Review of JET by Russell Blake (2012) (Jet Series)

Bottom line: JET is a free, full length novel introducing the JET series. If you’re a fan of thrillers, give it a try!

Rating: Strongly Recommended

Blurb:

Code name: Jet 

Twenty-eight-year-old Jet was once the Mossad’s most lethal operative before faking her own death and burying that identity forever. But the past doesn’t give up on its secrets easily.

When her new life on a tranquil island is shattered by a brutal attack, Jet must return to a clandestine existence of savagery and deception to save herself and those she loves. A gritty, unflinching roller-coaster of high-stakes twists and shocking turns, JET features a new breed of protagonist that breaks the mold.

Fans of Lisbeth Salander, SALT, and the Bourne trilogy will find themselves carried along at Lamborghini speed to a conclusion as surprising as the story’s heroine is unconventional.

Review:

I recommend reading this book when you can devote a few hours to it and finish it all in one gulp – otherwise, you’ll still end up finishing it all in one gulp, but there will be babies crying, dogs barking, chores neglected, and food uneaten as you frantically race through the pages. The style reminded me the most of the Bourne trilogy (as suggested in the blurb). We have an extremely competent assassin: a female character far more strongly developed than one would normally expect to see in this genre. We have international shenanigans, scary bad guys, cool weapons, and clandestine government agencies. The writing was very tight, and as I said earlier, I was very impressed with the lifelikeness of the main character. Blake managed to create a ruthless assassin who still feels realistically human and also manages to be a sympathetic character. Descriptions were evocative without being tedious, and there are enough logistics and details (e.g. what kinds of weapons they used, how they get from point A to point B) to give the reader a good flavour of setting but not so much that your eyes start to glaze over. The only thing I know about guns is that they fire bullets, and the only thing I know about cars is that they come in different colours. (Yes, I’m a girl. Yes, I know that’s a stereotype, but seriously, I look at a car and I can generally tell if it’s an SUV, truck, or car, but that’s it. I’m a mess trying to find my car in parking lots. Do you know how many gray cars there are?!? Anyways…)The only aspect I wasn’t crazy about was how the story jumped around in time and place, but I recognize that these were all important for the plot and/or backstory. My brain is very linear and I just have a hard time coming into and out of the main story line.

So basically, we have an intriguing premise, lots of action, an interesting main character, and last but not least, very good writing. Oh, and it’s free. What’s not to like? I’ll definitely be reading more in the series as time (and budget) allows, and will be checking out some of Blake’s other works.

Side note: This is a violent story, and while the writing certainly conveys that, it never felt overly graphic to me (and I am a total wimp).

Get it! Amazon, Barnes & Noble

*If you use these links to make a purchase, Lector’s Books may receive a small commission. This will not affect your price or purchasing experience in any way.

Review of The Alphabet Mysteries Series by Sue Grafton

Bottom line: A great example of the hard boiled genre, featuring a strong female P.I.

Rating: Recommended

Blurb for First Book: A is for Alibi (1982)

A IS FOR AVENGER
A tough-talking former cop, private investigator Kinsey Millhone has set up a modest detective agency in a quiet corner of Santa Teresa, California. A twice-divorced loner with few personal possessions and fewer personal attachments, she’s got a soft spot for underdogs and lost causes.

A IS FOR ACCUSED
That’s why she draws desperate clients like Nikki Fife. Eight years ago, she was convicted of killing her philandering husband. Now she’s out on parole and needs Kinsey’s help to find the real killer. But after all this time, clearing Nikki’s bad name won’t be easy.

A IS FOR ALIBI
If there’s one thing that makes Kinsey Millhone feel alive, it’s playing on the edge. When her investigation turns up a second corpse, more suspects, and a new reason to kill, Kinsey discovers that the edge is closer–and sharper–than she imagined.

Review:

It’s been a while since I’ve read any of Sue Grafton’s Alphabet Mysteries, so I got A is for Alibi from the library and started over at the beginning (not all of them – I’m dedicated to you, my loyal readers, but not THAT dedicated). I’ve read up through T, though Grafton has published up through V (W is for Wasted comes out this fall). For a series that has 22 published books, plus some short stories (none of which I’ve read), the level of quality is surprisingly consistent – and high. The mysteries and characters are interesting and varied enough so that you don’t feel like you’re reading the same book over and over again. There are, obviously, some books that are better than others, but for the most part they’re very good reads.

One thing to note is that just because this series features a female detective, do not mistake these for cozies. They are definitely hard boiled: gritty and full of the realities of life – sex and bad language and all the rest of it. Kinsey is a tough, prickly, character, one that you come to respect before you necessarily start to like her. In the first book, you get enough details about her earlier life to keep you interested, without there being an info dump of backstory. I find it annoying when within a few strategic conversations in the first chapter you learn everything you need to know about a character. Real life doesn’t work that way. You do learn more about her as the series progresses, in a very natural way.

I’d recommend this series for anyone who likes the hard boiled mystery genre, or even mystery fans in general. Be warned that there is quite a bit of detail involved in tracking down various aspects of the cases; facts don’t seamlessly fall into place on the first try, which I quite like. Another great thing about these books is that any library is almost guaranteed to stock them. So, pick one up and give it a try – if you like it, you’ll eventually have 25 more great books to keep you entertained. Even for someone who reads as fast as I do, that’s at least a hundred hours of happiness.

 Get it! Amazon, Barnes & Noble

*If you use these links to make a purchase, Lector’s Books may receive a small commission. This will not affect your price or purchasing experience in any way.

Summer Reading List – Golden Age Mysteries

I’m going to be posting some summer reading lists throughout the, well, summer. These won’t be in-depth reviews, just a list of “hey, these are great and you should drop everything and read them now!” books. I’m going to be doing it by genre, and for my first genre I’m picked Golden Age Mysteries. These are the mysteries that many people think of as the “classic” mysteries, typically written in the 1920’s or 1930’s. I love this era – so much so that they comprise the vast majority of the mysteries on my personal bookshelves that survive my frequent purges. So, here’s your summer reading list for Golden Age Mysteries:

  1. Gaudy Night (1935) by Dorothy Sayers. Amazon, Barnes & Noble. Normally I wouldn’t recommend starting with this one (just because it’s not the first and I’m a bit obsessive that way), but I think it really is her best and if you want to give Sayers a try, this is the one to do it with. (See my review of Sayers’ work here.)
  2. Murder on the Orient Express (1934) by Agatha Christie. Amazon, Barnes & Noble. Probably my favorite Christie, and a great introduction to her work. See more reviews of Christie here.)
  3. Opening Night / Night at the Vulcan (alternate title) (1951) by Ngaio Marsh. Amazon, Barnes & Noble. I’ve only read a handful of Marsh’s works, but I’ve enjoyed all the ones that I have read. I’d rate her a bit below Agatha Christie, but still very fun to read if you like this genre. She was from New Zealand and worked in the theatre, so several of her works are set in the theatre as this one is (and also features a heroine fresh off the boat from NZ).
  4. Death of a Ghost (1934) by Margery Allingham. Amazon, Barnes & Noble. This is my favorite Allingham. Her work is a bit darker than any of the others I’ve mentioned, but this one especially is extremely well crafted. Some of her books I found the characters to be flat, but in this one they are more fleshed out.

The four authors above are considered the four original “Queens of Crime”, and reading one of each of their works would certainly constitute a good introduction into the golden age of detective fiction. Another author that I hear frequently recommended along with the four above is Josephine Tey, but I have yet to read any of her works.  So, as a bonus, I’m including:

5. Anything written by Josephine Tey. Amazon, Barnes & Noble. This is going on my reading list for the summer.

I hope you enjoy your first reading assignment from me – look for more to come!

*If you use these links to make a purchase, Lector’s Books may receive a small commission. This will not affect your price or purchasing experience in any way.

Review of Rigged for Murder by Jenifer LeClair (2011) (Windjammer Mysteries)

Bottom line: An enjoyable book, as much for the ambience as the mystery itself.

Rating: Recommended

Blurb:

High seas adventure turns to high stakes sleuthing when a beautiful but troubled homicide detective and a New England sea captain join forces in this award-winning mystery set on the coast of Maine.

On leave from the Minneapolis Police Department after being shot, homicide detective Brie Beaumont has gone to Maine where she has family roots. She ships out on the Maine Wind for an early season cruise with Captain John DuLac and eight others. Caught in a gale, they anchor off remote and windswept Granite Island. But when someone aboard is murdered, Brie must single-handedly stage an investigation that moves from the ship to a small fishing village on the island. Plagued by flashbacks, and fighting a growing attraction to Captain DuLac, she works to unravel a mystery that will place her directly in the path of a psychopathic killer.

Review:

Two of my favorite things in life are reading and travelling. If I can find a book that is a great story and has enough local flavor to provide a mental journey, I’m an extremely happy camper. Rigged For Murder delivers on both counts. It’s a solid mystery, and there were enough descriptions of both the sailing and the island to give me a good feel for the setting. It’s well written, and the pace flows along nicely. I got it for free, but will be buying the next book in the series, Danger Sector.

There were a couple of things I didn’t love about it. First, there was a lot of nautical jargon, and the meanings weren’t always readily discernible from context. To be fair, I think authors generally tend to overexplain instead of the other way around, so it was nice to be treated as an intelligent creature (even if that might have been an overestimation on the author’s part!). Second, cynic that I am, it annoys me when people fall in love in a couple of days. Lastly, there are a couple of abrupt shifts in perspective, often a couple within the same paragraph. I found these a little disorienting.

Barring these minor issues (none of which are very distracting from the storyline), it’s a really fun read. I thought Brie was a great character – she was more complex than you sometimes find in these types of mysteries. Although you don’t get a lot of insight into the secondary characters, they felt realistic – characters, not caricatures.

Rigged for Murder is what I think of as a “Modern Cozy” – meaning it has several elements of a traditional cozy mystery, but there are aspects that are a little more PG-13 than you would tend to find in a traditional cozy.

What did you think of the book? Ever been sailing?

Review of Hazardous Duty by Christy Barritt (2012) (Squeaky Clean Mysteries)

Bottom line: An interesting premise for a detective, and with a well thought out story to back it up.

Rating: Recommended

Blurb:

Buying a gun to kill your wife: $3,000
Hiring Trauma Care to clean afterward: $1,500
Having that same cleaner uncover evidence that frames you: priceless

On her way to completing a degree in forensic science, Gabby St. Claire drops out of school and starts her own crime scene cleaning business. “Yeah, that’s me,” she says, “a crime scene cleaner. People waiting in line behind me who strike up conversations always regret it.”

When a routine cleaning job uncovers a murder weapon the police overlooked, she realizes that the wrong person is in jail. But the owner of the weapon is a powerful foe . . . and willing to do anything to keep Gabby quiet.

With the help of her new neighbor, Riley Thomas, a man whose life and faith fascinate her, Gabby plays the detective to make sure the right person is put behind bars. Can Riley help her before another murder occurs?

Review:

I knew I wanted to read a mystery today, and I started several before landing on this one. From the opening line of “Whistling a tune from Fiddler on the Roof, I used my tweezers to work a piece of Gloria Cunningham’s skull out of the sky blue wall.” I was intrigued. There were many things I enjoyed : the main character was three dimensional and interesting, it had a good murder/detecting plot, and the ending leaves you satisfied but with some unanswered questions about Gabby’s past and future. I thought having the amateur detective own a crime scene cleaning business and have gone to school for forensic science was a clever way to solve the age-old mystery writers’ dilemma: how and why would ordinary people investigate a crime?

A couple of quibbles I had with the book are as follows. For one, the supporting characters felt a little flat to me. For example, the supposed best friend is militantly vegan and she’s often described that way: “the animal lover did such and such”, or we see her forcing vegan brownies down her neighbours’ throats while ranting about animal cruelty. All of which is fine, but EVERY time she appears in the story it’s while doing some animal rights activism (not “animal right’s activism.” I shouldn’t have read “Eats, Shoots and Leaves”. It just made me more obsessive about punctuation – other people’s, not mine, of course!) or something like that. The father is a drunk and a sponge, therefore he’s only a drunk and a sponge.

The other issue I had was with the effort to introduce matters of faith into the book. I respect writers who try to imbue their works with topics that are close to their hearts, like faith and doubt (or environmentalism or healthy living or whatever it is they hold dear), and as a Christian myself, the content certainly doesn’t offend me. However, it felt forced. Several characters brought up God seemingly out of nowhere, and Gabby sure spends a lot of time thinking about how she doesn’t believe in God.

These two issues aside, it was an enjoyable read. I had gotten the book for free quite a while ago and just today got around to reading it, but I was glad I had it on my Kindle. I haven’t decided yet whether or not to pursue the series – it looks like there are several books already out.

Available: Amazon, Barnes & Noble.

More Info: http://www.christybarritt.com/

What did you think? Did you like the book?

*If you use these links to make a purchase, Lector’s Books may receive a small commission. This will not affect your price or purchasing experience in any way.

Review of Pompomberry House by Rosen Trevithick (2012)

Bottom line: A very fun read with a good mystery, an interesting main character (despite describing every single hat she puts on), and a clever roasting of the indie scene.

Rating: Recommended

Blurb:

A writer’s retreat seemed the perfect chance for Dee Whittaker to take her mind off her marital difficulties.

However, she meets five of the most hideous writers ever to have mastered a qwerty keyboard, and her problems quickly multiply. Things escalate further when the handyman winds up dead.

After fleeing from the island, Dee attempts to get her life back on track but begins to notice that something strange is going on. The stories written on the island are coming true and hers is next – complete with a murder.

Her estranged husband makes an unlikely sidekick as the two of them try to stop the literary copycat killing an innocent woman.

Packed with topical references, Pompomberry House provides a satirical look at the emerging world of indie publishing.

Review:

As an avid reader, I’ve been watching the changing dynamics of writing and publishing – both through the introduction of e-books and greater prevalence of independently published authors. You could have one without the other, but e-books have made it possible for anyone to take ANY piece of written work, hit “publish”, and it’s available to the masses. Pompomberry House takes a look at a group of characters who probably should have thought twice before hitting the publish button on their books.

It takes a look at some of the challenges of being an indie author, as well as some behind the scenes action of what authors have to do to get their books noticed. (There’s a huge difference between being able to e-publish a book, and being able to e-sell it.) Most of the characters felt a little TOO over the top for me, but it is satire, so that might have been a stylistic decision. Although the murder/mystery/discovery aspects of the book were handled quite cleverly, I felt that the author was at her best when portraying the complicated relationship and emotions between the main character and her soon-to-be ex-husband.

As it says in the blurb, this is a book “packed with topical references…” I don’t know how well Pompomberry House will stand the test of time with all the contemporary mentions, but in the here and now, it’s definitely worth checking out – especially if you have any interest in indie authors.

Side note: This book is firmly in the PG-13 camp, so be warned.

Available: Amazon, Barnes & Noble.

What did you think? Did you like the book?

*If you use these links to make a purchase, Lector’s Books may receive a small commission. This will not affect your price or purchasing experience in any way.

Review of No Time To Run by J.D. Trafford (2011) (Legal Thriller Featuring Michael Collins, Book 1)

Bottom line: A fun, fast paced story that is well worth reading, especially if you can get it for free.

Update: As of July 16, 2013 this book is no longer free.

Rating: Recommended

Blurb:

Michael Collins burned his suits and ties in a beautiful bonfire before leaving New York and taking up residence at Hut No. 7 in a run-down Mexican resort. He dropped-out, giving up a future of billable hours and big law firm paychecks. But, there are millions of dollars missing from a client’s account and a lot of people who want Michael Collins to come back. When his girlfriend is accused of murder, he knows that there really isn’t much choice.

Review:

This was one of my “go through Amazon’s free bestsellers and dump a bunch onto my Kindle” finds. I’ve recently read a string of very disappointing murder mysteries that I had found the same way, so my expectations were pretty low. To my surprise, I found myself drawn in from the first couple of pages.

This is the same genre and style as a John Grisham novel, and well executed. There were a few typos, but not so many that it distracted me from the story. The plot was interesting and complex (but not overly so), the characters were well drawn, and the action keeps moving. It is definitely escapism reading, and will take you out of your world for a couple of hours. I enjoyed the depictions of both New York and Mexico, I thought he did a good job of portraying the ambience of each location.

Side Note: There is a second book in the series, which I will probably read at some point. I found this book to be more action/plot driven than anything else, and I don’t feel so invested in the characters that I need to rush to find out what happens to them next.

Available: Amazon

More Info: http://jdtrafford.blogspot.com/

What did you think? Did you like the book?

*If you use these links to make a purchase, Lector’s Books may receive a small commission. This will not affect your price or purchasing experience in any way.

Review of the Lord Peter & Harriet Vane mysteries by Dorothy Sayers

Bottom line: Great mysteries, great characters, great writing. I cannot recommend these highly enough.

Rating: Strongly Recommended

Review:

Gaudy Night is my all-time favorite book. Not just mystery, but book. The other three books in this series are all very, very good (though I’d rate Have His Carcase a bit below the other three – it’s slow in places). The depth of Peter Wimsey and Harriet Vane, combined with their interactions, feel more real than any other characters I’ve read. It feels more like being in a room with two people you know well than reading a story about fictional creations.

Continue reading

Three Free Kindle E-Book Mysteries

One of the reasons that I haven’t posted anything in a while is because I’ve been busy chugging though several free mysteries that I had dumped on my Kindle, hoping to find a gem. And of course, by the time I found one I liked, a couple of the ones I was going to mention were no longer free. Fear not, none of them were going to get a recommendation! So, instead of a quick review of five free e-books, here is a quick review of three free e-books.

Frame-Up (Michael Knight #2) (2010) by John Dobbyn

Update: as of  7/2/2013 this book is no longer free

Rating: Recommended

This was the first free e-book mystery that I read in this batch that I couldn’t put down. There are some cheesy moments, but for the most part it is a really fun ride. A lawyer gets pulled into international intrigue involving the Mob, Russian criminals, and a priceless painting. After writing that last sentence, I realize just how ridiculous it sounds, but as you’re in the story, the author makes it all make sense, I promise. There are a couple of other books in this series, and I’m going to have to check them out. If they’re as fun as this, it’ll be worth the read.

 Blood on the Vine (Jay Leicester #1) (2000) by JC Simmons

Update: As of 7/2/2013, this book is no longer free

Rating: Recommended if: you’re looking for a free mystery with an interesting setting, you’re a pilot, or you are a wine person.

I thought this book was ok. I found it a little slow, and felt that the murder solution kind of came out of nowhere. There are a lot of descriptions of food, wine, and the Napa Valley, which was kind of fun, but there are days where you follow the detective around and he does nothing but wake up, shower, talk to a couple of people, drive, eat, almost talk to the beautiful woman around whom much mystery centers, then go back to bed. I would recommend it for an airplane read (something kind of fun, kind of interesting, but won’t keep you reading it all the way through your vacation/meeting when you land) but it does center around a plane crash, so if that makes you squeamish, save it for a car trip.

 A Cold Day For Murder (Kate Shugak #1) (1992) by Dana Stabenow

Rating: Recommended if: you’re looking for a free mystery with an interesting setting.

I wanted to like this book a lot more than I did. It takes place in a tiny town in Alaska, and has a pretty good, if slightly predictable, murder/plot. My main issue was with the main character – she just didn’t ring true to me. There were also a couple of instances where two characters lock eyes and then she knew that he knew and they both understood (or something like that) and the reader is left going “huh?”. I thought it had promise though, and was on the fence about trying the next book in the series, but the first chapter is included and I didn’t like it.  So, bottom line is that it just didn’t do much for me, but it wasn’t bad for a free read. Warning: there are some graphic elements, mostly having to do with a traumatic event in her last job.

*If you use these links to make a purchase, Lector’s Books may receive a small commission. This will not affect your price or purchasing experience in any way.

Five Free Kindle E-book Classic Mysteries Written in the 1800s

I think it’s interesting to read some of the earliest mysteries and science fiction and see what has changed in the genres over the centuries. Some are as enthralling as the day they were published and some….not so much. Here are five free Kindle e-book mysteries from some of the writers who popularized the genre and inspired those who came later. Barnes and Noble links are included, but they are $0.99 as of 7/2/2013.

The Cask of Amontillado (1846) – Edgar Allan Poe  (short story) – Amazon, Barnes & Noble

I wasn’t quite sure what to expect when I started this, but I ended up liking it. It’s a REALLY short story. I think it could have benefitted from explaining what the offence was that had been committed against the narrator, but it’s a creepy (in a good way) short read from the perspective of the perpetrator. More of a thriller than a mystery.

The Woman in White (1859) – Wilkie Collins  – Amazon, Barnes & Noble

Of the five books here, I found this one to be the most of a slog. It’s long, and there is a lot of  “women are to be pretty and helpless”, but if you can get past that it’s a well thought out plot, and the way the amateur detective goes about uncovering the evidence seemed pretty believable. The main perpetrator reminded me a lot of Agatha Christie’s perpetrator in The Man In the Brown Suit, but I don’t know if that was an homage or coincidental on her part.

Crime and Punishment (1866) – Fyodor Dostoyevsky  – Amazon, Barnes & Noble

Parts of this book drag a bit, but it was an interesting look at Russian life during that time. The names can get a bit confusing (not because they’re Russian, but because each person has several different names, all used interchangeably depending on the person speaking). It’s different from many mysteries in that we get the point of view of the killer, but there is definitely murder, and detectives, and uncovering of evidence, and then resolution. It was a little uncomfortable to witness the effect the crime has on the killer’s mind, but definitely fascinating. Plus, there’s the advantage of being able to say “oh, you know, just reading a little Dostoyevsky”  to anyone you want to impress. Fair warning: It’s REALLY long.

The Leavenworth Case (1878) – Anna Katharine GreenAmazon, Barnes & Noble

The first novel of of one of the earliest mystery writers in America (at least according to Wikipedia). It has many elements of what I usually think of as the typical English mystery – a murder of a wealthy person in a locked house, secrets of those who may stand to gain from his death, a side of romance, unexpected twists and turns in the plot, and ending with the detective eliciting a confession from the guilty party. Some of the language feels a bit dated, and there are a few typos, but definitely worth a read.

The Sign of the Four (Sherlock Holmes #2) (1890) – Arthur Conan DoyleAmazon, Barnes & Noble

This is one of my favorite Sherlock Holmes mysteries, and it’s free! Fantastical elements in a story that stretches back in time and halfway across the world. Holmes and Watson are in fine form, despite the distraction of a fair lady…

Bonus: Not free, you’ll have to shell out $0.99 for this book, but if you want to read about Holmes from the beginning, there is:

A Study in Scarlet (Sherlock Holmes Vol.1) (1887) – Arthur Conan DoyleAmazon, Barnes & Noble

Have you read any of these books? Still enjoyable despite the 100 – 150 years they’ve been around?