A review of Simulacra, by Kate Genet

DATE READ — Sept 2015

ONLINE SUMMARY — It’s winter, and the five houses in Deep Dell are shrouded in snow. Outside, it’s a black and white night, black sky, white snow, but inside, life continues, as life always does, better for some than others.

Five houses, eight different lives, separate in their preoccupations until the sky over Deep Dell turns orange.

The valley is bright with light, a sudden jack-o-lantern on a snowy night. Afraid, everyone asks the same question – just what is happening? They don’t know it, but their lives are about to change forever. What they always believed – if they ever considered it – about their place in the universe was wrong. They’re no longer alone on this cold, snowy night.

Trapped in the valley, they must pull together, protect each other against an enemy they never expected, and can’t explain.

Because what do you do, when the enemy turns out to be just like you?

MY REVIEW — Damnit! Kate Genet’s done it again. I’ve always said I don’t care for romance novels; then, not quite a year ago, I read Kate’s Don’t Go There and thought it was great. I’ve also maintained forever—maybe even longer — that I absolutely don’t do horror. (This could be because my first taste of the genre was King’s It, and maybe that was just too heavy a dose for a beginner.) Anyway, after reading Simulacra, the “I don’t do horror” assertion no longer holds water, either. I could say that it’s more a suspense novel than pure horror, but that would be a cop out. Hell, if Kate Genet wrote a friggin’ western, I’d probably love it, too.

Simulacra is considerably longer than anything else I’ve read by Kate except for the aforementioned romance novel, but Don’t Go There has a smaller number of characters than Simulacra. However, she handles the larger form and the challenges presented by a bigger dramatis personae with all the skill I’ve learned to expect from her shorter works such as the Michaela and Trisha series and the Reality Dawn novellae.

As always, Kate’s narrative style is fluid but never ornate. Elsewhere, I’ve called her style “spare.” That doesn’t mean depictions aren’t vivid – “There was something decidedly sick-looking about the cloud, as though any moment it would burst open, and some oozing infection would drain out on top of them.” — just that the words aren’t superfluous. Even in an expanded form, there’s no fluff – no Doc either, for you Pat Califia  fans out there — no filler or padding. The matter-of-fact, economical style serves the author well, making the uncanny events of the story stand out in contrast.

As I said, I haven’t read much in the way of horror, so I don’t know which writers to compare this to. Switching media, though, I’d say the overall creepiness and the escalating suspense is almost Hitchcockian, if Hitch had ever used elements of sf as a jumping-off place for his imagination. I especially like the way Genet builds suspense: Initially, there are five pairs or individual characters in five separate locales. Tension escalates in the first pairing, then when we move to the next character or couple that section begins at the initial level and rises again. This continues through the course of the novel in a sort of ebb and flow, but each time the cycle begins anew, the starting point tension-wise is higher than before. Also, the characters, spread out in the beginning, are gradually “herded” to a single locale, another means if increasing tension and suspense.

The characters are all well-drawn and the dialogue is realistic, even in this unrealistic situation. The same is true of their behavior, despite the outre occurrences.

Simulacra is a very well written, enjoyable and entertaining novel. So, does it convert me into a diehard horror fan? Not so much. Unless, of course, it’s written by Kate Genet.

 

 

 

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A review of The Scorpion, by Gerri Hill

ONLINE SUMMARY: Poking a sleeping bear with a sharp stick is foolish. Marty Edwards is about to be very foolish.

Investigative reporter Marty Edwards has found her niche: cold cases. She loves pouring over old notes, hunting down long-forgotten witnesses, and digging down through the layers of an unsolved murder case. But this time, Marty is digging where someone obviously doesn’t want her. And that someone might also include the Brownsville Police Department. Why else would they assign Detective Kristen Bailey to baby-sit her?

Barely surviving two attempts on her life, Marty abandons Brownsville and the case. Danger follows her as the case turns red hot. With Detective Bailey along for protection, they race along the Gulf Coast, neither knowing who, if anyone, they can trust. The hardest part is learning to trust each other before it’s too late for their hearts–and their lives.

MY REVIEW:

There are so many good things about Gerri Hill’s novels, including The Scorpion, it’s hard to know where to begin. The writing, from a purely mechanical standpoint, is absolutely sound, and the narrative flows smoothly, the narrative style well-suited to the tale itself. The pacing is just right, the more violent scenes alternating with quieter, sometimes introspective passages in which we learn more about the two main characters and in which they learn more about each other. Despite those relatively calmer passages, there is more than enough suspense to make this a definite page-turner. The plot is interesting, well-executed and logically consistent.

For me, though, the best thing about The Scorpion and the other of Hill’s novels I’ve read is the two main characters. As usual, the two principals are strong women, but not without certain vulnerabilities. (No Mary Sue characters for Hill.) While those traits could apply to any number of the author’s characters, Kristen Bailey is no Tori Hunter, no CJ Johnston, no Andrea Sullivan, nor is Marty Edwards a retread of any of Hill’s other characters. What they are is likeable, well-drawn, realistic (within the context of the story), unselfish, resolute women. Still, they have issues – Kristen’s unwillingness to talk about her father and brother and to address her mother’s death, and Marty’s sexual dysfunction – which help round out their characters and make them easier to relate to. Also, as in Hill’s other works, the characters don’t remain static; they – especially Marty, of course – aren’t the same at the conclusion as when the tale began.

One reviewer claimed she’d like the story better if the two women just remained friends. Sure, that would work, but it would be a vastly different book. And, it wouldn’t be Gerri Hill, not that she couldn’t write such a story, she simply chooses not to, and the genre is the better for it, IMNSHO. I admit I’m not into romance novels per se but I don’t object when romance is an added element in mystery, urban fantasy, or science fiction as long as the relationship doesn’t seem forced. Here, it’s a natural outgrowth of the women’s interaction and the circumstances into which they’ve been thrown. The unhurried pace at which things develop is what makes it work, I think; no “instant lesbianism.”

The sex – yes, boys and girls, there’s sex, though not a lot – is explicit without being graphic; if that seems like a contradiction, I mean that you can say “clit” without it being all porn-y. The sex scenes are erotic, but hardly gratuitous. Instead, they’re revelatory; as Katherine V. Forrest wrote many years ago, sex scenes can reveal – pun intended — things about a character that can’t be shown any other way. Like the emotional relationship between Kristen and Marty, the physical one develops gradually and the latter couldn’t have happened had the former not preceded it.

Another reviewer complained about the vigilante aspect of the plot, calling Kristen “Rambo.” While I think a Charles Bronson type character is closer to the mark, I understand the point, but I think Hill sets things up so that it’s the only solution that works. To the complaint “who knew that police officers were trained in espionage and counter-terrorism,” aside from the use of a couple electronic surveillance devices, with which the duo admit they’re not experts, there’s little else of a James Bond nature here: Kristen is, after all, an experienced detective with known undercover experience. As to the counter-terrorism cavil, the novel was written in 2009, well after the 911 attacks and at least some training in that area would be expected in a major metropolitan police force. (Remember, Bailey hasn’t always been a cop in Brownsville; she started her career in Houston.)

If I have one small quibble, it’s with the denouement. It’s the only part of the book where Hill (briefly) tells rather than shows. Though the “riding off into the sunset” ending works, it seems just sort of tagged on, as if Hill weren’t quite sure exactlyhow to bring things to a close. That said, The Scorpion is a fast-paced, very well-written, exciting entry in the suspense/romance genre. Admirers of CL Hart’s From a Distance or Baldwin and Alexiou’s Elite Operatives series should love it. It’s deserving of its Goldie Award and of your time as a reader.

 

 

 

 

A review of Beauty of Fear, by L. E. Perez

Read July 2014

ONLINE SUMMARY: The First One died to pique her interest,
The Second to touch her soul.
The Third One died to steal her peace,
The Fourth makes Fear, his goal.

Violence leaves a stain on your soul, and the fear that accompanies that violence can never be removed. It can be hidden, shadowed, and put away, but throw in just the right set of circumstances and it will blossom once again.
Leigh Ramirez has been through a lot in her short life: an abusive husband, raising two kids on her own, and two near death experiences on the job. All she wants now is to get back to a sense of normalcy, in her life and at work. She wants to move on from all that’s happened to her. It was her decision to leave police work and put that life behind her, but when a young girl is found dead in a local park with something of Leigh’s in her hand, Leigh is lured back into the world she left behind.
Someone wants Leigh to experience the beauty of fear. They want her to live it, feel it, and breathe it.
As young women continue to turn up dead, their resemblance to Leigh is lost on no one, least of all her. Each victim found takes a piece of her soul, steals more of her peace. It doesn’t take long for Leigh to realize that this can have only one end. Even while her friends try to protect her, Leigh refuses to go into hiding and is ultimately forced to face her greatest fear, as it threatens both her children’s lives and her own.

MY REVIEW:

Note: this review refers to the 99-cent Kindle edition of this book.

I found L. E. Perez’s Beauty of Fear while browsing sappicabooks.net. (If you enjoy fiction with lesbian characters and want to support some talented indie writers, I encourage you to check out the site.) Beauty of Fear is a really good story with some terrific characters. A thriller, well, more of a chiller, actually, with a nascent romance providing a nice counterpoint to the more grisly aspects. The writing, from a narrative standpoint, is quite well done; unfortunately, there are plenty of copy-editing issues, about which more, later, that prevent the book from being all it could be.

Leigh Ramirez and Jordan Samuels, the two principal characters, are likable and we come quickly to care about them. Strength and loyalty define their friendship. Perez does a great job of showing Leigh’s increasing alarm as the events unfold and escalate. Leigh’s emotions alternate between nearly succumbing completely to abject fear and then finding an implacable will to survive and to protect her two daughters. This seems perfectly natural given the circumstances. Jordan’s unwavering support of her friend is a highlight of her character. Leigh’s and Jordan’s realization that their relationship may be verging on something more than just friendship provides a nice counterpoint to the more climactic elements of the story. The idea of two male characters who are “crushing” on Leigh doesn’t ring quite as true to me, for some reason, but despite that, it adds another level of complexity.

Perez does an especially good job creating suspense: The serial killer is a genuine “wack job,” every bit as menacing as Gerritsen’s Hoyt or Cornwell’s Temple Gault. She also deftly shows us Leigh’s rising terror, but counterbalances it with a the firm resolve to prevail no matter what. The alternation of tense, dramatic events with the characters’ personal interactions keeps the sense of foreboding and terror from overwhelming us while at the same time heightening that suspense by creating anticipation.

The narrative style is 3rd person limited with the POV shifting between various characters, though largely centered on Leigh. Scenes from the perspective of characters other than the two principles are fairly brief, but the author still manages to give the supporting characters sufficient depth. My favorite minor character by far is Leigh’s mid-teen daughter, Victoria. Though obviously out of her depth in the violent, traumatic events taking place, she displays a strength and resiliency equal to her mother’s.

From a strictly narrative standpoint, the writing is very proficient, fluid, well-paced and emotionally moving. No question, Perez knows how to write and how to involve the reader in her tale. From a purely mechanical point of view, though, things don’t quite measure up. While I understand that what I read was a 99-cent offering, capable copy-editing would have significantly improved the reading experience. There are lots of missing commas, and places where existing commas could be omitted. There are also more than a few cases where words are obviously left out of sentences. I wouldn’t consider these to be egregious mistakes, more an annoyance, really, but things like disagreement in number between pronoun and antecedent, or incorrect use of pronouns (“between she and I” instead of “between her and me”) do seem to fall in the former category. The problem, of course, is that any kind of mechanical error, however minor, lifts the reader out of the story; the focus, even if only briefly, is on the surface, the actual words on the page, rather than on the tale being told. This is a disservice not only to the reader but also to the writer: a story this good, and otherwise this well-written deserves better.

Nonetheless, I greatly enjoyed Beauty of Fear, an entertaining and often compelling read. By virtue of the characters and the almost visceral dramatic impact, I definitely recommend it. I hope the author will bring Leigh and Jordan back in another novel. In any case, I’ll almost certainly turn to more of Perez’s work at some point and, given that whole “so many books, so little time” conundrum, I think that says a great deal.

A review of Also Known as Syzygy, AKA Investigations Series, Book 3, by Kelli Jae Baeli

READ JANUARY 2014 (First book read wholly in the new year. It’s gonna be a good year for books, I can tell.)

ONLINE PLOT SUMMARY: “On December 3, 2012, Saturn, Venus & Mercury aligned. On that same night, three women align to see that justice is done.

Ponzi Bonnet thought she had found the perfect husband. A psychologist could certainly understand her damage. But her suspicion of infidelity turns out to be something far worse. Far more sinister. And he had to be stopped.

Kenda Harper, an actress and Ponzi’s best friend, will do anything to help. Even if it means endangering her own life and denying the yearning in her heart.

Anna Dew, an artist and HSP, could not tell her friend Ponzi why she pulled away, but when she learns that her solution only enables bad men to do bad things, she is compelled to make it right.

Three women, finding strength amid their weaknesses, embarking on a journey into darkness, and the labyrinths of selfhood, match wits with the men who would inflict harm on other women, and they won’t give up until justice is done.”

MY REVIEW: How do I love this? Let me count the ways. (I’d apologize to Ms Barrett, but she’s, ya know, been dead for over a century and a half, so I doubt she really cares.) But to answer my very slightly paraphrased question: A lot. A hell of a lot. A fucking hell of a lot.

I read the first two books in Baeli’s AKA Investigations Series almost two years and each was great. Soooo… why’d it take me two years to get around to Book 3? I could offer that lame “So many books, so little time” thing, but the honest answer is, “Hell if I know.” Whatever the reason, though, I’m extremely glad I finally got around to it.

I loved the characters in the earlier books, Armchair Detective and DNA. In Syzygy, we do get a fair amount of Ginger, considerably less of Phoebe, and just a soupçon of Jobeth and Izzy. I have to admit that I really missed the latter two, but, as it turns out, there’s a trade-off: In place of those thoroughly engaging people from books 1 and 2, we get some absolutely terrific new characters. It’s like your old friends are on extended vacation, but some great new folks have just moved in next door. How cool is that?

There are two things I especially like about the new characters, Ponzi, Kenda and Anna: their strength amid adversity and their loyalty to each other. What Ponzi discovers about her husband, Garrison, is jaw-droppingly repugnant. It’s almost enough to make you believe in hell, if only for the comfort that retribution may indeed await such predators.  Ponzi is, of course, devastated by her discovery, but, within hours, she finds the resolve to do whatever she must to stop Garrison’s horrifying behavior. Her best friend, Kenda, agrees, without hesitation, to help her, no matter the danger to herself. They then enlist the aid of Garrison‘s former secretary, Anna, who, it turns out, is also aware of what Garrison’s been doing, to yet another woman, and who left her job because of it.

Okay, I lied — three things. The third, maybe not even a conscious one, is the their need to bring about Garrison’s downfall themselves. Ponzi’s reasons for not taking the evidence against Garrison to the police are perfectly logical: the further humiliation it would cause, and the damage it could do to her very successful business. However, I think it goes deeper. Effecting his ruin herself would be cathartic, and help her begin to heal, representing an empowerment and a reclaiming of what he’s taken from her. Other motivations for Kenda would be to protect Ponzi and to punish Garrison, and Anna feels the need to atone for the fact that that her failure to report what she knew, allowed him to continue victimizing other women. While I might be attributing motives to the intrepid trio that not even the author intended, I don’t see anything wrong with a little reading — or interpreting — between the lines. That’s one of the things that calling a book “thought-provoking” means, right?

As if our gorge hasn’t risen enough at the acts of Garrison, Baeli introduces another villain, Payne, who’s every bit as vile as Ponzi’s husband. The two hook up, which “sounds” contrived, but isn’t, really, when you consider the vast number of men who prey on women. Besides, their connection is a perfectly logical result of the plot. Once the men  get together, though, things begin to spiral out of control for each, due as much to their own sense of entitlement and superiority over women, as to the actions of Ponzi and the others.

In addition to the three friends, and the two lowlifes, other characters lend depth to the novel. The blossoming relationship between Anna and uniformed cop Chloe is a nice secondary plot thread, and the fact that Chloe is teamed with Ginger in an investigation involving Sexual Deviant Number Two seems to bring things full circle as the two despoilers — yeah, I know that word’s a little out of vogue for me, but it just feels right — are completely surrounded by a cordon of powerful women.

Baeli endows her characters with considerable depth. To use the cliché, they’re “well-rounded.“ We come to really know them, and, as a result, we care about them and about what happens to them. One of the highlights of Baeli’s writing is the avoidance of that writer’s bête noire, telling instead of showing, and that’s particularly true of her characterizations. We learn about the characters through their actions and through dialog. There’s no “X was compassionate” or “Y was nervous.” Baeli shows those traits and emotions, a much more difficult task.

I’ve devoted considerably more time to the events of the story than I normally do — more than a reviewer should, perhaps — because those events, and what they deal with, are danned important.

It would be easy for a writer to become so incensed by the prevalence in the real world of the kind of acts depicted fictionally here that her fury detracts from the story, even becomes an obsession. I’m impressed by Baeli’s even-handed treatment of these crimes in her narrative. Oh, the outrage is there, to be sure, but she never allows it to get in the way of a most compelling and enjoyable novel. There’s no moralizing or demagoguery; the events speak eloquently for themselves.

In a review, on another forum, of Book 1 of the AKA Investigations series, I mentioned several specific scenes. That I recall such specifics after almost two years is a credit to the author. There are plenty of standout scenes in Syzygy, too. I love the scene where Ginger first interrogates Payne. The dialog, as she skillfully, and sarcastically, lets him hang himself verbally, is superb, but the best part is that he’s so totally clueless and full of himself that he doesn’t even realize he’s waaayyy out of his depth with Bitch Cop, as he calls her. Another great scene is the final one featuring Ponzi and Kenda, where Baeli (and Kenda) show considerable insight into Ponzi’s fragile emotional state and how best to deal with it.

For those who care about such things, which, in my opinion, just makes you human, yeah, there’s some sex. The scenes are well-written and in no way salacious. There‘s no greater deal-breaker for me than gratuitous sex and pornspeak, and there‘s absolutely none of that here. Baeli also avoids those ghastly euphemisms like “dewy petals.“ Arrrgh! Here, the few sex scenes (loving-making, actually, which isn’t always the same thing) are a natural outgrowth of the narrative; the final one is, in fact, essential for closure. The scenes are, however, undeniably erotic, which is particularly impressive given their briefness. Kudos to Ms Baeli for this.

I’ve mentioned elsewhere that I’m a sucker for clever titles: Kim Harrison riffing on Eastwood film titles, Jaye Maimann;s use of song titles in her book titles, the “colorful” titles used in classic mystery writer John D MacDonald’s Travis McGee series, etc. Oh, and Mary Vermillion’s use of Seminal Murder for a mystery set in a sperm bank. Syzygy’s such a great word — Scrabble players please note — especially considering this is a work of fiction, not an astronomy text, that it would have caught my attention even if I hadn’t read the earlier books. An author’s choice of title provides further evidence of his or her cleverness.

Anyone who’s read more than a couple of my reviews is probably aware of how I feel about gaffes in what Janet Burroway (Writing Fiction) calls the mechanical aspects of writing: grammar, spelling, and punctuation. To her list, I would add usage, things like “taunt” muscles instead of “taut” Fergodsake, if you’re not 100% certain what a word means, get thee to a dictionary! To be honest, sometimes, being faced with such errors causes me to totally “lose it.” To me, failing to learn to use the tools one’s craft shows laziness and disrespect for the reader. There are, however, no issues of that sort where Jae Baeli’s writing is concerned.

It’s rare to these days to find a writer whose style is technically so nearly perfect, but who’s also a damned good storyteller. Some time ago, I wrote of Andi Marquette that I doubted if she were even capable of writing poorly. I would also apply that comment to Baeli. Writing is both an art and a craft, the artful part being made up of, among other things, imagination and inventiveness. No matter how good a story-teller a writer may be, how compelling or original the story, if that writer doesn’t meet basic technical standards, then, to me, the book is ultimately a failure.

But, returning to the book in question, Kelli Jae Baeli proves herself not just a fine storyteller, but one who’s highly skilled at her craft, both artist and artisan. Syzygy is an entertaining and rewarding novel and a reading experience I strongly urge you not to miss.

A review of Heist Society (Heist Society #1), by Ally Carter

READ OCTOBER 2013

ONLINE PLOT SUMMARY: “When Katarina Bishop was three, her parents took her on a trip to the Louvre…to case it. For her seventh birthday, Katarina and her Uncle Eddie traveled to Austria…to steal the crown jewels. When Kat turned fifteen, she planned a con of her own—scamming her way into the best boarding school in the country, determined to leave the family business behind. Unfortunately, leaving “the life” for a normal life proves harder than she’d expected.

Soon, Kat’s friend and former co-conspirator, Hale, appears out of nowhere to bring Kat back into the world she tried so hard to escape. But he has a good reason: a powerful mobster has been robbed of his priceless art collection and wants to retrieve it. Only a master thief could have pulled this job, and Kat’s father isn’t just on the suspect list, he is the list. Caught between Interpol and a far more deadly enemy, Kat’s dad needs her help.

For Kat, there is only one solution: track down the paintings and steal them back. So what if it’s a spectacularly impossible job? She’s got two weeks, a teenage crew, and hopefully just enough talent to pull off the biggest heist in her family’s history–and, with any luck, steal her life back along the way. ”

MY REVIEW: A few years ago, when I’d just gotten my Kindle, I was reading a lot of YA paranormal indie novel. The YA aspect is, I imagine, why the amazonians kept throwing out Heist Society as a recommendation. Well, I hadn’t read any YA in a long time, and happened to remember that rec. My local library had it, so, I figured, why not? I’m happy to say it was a good choice.

Not having read a ton of YA literature, and being in the age bracket where most YA readers would call me “Gramps” or worse, I’m not 100% sure how to approach a review of Heist Society. My instincts, though, say that it should be judged by the same standards by which one judges any other book: Mechanical aspects (grammar, etc.), plot, characters, credibility…feel free to add your own.

There’s absolutely nothing at all wrong here from a mechanical aspect. Plenty of writers who aim at adult audiences fall considerably below the standard Carter sets here. The writing is crisp and in no way does the author seem to be writing “down” to a younger audience.

The plot is well constructed and more than interesting enough to keep you turning pages. Yes, it does require a healthy dollop of “willing suspension of disbelief,” given that the heroine is a 15 year-old master thief. Carter overcomes that objection by making everything else solidly grounded in fact (within the terms of the novel) and by Kat’s smooth, down-to-earth narrative voice which suggests “This may not be the sort of thing that happens in your world, but it is in mine.” A scenario like this could become far too over-the-top in a hurry, and the characters become comic book-like. Carter does a great job avoiding these pitfalls, and making the (frankly) unbelievable quite credible and realistic.

The principal characters are quite likable, and pretty well fleshed-out. That sketching out is accomplished through their actions and words, not in dry descriptions; Carter definitely does a good job showing rather than telling. Kat’s wry humor adds a great deal to her appeal. Her loyalty to her dad is admirable; although she has been trying to break from the family “business”, she puts that aside because her father needs her. Her glamorous cousin, Gabrielle forms a nice, flashy contrast to Kat’s more mundane character. Hale, her (sort of) romantic interest, is a solid BFF (at least at this point in the series.) Simon is the inevitable computer geek. I’ve seen some objections that the characters seem older than their specified ages. Seems to me, if one accepts their lifestyle, then it’s not to far a reach that they’ve grown up a little faster than the average teen.

I’ve already touched on issues of credibility, but it’s worth mentioning again: This would be an easy book to let get out of hand as far is realism is concerned. After all, we have a bunch of mid-teens planning to rob the most secure museum in the world. However, Carter is able to make things seem normal, even if, by our standards, they aren’t. The matter-of-fact narrative style and the avoidance of truly outlandish, Bond-like scenes help keep the unlikely plot within the realm of the plausible.

If there’s one short-coming, it’s that the villain is just not nasty enough. He seems more like a cantakerous uncle who just happens to be a gangster type, than someone as thoroughly evil Hale describes. I just can’t take his threats against Kat’s dad seriously. It’s possible Carter softened his character to make it more palatable to prospective tween and early teen readers. Pshaw! The Internet and video games have made that age-group far more worldly and accepting of such things than some of us were at thirty. So, a bad guy with a lot more bite would have added a lot.

In short, I can’t find much of anything to quibble with in Heist Society. The majority of my reading is in adult mysteries (everything from Sara Paretsky to J.M. Redmann), hard science-fiction (Melissa Scott, Joanna Russ, James M. Tiptree, Jr,, Nicola Griffith), and urban fantasy (Kim Harrison, Jes Battis, Devon Monk, Seanan McGuire). As a piece of genre fiction aimed at a different market, I’d compare Carter’s book favorably with those as exemplars of their own genres. More than anything, Heist Society is a quick, fun, engaging and thoroughly enjoyable read. I’m pretty sure that’s just what Carter intended, and, judging it in those terms, I find it very successful. There’s absolutely no reason that it can’t be appreciated by any reader, no matter his or her age bracket.

A review of Chimney Rock Blues (Tru North #4) by Kate McClellan

READ JULY 2013https://havebookswillreview.wordpress.com/wp-admin/post-new.php

ONLINE PLOT SUMMARY: “A routine assignment turns deadly when Detective Tru North and the witness she’s sworn to protect become the unwary prey of a pair of deranged cop killers.”

MY REVIEW: It’s always kinda sad when you read the final volume in a series. Finishing Chimney Rock Blues, that feeling was intensified by the fact that I’d enjoyed each successive entry more than the previous one, and had come to really like protagonist Detective Tru North. Oh, sure, you can always reread a book at some point, but, then, there’s that whole so-many-books anxiety to deal with. Sigh… And in this final installment, not only does she seem to have settled on a less demanding relationship with recent lover, CB — I never cared for Marki, her old lover, anyway — but she also appears to be willing to share more of her past and her personal life.

Anyway, this is more in the nature of a thriller than a mystery/police procedural. And, yeah, the coincidence of the perp Tru and the Feebs are after literally falling into Tru’s lap, through no efforts of her own, seems more than a little contrived. In spite of that, this was a very enjoyable, quick read with solid writing and very engaging characters.

If there’s a downside, other than that there’s no Volume 5, it’s that there’s not enough of Tru in this one. A large part of the novel takes place from third person POVs where our heroine isn’t around. I understand that, given the nature of the story, the scenes where Tru’s absent are necessary; that’s the only way this one would work. I get it. That doesn’t keep me from wanting more Tru, though. ‘Specially since this is the final book, and she’s, as I said above, she’s becoming ever more likable as a character. Oh, well…

Still, enjoyable story, likable characters, good writing, plenty of action. Definitely worth your time.

A review of Disbelief (Michaela & Trisha #4) by Kate Genet

Read June 2013: Some comments are borrowed from my own review of Silent LIght (Michaela & Trisha #1)

Online plot summary: When Trisha discovers that Michaela is planning a romantic weekend away, she’s suspicious that Michaela is going to follow through on her threat to ask Trisha to marry her. She should be over the moon at the thought, but instead she’s sick and scared.
Things are good just as they are, why change them?
Trisha’s never felt she could cope under pressure, and marriage means lots of pressure – not to mess up ever again.
She agrees to the weekend trip anyway, but nothing goes as planned. Lost in the forest, Michaela badly injured, it’s up to Trisha to be the strong one for once.
Or will she let her own disbelief threaten both of them?

My review: From the description, I wasn’t quite sure I’d like this one as well as the three previous entries in the series. Shoulda known that wouldn’t be the case, though. After all, as much as I love a good yarn, no matter what the genre, it’s the characters and their inter-relationships that really motivate my reading and which I most enjoy. Most of the time, anyway. Occasionally, mysteries and urban fantasy are entirely plot-driven, so perhaps there aren’t any relationships to consider. Dullsville! Even then, the protagonist is still important to me as a character; if that character doesn’t somehow strike a chord in me, I pretty much put the series, if it’s part of a series, aside from then on. Rizzoli & Isles comes to mind; hated the characters in The Surgeon; didn’t bother with The Apprentice. Still love the TV series though.

To quote myself — ad infinitum — “But, I digress.”

So, back to Trisha and Michaela, and Disbelief. Admittedly, there aren’t the paranormal elements or mysterious goings-on of the first three books, (which I also highly recommend, by the way.) However, this particular adventure of our intrepid twosome is fraught with danger and drama, which more than make up for the lack of those other familiar features. In fact, I enjoyed this one every bit as much as the earlier novels. Maybe even more. Why? Because I freakin’ love these two characters. I like the secondary characters, too; in fact, I wouldn’t mind seeing a book featuring Trisha’s sister Caro and her girlfriend Sephie. (Persephone’s a really cool character name, too.)

So, why do I care so much about Michaela and Trisha. My comments from the earlier books still apply: “They’re funny, especially in their interactions. They’re feisty, but in a very non-abrasive way. They’re smart as hell, though Trisha’s somewhat insecure in her intellect…”
This insecurity applies particularly to Disbelief, since it’s her (imagined) tendency to fuck things up, and her considered unworthiness to become Michaela’s wife, that trouble her. “They’re brave…They’re resourceful and they’re caring. ‘Delightful’ is a word I don’t use very often — or, at all — but it seems the right one, here.”

I would add to those previous comments that Michaela and Trisha, and Caro and Seph, too, are eminently believable; despite their adventures, they seem like someone you might bump into at the local supermarket. Don’t ya just wish… In fact, a hallmark of Ms Genet’s writing is that, no matter how outré the situation, it’s utterly convincing.

If you’ve read more than a few of my reviews, you probably know that shoddy craftsmanship, I.e., technically poor writing, is one of my hot button issues. I’ve had not a quibble with that aspect in any of the books, save that, in Shadows Fall, Trisha and Caro often sound like they’re from NZ instead of the States. That’s gotten much, much better in the ensuing novels.

Someone writing about Silent Night, the opening novel of the series, pointed out the writer’s propensity toward short sentences and somewhat unvarying sentence structure. Normally, those things bother me, too, but, with Ms Genet, not at all. I think her innate story-telling ability overrides such considerations. To be considered a talented writer, for me, anyway, doesn’t require spinning convoluted Faulknerian or Proustian prose, although I admit, I do groove on Your Man, Jimmy Joyce.

Success as a writer, again, in my seldom if ever humble opinion, means drawing the reader into the story, immersing him, in fact, Kate Genet does that in spades, folks. Quite often simple, lucid prose is best for many types of story. Hemingway understood this, and though I’m not a huge fan, he’s certainly no lesser writer than the others I mentioned. In any case, to steal a word from Kelli Jae Baeli’s review of Disbelief, there’s an eloquence to Genet’s writing. Personally, I’d call her style spare, with not one single word ever getting in the way of the important thing, the story.

Once again, I’ve gone on (and on, and on) for a long time. As I’ve said before, if I like a writer’s work — and I really, really like Kate Genet’s — I consider it important to convince other people to read it, too. I like to read detailed reviews because I find them more convincing, whether pro or con. If you’re just gonna say, “I liked this book,” don’t bother. I wanna know why. And that, to me, is never a simple thing.

In short, though, read this book, you’ll be glad you did.

Incidentally, and completely irrelevant to the actual review, I thought the cover picture was cute.

A review of The Providence File (Madison McGuire #2) by Amanda Kyle Williams

In a discussion about a different book, and on a different forum, I recently commented that Amanda Kyle Williams’ Madison McGuire novels were what Bond would be if female and gay. That’s the Fleming Bond, of course, not the glitzy Hollywood version with busty broads, glitzy gas-guzzlers, and gadgets galore. There’s nothing glamorous about the world of spies in William’s espionage novels. They’re gritty and have a feeling of reality to them that many spy novels lack.

The second entry in Williams’ series features lesbian CIA op Madison McGuire’s return to the Company, after a brief retirement, to infiltrate a terrorist training camp in the Middle East. Written in 1991, it’s a little dated, but that really doesn’t really affect the reading enjoyment and, since that part of the world is still a hotbed of intrigue and unrest, the book remains topical in many ways

The writing itself is both technically competent and emotionally compelling, and the narrative is fast-paced and fun to read. The Providence File has plenty of drama, suspense and intrigue to keep you turning the pages. More than that, though, it’s a very interesting character study posing several thought-provoking questions regarding friendship, whether or not long-term relationships are compatible with being a covert agent, and the issue of innocent people as collateral damage. In an era of Wikileaks, and the government spying on its own citizens, it also touches on the question of whether it’s okay for agencies like the NSA, FBI and CIA to violate the law as long as it’s in the “national interest,” and, whether or not, when the putative “good guys” resort to the same tactics as those they oppose, they can  still be considered “good.”

Madison McGuire is a complex character, strong enough to be one of the best at what she does, but not without her vulnerabilities. Not a Mary Sue by any means. I liked her character in the opening novel, Club Twelve, but even more so here, I think because we get to better understanding of her overall character. The surrounding characters are also realistic and well-defined.

So, crisp, proficient writing, engaging characters, interesting plot with plenty of drama. Definitely highly recommended.

A Review of Out of Sight (Denise Cleever Thrillers, #3) by Claire McNab

Blurb summary:  “A vicious terrorist group is operating deep within the wild reaches of Australia’s remote Kimberley region. Though the government is aware of their presence, the group’s cat-and-mouse tactics and absolute secrecy has made it impossible to stop. The only way to destroy this powerful threat to national security is from the inside. And no one’s better under cover than hotshot Intelligence Agent Denise Cleever.Using every ruse she knows, Denise infiltrates the terrorist training camp – knowing full well that if she is found out, her ruthless ‘comrades’ will torture her to death. But when she is ordered to kill someone as a final test of her loyalty, she faces the most difficult choice of her career: take an innocent life – or lose her own”

My review: I didn’t enjoy this one as much as McNab’s first two books in the series. It was a bit drier. Not bad, but sort of bland. Not much of a climax, and what there was ended really quickly. Not as much suspense as I’ve come to expect from McNab, either. Just at the end. And Norbert’s ultimate fate was really obvious, too. Snap!!!

As usual with Claire McNab, the writing is fine from a technical standpoint, not always a guarantee with Naiad releases. Okay, it’s a bit dated, and the terrorist training could use a lot more detail. It’s a little dry, as I mentioned, but still an pretty enjoyable reading experience, and there are some nice descriptive passage of the scenery of the Aussie bush.

One consistency issue: At one point, we’re told that there are four compulsory classes at the terrorist training camp; no more than five or six pages later we’re told that there are three. Naiad never had the best editing, I know, but anybody shoulda caught that one.