Book Reviews: Tokyo Cops, Loving Lords, and Indie Films

The Moving Blade
In Tokyo a thief breaks into an American’s home during his funeral, stealing some computer files and adding some netsukes and money to his pocket. A tall foreigner follows him and takes him down with, of all things, a sword. That leads to a giant conspiracy of greed in the aftermath of the earthquake and tsunami.
Found it difficult keeping the characters straight, as I am not used to Japanese surnames. That was a problem at the beginning, where everyone’s introduced, but also at the end, when Jamie’s looking for help and everyone’s tracking the bad guy. The conspiracy was also a bit of a problem, because at times it was, oddly enough, too big to follow. Near the end it got a bit overwhelming because of the multiple storylines, but thankfully the book takes the time to wrap things up and solidify relationships without it feeling like a sequel hook.
Wish there had been more on the netsukes, as I find them much more interesting than swords. But then, they’re harder to kill with. . .
3.5/5

Lord of Temptation
The previous entry in this series featured a lot of Hawkridge, a titled but destitute man with more honor—or ego—than is good for him. This story is different in that it’s a regret and fix plot, where the characters have a past they must overcome.
This isn’t the best book in the series, but it is the sweetest. Of course it helps when there’s an adorable ten year old girl as a large secondary character. From a historical perspective, the balloon scene was lovely.
3.5/5

Lord of Vice: Rogues to Riches #6
The last Grenville finally gets her own story, a rich girl/poor boy tale where for the first half of the book he doesn’t know who she really is. It isn’t until he discovers her true identity that his ego and pride get in the way, but then she isn’t perfect either.
In a series full of incredible women, Bryony is my favorite. She was always funny and irreverent, but never ditzy. Quite the opposite, as she turns out to be a financial genius. Here she gets to be the star and takes full advantage. Even more amazing is Max’s sister, Frances. She sounds like someone who could easily fit into the 21st century.
The male protagonist, someone who’s appeared in most if not all of the previous stories, is fully accepting of such unorthodox female creatures, but still has a bug about titles and aristocracy rather than money.
My least favorite character throughout, the mother, got off way too easily, especially since she’d been through something similar with her opera-singing daughter.
But even though the problems are more creative, they’re still due to miscommunication and jumping to conclusions, as are 99.9% of the situations in this genre. I might have given this the highest score otherwise.
My two faves in this series have been the last two, which is how it should be.
4/5

Picture Perfect Cowboy
Total Noo Yawker gal goes to Kentucky to photograph a retired rodeo star for a charity calendar. Turns out they’re totally made for each other in a kinky way, if he can get out of his own head.
There’s a scene early on where the female photographer is taking nude photos of the clearly nervous cowboy, and yet their banter is hilarious.
As always in this genre, the happily ever after never happens on the first try. What makes this different from most who try and fail spectacularly is that his problem completely makes sense, and is solved just as perfectly. This might be the best romance novel I’ve ever read.
The short story at the end, which is more like a deleted scene from the novel, has a completely different vibe to it, but is equally hilarious. Good to see the nascent Dom on the other side of it, from a psychological view.
5/5

Theirs to Protect
A lawyer flirts with a couple of cops while getting coffee. She runs into them again later and things get sexy, followed by things getting serious.
Plenty of humor, which is the most welcome thing here. The plot peters out quickly, but then it is a short story, just long enough for meet cute—twice—two sex scenes, and some angst.
4/5

Exposed: The Education of Sarah Brown
An innocent librarian goes to Europe and lets herself be instantly seduced by a photographer. Then she gets caught up in a child slavery ring and things go downhill fast.
While for the most part I enjoyed the story, especially the descriptions and dialogue, it’s written too matter of fact, with little style. Choppy, without flow, making good things feel almost boring.
On to better stuff. I like how complex Sarah is, even in her abandonment issues, but I really love Elsa. The difference in her personality when she’s not being a Domme is wonderful to see. I like when the author repeats one of my fave lines: “free food always tastes better.” The police scenes were also well done.
What I didn’t like story-wise was all the coincidences. Of all the people in Berlin and Amsterdam—and even between the two cities—the same half dozen people keep running into each other. Add Barcelona and things become another level of ridiculous. Strains credulity far too much.
I knew what would happen when Tony joined in, but it was still a good way to lead to the inevitable conclusion.
3/5

The Red Ledger Part 1
English teacher in Rio is trying to enjoy Carnaval despite an overeager friend with benefits. Instead her life is forever changed by an old boyfriend, who can’t remember her and has another reason for seeking her out.
It’s a short book, which is surprising when I consider how slow it moves, how often it rehashes the same ground. He needs something from her, but it takes him far too long in his alpha haze to ask her for it. As expected, there are twists and turns in the plot so no one knows who to trust.
Always happy when my alma mater UCLA is mentioned.
Warning: this ends in a huge cliffhanger! It struck me that this was a longer book reduced to smaller portions.
2.5/5

Good Sex: Getting Off Without Checking Out
Considering the title, there’s very little sex, especially in the first half. Most of it feels like a meditation handbook.
Once it does get to sex. . . maybe I’m just different, but she talks about issues—for example, don’t be afraid of eye contact—that in my experience seem strange. To me they’re just natural, everyday things. Why would anyone be afraid of eye contact during sex? I just don’t get it.
The section I most enjoyed was on threesomes. It was the most honest, but it took me forever to get there.
By the end—and it took me months—it felt like only a small amount of people who start this will get through. It’s targeted very specifically: if you’re into meditation and crystals and such, this is for you. Everyone else might get something, but will have to hunt long and hard for it.
2.5/5

True Indie: Life and Death in Filmmaking
Don Coscarelli is a name I’ve heard of plenty, but his movies are basically a blank to me because I can’t stand the horror genre. The main reason I picked up this book was Bubba Ho-Tep, and having read Bruce Campbell’s version of events, it was fascinating to see it from the other side, so to speak.
This is one of those rare books where you feel like you’re sitting with the author, listening to his stories over lunch, much the way he describes meeting filmmakers when he was young, name-dropping Coppola, Cage, and most importantly Trumbull. It’s just fun, especially if you have any interest in how movies are made. All the more exciting when it’s low budget; gives young filmmakers hope. But at the end he cautions that things are harder than ever for indies, even though production costs have plummeted.
Lots of fun fascinating stories, but ends with the death of one of the main actors.
4/5

;o)

Book Reviews: Aliens, Sherlocks, and Rogues

Copywriting Made Simple: How to write powerful persuasive copy that sells
The title does not lie, as far as simplicity goes. The first graphic shows this perfectly: a man (reader) crossing a bridge at the urging of a woman (copywriter), exactly as the text just said. It’s kindergarten level. Thankfully it doesn’t continue this way, once your intelligence gets over feeling insulted.
The chapter on structure is amusing, because it perfectly mimics the steps I take to write a book, movie, or music review.
It’s a pretty big book, so there’s no surprise that there’s a few gems in here, mostly the examples of famous or just hilarious ads. I ended up making a lot more notes than I thought I would. At the same time, there are sections I skimmed through, with the thought that “If I ever need them, I’ll look them up then, but they won’t help me now.”
3/5

Dethroned
Of course Syl and Rouen can’t spend even a Christmas in peace, as the dark king decides this is the perfect time to take out the fair heir and his own daughter.
This is a novella that goes between the latest book and the upcoming one, with Ro basically facing the same choice Syl did last time. No surprise she makes the same decision. What I didn’t expect was for all kinds of fairie kids to be so instrumental. If there’s one low point, it’s that for such a short book there’s so many mentions of how Syl would have been dead from her injuries had she been merely human.
It’s tough keeping up with all the magic, new and also old, but then I’m here for the fun interactions, the snarky wordplay, and there’s plenty of that here.
3.5/5

Taking Flight
Recent widow thinks it’s time to get her life back, starting by returning to her speaker business. Flying to Vegas, the plane she’s in runs into a huge storm, necessitating a diversion to Denver. The pilot is a fan of hers, and his plan to woo her takes off (all pun intended). Though because of their schedules they don’t get much time together—plenty of time skips, which are not ideal—they do manage to have moments in Vegas and NY before he whisks her off to Hawaii for a week of relationship building.
Everything’s happy for the first half, but it can’t last, otherwise there’d be no story. Finally something happens to destroy their happiness. Some of it is a little obvious, like when a baby’s introduced; I instantly knew where he’d end up, and I’m pretty sure most readers did too.
I liked the writing well enough, but the plot was kinda clunky. At times felt by the numbers.
3/5

Killing Jane
Ugly murders are taking place in DC, with hints—especially the intro—that it’s a Jack the Ripper copycat. But this killer seems to have info on those famous slayings, including a theory I hadn’t heard: Jack might have actually been Jane.
This started slow, and I didn’t like the main character. Even though she’s just starting out as a detective, having been promoted from beat cop, you’d think she would have grown a thicker skin. Instead she’s very touchy, as well as insecure when she’s saddled up with a much more experienced investigator. I feel like there was too much of this: too often mentioned, too often shown. There’s only so many times you can read the same character flaws over and over. Likewise, her partner can be too forgiving.
The murder scene is horrific; I tried my best NOT to imagine it, unlike most books where I’m trying to find the killer before the fictional detective does. At least this allows a reaction from the protagonist that humanizes her. Turns out she’s still got PTSD from being raped, which she did not report. It’s made obvious that this is affecting her performance, or at least her mindset as she hunts for the killer.
Once I got over the goriness, I enjoyed the craftwork. Always good when an investigation is true to life and isn’t solved in 60 minutes (40 with commercials). The story itself was good, kept me guessing, though in my defense I don’t think there were enough breadcrumbs.
In a story with many brutal elements, there’s one near the end that’s even more so. And I can’t see any reason for it. Maybe it’ll pop up in a sequel, but it annoys me the way the author piles things on, almost like she doesn’t like her main character. And after that particular tidbit, it gets even worse for her. Sheesh.
Didn’t like the ending, came out of nowhere. Felt tacked on.
3/5

Marriage Under Fire
In a short novel that takes place in Seattle, two Marines who just worked an undercover case have to jump right into the next one, pretending to be married in order to infiltrate a spy ring.
She’d be absolutely fantastic if she could dump some of the testosterone she forces on herself to deal with the men. Him I simply didn’t like at all, but I can’t say he’s all that different from most Marines I’ve known.
The whole denouement hinges on him being so in love that he forgets his training and rushes in without waiting for backup. As a former Marine, I find that far-fetched. I would almost say it ruined the book for me, but the truth is I wasn’t feeling it anyway. It couldn’t decide whether it was a spy thriller or a romance, and those two parts didn’t mesh all that well.
2.5/5

Murder in Keswick: A Sherlock Holmes Mystery
As often happened back when Sherlock took a vacation, another mystery finds him, in this case a grisly murder, followed by a break-in at the now-widow’s house.
Unlike most attempts at writing a Sherlock novel, I enjoyed this one right off the bat. It sounds authentic. For instance, there was a clue in the laundry that rang true to Arthur Conan Doyle, subtle but I got it. What happened after, and her aim with the shotgun, only strengthened my theory. (In the end I got it right. . . except for the actual murderer. Sigh.)
Read it in a couple of hours on a burning summer afternoon. Only problem is the next day I couldn’t remember any of it.
3.5/5

Stage Bound
A lady ostensibly in charge of a theatre company has to juggle her boyfriend, her boss, her friends, and a mysterious new act as they put on a show. She not great at handling the pressure, but she perseveres, mostly with the help of Pez dispensers. But when things go wrong. . .
Despite the shortness, it felt really long. A lot of times it seemed like I was making no progress at all. In particular, the mechanical explanations had me skipping.
On the plus side, there were some thoroughly funny moments, and the relationships were fun to see. A couple of well-crafted erotic scenes helped too. I wish I could up the score a notch, but the main plot could have been much better. I feel like I could have cut at least ten pages off and it would have been better.
2.5/5

The Sherlock Effect
A modern—or a few years ago, anyway—version of the great detective goes into that same business when his friend offers him start-up money. His father was such a fanatic that his middle name is Sherlock, but that’s about the only qualification he has as the two go around solving some relatively simple crimes.
Anyone familiar with Sherlock Holmes knew how the first story would end. The local cop in the second story is way too loose, telling civilians everything about the case. At least one of the characters notices, but a not very satisfactory answer is given. Basically it feels like a halfhearted attempt at recreating Arthur Conan Doyle, which is an impossible thing to attempt, let alone achieve. It wasn’t bad by any means, but it didn’t engage me; not even the inclusion of aliens managed to pull me in.
3/5

Devoted
A director and the manager—and sister—of a famous actress butt heads on a new film production. She’s trying to keep her sister from falling off various wagons while he completes his magnum opus. Turns out they knew each other growing up in a small Canadian town—odds of that?—and she’s always had a crush on him.
Really easy reading! Love it when it flows so well. I particularly like how the author doesn’t beat the audience over the head with how much the characters want each other. Yes, it’s there, but it’s not overdone like a lot of books in this genre I’ve read lately.
Everything about this was pretty standard, except for the enjoyable writing. Even the sad tragic moments felt lyrical. I might have given this a higher grade if the typical jumping to conclusions wasn’t present.
3.5/5

Lord of Secrets: Rogues to Riches
She’s lower class and working for a rich cousin, gathering more money by drawing caricatures of the twits she sees at various events. He’s upper class but works as a fixer. He can’t figure out who the artist is. She didn’t think he would care. But then it gets personal. There’s a puppy pug involved.
This has some finely written characters and plenty of humor, but every scene is stolen by the appropriately named Captain Pugboat. There’s a great part with the two trying to teach the puppy to heel, followed by an even better moment of them dancing. This is where the romance blossoms, and is worth the read in itself. Another hilarious scene occurs when she meets his sisters for the first time. This author could be writing for sitcoms.
The plot is easily established; the point is how to get to the inevitable end, and that’s what I enjoyed here. For once it wasn’t a by-the-numbers romance; it wasn’t about obstacles they put on themselves, but rather the crap the society of the time loads on them. This wouldn’t have worked in a modern setting; they had to go against the entire social structure of the time and country they lived in, which means they truly earned their happy ending.
This is how this genre should be written.
4.5/5

Summer Sizzle
Two people end up renting the same house and, though they can’t stand each other, can’t fight the attraction either. He’s got a doctorate in sociology, which he gave up when his little boy was killed. She’s an accountant building up money to get an advanced degree, and nothing will deviate her from that plan. . . so she thinks.
I wanted to like her, but except for sex and the kite lessons, she’s got a bug so far up her ass she’s just no fun. This is not someone I would want to know in real life, especially when she lets her cat do all the emotionally dirty work for her. Speaking of, this may be the first feline in history I’ve ever liked. (Gimme a break, I’m allergic.) But the cat giveth, and the cat taketh away; it was a silly way to cause the inevitable trouble in the relationship, but plausible, I suppose.
Points off for “orgasmic climax.”
Doesn’t matter how great they may be, because when it comes down to it, they’re both dumb as rocks, lacking in emotional intelligence. His PhD in sociology taught him nothing. Both invented stupid reasons for artificial roadblocks. Up to that point I’d liked this, but the last quarter was a mess.
Even worse, there’s a lot of loose ends. Her lost/stolen money issue is never resolved; she doesn’t even go to the police. With his reluctance to do just that, I thought the slimy lawyer was in on it.
And speaking of that character: what good was he? To make the main guy jealous? To make him look good in her eyes? Or did the author have someone in real life they couldn’t resist throwing in as vicarious revenge?
The ending, or next to ending, I hated. Brought down the score.
3/5

;o)

Book reviews: Profiling, Hollywood, and Baby Animals

“Did you just call them chicks?”
“Yep, that’s how they act. In contrast to you, who’s a woman.”
“You should teach classes!”
“Then I wouldn’t be special.”
“True.”

Terminal Consent
An interesting and original premise to this dark mystery: why would a woman let herself be used over and over, despite pain and humiliation?
The protagonist is a former Special Forces operator who was falsely convicted of a crime and just released from jail. Heading to his old hometown, where he tries to drink himself to death, he gets a job as a bouncer at a sex club, where he surprisingly runs into his former cellmate, an elite hacker who wants revenge for a beating he assumed the main character ordered. Instead they team up to help one of the club’s female workers, which leads them to places they could have never imagined.
Despite the setting being an S&M club—which could have led to some hilarious moments—there’s hardly anything there, though in fairness there’s a few plot points that hinge on it. The plot gets a little convoluted, but never so bad you can’t follow along. It’s the writing that’s the best part, the way the characters are drawn, mostly through their interactions. Everyone develops quite nicely once the erroneous conclusions are corrected. I was hoping for more from the club owner, but it’s very possible she’ll get further screen time—so to speak—if there’s any sequels, which I figure there will be. The legacy of O Henry makes an appearance to resolve the plot, a well-crafted turn that brings everything, especially my question at the beginning, into perfect relief.
4/5

The Ripper Gene
It’s a treat when someone who is at the top of their field, particularly in the sciences, writes a piece of fiction set in their world of expertise. In this case it’s both neuroscience, particularly DNA, and profiling, leading to an entertaining story of the hunt for a serial killer in Louisiana and Mississippi.
Of course a lot of the main character is taken from the author himself, but this is no Marty Sue; his flaws and tragedies keep it from being a simple paean of self-adulation. In the bio he speaks about an incident on Halloween as a kid that, while nothing happened in real life, is used to launch the story here. There are small touches that tell me this is a first-time novelist, but nothing serious, and by midway they’re gone, so it’s pretty smooth reading except for the occasional uber-scientific ramble. At times the descriptions are a little lacking—the run through the high school football stadium is my prime example—but the interplay between the two lead profilers is scintillating, as well as giving me yet another strong tough female character to fall in love with. Minor characters abound, especially in the FBI office, and while their specialties are fascinating, I can’t help but wonder if the actual personas are based on real people, and whether some of them will be. . . let’s say annoyed by the portrayal.
Now if only Stephen Hawking would write a sci-fi novel. . .
4/5

Picture Perfect
This is one of those novels with two storylines, one in the present and the other in the past, where the point for the reader is to figure out how they’re gonna meet before you get to the end. . . while enjoying the story, of course.
In the prologue a teen sells her baby. Then we move to present-day Hollywood, where an agent to the stars wants to move into the producing field, specifically filming a book that she claims changed her life. Her best friend is a famous actress who’s getting a little too old for major roles, to her chagrin, and is tasked with author-sitting the guy who wrote the book in question, not an easy job with any writer but even more so here.
And then something startling happens: in addition to the movie business and the flashbacks, this turns into a love story, or rather three of them. I thought this book would be all Hollywood, but there are plenty of touching and sweet moments. The characters are fantastic, especially the two ladies who have had each other’s backs for years. The younger woman who enters their lives is also fun, though her moments of crippling self-doubt are a bit painful to muddle through. And of course there has to be at least one bad guy—any superstar Aussies come to mind?—though in the end he gets his character development and reconciles with his son. And who doesn’t love a dog who pines for his master, even after death?
As often happens in books set in Los Angeles, I tend to squee at the smallest coincidences; it might be a subway ride or a restaurant I love, but in this case it’s a mention of the UCLA library, which I was in the day I read that section. As for the writing, once in a while a Britishism comes out and makes things a little jarring, especially with the Suthin’ characters in Hollywood, but other than that there’s plenty to like here. Everybody gets a happy ending and we’ve got an obvious setup for a sequel, but as the cliché goes, it’s the journey, not the destination.
4/5

Cute Continent Cuddle
I kinda object to this being called a book; even with the fact that most of the pages are taken up by photos, it’s still incredibly short, possibly too little to even call a novella. Even when reading it to kids, which is no doubt the audience this was intended for, I suspect it would take no more than ten minutes, as it is nothing more than rhyming couplets—some painfully forced—with photos of baby animals. Of course a kid, the younger the better, wouldn’t care about the words and would simply stare in delight at the cuteness overload, there’s no way I can put myself in that frame of mind for the review, so as an adult I have to say this could have been better, as well as longer.
2/5

;o)