The Vineyard Victims (Wine Country Mystery #9) by Ellen Crosby (3 out of 5)

•November 26, 2017 • Leave a Comment

Lucie and Quinn are back in another wine country mystery. This was just released in hardcover the beginning of November. As always, I encourage to start at the beginning of any series, including this one. The backstory of several characters is very important here. 

Lucie is in the wrong place at the wrong time. She’s driving when someone comes speeding from the other direction. Her car ends up in a puddle by the side of the road. The driver of the other car, former presidential candidate Jamie, isn’t as fortunate. His car crashes into a pillar (Ironically, the same place Lucie had the accident that forever messed up her leg. See? This is what I mean about backstory). Lucie extracts herself from her vehicle and tries to get him out of the car. The car is ready to explode, and all Lucie gets out of Jamie is “Tell Rick I’m sorry and I hope he will forgive me”. Rick?! Who the hell is Rick? No one knows a Rick. Then their mutual friend Mick Dunne shows up and wrenches her away from the car, which is swallowed up by 🔥. Of course, Mick orders her to forget what Jamie said, suggesting that Jamie wanted to die, and calling it a suicide. Lucie begins sticking her nose into things and she and Quinn, her fiance, uncover some strange things, but everywhere they turn, they get another sideswipe, another story, or worse yet, another suspect in what led Jamie to drive recklessly and crash his car into that pillar. A number of new characters enter the book, some of whom fulfill a purpose, but others still who seem to be pretty wrapping on a gift and nothing substantial to what appears to be a homicide. That part was annoying. When the end does arrive, I was thrilled that Crosby took care of the most hated (in my estimation) character, but it didn’t dilute my disastisfaction with the big reveal. I think there was another avenue that could have been taken, but Crosby took what probably was the only way out. This wasn’t nearly as edge-of-the-seat as the one I read earlier this year, but it will do in a jif. I have read worse lately, so it’s nice that Crosby can be counted on for a good whodunit that takes a few hours to plow through. 

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City of Lies (The Counterfeit Lady #1) by Victoria Thompson (3 out of 5) 

•November 15, 2017 • Leave a Comment

Some of you may be familiar with Victoria Thompson from her “Gaslight Mystery” series. I didn’t know what to think when I saw this series debuting. For those wondering, yes, she is still writing those. The next installment will be available in May, 2018. This series is a mixed bag, if you are expecting similar. This series felt like more of a read-along romance, instead of a Victorian-era mystery with some romance. This was a strange little tale. It is out now, in hardcover. 

Elizabeth is a grifter who sees a con she has going with her brother go way south. She flees the scene of an altercation where her brother is getting the stuffing beat out of him, and ends up blending into a suffrigists group to escape notice. That backfires on Elizabeth when the group is arrested and thrown into a workhouse with terrible conditions. The women are determined to fight for women’s rights, and they all go on a hunger strike. A young lady named Anna attaches herself to Lizzie, and she fights hard to belong to this group of ladies. Before long, she’s friends with all and going through the same deplorable jailhouse treatment they are. Meanwhile, back in Washington, a lawyer named Gideon is retained by his friend David to get to the bottom of this group of women being held against their will. The women begin to see their determination and health fail miserably, when suddenly, David and Gideon’s efforts spring the women free. Anna, David’s sister, is relieved to see him but she’s hung up on Elizabeth. Elizabeth is hung up immediately on Gideon, but she fights it, and notices that the evildoer, Thornton, and his things are with when they women are released. Elzabeth goes with David and his family, barely escaping. Thornton vows to stop at nothing to find her, since he lost thousands in the con that her and her brother played on him. Back in Washington, Elizabeth somehow finds herself engaged to David, making Gideon see red with jealousy. And Anna, who is suddenly in love with Elizabeth, goes haywire at Elizabeth and David’s hasty engagement. Thornton makes several shady deals with a General Sterling for rifles that may or may not seal the fate of the US Army. Elizabeth, meanwhile, keeps plotting a way out of David’s affections and home, while Gideon struggles to save her from herself and Thornton. The conclusion is a little forced and something I’ve read in far too many penny dreadfuls, and after the reader thoroughly despises Thornton, his just desserts are a little skimpy on the side of retaliation. That was very disappointing. All in all, I found most of the characters refreshing, but very much caricatures of the stereotypical Victorian lady assassin in training. It all seemed to be very contrived from something already well documented. Not really my cup of tea. More like a mug of Vegemite. 

Afterlife by Marcus Sakey (2 out of 5) 

•November 9, 2017 • Leave a Comment

I know Marcus Sakey from the “Brilliance” trilogy, which was, well, brilliant. This is a one-off book described as “Ghost meets The Matrix”. I have to beg to differ. I had high hopes here, to no avail. It is a book that will wring you out emotionally, and it leaves you wrung out. There is no gentle reprieve, and there is no real point to what happens in the book itself. It was very uneven and felt like the author is putting the reader through all sorts of fiery hoops, culminating in a crash of hopes and dreams, but look! Here come homicidal zombies out to kill the main character, FBI Agent Will, but… shit! He’s already dead. So how does that work? His heartbroken co-worker and lover Claire is trying to figure out who killed Will. Will is killed while rushing to defend one of his team during a bomb scare. Prior to that, there is a mad dash to put an end to a killing spree in Chicago, where there is a sniper picking off random targets, with no rhyme, reason, or clue as to who he is or why he is doing this. That struggle to get him continues to plague Claire after Will’s death, while in the other world, Will tries to fend off the warrior, aggressive youth who are trying to kill him, and he tries to figure out how he got here, and how to get back to Claire. In THAT regard, sure, it does resemble “Ghost” and the other world that Will is in DOES have a smattering of “The Matrix” vibe to it, but that is where it ends. Both Will and Claire are characters full of untapped promise, but Sakey puts them into a plot full of strange boobytraps that really do sink the ship, and in the process, the book goes down like the lead weight Kevin James dropped off at the pool. Sad and anemic in parts, this was too much of a stretch to have believability long-term. I really hope they don’t cast Owen Wilson as Will. That would be the final insult. If you pick up a work by Sakey, please start with the “Brilliance” trilogy. This book is out now, in paperback, and brought to the masses by Thomas Mercer & Co, an imprint of that pesky bookstore-killer Shamazon.com. 

The Vineyard by Maria Duenas (5 out of 5)

•November 8, 2017 • Leave a Comment

I have been telling my colleagues that this is a book an Isabel Allende fan would love. In fact, I finished the Allende a month ago and did not dig it at all. So my new “joke” is that this is the book anyone wanting to read the Allende should read INSTEAD. I say it with a straight face, because I will not mislead a customer. It’s out now, in hardcover, from our friends at Atria Books. If you like historical fiction, this is the one to get. My favorite this year, in fact. 

This sweeping historical novel winds from Mexico to Havana to Spain in the 1860’s. Mauro Larrea’s a proud, self-made man who makes one bad move and loses his fortune. One more role of his karnic dice wins him a dilapidated house on the grounds of a vineyard. Mauro leaves his home and heads to Spain to try to turn this venture around to profitability. As things go, his first encounter with Soledad, the widow of the former owner, is unsettling, for any number of reasons. Do you know what happens when a proud powder keg meets a fiercely loyal powder keg? Welcome to the dynamic between Mauro and Soledad. Their shared vision for the vineyard being returned to its former splendor has nothing on the inferno going down between both of them. Their differences of opinion, upbringings, and a deal that they strike that may bring unlimited potential or uncontrolled financial ruin, bring the novel to its conclusion. You are sorry to see it end! Well, I was. I’m a sucker for great historical fiction, characters with backbone, and some romance,too. And it wasn’t insipid or unrealistic at all. You felt the individual passions of Mauro, Soledad, and the vineyard, an inanimate object of location, but felt like it took on a life of its own. Duenas really outdid herself with this richly rewarding saga. 

The French Girl by Lexie Elliott (3 out of 5) 

•November 6, 2017 • Leave a Comment

I have to stop reading these books on Sunday. Psychological suspense, etc. Last Sunday, it was “Force of Nature”; this week, this one. Don’t rush out to get this book yet. It’s not out until February 20, 2018, from the folks at Berkeley. If you want a sure-fire book club pick, this one would be good. It just wasn’t turning my straw into gold. Meaning, I wasn’t breathless with suspense. But I’m also not hating on it, either. It just felt uneven to me. Hence, the three stars. It was a good read, but not a knockout.

Six friends spend time at a house in France, cavorting, drinking, falling in and out of love, causing havoc. The next door neighbor, a French girl named Severine, mysterious and effusive, spends much of the summer hanging with them. Then the summer ends and Kate, Tom, Theo, Seb, Caro, and Lara head back to civilization. Unfortunately, Severine (our “French Girl” of title) disappears. Five of our six (Theo is deceased) have moved on with their lives, until work on the French house finds bones in a well. Guess who? Severine. Since there is no statute of limitations on murder, the French police send an inspector named Modan to the US to investigate. Kate, our lead character of the group, suddenly notices that the ghost of Severine is following her around. Kate has her hands full enough- her career is in neutral and her only solution is a contract with her former friend Caro’s dad’s firm. Her friend Tom and her best friend Lara had a fling at some point and now Kate has complicated feelings for Tom. Her ex Seb, it turns out, had a one off with the dead girl on the last night they were there. Caro was doing coke, drinking heavily, and smuggled drugs in Kate’s luggage, so they aren’t close. Tom and Seb are related, so there are a lot of complicated relationships involved. Modan is hot on all of their tails, so Kate gets a lawyer. To complicate things more, Lara starts messing around with the Frenchman, which isn’t the smartest thing when he’s investigating Severine’s murder. Things escalate and come to a head. The case is eventually solved and closed. And therein lies my true beef. It’s not a satisfactory conclusion at all! I like the characters but the perpetrator was not a surprise at all. The inherent shadiness associated with that person made me think they were the one behind Severine’s murder. Unfortunately, I was correct. The wheels of justice completely fell off the track here, my friends. The way some of these adult friends act toward one another? Abhorrent and immature, or a kegger at a uni in an uppercrust suburb. Some of these people are so repellent they could be used as an adult insect solution. Props to Elliott for painting them so, so well. I wanted to smack the shit out of some of them. So, ultimately, a great story about the misplaced bonds of friendship, desire, and the terrible entrails of human nature. But a story that lost much of its appeal with the great reveal. 

X-Files: Trust No One (vol. 1) by Various authors; edited by Jonathan Maberry (3 out of 5)

•November 5, 2017 • Leave a Comment

I read the 2nd volume of the X-Files short story collection first. Then I found out about this, so I ordered this in. It was hard to get into this 1st volume, although I’d be hard pressed to pin down one or more reasons for that being the case. The first collection was read in three hours; this one took a week. I was very happy to get a short story involving Arthur Dales, as well as a few Skinner tales, and that bastard The Cigarette-Smoking Man appears in a few, as well. And this collection brought out our old “buddy” Alex Krychek, so maybe that sunk the battleship for me early. I don’t know, honestly. I do know that toward the second half of the book I got more involved, and happily so. But it was a bit too late to save it overall for me. I will have to shelve this collection as “a good read” but not a 5-star like the other that I’ve read. There’s still one to read, so hopefully that rocks, too. I don’t think you can ever get enough X-Files (January, 2018, here’s looking at you). This is available now, in a paperback trade edition, from our hombres at IDW Publishing. 

Force Of Nature by Jane Harper (Aaron Falk #2) 

•November 5, 2017 • Leave a Comment

You get my IG photo of this advance. I somehow managed to erase the original picture from my phone. If you know me, you shouldn’t be surprised. Anyway, this is the second book involving Aaron Falk, Federal Police Agent. You do not need to read both books; they are stand alone titles. However, if you want to, the first book involving Falk and partner Carmen is “The Dry”. That book is out; this title won’t be out until February, 2018. The fine folks at Flatiron Books sent quite a nice swag bag with this title..a small backpack, a flashlight, and a water bottle. That was quite nifty; thank you to them for the swag and the galley. 

The book starts with Aaron and Carmen despairing over whether the woman working with them to bring down a money laundering operation was going to deliver the goods or flake out. Then we jump to a missing persons case- a woman who is part of a business hiking adventure in the Giralang Mountains has gone missing in the middle of the night while the others slept. A whole group of ladies, as well as a separate group of males from the same business group, headed out on a morale-boosting weekend adventure. Of the five ladies who went, only one returns. The missing woman just happens to be one Alice, who is also Aaron and Carmen’s whistleblower. They head up to intervene and see what they can find out. What they find out-along with the readers- is that these ladies are not the nicest people around. I will go as far as to say they are downright toxic. And the head of the male group isn’t much more forthcoming. Really, any one of them could have done something terrible to Alice. I had some last minute optimism in regards to what may have happened, but then they find Alice’s body. The author manages to throw in a few subplots- one involving two daughters and a son of the execs involved in this mess, a possible attraction between Aaron and Carmen, and yet, none of it really serves to supplement what ends up being a weak plot. I love Aaron and Carmen, and I loved the premise of the plot, but besides our two law enforcement personnel, not a single one of the characters is sympathetic or likable. That may have been Harper’s intention, and if so, bravo! You succeeded–in spades! Even our victim was a bit much to take, although I did admire her forthright manner during her time in the pages. It’s incredibly difficult to give a shit about the rest of the people, though. And when we get to the bottom of what happened to Alice? Well, it’s something. Not necessarily a good something. There is one final curveball but it’s a bit hard to swallow. All in all, I love the main duo and the rest was hard to care about given the level of toxicity present in everyone. I wish I had better to report on this, but it just did not ring my chimes.