Book Reviews: Violins, Bricks, and Justice

(Not me. . . overheard)
“I’m wearing sweaty bags. . . what?. . . oh! Baggy sweats! Baggy sweats! LOL!”

Gone
A world-class violinist writes about growing up as a Korean prodigy in England, losing control of her life and career to various Svengali types, and most importantly the theft of her Stradivarius.
As a photographer I’ve grown attached to several of the many cameras I’ve used in my career, but never to this level. On the other hand, there aren’t any cameras almost 400 years old, let alone considered the pinnacle of technology. It’s apparently much different with violins—and not just the famous Strads—as Min Kym goes into a devastating depression when her partner in music is snatched away at a restaurant. Despite how she describes the feeling of losing her violin, you can tell that’s just the tip; her real feelings. . . there’s no words for it. And the way she wrote that scene was intense! Worthy of a thriller. I instinctively feel sorry for her, but I know she wouldn’t want that.
There’s plenty of other stuff here that’s equally painful, but just as much is uplifting, even humorous. There’s a little piece on why she loves Kreisler that was fantastic. The psychological insights, both from the violinist and the human being, are astounding, and the writing is so smooth, like a languid Vivaldi phrase.
Whoa, I’m really blown away. Far beyond any expectations when I started this. It reminds me a lot of Lindsey Stirling’s book, even though because they’re from such vastly different worlds it comes across as quite dissimilar.
This is most likely going to go on my list of top books of the year.
4.5/5

Kiss the Bricks
The first book I read in this series was Red Flags, and despite it being the fourth it was a perfect introduction, so much so I went back and read the others. I write this in order to differentiate it from this new book: do not start the series here.
This entry takes place at the most famous speedway in the world, where Kate has just set top speed in the first practice session. It turns out that a few decades before there was another female driver who’d done the same thing, and from there most of the book becomes dual, with chapters alternating between the past and the present. Because of this the action is slow to start, and if you aren’t into racing and know the good stuff is coming, it might be a bit boring. There are also some parts that are rather mean-spirited; I get that the misogyny is part of the story, but too much is depressing.
As for the mystery, I guessed the bad guy pretty early, as well as who was leaving the notes. Much more of a guess, I nailed her qualifying position. (Yes, I celebrate every accomplishment, no matter how small.) And there’s a great moment in the middle of the race that, while nowhere near as good as winning the Indy 500, would be a sweet consolation for any driver, especially if you’ve followed Kate through her previous adventures. And there’s a subplot that sets up nicely for the next book, making me anxious to read that one too.
I want to stress that I still ended up enjoying it, just not as much as the previous one. At least it picked up as it went along. It’s in no way bad, but I think it’s a step back in a series that had before this improved with each outing.
3.5/5

From Ice to Ashes
A thief forced to go legit on a spaceship quits when his mom gets sick, and goes right back to stealing when he’s back on Titan, one of Saturn’s moons.
There’s a gruesome fight scene to start, and it’s not called back until half the book had passed, so I had to go back to remember it. The story doesn’t get any less grisly, mostly because Kale always tries to come off as tough with nothing to back it up. It’s really just sad, and a bit depressing, though I figured the author had done this so he could grow later on.
It took a while for the plot to show up, by which time I was wondering if I should continue. Fortunately it got better. . . until a big plot point about three-quarters in, which I absolutely hated. Like this whole book wasn’t depressing enough. . . I get that it’s done to set up the protagonist, make him angry. But how is this going to make me want to read more of this? Perhaps the words I should use is invested. I invested in this character, only to be tossed aside.
There’s nothing wrong with the writing, which is as good as the previous outing from this author that I’ve read (though I don’t remember that other book being like this). The world building in particular is done well, despite never getting a good picture in my mind of life on Titan, or on the spaceship. The plot is a bit weak, and it’s obvious there’s going to be a series, considering the ending. I just didn’t like the depressing tone throughout.
3/5

Tough Justice
In the prologue a mad bomber tries to blackmail a man into going public with his sins in order to keep the bomb from going off. We never hear about those two again, as the rest of the story has FBI agents looking for the bad guy, with little to go on except that at each bombing someone was told to leave before things go boom.
It’s difficult to give a grade to part of a story, though it helps to know going in that it wouldn’t finish here. The set-up was okay, and there’s good characterization of the lead, though I do wonder what’s causing this sudden—welcome—surge in fictional female FBI agents.
3/5

;o)

Book Reviews: Sex, Spanking, Murder, and Racing

Margaret Smith
If she had been the Virgin Mary, she would have said no.

Wicked Lust
Lust might turn to love in Jackson, Wyoming, where a young woman who’s recently arrived has an ulterior motive for wanting to bed the tough guy who’s the head of security at the local watering hole.
While the plot might have been good had it been a lot shorter, my lack of enjoyment in these characters dooms it. Cain is exactly the kind of jerk that pisses me off; I will give him some slack because of his former relationship with a screwed-up woman, but I hate that he rationalizes the way he plans to use Sloane. He didn’t want a relationship with her; fine, she was up for a one-night stand. But he keeps getting together with her, knowing full well she’s falling for him, while telling himself he’ll just dump her when the time comes. He’s cruel almost to the point of sadistic, but according to a lot of these types of stories, this is “what women want.”
Sloane is a wonderful character, but she’s no jewel either. Like him, she’s got an excuse for what she does, but unlike him she owns up to it at the end. Though she’s obviously smarter, she often ignores her common sense, because she’s a “woman in love.” There’s no doubt she enjoyed her gangbang, but her reasons for going through with it weren’t convincing. Her best moment is when she comes clean not because of him, but because of her new friendship with the politician’s daughter.
Oddly enough, the most realistic character is the owner of the sex club.
This was much slower going than expected, especially for this genre; usually I breeze right through them. There are a lot of great sex scenes here, though due to the length of his book they’re a bit hard to find. Pretty sure I would have liked this a lot more had it been shorter.
2/5

Correcting the Coeds
This is a collection of stories taking place in the 1950s, when it was expected for men to punish their girlfriends/wives if they acted up or didn’t do what they were told. . . at least that’s what this book would like you to believe. So this is basically about how spanking can help love blossom. . . and I can’t believe I just wrote that sentence.
Struggled through the first story before finally giving up and moving on. The other three stories were much easier. The most fun for me was in reading about how different the world was 60 years ago, morally in particular. This was really brought out in the story with the girl who goes back in time from this era; I was with her every step of the way as she found out how weird society—and technology—were back then (though I’m sure they’d think the same of us). It’s particularly funny to see a woman who would have casually had sex with him being baffled by his insistence to remain chaste, despite how much he obviously wants her. That story also makes gentle fun of Canada, which I can fully get behind, in a loving way, of course.
The other two stories were fine, though after a while I got tired of the spanking scenes.
3/5

Dark Kills
A female police detective who lives for her work at the expense of her family goes even deeper into the hunt for a serial killer dispatching college students who participated in a study on psychic powers.
This is my second book by this author, and though I didn’t particularly like the first one, I’m not sure I like this one any more. There’s a lot of extraneous stuff, which is a little necessary in the mystery genre, but it helps if they make sense, and they really didn’t here.
Her partner is a complete jerk whom she puts up with because they’ve known each other since they were kids, and when the inevitable happens with him, she’s still surprised. It’s okay for your lead character to have flaws, in fact it’s most likely required, but being stupid isn’t one of them; who else would go out in a snowstorm to question a witness rather than spend time with their family? Then instead of heading to the hospital she goes off to look at the lake; the fact that she was lucky to come out of that alive only underscores how dumb she is.
The best bit was a character named after Bubba Ho-Tep, but that’s only for Bruce Campbell fans.
2/5

Avoidable Contact
Kate and Holly are up to their old shenanigans, though this time on a bigger—and longer—stage. Kate’s boyfriend Stuart is in the hospital after being run over right before the 24 Hours of Daytona starts. Then one of her fellow racers is killed, followed by a journalist. Even her newly-found half-sister is in danger. . . all during the 24-hour race.
The fact that this time she’s not the one who found the body—and therefore isn’t as much of a suspect—doesn’t change her willingness to solve the mystery, even while having to deal with bad guys on the track and in the pits when she’s not in the car. As always it’s the racing scenes that are worth the price of admission, with Colby—another female racer—joining the team, as well as the NASCAR star Kate crashed into in the last book.
I’m a little ambivalent about Kate’s character development here. While it’s great that she’s becoming a better person, her emotions still get the best of her at the worst times. But frankly it’s the storyline with her new family that is grating on my nerves; enough about them already. I know that’s not realistic, but it would probably boost my rating another star if this storyline was done.
Having said that, I still enjoyed this book tremendously, even when she wasn’t racing. There’s a lot of behind-the-scenes stuff of interest to the casual racing fan, as well as some new interesting characters that don’t get a lot of time here but are ripe for more in upcoming stories. The fact that Kate can go so gaga over a handsome guy coming on to her shows her to be more human than she sometimes gives herself credit, as well as being utterly hilarious.
Now that I’ve finished all the books I’m sad I have to wait so long for more!
4/5

;o)

Book Reviews: Wildcats, Hockey, Nazis, and Road America

One of my favorite sentences ever:
Hell for him would be seeing his enemies piled high with naked cheerleaders.

Eye Of The Drone Vol. 2
Not nearly as sinister as the title suggests. This is a graphic novel about a couple of kids with a pet lynx and falcon going around the world looking for all 36 types of cats in the world, starting in Russia. This is the second volume in a planned series of 8, each taking place in a different part of the world.
Before it starts there’s a really funny image of a frog in common teenager position looking at a tablet. But this is definitely not a story with humor, in fact it seems deadly earnest. This is not one of those stories where I can say you can read it without needing to peruse the first one, because the backstory to their mission and why they’re drawn like early computer game animation stills is never explained. And it does need explaining, for at one point one of the humans says, “We’re 3-D. We don’t have to follow the rules that apply to fleshly people.” And no one in universe has a problem with talking animals, especially a lynx walking through the station and boarding a train. Then there’s the evil corporation against these environmentalists, the chief bad guy sporting a scar on his face, of course.
There are other touches that made me a bit annoyed, though I should temper that with the knowledge than the kids for which this is intended won’t care. A lot of stuff is left out; at one stop they look for a place to stay, at the next it’s not even mentioned, just goes from “Let’s sleep” to “Next morning.” And it’s highly unlikely those police officers in northern China speak English so well. Things liven up toward the end, when they’re joined by a mischievous redheaded fairy, or soporific butterfly, depending on her mood. And of course the story doesn’t end cleanly, but at least you’re told there’s gonna be six more volumes.
There are educational asides on some pages, plus a cat appendix, photos, links to Facebook, and so on at the end. There’s no doubt as to the earnestness of the author in trying to get her message across, and again I state that it will be great for kids, but I still think it could have bene done better.
3/5

The Hockey Saint
College hockey player who lives with his grandmother gets a partial scholarship, named assistant captain, and finds out where his idol lives. Quite an opening chapter. From there he meets his hero, who takes him to surprising places, as long as he doesn’t tell. There’s a conspiracy by the rival team to get the goods on the hockey star, and the kid has to decide which side to pick.
Each chapter comes with a recommended song list; I didn’t try it, but the one song I did know, Rush’s Limelight, was well chosen.
It’s a nice story, with an upbeat ending. But it’s hard to believe a guy this secretive would open up and spill all his secrets to a teen fan. This is more like a kid’s fantasy, especially the hero’s redemption at the end.
The artwork is fine, nothing special but definitely good enough. As long as the reader has no illusions about it being far from reality, there’s a lot to enjoy here.
3/5

The Brandenburg Quest
Named after the protagonist’s surname, this tells the story of a young man in Germany who sees an American movie about WW2 and learns things he wasn’t told in school. He goes off to interview a bunch of former Nazis—finding them rather easily, it seems—trying to figure out if one of them in particular, who was rumored to have died at the end of the war, actually escaped and is planning to take Germany into the Fourth Reich.
Written as a screenplay, oddly enough; it fails in that there are no acts, just one similar interviewing scene after another. It’s interesting to find out that German schools did not teach the truth about World War 2 well into at least the 1970s; I think this book takes place in 1986, according to something mentioned, but not sure. So for all the time were kids told the Holocaust was a lie, if they ever heard about it at all?
There’s an early mention of the main character going off to Munich and checking out the Glockenspiel; I love that place, so it made me smile. But that was the only happy moment I had. This might be okay as a book, but unlike the comments at the beginning it would never make a good movie. Too much repetition—most of the story is the protagonist interviewing one former Nazi after another—and very little action. If some Hollywood producer got his hands on this, he would add a lot of James Bond action scenes to it anyway.
2.5/5

Braking Points
Female racer once again gets involved in a murder investigation, is suspected and has to clear her name, all while handling a boyfriend, a crash on the course that injures a popular driver, rabid fans, crappy journalists, and old friends.
This is the second in the Kate Reilly series, though it’s the third one I’ve read. This one starts at Road America, which is one of my favorite courses. Like the other books, the murder mystery is okay but really isn’t the point. Considering the author’s job in real life, this is meant as a treatise on the difficulties faced by women in the racing world today, and in a broader perspective all the workforce.
Once again I thoroughly love Kate as a character. It’s cute how girly she gets about joining Twitter, and there’s something satisfying about the occasional tweets; not so much hilarious or noteworthy, more like humanizing her. Sadly there’s also a lot of internet crap sent her way, so much so that she has to hire publicity specialists. The author always gives Kate a lot to handle off the track, but this time it might have been too much, as we’re introduced to her jerk cousins who will show up in later books as well as all those mentioned above.
There’s a lot of racing scenes in this one, even more so than the others, and this time it’s not all fun for our heroine. Usually the track is the place where she can get away from all her problems, but in this case bad things happen just as often as the good, although the good does make for a happy ending.
4/5

;o)

Book Reviews: Toads, Racing, and Mad Women

“I love men in uniform,” she purred.
“There’s Santa Claus. Go get ‘im.”

Stinky Cecil in Terrarium Terror
A toad who’s the leader of his little pond gang gets captured by a school group and placed in a schoolroom terrarium. Though his new friends are a bit annoying, he comes to enjoy himself just in time to be rescued. A children’s book with a little bit of an edge, for a children’s book, anyway. Cecil the toad is so delightfully snarky, and of course stinky when he needs to be.
There’s a harsh reminder—probably sad for the first time—of a fly’s five-day lifespan, but his heart will live on. . . I mean his soul. A gerbil-piloted helicopter is indeed faster than a turtle; everyone gets their own cute little headsets. And for a smart toad, Cecil can’t even handle an apple.
The artwork is fine, and there’s an educational appendix. Fun for adults as well as children.
4/5

Dead Man’s Switch
After having enjoyed the upcoming entry in this series, I had to go back to the start of the series, which takes place at Lime Rock racetrack on the east coast, a venue I’d only heard of and never visited.
Kate is of course the main suspect, and it’s a little strange to find her younger and not as mature. She gets the dead driver’s ride, which is why she’s the main suspect. As with the other book, the murder mystery is well done but not extraordinary. There were too many characters, and therefore suspects, but in the end the resolution was acceptable. The important thing in these books is the racing detail, which is fantastic. I wish I’d been able to read such vivid descriptions before I took the racing class, would have made things all the more fun.
4/5

Sons of the Devil
This was a strange one, even for a graphic novel, starting with a literally bloody bludgeoning before moving to Venice in the here and now, where a not-so-tough guy gives in to his dog and carries him rather than let him walk, to show his sentimental character, I suppose. Adding to that, he helps a lost kid, which makes him late enough to work to be fired, where he goes off on his boss with his fists. But the boss cuts him a break, so he only gets community service. Then he finds his foster brother killed, and he’s knocked over the head when he finds the body, so of course he’s suspect.
There’s intimations of a cult in his past, and a girlfriend who’s way too good for him; I don’t understand how she puts up with him. It doesn’t take long for him to go ballistic yet again. It’s infuriating how unlikeable this protagonist is. I should be rooting for him, instead I don’t care that he screws up again and again. There’s a moment when he’s in group therapy where he says there are no excuses, even being adopted and growing up in crappy places. He’s right, and that’s why I feel absolutely no sympathy for him. Good riddance to this story.
2/5

College Bound
A beautiful young woman who keeps losing her temper and making wrong choices agrees to be something of a sex slave so she can earn enough money for college. But of course it’s much worse than that. . .
There’s a lot to both love and hate in this character. She’s got a fantastic sense of humor, but she’s a stubborn idiot that is her own worst enemy. Over and over she loses her temper or simply strikes out at her captors for no reason. After a while it becomes hard to have any sympathy for her.
At least the title’s funny, once you read far enough to understand it. There’s one chapter that goes, “Two hours later, the FBI showed up and arrested everyone in the house.” That’s the whole chapter; now that’s funny. But in general this was simply too weird to accurately describe or even understand. It’s far more about control than sex, and in the end I have to say I didn’t like it very much.
2/5

;o)

Book Reviews: Sci-Fi, Racing, Africa, and Submissives

Butter is not a spice, it’s a necessity.

Meridien
This is the third entry in the Silver Ships no-longer-a-trilogy, and it might be the best of the three.
For a quick recap, Alex from New Terra saves an alien ship, repairs it, puts together a crew of his people and the surviving Meridiens, and goes off to figure out how to combat the enemy that disabled the ship in the first place. In the second book they got new allies from the outcasts of the Meridien culture. In this entry they confront the enemy, only to find not all is at it seems.
Halfway through the battles are ended, though with a sequel hook. The rest is taken up with first contact, which has been a recurring theme but now is much different, since they’re dealing with a truly alien race. There’s also a lot of world-building and diplomacy.
My favorite parts are those that have nothing to do with the story, but show off the people and particularly the hero as quintessentially human; the best example is when Alex goes into the cafeteria and yells “Food!” until everyone joins in. I don’t know how well the people are going to take to living on a planet after all that excitement in space, but I figure I’ll find out in the next novel.
5/5

Red Flags
This is my first book in this series; it will not be my last.
As a racing fan, and a particular fan of female racers—Danica Patrick notwithstanding—I’m amazed I haven’t heard of these novels before, featuring a female racer who’s always finding bodies or being asked to investigate murders. Those parts are okay, but what thoroughly impresses me are the racing scenes. This book takes place at my hometown (temporary) track, Long Beach, which I’ve photographed the last fifteen years, so I’m very familiar with it all and can say this author gets everything right.
First and foremost, I am loving Kate! She’s serious when it comes to racing, a bit of a goof with her friends, and insecure when it comes to all the guys chasing her. There’s plenty of snark opportunities for her in SoCal; she goes to the Troubador, walks on the beach—at least it wasn’t Malibu—and does other El Lay things, making it obvious the author is contemptuous of the City of Beautiful Angels.
This is one of those rare books I wish I could read again for the first time, especially the Fontana test scene. The only disappointment was the lack of description of the IndyLights race.
4.5/5

White Leopard
A detective novel that takes place in the Western African country of Mali, it features a half-African, half-French private investigator with a murky past in France, hence his being in Africa.
When a French lawyer wants him to get her drug-running sister out of jail, things go from bad to worse. Like most hard-boiled detective stories, the PI goes from one screw-up to another, beaten up over and over; the setting makes no difference. And I so hate it when a babe is killed. . .
Despite all the mentions of places in the cities and countryside, a little more description would have been nice. There’s also one time he gets out of death by a deux ex machina, which was annoying, but otherwise it’s a pretty good detective novel.
4/5

Submissive Seductions
Woman gets taken by her friend to a sex auction, where she buys one night with a dom to see if she is indeed a submissive. What it turns out to be is a pretty costly and out-there blind date.
There’s good stuff right away; I’m enjoying the pre-game, the way he talks to her instead of simply commanding her to do his bidding: calming her down, explaining things, the psychology of sexual submissiveness.
About halfway, with the romance having been achieved, I thought it would be the end of it, but no, things aren’t hunky-dory just yet. Kudos to the author for making it one book instead of a sequel.
What made me enjoy this was the main character. I love woman with a sense of humor, and I’m thankful the author wrote this in first person so I could hear her thoughts.
This is technically a romance, and even though there’s some miscommunication problems they weren’t nearly as bad as you usually get in this genre. Even better, no exterior forces—other than the arrest of her boss—played a part. When she went into the Blue Room at the end I was dreading that she would find him with another woman in an innocent but compromising situation, leading to huge misunderstanding, but thankfully that wasn’t the case.
4/5

;o)