take his job seriously.  He’s possibly addicted to the prescription anti-psy drugs he uses to avoid seeing dead people when he’s off duty; some of the drugs are prescription, that is, while others are of dubious origin.  He’s incredibly unathletic.  He’s kind of a slacker.  And he hasn’t explored his full potential as the Psy half of a PsyCop team  — for very good reasons that are revealed as the series goes along.

Jacob, the love interest introduced in the opening chapter of the first novella, is a little bit of a mystery, in terms of his motivation.  Readers see that Vic is attracted but also get his puzzlement because he often thinks Jacob is out of his league, both as a high profile PsyCop detective (ostensibly the non-Psy partner of a pairing) and as a hot, hot guy.

I’ve really enjoyed the way Castillo Price has added a little more to each character through each novella and then book.  Gradually readers get to see how/why Vic is the way he is, and that Jacob isn’t what he appears on the surface (it’s even a surprise to Jacob to learn that).

This passage in GhosTV is really telling, in terms of Vic’s hiding and how it has influenced his personality and his interactions even with the (few) people he loves or is close to:

When I opened my eyes, [Jacob] was watching me. I looked back…and I wondered what it would take for me to look at him “that way,” like he wanted me to so badly. I wasn’t sure. I spent most of my time trying to be totally devoid of expression, to not let anyone, living or dead, sneak past my own personal brand of shield. Quite possibly, I wouldn’t know how to really look at anybody “that way” even if I tried.

If I couldn’t figure out how to make my face convey my feelings, I suppose I’d need to settle for words. “You know how much I love you, right? I don’t say it enough, I know. It’s…I…” I sighed. “I do. And I’ve never felt like this before. About anyone. Only you.”

While my face was the white noise of the facial expression continuum, Jacob’s was more like a symphony. His eyes softened and went all smitten, and he grabbed me by the shoulders, pulled me against him and stopped just short of kissing me hard, and instead, brought our lips together soft as a whisper while his whole body trembled with tension.

I could take a lesson from him. Really. Literally. Get him to feel an emotion and watch what it did to his face—then turn to a mirror and try to see what it might feel like to look the same way. If I really wanted to try it, he’d do it for me. He’d probably do just about anything for me. Somehow, though, I couldn’t see myself actually asking him.

Because that would be weird.

Also am enjoying the way his circle of friends and colleagues is expanding:  Vic was very much alone at the outset of the first book, but he’s now got a new partner, an almost-partner-more-friend, a non-copy Psy friend/temptation, and others.  His world and world-view are growing and changing.

Each mystery begins with a murder or other crime that appears at the outset to be non-paranormal, but somehow the solution edges into the Psy zone.  And Vic and his cohort use regular detective work (including tedious paperwork and detail review) along with the psychic stuff to figure out whodunwhat.

One question in the back of my mind as I read was how would I classify this series?  It’s not really romance any more than the In Death series is genre romance, although both series have a romance/relationship thread.  I would probably classify both as mystery/suspense with romance subplot or maybe urban fantasy (the PsyCop series fits UF but I’m not sure In Death does).  (Wow, that’s quite a comparison to make, isn’t it?  May be good or bad, depending on your perspective on NR’s role in the industry and genre.)  Is it m/m?  Or is m/m a label for romance only?  If a book isn’t strictly romance any longer, is it m/m still or is it better classified (and/or marketed) as gay+other genre label?  In my head, there used to be a clear division between gay (romantic) fiction and m/m romance, but the line has blurred and I’m not sure where it’s drawn any longer.

But that philosophical question aside, I really enjoyed this series and am looking forward to whatever comes next for Vic and Jacob.

Recommend without reservation.

 

The series:  Among the Living, Criss Cross, Body & Soul, Secrets, Camp Hell, GhosTV, plus assorted shorts and free stories available via the author’s website.  The first four entries in the series are novella length, and the last two are full length books.

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Death Without Tenure by Joanne Dobson

For SBD.

As I mentioned last week, Dobson’s Karen Pelletier mysteries are old favorites, and I thought the series had died a premature death but recently learned that a new book was published after a long hiatus.

Karen Pelletier is about to realize her dream.  After six years in the English Department at New England’s exclusive Enfield College, she is up for a tenured position.  But when her rival for the one available tenured spot is found dead from an overdose of Peyote buttons, Karen is first on the list of suspects.  Now a homicide cop with a grudge against Lieutenant Piotrowksi, the love of Karen’s life, is breathing down her neck.

On campus, political passions rage, inflamed by the politically-correct English Department chair and by the Distinguished Visiting Professor of Whiteness Studies.  Two of Karen’s favorite students are caught up in the furor.

Will Karen be able to survive the investigation, protect her students, and find a permanent niche in the world of academe, all without her beloved Charlie, now serving with the National Guard in Iraq?

As usual, the back blurb is over-the-top and exaggerated.  Passion, rage, survival, immediate suspicion?  Eh, not so much.  Although I’m not entirely certain the designation fits, this is much more a cozy mystery than a hard boiled crime novel.  

What did I think of the cover art?  It fits the content of the book.  One of the characters is a Native American narrative specialist; the office of the victim and its contents are described as being piles and piles of print outs and paper, so the stacked desk suits, too.  The text of the cover art is interesting to me, because the author’s name is in all caps above the title and the font is almost as large as the title’s font.  I would take that to mean that the art/marketing department is selling Dobson’s name/reputation/series as much as they are the individual book.  [What do you think? Yes? No?]

The book opens with Karen angsting over her tenure application package — from its contents to the box in which all the materials will be delivered to the Dean’s office.  Her anxiety increases tenfold when she learns that her department head (and tenure committee member) really wants Joe Lone Wolf, her competition, to get the sole tenured spot, despite the fact that he does not publish or attend conferences and has not actually finished his dissertation.  He gets rave reviews from students (Karen and readers learn why later) and the English chair believes that using his lectures in lieu of publication is suitable given the oral nature of much of Native American literature and storytelling.  Meanwhile, Karen’s estranged sister deposits their ailing mother on Karen unannounced, and Karen’s tenure box disappears from her office two days before it is due.  Karen’s bad luck worsens when she gets a call from the state police, asking her to come to Joe Lone Wolf’s home because he is dead.  Why Karen?  Because a student found the body and asked for Karen when the police questioned him.  But the detective on the case has an ax to grind with Charlie, Karen’s absent lover, and uses Karen as a convenient outlet for his ire.  I wouldn’t say that he twists the facts or misuses evidence, but he certainly doesn’t look far for any other potential suspects.

Feeling under the gun (and also forced to teach one of Lone Wolf’s classes until a replacement can be found), Karen sends out some feelers via Facebook and other online academic listserves, trying to see if anyone knew much about Lone Wolf, who had zero internet presence, even to the point of lacking a photo on the college’s home page for him.  Her inquiry garners an interesting response from an old colleague, and creates an ever-growing pool of people who had reason to want Lone Wolf punished, one way or another.

What did I think of the book?  I’m ambivalent, to be frank.  The peek into the very competitive world of academia, especially for tenured slots, was intriguing to an outsider.  And I enjoyed visiting Enfield College and Karen again.  But I struggled with the plausibility of the set up.  Would a talented teacher without a dissertation or any publication be considered for a tenured slot when there are other candidates who are multi-pubbed and also well-rated as an instructor?  While I grasped the thread of ethnophobia, establishment guilt, and reparation that was used through out (sometimes not so subtly), some of the subplots felt extraneous and not well integrated into the over-arching story.  

It wasn’t until I was finished reading that I realized this mystery is different from earlier Karen Pelletier mysteries in that no literary text is the subject of the mystery.  To the extent that a piece of writing is important to the plot, it is only revealed as the end of the book approaches and is not front and center as the plot progresses.

That all sounds negative, but I really did enjoy this book.  B for me, and a recommended if you like cozy mysteries.

Next book:  The Annotated Persuasion

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The Girl in the Green Raincoat by Laura Lippman

Title: The Girl in the Green Raincoat
Author: Laura Lippman
Series: Tess Monaghan mysteries #11
Publication date: January, 2011
Length: 171 pages
Format: I read an eARC, but it appears that this novella will be released as a trade paperback, according to HarperCollins’ page for the book.

I mentioned last week, I think, that I have succumbed to the lure of Net Galley. While poking around among the genre lists, this cover caught my eye, followed by the author’s name. When I saw the name Tess Monaghan in small print? Sold.

Background information: Tess Monaghan is a private investigator in Baltimore, Maryland. She began as a reporter for the Baltimore Star, a failed local daily, and did freelance writing and bookstore clerking to make ends meet. Eventually, she put her journalism skills to use in a different way: as a private investigator. I don’t recall her age at the beginning of the series, but by this ninth book, she’s thirty five. She’s Baltimore born and bred, which is a good thing for her business, since the city and its close-knit neighborhoods tend to play roles in each mystery (see especially The Sugar House IMO). For more background on Tess, check out Lippman’s bio of her.

The book opens with Tess confined to bed rest during during the last two months of a high-risk pregnancy. Like her relationship with Crow, the baby’s father, the pregnancy was unplanned and a bit of a surprise, and she’s ambivalent about how her life has changed already and the changes coming after the birth. Bored spending all day on a chaise lounge in her sun room, Tess takes to watching the neighborhood park through binoculars. One park regular in particular catches her eye — a woman in a green raincoat who walks her dog, a greyhound dressed to match, while talking on her cellphone. One day, though, the dog dashes through the park unattended, no owner in sight. Concerned and then obsessed, Tess badgers her friends and family into doing the legwork that she cannot, finding out who the woman was, and questioning her disappearance, especially when Tess learns that her husband has a history of suspiciously-dying wives.

Essentially, Lippman has written an homage to Rear Window and The Daughter of Time. In addition to the whodunit, the mystery of relationships is a key theme. As in, relationships observed from the outside are seldom exactly what you think they are, and the things that glue people together can be surprising. Tess is confronted with relationship conundrums for the missing woman, for herself, and for different members of her family circle.

I enjoyed the unfolding of the mystery and did not see the twist at the end until it was almost upon me. Even as I began to suspect the actual culprit, I was nowhere near the motive. This particular episode has less of a sense of place than the other Tess Monaghan mysteries, probably because Tess was so physically confined. I’m also curious about Tess’s future and this series’ future, since the book ends with Tess at a crossroads in her life.

The mystery is independent and contained within the novella, so a reader could pick up this book without having read the books that came before. Having said that, I do think that for context, subtext and character background, it’s best to read the series in order.

There were some typos in the eARC, which I hope will be caught before the book goes to print, things like using contact for contract, etc. The only one that really concerned me was the changing spelling of the missing girl’s last name.

Would I recommend this book? Yes.

Would I buy a copy? Yes, I’m planning on it, although I’ll probably buy an ebook or wait for the mass market paperback rather than the trade paperback.

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Tempest Rising and Tracking the Tempest by Nicole Peeler

Titles:  Tempest Rising and Tracking the Tempest

Author:  Nicole Peeler

(c) 2009 and 2010, respectively

Other pertinent information:  Tempest Rising is Peeler’s debut, and a third book in the series, Tempest’s Legacy, will be released early in 2011.  After that, three more books are planned.

Living in small town Rockabill, Maine, Jane True always knew she didn’t quite fit in with so-called normal society.

During her nightly, clandestine swim in the freezing winter ocean, a grisly find leads Jane to startling revelations about her heritage: she is only half-human.

Now, Jane must enter a world filled with supernatural creatures that are terrifying, beautiful, and deadly — all of which perfectly describe her new "friend," Ryu, a gorgeous and powerful vampire.

It is a world where nothing can be taken for granted: a dog can heal with a lick; spritis bag your grocieries; and whatever you do, never — ever– rub the genie’s lamp.

Why this book?  Well, I walked by it several times on an endcap at Barnes & Noble but couldn’t be arsed to pick it up because the cover art screamed juvenile fiction to me, as I mentioned over at Readers Gab.  But when I found a copy blurb out, the summary caught my imagination.  Imagine my surprise when I saw the cover art that I did not care for attached to the interesting blurb 😉

What did I think of Tempest Rising?  Well, after I got past the heinous cover art, I enjoyed the book.  The concept felt fairly original in terms of what’s out there in urban fantasy with romance threads: Jane’s half selkie, although she doesn’t know it; all she knows is that she needs to swim in the ocean regularly, and can swim through ridiculously strong currents.  But one day her swim is disturbed by a dead body…and the body is that of another halfling, another half magical creature.  Jane’s involvement in the mystery introduces her to the paranormal world all around her, including gnomes, kelpies, goblins, and -of course- vampires.

I appreciated Jane’s voice, which is important since she narrates the tale in first person.  The internal dialogue felt true to Jane’s age, or what I think a 26 year old sounds like.  She’s full of snark, she loves her dad and she’s extremely well-read, which suits her job at the local bookstore.

The romance interest felt a little abrupt, TBH.  I’m interested in seeing how it works out, since to a large degree, it felt entirely driven by convenience, exposure and hormones.  That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but I’m curious to see if reality will set in down the road.

What didn’t feel original or unique to the story was the looming love triangle.  Please can we just not go there? [Apparently not, based on how the second book ends.  But that’s getting ahead of things.]

Jane True has almost come to terms with her supernatural heritage . . . almost.  

Valentine’s Day is fast approaching, and Ryu — Jane’s bloodsucking boyfriend — can’t let a major holiday go by without getting all gratuitous.  An overwhelming dose of boyfriend interference and a last-minute ticket to Boston later and Jane’s life is thrown off course.

Ryu’s well-interntioned plans create mayhem, and Jane winds up embroiled in an investigation involving a spree of gruesome killings.  All the evidence points toward another Halfling, much to Jane’s surprise…

What did I think of Tracking the Tempest?  It suffered by being read too soon after the first book.  Jane’s snark and me-centeredness was entertaining in the first book, but was wearing by the end of the second book.  In some ways, she reminded me of Betsy Taylor of MaryJanice Davidson’s Undead series, which I loved for a couple of books then eventually stopped reading because Betsy was so shallow and unchanging.

The pacing and plotting needed some editing IMO.  Jane and cohort wandered around Boston, ran into the bad guy, got their asses handed to them, then escaped.  Lather, rinse, repeat.  And the sex between Jane and her boyfriend seemed like too much — here, we’re on the trail of a torture-murderer, let’s have sex. The distance between Jane and Ryu, her vampire boyfriend, was very much in evidence in the plot, as well, especially at the end.  [And I called it!  Love triangle of sorts!]

Keep or give away?  Eh, if anyone wants my copies, drop a comment and I’ll mail them to you.  I enjoyed the books, but they aren’t keepers.

Would I read more by this author?  Sure, I’ll probably read the third book of the series, although I’ll probably borrow it from the library rather than buy a copy.

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