Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Review: THE COLD DISH by Craig Johnson

the cold dish cover

The biggest crimes the town of Durant, Wyoming, usually sees are escaped ranch animals and drunk cowboys. But when a young man convicted in the gang rape of a Cheyenne girl is found in a sheep field, Sheriff Walt Longmire senses his days of phoning it in are over.

The Cold Dish is the first book in the Longmire series. It's not as good as Hell is Empty, but that's a good thing—after seven years and six books, one would hope that an author's work would improve, right? I basically got really impatient reading The Cold Dish because: 1. it's the first book in the series, which means there's a lot of exposition about things I'm already familiar with from watching the TV show; and 2. it took me forever to get through. This is mainly my own fault: I started it when I was busy and lucky to carve out fifteen minutes of uninterrupted reading time. Unfortunately, this isn't the type of book you can just pick up and get into right away, so I struggled through the first half and almost DNF'd it.

The Cold Dish finally starts to get interesting around the 150 page mark, when Walt goes onto the rez with his BFF, Henry Standing Bear, to question the father of the girl who was raped. Yes, it took him that long. The father's not a suspect because he can't walk, and Walt doesn't have any jurisdiction on the Indian reservation, but still. When he visits, the girl's dad gives Walt the legendary Cheyenne Rifle of the Dead, which was used in the Battle of the Little Bighorn and, it's implied, killed General Custer. The rifle is haunted by the Old Cheyenne who sometimes use it to call people to the land of the dead. Intriguing, no? Then things get really exciting because more of the rapists start dying.

So I did like the second half of the novel, but it was a long dang walk up to that point. On the plus side, even with the slow start, The Cold Dish definitely has its redeeming qualities. First of all, despite the dark subject matter, there's a lot of humor in the novel. Craig Johnson is as familiar with the universe of rural Wyoming as Jane Austen was with the gentle society of Regency England, and takes a similar tolerant-yet-ironic tone when describing the characters and foibles that populate his world. Aside from Walt, the secondary characters are awesome: Henry of the non-contractions has a very droll sense of humor, and gets most of the best lines in the book; and there's also Lucien, the former sheriff of Absaroka County and Walt's mentor, who's a crazy kamikaze badass living in a nursing home. Really all the main secondary characters are very well-realized except for Vonnie, but that's another story.

As I read The Cold Dish, I couldn't help but compare it to The Cuckoo's Calling. Unexpectedly, the two novels have a lot in common: they're both debut mystery novels that are reinterpretations of the classic noir set-up, with a down-on-his-luck, depressed, ex-military hero who's practically homeless; tons of literary references; and walking and talking. What is it with the walking and talking?! But The Cold Dish feels like a more original and organic twist, is more fully populated with characters and locations, has a better mystery (although the conclusion still made me roll my eyes), and the literary references are much more clever and integrated into the story. So I would say overall The Cold Dish is the better book.

Even though this book didn't wow me like Hell is Empty did, I'll definitely keep reading the Longmire series because I think Johnson is a great writer and the characters he's created are awesome.

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Monday, August 12, 2013

Guest Post by Sandra Owens, Author of THE LETTER

the letter cover

Dear Cousin mine,
If you are reading this letter, then I am dead. A pity that.

Thus begins the first lines of my Regency, THE LETTER. Where does a writer find their inspiration? Everywhere.

I recently read this quote posted on the Aerogramme Writer’s Studio Facebook page. “Everybody walks past a thousand stories every day. The good writers are the ones who see five or six of them. Most people don’t see any.”

So very true. My inspiration for THE LETTER came from a snippet on the news, yet the story itself is a different thing altogether. One word overheard, a glimpse of a mother in the mall, a mix of sadness and pride in her eyes as her daughter models a possible prom dress, a young couple giddy with happiness as they try on matching wedding rings in a jewelry store…all seeds for a story that when written bear no resemblance to the actual happening.

If I were Stephen King, a month after the purchase of the prom dress, the daughter would put on the gown and frightening things would begin to happen. Unbeknownst to her, the gown is haunted by a girl bent on revenge. Perhaps she had been born to an evil mother and died at the hands of her parent while wearing the dress. Now, her spirit lives on in that silk material and each time the gown comes into the possession of another girl, the dead girl seeks vengeance….

See how that works? Of course, Mr. King would conjure a story much better and a whole lot scarier than mine but as writers, all we have to do is open our eyes to the possibilities and then ask ourselves what if.

After seeing that bit on the news that inspired THE LETTER, the seed took root and about a week later, I awoke one morning with the complete letter in my head that begins the book. It is not a love letter, but one from a man whose evil scheme tore apart two lovers on the eve of their wedding. What if the couple was reunited eleven years later? What if they realized they still had feelings for each other, but had to struggle through the lies and secrets of the past?

The seed for THE TRAINING OF A MARQUESS, another of my books, came from my fascination with pet whisperers. After reading several books about horse whisperers, the “what ifs” started. What if a woman in Regency England was a horse whisperer? What if she wore breeches? What if she fell in love with a man who guarded his heart and vowed never to marry again? What if she used her horse whispering magic on him?

When writing, there is always research no matter the story, more so when writing a Regency. Do I have the clothing right? How much did a gown cost in 1814? What about my words? The word hello didn’t exist at that time, so a Regency writer must find ways for their characters to greet each other that fit the era. I once read a Regency book where the heroine said, okay. Ah…that’s not okay!

Fortunately, research is much easier today with the internet. For the contemporary romance series I’m writing about a group of ex-SEALs, I’ve done so much on-line weapons research that I’m confident I’m on a government watch list or two. If CIA type men wearing suits and dark sunglasses show up at my door some day, it wouldn’t be a complete surprise. I will, however, say, “Mmmm….What if?”

Thank you for inviting me to guest post on Truth Beauty Freedom & Books. I’ve enjoyed it immensely.

Sandra Owens


The Letter: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00C1IHMGY

THE LETTER is the story of a betrayal that wasn’t. Even so, it still tore apart two lovers for eleven years.

On the eve of their wedding, Michael Jeffres, Earl of Daventry, found his betrothed— the woman who meant as much to him as the air he breathed—in bed with his cousin, Leo. Diana remembers nothing of that night. All she knows is that she was forced to marry Leo and then spent the next eleven years in hell.

When the two lovers are brought back together by a letter from Leo a year after his death, Michael and Diana must struggle through all the lies and secrets before they can find a love that far surpasses the one of their youth.

Author Bio:
Sandra lives in the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina. Most days, you can find her with her fingers on a keyboard, her mind in the world of her imagination. It's a land where romance and happy endings exist, a land where anything is possible.

When her husband can drag her away from her computer, she likes to travel with her very own hero in their RV, but she always brings her laptop. There are still stories to write, after all.

A few highlights of Sandra's life she fondly recalls are jumping out of a plane, flying upside down in a stunt plane, and riding her Harley in the mountains of Southern California and along the coast of Maine. She's managed a private airport and held the position of General Manager of a Harley-Davidson dealership.

Although those events in her life were great fun, nothing compares to the joy and satisfaction she gets from writing her stories.

Buy Links:   Amazon 

Where to find Sandra:  Website | Blog | Twitter | Facebook | Goodreads

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Monday, August 5, 2013

Review: LICK by Kylie Scott

lick cover

Evelyn is celebrating her 21st birthday in Las Vegas, hoping to have some fun for once and maybe get a little action. Then she hits the tequila and the next thing she knows, she's waking up on a bathroom floor with a ring on her finger and a shirtless guy with tats looming above her. Yup, Ev just got drunk-married in Vegas because her life is a total cliché. Somehow she's managed to land the lead guitarist of a rock band called Stage Dive, of which she is of course completely ignorant even though they're the most famous rock band in the world. Evelyn tries to go back to her normal life and divorce David, but circumstances conspire to bring them together. Will these two crazy kids find a way to work things out?

Hey! It's time to play Tasha's least-favorite book game: Where the Hell was the Editor? Supposedly Lick was published by an actual publisher, but you'd never know that from the book itself, which contains more silly typos than I've seen in many self-published books. Whoever edited this book—if anyone did, and I wouldn't be surprised if the answer was no one—apparently didn't have an English degree, or they'd have noticed the author erroneously believes "alright" is a word. Alright is not a word, it is a misspelling of the phrase "all right" by people who believe words and phrases such as "all ready" and "already," and "all together" and "altogether" are interchangeable. They're not, they have separate meanings; whereas "alright" doesn't mean anything because, to repeat, IT IS NOT A WORD. I'm willing to let the use of "alright" go with my friends' Facebook postings and the like, but if you're writing professionally, you damn well better know what is and isn't a word.

Aside from "alright," Kylie Scott uses words and phrases in ways that are really awkward and kind of make me wonder if English is her first language or not. I don't usually include quotes in my reviews, but I just have to share some of the weirder moments:

I flailed. It seemed the only proper response. 
Like, literally flailed? Like a muppet flail?

muppet flail

(Evelyn flails several times during the course of the novel, actually. I have no idea what this is supposed to mean, since in context it makes no sense either literally or metaphorically.)

Saying no under these conditions was a big ask. 
A big task? A lot to ask?

"You're frowning." David walked up behind me slowly. 
How does he know she's frowning if he's behind her? (The locations/times in this book are really inconsistent and show no attempt at continuity.)

"Right." He pinched his lips between his thumb and forefinger. "Well, I think not fucking around on each other would be a good start." 
Wait, what? Why is he making a duck face?

Martha gave him a hazardous smile. There was no other word for it. 
You should probably try to find another word, though, because "hazardous smile" isn't really, you know, a thing. Dangerous smile, perhaps? Seems like someone was using the thesaurus.

And on and on. All that wouldn't even bother me too much, though, if the subtext of Lick didn't reinforce gender stereotypes and feminine subjugation to male authority in the most insulting way possible. The way David treated Ev seemed designed to press every single this-guy-is-a-controlling-shithead button I have. During the course of the novel, he:

  • Picks out Evelyn's clothes for her.
  • Implies her own choice of clothing is inappropriate.
  • Tells her what/when/how to eat; comments on her weight.
  • Treats Ev, on multiple occasions, like "a doll" and "a child."
  • Undresses her when she's unconscious, then expects kudos for not banging her passed-out self (why is this a thing?? My mom had a bunch of Glenna Finley books where this always happened, too).
  • Wakes her up at five in the morning because he's bored. Poor baby!
  • Makes her lie in bed while he's sleeping even though it's the middle of the afternoon and she's not tired, because apparently she's his personal cuddle bunny.
  • Has the emotional maturity of an 8-year-old and throws temper tantrums when he doesn't get his way (such an attractive quality in a man).
  • Won't let her talk to other guys and immediately accuses her of cheating on him when she does.
  • Follows up an incident where Evelyn is sexually harassed in a bar by accusing her of wanting it, then giving her a taste of "rough sex" (not rapey, not rapey AT ALL).
  • Undermines her plans to become an architect.

The last point was particularly upsetting, because Evelyn seems to believe this is a good thing. When the book first starts, she's going to college and plans to become an architect like her dad. Everything's hunky dory until David starts in with the, "Are you SURE you want to be an architect? You don't really sound too excited about it. Are you ABSOLUTELY CERTAIN you want to do that with your life?" Well of course she isn't, she's 21 years old and has no hobbies or interests outside of school and being David's personal dick warmer! After David plants the seeds of doubt in Evelyn's mind that maybe she doesn't *really* want to be an architect, she decides she's going to drop out of college altogether (or all together? ha!) and be a barista, because that's the only thing she's good at. It might be interesting to note that David himself never graduated from high school. Coincidence? No wonder her parents hate this guy. I'm sure she'll be very happy cooking and cleaning for him and trailing after him on tours. Way to write a woman's story, there.

Lick is probably the worst book I've read since Fifty Shades of Grey. The writing style is sloppy bordering on nonsensical and the message is awful. The sex scenes are hot, I will say that much; but they're used gratuitously when actual conversation would have done a lot more to advance character development and plot, and Evelyn's never an equal participant in them. David might as well have been jerking off.

So, yeah, I was pretty annoyed by the time I finished this novel. I think I'm pretty much an outlier in that opinion, though.

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Saturday, August 3, 2013

Review of THE CUCKOO'S CALLING by JK Rowling/Robert Galbraith

cuckoo's calling cover

Proposed alternate title: "Lucky Strike" (it's ironic... or is it?)

Comoran Strike is down on his luck, to say the least: he just broke up with his rich fiancé, is sleeping in his office because he can't afford a hotel, is one more missed rent check away from losing his business, and on top of all that he only has one leg. Pretty sad story. But his fortunes turn when temp secretary Robin shows up at his door. Soon he's garnered a case that seems impossible to solve: the death of a famous supermodel, which the police ruled a suicide. Her brother believes it was murrrderrrr and wants Strike to prove it. Will Strike be able to solve the not-actually-a-murder and get his shit together by the end of the book???

JK Rowling and a mystery novel, what could go wrong? I heard The Cuckoo's Calling described somewhere as a classic hardboiled detective mystery but without the misogyny, and that's actually a perfect single-sentence summary of the book (not that it passes the Bechdel Test--it doesn't). You've got everything from a His Girl Friday to antagonistic police detectives and a slew of suspects, so it definitely aims to please crime novel fans, of which I am one. That said, the mystery is truly ridonkulous and the story ain't exactly gripping.

When The Cuckoo's Calling begins, it's surprisingly funny and entertaining. Like I was literally laughing out loud. Robin and Strike have great chemistry and I loved that Robin's dream as a kid was to be a private detective (you have to admit it sounds like a cool job). She is alllll up in the gumshoeing. Strike is also a great character, very sympathetic and with a Dark Past. I was enjoying The Cuckoo's Calling so much I was actually considering buying it. In hardcover! If you know anything about me, this is a supreme vote of confidence.

BUT. As the book went on, it got pretty boring. There is a lot of talking in this novel. Walking and talking, talking and walking, that's all Strike does for 150 pages; and it feels like an exercise in futility because there are no clues or information about the supposed murder. Instead of an actual mystery, we're treated to meditations on some of Rowling's pet topics: celebrity, daddy issues, blah blah blah. I don't mind mysteries that are just an excuse to talk about other things by any means, but one generally does need some plot in there to keep the whole thing moving. The Maltese Falcon's mystery was a metaphor, too, but The Maltese Falcon was also only about 200 pages, not 450.

The story does pick up later in the book, when Strike finally gets around to interviewing people who might actually know something, but the conclusion... UHG. It was unholy annoying. First of all, as I mentioned, the mystery was head-shakingly silly. I guessed who the murderer was about halfway through the novel, so that wasn't a surprise, and I had kind of figured out the how and why by the time the big Poirot-style reveal came around, too. But the clues Strike used to figure everything out stretched the bonds credibility. The puddle on the floor made him think flowers instead of snow even though it was snowing outside, really? This man's ability to wildly speculate on what evidence means is mind-boggling.

Also, the end of the novel left a whole bunch of loose threads hanging. Such as: why in the name of god is this book title The Cuckoo's Calling? The model is only called Cuckoo once in the entire course of the novel, and the main character is named Strike! Does Rowling not watch Castle at all?? How can you have a detective named Strike and not use that as a play on words in the title? Also, why did Strike start a PI business? Who does that anymore? He could have done anything: gone back to university, worked for the police, started a security consulting firm (which, if the romance novels are to be believed, is a much more lucrative profession). I still have no idea what his motivation is. After 450 pages of walking and talking, have I mentioned that???

I am also—and perhaps unreasonably—annoyed that there wasn't more of Robin in the book. For one, the only entertaining scenes, aside from one notable exception (Strike club crawling with a ditsy model), were the ones with Robin in them. I can't help but feel that The Cuckoo's Calling would have been much more interesting if it had been framed as Robin's story rather than Strike's. And I think there's an argument to be made that the book IS actually Robin's story, but the series needs to play out a bit more before I'll commit to that.

I'm not saying that The Cuckoo's Calling is an awful book, just that it's a mixed bag. It's too long and Rowling could do with putting more work into her mystery plots. But like I said, the beginning is delightful and Rowling's writing is as clever and sharp as ever. I think if you're a fan of Rowling's you'll want to read The Cuckoo's Calling, and you'll probably even enjoy it. Despite my general annoyances with this one, I'll definitely read "Robert Galbraith's" second book.

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