Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Let Us Prey - Review

[I received Let Us Prey from the author when I accepted her request to review this book.]

It's a mystery, It's chick-lit, it's romance. Jamie Lee Scott's Let Us Prey has it all. Mimi Capurro is the first-person protagonist, a recently widowed thirty-something who has started Gotcha Detective Agency in Salinas, California. Her employees are a good mix of characters—believable and well drawn. All the characters are nicely crafted, including author Lauren Silke, who hires Gotcha to investigate possible threats against her. But rather than Lauren, it's that woman's assistant who is gruesomely killed; Mimi's investigation switches focus.

The mystery, who killed Esme Bailey, has many suspects; many of them are male, to whom Mimi responds with varying levels of libido. Police procedure comes into play, with the assistance of one of Mimi's college sweethearts, Nick Christianson (go hormones, go!). Nick is a police detective with the Salinas PD. They perform the Attract-and-Aggravate Romance dance as they step on each other's toes during the investigation. This is nicely handled.

I had worried at first that the vampire aspect would take over the story; it didn't. Vampire books are what Lauren Silke writes, and many of the suspects participate in a vampire RPG. I did have a problem with a few plot elements, especially why threats and aggression were directed at Mimi? Although I had a good sense of Mimi's fear and anger, the reason she was a target wasn't adequately explained for me. I truly appreciated that all the scenes had a point and related in some way to the mystery&mdsh;nothing seemed thrown in only for the sake of drama, romance or hype. Scott's Let Us Prey is a fun, well-written read, and a good beginning to a new mystery series.

On a scale of 5: +3 for originality, +5 character development, +4 pace and story flow; +3 edits and format

Monday, August 29, 2011

A Bit About Book Reviews

I've recently read a bunch of comments on forums and groups about the content in book reviews. I write book reviews, and I also write books, so I understand what prompts concerns. The public reviewers that I find on the book-sale sites often offer glowing recommendations to the point of disbelief. When I see the same reviewers constantly giving five-stars, I wonder: 1) are they being paid? and 2) do they truly read the book? Or perhaps, they only want to give praise, and never post about books they didn't absolutely love.
As a writer, I grin when seeing five-star reviews on my works, but I also like to read the less flattering reviews—a chance to learn something I can fix in other things I write. But then, there are reviewers who are terse and rude. Not fun to read—neither on my book page nor someone else's.
I also review books, and I try to be objective when I do so. But writing a book review is like trying to review of a chef salad. You can take parts of it and make comments: the dressing was too tart, the mild cheeses—very good, the lettuces could have been more crisp and I wanted more radicchio. Then you sum it all up to a total of some kind. That total is a whim of the salad eater. Some people don’t like radicchio, and other like their cheeses more aged.
Here's what I look for in a salad—er—book. I grade on a five-point scale for 1) originality: is this a typical genre story or does it offer something new and different?; 2) character development: consistency for each character in voice, emotions and description with each character being distinctive; 3) pace and story flow: as in a salad, I like it when the tart is offset by the sweet, the crunch with the smooth, and when it's all relative to the whole; 4) edits and format: grammar, spelling and sentence structure must be correct and word-choice appropriate for the scenes; the layout (this especially in electronic editions) should allow the reader to progress through the book without a hitch.
I don't read a book, thinking critically about these elements. Usually the negatives sort of jump up and slap me (inaccurate spelling and grammar, rough transitions, head-hopping). Some readers can breeze right by these things that I consider imperfections, but I'm also and editor, so I see all this stuff. Parts of a book that I delight in, usually come to me after I've finished reading the whole piece. I sit back and I think, that was nicely done.
When I write the review, I give a thumbnail of the plot and avoid spoilers. I try to address each of the elements I think important, and if I criticize, I like to explain why. For review readers, particularly the authors, I hope they remember that what I write is a single opinion. Let's face it, if everyone liked the same thing the same way, reading books would be pretty boring.
Here are a related articles I posted a while back on my Get It Together blog: Writing a Book Review, and Criticism Can Sting
You can find a list of reviews I've posted on this blog by clicking "book reviews" in the labels (right side).

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

A Witness Above - Review

I bought the e-book version of A Witness Above after reading an interview on Kindle Author. The setting intrigued me, as well as the mystery, and I wasn't disappointed. I was engaged from page one and recommend it to any mystery fan.

From the promo blurbs: "Thirteen years ago, Frank Pavlicek left the NYPD under less than ideal circumstances. Now, the divorced father of a teenage daughter, he works as a private investigator in Charlottesville, Virginia, where he indulges his passion for falconry&emdash;and tries to live outside the shadow of his past.
"While hunting with his red-tailed hawk, Armistead, Frank finds the gruesome remains of a teenage boy’s body – barely concealed behind a pile of brush...But what Frank finds in the dead boy's wallet is even more disturbing—his daughter’s phone number, scribbled in ink on the edge of a bill. He pockets the evidence and flees. Days later, his daughter is in jail and his past is coming back to haunt him. His reputation--and life--are on the line…"

Andy Straka's protagonist, Frank Pavlicek, is a strong character, with emotional depth and realistic concerns. That Straka got all this out in a first-person presentation credits his writing ability. I often avoid first-person stories, because they're come off a bit vapid. Not here. Word choice and descriptions were vivid, and the action moved well. Although I knew who the perp was right at the beginning, I was interested in seeing how Pavlicek figured it out.

Details about falconry were nice; I always like to learn new things. Straka worked this into the story quite well, right from the title.

A Witness Above was a Best First Novel-Anthony, Shamus, and Agatha Award Nominee.