Damn Near Deadly

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My Rating: 3/5 Stars

She’s a tool. A weapon. Like Jason Bourne or James Bond. Able to blend into her surroundings. She speaks 22 languages, and she’s damn near deadly with a knife. And she’s androgynous. She’s Vanessa Michael Munroe. Or Michael for short.

Revenge might as well be her middle name, though. She reminded me of Lisbeth Salander with the way rage completely consumed her. And yet she still managed to show some heart, or at least her slightly abbreviated version of it. Emotions seemed to fill her, consume her, even as she struck out at the imperfections of this world.

Her ability to seek out, consume, and process information rapidly helped explain the title. Even when she was just traversing through a particular area, it felt as though her brain worked at a higher level than everyone else around her. Almost like a game of dominoes where she already had the perfect plan mapped out in her head.

The Equatorial Guinea setting proved as real and as feral to me as she was, and it was the perfect setting for such an untamed creature. Had THE INFORMATIONIST been set anywhere else, it probably wouldn’t have worked as well as it did.

Kudos to you, Ms. Stevens. Michael is one interesting, intriguing character, and this proved to be one interesting and intriguing read.

A Slow Burn

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My Rating: 4/5 Stars

I admit I like free shit. I also admit I’m not entirely rational in my thought process. For example, I happily hand over my Bouchercon and Left Coast Crime Conference fees and feel like I’ve won the lottery when I receive a bag filled with books. Seriously, this ends up being one of the major highlights of these conferences. So in my continued pursuit of this high, minus the conference fees, I have decided to scour Amazon for the best free short stories and books available. With that being said, let’s get to the review.

The beginning of A COLD DAY FOR MURDER reminded me of a tall sequoia, as I stood on the uppermost branches, staring out at a picturesque world, before I slipped and then smacked every branch on the way down. Even though I’ve never been to Alaska, I feel like I could paint a picture of its vast wilderness and attractive scenery and include a few interesting characters to boot, if I should so desire. Several of the chapters began with multiple pages of description, the text coming to life right before my eyes, springing forth like a cactus in the desert.

It wasn’t until I was about 36% through this tale on my Kindle (this transfers to roughly 71 pages into the print edition) before the mystery really took hold and took off. Had it not been for some lovely description and Kate’s straightforward, no-holds-barred mentality, I might have given up on this novel earlier. As it stands, though, I was rather glad I pushed through. Even though Kate isn’t the most likeable character, I really enjoyed her toughness and even found her abrasiveness rather amusing most of the time. She’s a character with some rough edges that I’m sure will get smoothed out in one of her later adventures.

As for the other characters, none are as fleshed out as Kate Shugak, but all showed signs of life and enough enthusiasm for further tales. The mystery proved interesting and engaging, but at times it felt like it took a backseat to the characters and the scenery. In the end, though, this was an enjoyable read from the first page to the last, it all fit together perfectly, and I look forward to catching up on more of Kate’s exploits.

Suck My Soul

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My Rating: 4/5 Stars

If you’re packing a pair of DDs beneath your peek-a-boo blouse, you may want to keep the following in mind: “With great breasts comes great responsibility.” Or so says a t-shirt. That I briefly considered acquiring simply for the amusement factor alone. Maybe I could get my wife to wear it. Although there’s a more than good chance she probably won’t find it nearly amusing as I did. Just as I’m convinced some of you (and I can’t imagine why) won’t find SECOND GRAVE ON THE LEFT nearly as amusing as I did. And if you don’t—let’s get this out of the way right now—I’m sorry but I can’t help you. Because this is some highly entertaining shit. I mean, the voice and zingers and main character are more than worth the price of admission, and I just happen to have a stack of ones at the ready.

When I die and float up to the big house in the sky, I want to pass through Charley Davidson, the hottest grim reaper in seven continents. She has a mouth on her, doesn’t like mornings, is as stubborn as a loan shark chasing after a man with a gambling addiction, and may, or may not, have somewhat questionable taste in men, but she’s got a juicy ass and a seriously enlarged chest area. If you’re a guy, it kind of makes you want to cry (in a good way). At least if you’re into that sort of thing. Which for the record, I’m going to go ahead and say it right now “I like curves, damn it!”

It’s really hard to say if I liked the story as much as the first one. If I were to hazard a guess, I’d say probably not. It just seemed a bit too contrived to me, but crap on a cracker, Charley’s welcome in my world anytime she wants to stop by for a visit. Given the right temptation, I’d probably even let her suck my soul from my body with a straw.  Who knows? I may not even need it anyway. And if I do, I can tell the big boss “Woo-eee, I had one hell of a ride!”

And that, my friends, is probably the best way I could ever possibly sum up this novel. I can’t wait to come on back for the third installment. I’m thinking I’ll need a fix again real soon.

The Other Mugger

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My Rating: 4/5 Stars


Don’t mess with Jordan Rivera. Who is she? You ignorant piece of shit, she’s the one that left me with a broken arm and spitting up teeth like I was a water fountain in the middle of Central Park. She went psycho on me after I tried to take her wallet, and you, you unconscious bastard, left me behind. I don’t care if you were flattened within an inch of your life. This was your goddamned idea in the first place. Of course you didn’t know she had a three-foot chain, and that she knew karate and shit, but if you want to live longer than twenty-two years, you need to take this kind of shit into account, or next time I’m going to leave you on the pavement, instead of dragging you away with your tail between your legs. I took a risk being your friend, and I had no clue it would put me in the fucking hospital.

You need to actually do some reconnaissance next time. What does that mean? You need to actually scout these chicks out, and if you find out she takes self-defense classes, then just step off. I ain’t in the mood to look like no damn fool, just so you can score some blow for some damn ho who won’t even let you see her naked with the lights on. This shit is important. You need to recognize that chicks like her with a glint in her eye and a warning that escapes her lips are fucking serious. She’s as serious as that dumb ho is about making a baby. And if you want to help populate the universe, instead of pushing up pansies, you will do the research, or maybe next time I’ll pound your stupid ass into the pavement. And maybe I’ll do it in front of the ho. Then your manhood will shrivel up to the size of a raisin, you know right where it belongs.

By the way, she’s getting a little long in the teeth. Maybe you should trade her in for a new model, before she secures you at the hip and falsifies one of them pregnancy tests, or maybe she grabs ahold of your sperm while you’re unawares. I can’t do all the thinking for you. I didn’t take no SATs. Hell, I didn’t even graduate high school.

Hell, now that I think a little more on it, I’m not even sure why we were friends in the first place. I’ll just leave this on your bed, and I’m getting the hell away from you. You’re like that cancerous growth my Uncle Bob used to complain about. I think it might have been on his big toe, and they zapped that shit out, just like I zapped out your sorry ass.


The Other Mugger

I received this book for free through NetGalley.

The Hard-Boiled Convention

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My Rating: 3/5 Stars

Kinsey Millhone might have her iconic status entrenched about as well as Sue Grafton has hers, and the series has kept me just interested enough to continue through to O, but I’ll need to take periodic breaths in between, or I might find myself gasping for air as the clock strikes E. Who knows? I might make it all the way to G before I pass out, but there’s the distinct possibility I’ll turn blue sooner rather than later.

Like a female version of James Bond, she has her good points, and she has her bad ones, but she goes down easier in small doses. Sugar helps, and divorces might too, of which she’s had a few, even if she’s only in her mid-thirties, and her smile might be an easier pill to swallow, if the mystery didn’t feel as though it was a bit forced.

Her male counterparts may lack in development, and end up a bit too lean on their stocky frames with hard noses and hard attitudes, and a lack of conviction, and possibly convention as well. A personality injection might even the score, even if they could probably use a little more. The mystery felt undernourished, and could probably have used a bit more flourish. Or maybe panache might have made my smiles a bit cleaner, even if the prose was already leaner…than many tales with a PI at the center of attention, even as she strives for the hard-boiled convention.

Even the women proved of a crazy sort, with eccentric personalities that they should probably abort. It was slow, and it was fast, and often somewhere in between, but I never felt fully engaged in the scene. I might have laughed, but I certainly didn’t cry, as I watched some poor motherfucker die. And when it was all said and done, I needed a pause before I attacked the next one.

Stella Got Her Groove Back

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My Rating: 3/5 Stars

I must say Stella got her groove back in a resounding way with a slip of the tongue here, or a quick play on words there, or a face-to-face when the situation warranted itself. She doesn’t back down from anyone, including sheriffs or ne’er do wells, and she sometimes finds herself in precarious situations, but that’s all part of her endearing charm. She’s full of life, spunk, and possibly salt and pepper with a side of cinnamon. And she has the scars to prove her torrid marks on society, and a slew of bad men standing ready to watch her fall.

Stella Hardesty may not look like much upon first glance, but she has a revenge streak something fierce, and she sees her cases all the way to the end, with a mean side of revenge, even if it means she might dangle from the occasional precipice. I’d say that’s more than part of her appeal, and she has an additional side of charm.

With a cast of characters ready to excel on the big stage, including the blonde miscreant with possibly an extra hint of cellulite, the sidekick that doesn’t mind dipping her nipple in the nerd gene pool, and the sheriff who has acquired a few skeletons in his own closet, most of which may have been put there of his own volition, there’s a bit of fun for everyone.

The mystery, though, managed to leave me in dire financial straits, as I wanted a little more bang for my hard-earned buck. This was all about the characters instead of a hard-boiled plot for the ages and times. Not that I minded all that much, but the ending felt a bit forced upon me like a leering side of smashed peas shoved down my gullet, when I would have much preferred a side of sweet candied yams staring up at me with pleading eyes. And not that I mind guessing the ending before it has arrived, but it appeared ready for center stage rather than just a sidelong glance in my side mirror. In that regard, it reminded me of a Lamborghini tooling around in the middle of Arkansas or Mississippi.

This was a solid effort by a solid voice in the hard-boiled mystery genre, but I’d set my expectations a bit higher.

So Help Me God

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My Rating: 3/5 Stars

So Help Me God, this was a funny novel. Not the kind of funny where I was clutching my side while rolling on the sidewalk, threatening to breach the threshold of oncoming traffic, and end up as a hood ornament or flattened to the road to the point where I needed to be peeled off the pavement with a shovel. But it was certainly funny in an amusing, quirky sort of way where the characters often surprised me with either their next line of dialogue or the situations that they managed to find themselves in the middle of, often with very little effort on their part.

Davis “Don’t you dare call me, David” Way has a heart of gold, a friend named Fantasy, a lover named Bradley, a job as a body double, and sometimes lends her hand as casino muscle in the middle of Biloxi, MS. That’s Mississippi, y’all, home of the third largest concentration of casinos in the lower forty-eight, and previous stomping grounds of Hurricane Katrina, which left her thumbprint and watermark long after she blew out of town. Just as Davis does when the story takes her to Beehive, AL, and she finds herself in the middle of a holier-than-thou slot tournament scandal that threatens to take every dime from the blue-haired and blue-eyed church going folk. Sure, the job may not be for everyone, but Davis Way is about to have her day.

The long list of misfits and miscreants include ex-ex-husbands (it’s a long story and don’t get her started), an elderly woman that can’t shoot for shit (popping a cap in the ceiling and another one in her own foot), and more than a few scam artists. If you’d like to end up on your own two feet (as opposed to having your feet up on a hospital bed), you’d better watch out for the banana pudding when you’re around this crew. You might want to take your job a bit more seriously, and you’d better walk around with a smile in this town, or you just might find yourself outside the glass doors looking in.

In the interest of full disclosure, I should probably mention I sent a manuscript to Henery Press approximately two weeks ago. Which means in four more weeks, I’ll receive a polite but firm rejection via email, and in four weeks and a day, Henery Press will have forgotten who the hell I am. Just so you know.

I received this book for free through NetGalley.

Mouth Full Of Sweet Teeth

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My Rating: 3/5 Stars

If you have a mouth full of sweet teeth, then ALL FUDGED UP might just be a novel you should bump into at some point in your life. With no less than ten fudge recipes, this book could kick start any hypoglycemic heart in 30 seconds flat. Sure, you could overdose and still end up comatose in the backseat of your mom’s station wagon and find yourself with a one-way ticket to the big house, but that’s a chance any sugar lovin’ fiend should take. If you’re going to end up dead someday anyway, you might as well do it in style and enjoy the ride out of town.

Even the dog Marshmallow aka Mal enjoys her prance around the fudge station and will just as surely lick your face as she’ll smile at you or bark her head off. She’s tiny, but she’s ferocious tiny with a big heart and a penchant for fire hydrants and spinning in circles. Despite her youth, she’s trainable as well, if given the proper time and devotion.

While I’ve never been to Mackinac Island, I feel as though I have this small town figured out where roots run as deep as radishes and if you’re not a third-generation native, you might as well have grown up in Seattle, WA or Austin, TX. The kooky-eyed locals added a level of interest to this particular tale that might not have otherwise been there.

The voice proved entertaining and quirky and even a bit starry-eyed at times, but I still found myself turning my head to the side at some of the dialogue and a few of the phrases. While I realize cozies aren’t exactly known for their detective endeavors and crimes-solving expertise, I would have preferred a few more criminal elements, as the climax and ending felt a tad rushed. Instead of meandering along and enjoying the ride to the top, the train sped up and jerked me to the side as we reached the top of the hill.

With a sequel TO FUDGE OR NOT TO FUDGE already planned and slated for 2014, Allie McMurphy has more tales to tell, and if my teeth can face the onslaught, I may just come back to find out what happens next.

I received this ARC for free at Bouchercon.

Political Scandals Pale In Comparison

16158196Really Dead by J.E. Forman
My Rating: 2/5 Stars

The movie industry is filled with sons-a-bitches. Whenever you mix a sense of entitlement, trunks filled with money, nubile young women willing to show their breasts on a whim, kinky old men, and drugs, you’re bound to experience plenty of problems. Political scandals pale in comparison to the seedy atmosphere underlying the entertainment industry where the grime and slime covered me faster than a coal mine.

While Ria Butler did hold a certain appeal, most of it was lost on me. REALLY DEAD managed to cut scenes too soon, the jumps proved more jarring than a wave smacking me in the face, and the story lacked the flow that would have kept me really engaged. The voice hurt my ears worse than nails on a chalkboard. The dialogue proved a bit cheesy, and a few of the characters a bit too dimwitted for me to truly sing their praises. Others proved to be royal asshats.

The mystery lacked a certain sophistication and complication that I would have otherwise preferred, with the subplots receiving more screen time than the main show. The ending wrapped a bit too quickly, and the villain needed to insert hand in mouth and bite down, instead of utilizing a megaphone.

However, I did enjoy the behind-the-scenes look at reality TV show production. I just wish the price of admission wouldn’t have been so steep, as the story and writing weighed me down and kept me submerged beneath the surface of the water. My boycott of all reality television shall continue unabated, so the book did have that going for it, even if I had trouble finding much else to enjoy.

I received this book for free through NetGalley.

Needed A Better Offense

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My Rating: 2/5 Stars

The voice appealed to me about as much as liverwurst and onions. The style wasn’t much better on the overall appellate scale. That’s not to say the writing was bad, though, because it wasn’t. The prose was adequate; the story proved somewhat interesting and did its best to hold my attention; the dialogue was handled without the aid of a particularly heavy hand; and the story demonstrated logic from beginning to end.

But I had a hard time supporting characters that proved about as likeable as tarantulas or pythons, especially when I could have been the mouse tossed in the cage. The list of odious characters stood higher and weighed more than the ones that practiced a bit of congeniality and common sense. Beth Bowman dangled at the top of my least favorite people list, with Maddy Hammonds and Dick Bannon and Major Sargent and Chief Elston not far behind. John Hammonds and his daughter Ashley, in a cameo role, demonstrated high likeability as the dynamic father and daughter duo. The homeless posse provided a bit of comedic relief, but it wasn’t enough to save this tale for me.

BEST DEFENSE probably needed a better offense and an expert placekicker. The goalposts loomed large at the opposite end of the field, and the crowd stood with mouths open and faces leaned precariously forward as two bodies were taken off the field. Even after play resumed, the shock remained, and the coach didn’t offer up the most appropriate pep talk.

What really knocked this novel down another notch for me, though, was the climactic killer confrontation. What I certainly don’t need, and feel like I see a bit too frequently in mysteries, is the murderer spouting off at the chest why he or she committed the crime. Please, for the love of Krispy Kreme, just shut up. I don’t care if you plan to kill our beloved, or not so beloved, hero or heroine three pages later; I don’t care if you want to therapeutically justify why you did what you did (therapists and pills can solve this particular problem); and it doesn’t matter to me if your ego can’t handle potential misconceptions. Just shove a doughnut in your mouth and shut up. You’ll thank me later.

I received this book for free through NetGalley.