Monday, July 8, 2013

Thrill Me, Chill Me, Just Don't Kill Me

If I was left in a locked room with a murder mystery and nothing else to read for the rest of my life, I'd probably do myself in. I've never been much for thrillers or romantic suspense, either. Maybe it's function of having led a dramatic life.  When I escape into a book, I don't need or want more of the same.

Or, not, since I've had (still have) great sex, and still enjoy reading about that. <insert naughty smile here.> Perhaps it's just a matter of personal taste.

Still, I used to watch Scooby Doo for endless hours, and eventually I figured out the villain is almost always going to be the friendly caretaker, or the maid, or... somebody we've met, and would never, ever, suspect.

But I'm trying not to be a book snob, and lately I've read quite a few, and some true crime as well. Some because they were written by friends and some because I got 'em for free last year at the RWA National Conference and some because I was following the herd or intrigued by the headlines.

Here now my reviews:

COLLATERAL CASUALTIES, A Kate Huntington Mystery (#5)COLLATERAL CASUALTIES, A Kate Huntington Mystery by Kassandra Lamb
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

4.5 Stars. I won a free copy of this book, and was asked (not required) to give an honest review, if possible. I was inclined to gag, as I don't LIKE murder mysteries, and most thrillers leave me less than thrilled.

I really enjoyed this book, the first I've read by Kassandra Lamb. The set-up was believable, the action fast-paced, the actions of Dr. Kate and her P.I. spouse and inner circle believable. There were love scenes between Kate & Skip, but the "heat level" was mild/spicy, rather than extremely steamy. If those scenes are what you're looking for, you may be disappointed, but I thought this story worked great without them.

I got bogged down a bit in the middle; there were so many people helping and guarding and taking on a contributory role it was hard for me to tell who was on first base. Kate herself seemed to fade into the background, the only action she took - cleaning. (Ugh!) In fact, I would say that the real heroine in this book (character role that would get the most screen time, if this was a movie) was probably Rose - but I liked Rose, so that wasn't an issue for me.

I did figure out early on who the baddie must logically be (another reason I generally don't like this genre much), but it didn't detract from my enjoyment of the book. Despite being the fifth book in the series, it worked well as a stand alone, a sign of good writing. I'll definitely read more by this author.

First Grave on the Right (Charley Davidson, #1)First Grave on the Right by Darynda Jones
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I love snark and sarcasm, but not, I discovered, for 300+ pages, in first person.

Or maybe it's just that I don't personally care for mystery, as an adult. I can always see The Big Reveal coming from miles away, and this book was no different, though I wanted it to be.

The writing is excellent, and oh-so-clever, but it felt like too much. Like a hot-dog-eating contest - how much can we cram in here?

YMMV (Your Mileage May Vary). For me, while I mostly enjoyed it, I have zero interest in reading the rest of the series.

Into the DarkInto the Dark by Stacy Green
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is not the kind of book I usually like. However, I found myself turning page after page, and burned through it in one weekend.

Mostly, I liked the heroine, Emilie. I didn't feel the romance between her and Nathan heated up fast enough, and then it went a little too fast for my taste. Also, the villain (The Taker) was borderline more interesting than either Emilie or Nathan.

The stories and visual (and olfactory) tour of the tunnels of Las Vegas were fascinating. Given the title, and the heroine's fear of the dark, I would have preferred for the climactic scenes to end there. Even so, it moved well, ended well, and I will definitely be reading more by this author.

Caught in the ActCaught in the Act by Jill Sorenson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

4.5 stars

Kari Strauss is a good girl doing bad things for good reasons. She smuggles a young Mexican woman, Maria, across the border. She agrees to smuggle drugs, in an attempt to rescue her drug addict sister from the clutches of the bad guys.

Border Patrol Officer Adam Cortez is a good guy, as well. He suspects Kari of being up to no good, and tells himself that’s why he’s keeping an eye on her. These two are on opposite sides of the law, if not opposite sides of the sheets..

What I really liked about this book:
• The explicitly steamy romance between both the A couple, Kari and Adam, and the more tender romance between Maria and Ian.
• The fast-paced action, and unexpected twists and turns.
• The way the bad guy was not cartoonishly bad, but had his good points.
• The humor interlaced with the suspense, especially the date at Adam’s house that gets crashed by his babysitting gig.
• The way the author isn’t afraid to put her heroine through the emotional wringer.

What bugged me about this book:
• It took a little bit too long for Kari and Adam to trust each other.
• Kari’s business seems too convenient; it’s thriving, though she doesn’t have any sales clerks or other help, and only rarely does it seem there is more than one person in her store.
• The engagement ring at the end.

Yes, danger, adrenaline and hormones does inspire healthy young people to jump in the sack together. But I hate when couples are “in love” and ready to marry when they’ve known each other less than a month. Be a couple, boink each others’ brains out, sure, but don’t start shopping rings and talking marriage until you’ve known each other at least six months or more.

*steps down off soapbox*

Gone GirlGone Girl by Gillian Flynn
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Read this in a weekend. Certainly a page-turner. Well-written in some ways, badly written in others. Seemed to me that Nick and Amy had the same "voice," there was no distinction except for the chapter headings as to who was speaking. There were many clever observations and turns of phrases, but they BOTH made them, and they're often recycled.

"the Internet was still some exotic pet kept in the corner of the publishing world - throw some kibble at it, watch it dance on its little leash, oh quite cute, it definitely won't kill us in the night." (Nick)

"we sometimes laugh, laugh out loud, at the horrible things women make their husbands do to prove their love. The pointless tasks, the myriad surrenders. We call these men the dancing monkeys." (Amy)

As a villain, Amy was much too Superheroic. Every time she got into trouble, she managed to squirm (or stab) her way out of it, without paying too dear a price. And then the ending - 39 year old, coming from a mother with a history of miscarriage can easily get preggers from a couple vials of frozen sperm and possibly hubs' jerk-off Kleenexes? I ain't buying it.

Nick was just as devious as Amy was, he simply wasn't as good at it.

I ended up disliking both characters intensely, and the further I've gotten from finishing the novel, the more I feel it is very clever, on the surface, but not particularly deep. Some books, they haunt after I finish them; this one, the farther I've gotten from it, the less I like it.

The Ruth Valley MissingThe Ruth Valley Missing by Amber West
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

If you are a mystery fan you will probably enjoy this a lot. A real page turner that moves fast and repeatedly puts the heroine in danger.

Jameson is a very likable character - loved her voice - but there was not enough background given as to WHY she would basically throw a dart at the map and end up in Ruth Valley. Did she have a history of impulse relocations? I was not sure given her close relationship with the doctor at the hospital if she was really a volunteer, or a mental patient. Her family background could/should have given her more impetus, and while her father gets dragged into it, then he simply isn't a factor any longer. That's a loose end that should have been tied up.

Father Mike was the best kind of creepy priest, and kudos for leaving me hanging till the last minute discovering who (some) of the bad guys were. Some of it seemed obvious, and I figured out why we didn't want any of the barbecue early on.

I'm still not sold on the mystery genre, but I enjoyed this very much anyway.

Shattered InnocenceShattered Innocence by Robert Scott
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

When the three Ohio women were released from their captivity, I was reminded of another woman who had grown up as a prisoner and forced to bear her captor's children, Jaycee Dugard. This book is subtitled "The Untold Story," but that simply isn't true. It is almost entirely gleaned from newspapers, print magazines, and court documents, and almost all of it is about the Garridos, NOT Jaycee. If the author managed to score a personal interview with anyone involved, it was impossible to discern.

There is much value in this material - who WERE Phillip and Nancy Garrido? Why was this convicted kidnapper and rapist free to harm another human being (was going to say another woman, but at 11, Jaycee was scarcely that)? How did he morph from a seemingly normal young man into a MONSTER - and what is the story with the zombie wife, who married him while he was in Leavenworth and has been kicked-dog-loyal to him ever since? This book addresses some, if not all of those issues. However, in some places it becomes tedious and info-dump-y in the extreme.

And of what most people want to know - what was JAYCEE thinking, feeling - at the time she was abducted, during her years in that backyard, and since that time? Well, she's written her own autobiography, and she tells her story exceedingly well. THIS is not that book.

This is that book.

A Stolen LifeA Stolen Life by Jaycee Dugard
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Jaycee Dugard is one of my sheroes. She exhibits an inner strength and courage that is not found in many people, of any age, and she had to develop that strength when she was so heartbreakingly young.

Everyone knows the basic details of Jaycee's story - she was kidnapped by a convicted rapist and his wife, brutally raped and abused for years, kept in a backyard compound where she bore two children and lived for 18 years, before some alert college campus cops figured out something was "off" about the two young girls that Phillip Garrido had brought with him to pitch his ?book? ?presentation?

This is her sharing from the inside, as best she could remember, in many places with scraps of her own journals. What she felt, what she remembers, how she felt about it, later, after she recovered her name and life.

It's raw, and very little editing was done. So for some people, that's a stumbling point. Knowing that Jaycee's education stopped at fifth grade, I think she did an amazing job.

As she did with her daughters, who clearly she loves very much. There's an innate conflict there, because no matter how she feels about him, her rapist and kidnapper is their father. Someday (if they haven't already), her daughters may read what she had to say about him, about them and their life in that tented "compound."

18 years - I am not sure I would be still alive or sane after 18 years. She could so easily have taken her own life, or done/said the wrong thing and "made" that madman kill her, but she survived, and found pleasure in small things, in pets and her daughters and she fought fiercely for their education, looking up lessons on the Internet and printing out worksheets.

And if you wonder why she (or anyone) in a situation of domestic violence or captivity didn't run on the rare occasions she was allowed out in public, didn't try to send a message through the Internet, this memoir will help you understand.

Emotionally it's a very difficult read in many places, but inspiring, too. If nothing else, I urge you to buy a copy to support Jaycee, whether you ever read it or not.


Even though I'm pretty sure I will never love mystery-thriller-suspense-true crime as much as I do historical fiction and contemporary romance, I'm trying to pry my mind open and taste other genres.

On my TBR list in similar genres:

  • Who Do, VooDoo? - Rochelle Staab
  • The Lifeboat - Charlotte Rogan
  • Dangerously Close - Dee J. Adams
  • In the Garden of Beasts - Erik Larson

Have you read any of the above books? 
What do you recommend?

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