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booksforabuck "BooksForABuck" (Long Beach, CA)

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Smoke and Shadows
Smoke and Shadows
by Tanya Huff
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 36.00
28 used & new from CDN$ 2.04

3.0 out of 5 stars Enjoyable light read, July 9 2004
This review is from: Smoke and Shadows (Hardcover)
Production Assistant Tony Foster has noticed the shadows--the ones that don't seem to quite reflect the movement of the solid objects around them. Because he's ex-lover and still friend of a vampire, Tony doesn't automatically dismiss the idea that there's somethings seriously wrong going on. Still, an invasion by a 'shadowlord' who has already destroyed one world and is intent on our own, seems a bit over the top. The sole survivor of that conquered world, a wizard in the guise of a middle-aged special effects guru, refuses to involve herself in the losing battle to defend earth against the shadowlord's new invasion. Which leaves Tony and his vampire-friend Henry to face the shadows themselves.
Both Tony and, while it's dark out, at least, Henry can be persuasive and they manage to get some help from the reluctant solitaire-playing wizard, but the shadowlord is gathering power with each opening of the gate between their worlds, learning more about the people who live here and our ability to defend against his power--and about the ability of our technology to shed shadows in places even the shadowlord had never considered. Tony's attempt to prevent any shadows from returning to the shadowlord seems like a long-shot, but even the wizard doesn't guess the shadowlord's response.
Setting an occult mystery on the set of a vampire-detective television show is a cute concept and Tony's clever use of light, pattern and darkness in his battle against the shadows adds a nice touch to this contemporary fantasy. Author Tanya Huff's craftman-like writing kept the story moving forward as Tony, with occasional assistance from the wizard and the vampire, tried to stay ahead of the shadows. Still, I found myself waiting for the twist--the ah-ha moment when Huff turned around the story and surprised me with something new. Instead, she seemed to settle for cute.
SMOKE AND SHADOWS is an enjoyable light story. If you're a fan of vampires, gay fiction, and humor, the book makes a pleasant read.

Death Of an Old Master
Death Of an Old Master
by David Dickinson
Edition: Hardcover
11 used & new from CDN$ 8.24

5.0 out of 5 stars Very nice historical mystery, July 6 2004
This review is from: Death Of an Old Master (Hardcover)
Victoria still reigns, the Boors are making ugly war on the British Empire in southern Africa, and American millionaires are flocking to Europe to pick up culture--including the old masters. One enterprising art dealer specializes in serving the needs of the Americans--whether this means locating great art, or creating it on demand. It's all very civilized in a way, and even similar to the way that many British manors were stuffed with ersatz 'old masters' from centuries of trips to the continent. But the murder of an art critic throws the entire business into turmoil.
Investigator Lord Francis Powerscourt interveins when his wife reminds him that the victim is something of a cousin (Powerscourt believes that half of English society is a cousin of some sort to his wife). The case looks clearcut--the dead man had been having an affair with a married woman whose husband had recently learned of the affair and was not happy about it. But Powerscourt doesn't trust any case that looks too obvious and he finds other motives--motives involving money and great art.
Author David Dickinson writes convincingly of English 'society' near the end of the 19th century. British nobles are finding their ancestral homes to be expensive monstrosities that they still must maintain, manners remain critical, and a woman can be ruined by scandal--but both men and women still seek out adventure in their lives. Powerscourt is a well developed and sympathetic character--often lost in the case but never too busy to make time for his wife (and occasional co-investigator) and children. Dickinson doesn't look beneath the upper crust of English society, but even that upper crust is pretty rotten.
Dickinson throws out a number of red herings, sends Powerscourt through England and even to Corsica, and gives the reader enough interest in art and art forgery to make for a fascinating read.

Dead to the World: A Sookie Stackhouse Novel
Dead to the World: A Sookie Stackhouse Novel
by Charlaine Harris
Edition: Hardcover
39 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

5.0 out of 5 stars Maybe the best Sookie yet, July 5 2004
With her vampire ex-boyfriend heading out of town, Sookie Stackhouse looks forward to more peaceful (and lonely) times in small-town Louisianna. But when her brother starts dating a shape-shifter and hunky vampire Sheriff, Eric loses his memory and Sookie finds him running naked near her house, she realizes that the times will be anything but peaceful. With his memory intact, Eric was a jerk but he's sort of sweet without it--and Sookie has a hard time fighting the attraction. Still, she's made a new year's resolution--no more getting beat up. And if she hangs with Eric and the other vampires, she knows she's going to get hurt.
When her brother turns up missing, though, Sookie realizes that she can't just lay low. And with witches trying to take over nearby Shreveport (where Eric is from), it doesn't take long before she's in the middle of the fight of her life. There is one bit of good news. Despite a great figure and good looks, Sookie's mind-reading always scared away the normal males. But as she meets shifters, witches, vampires, and even a fairy, there are plenty of non-human and half-human males who find Sookie just what they are looking for--assuming she can survive long enough to create a relationship.
Author Charlaine Harris mixes up humor, suspense, magic, and a really nice character in Sookie Stackhouse for an especially strong entry into her Southern Vampire series. In a world where amoral vampires and amoral humans wage war for control, Sookie provides an ethical perspective and a bit of balance. Her concern for her missing brother and her ambivalent feelings toward Eric increase reader empathy with Sookie and our stakes in the outcome.
I've enjoyed each of the Southern Vampire novels but DEAD TO THE WORLD may just be the best.

Loaded Dice
Loaded Dice
by James Swain
Edition: Hardcover
25 used & new from CDN$ 1.30

3.0 out of 5 stars Good but not the best Tony Valentine, July 3 2004
This review is from: Loaded Dice (Hardcover)
Ex-cop and private investigator Tony Valentine is in Las Vegas checking up on the latest gambling scams. He finds plenty of crooks and con-men working their trade, but something more serious is going on. Tony becomes a suspect in the murder of a stripper, his home back in Florida is invaded by FBI agents who think that the Patriot Act allows them to enter homes without a search warrant, and his son disappears from sight. First, Tony has to save his friend's casino which is under attack from a career criminal who just may be working with the FBI, then he has to deal with a middle eastern terrorist threat.
Author James Swain is at his best when he's dealing with the fascinating world of professional gambling and the eternal war between cheaters and the professionals who try to stop them. Aging ex-cop Valentine, with his problems with his son and his conflicted feelings about women makes an intriguing hero. For me, though, LOADED DICE felt like two books mashed together. On the one hand, we have the fascinating problem of Nick Nicocropolis and his casino under attack. On the other, a superhero vs. the evil terrorist subplot. Either one could have worked. By putting them both in a relatively short mystery, Swain ended up shortcharging both of them.
Swain's strong writing and the information about gambling, cheating, and catching crooks definitely makes LOADED DICE worth reading. For me, though, this is not the strongest of the very nice Tony Valentine series.

Murder on the Marmora: A Mystery
Murder on the Marmora: A Mystery
by Conrad Allen
Edition: Hardcover
17 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

5.0 out of 5 stars Best yet in good series, July 3 2004
After several voyages with the famous Cunard line, cruise ship detectives George Dillman and Genevieve Masefield take a job with a competitor--P&O in a cruise from England to Australia by way of Egypt and the Suez Canal. Unlike their experience with Cunard, however, they find the Pursor unhelpful and even antagonistic. He assures them that his nose for trouble is all that is needed to keep his ship clean. Unfortunately, several robberies prove him wrong. When one of their suspects is murdered, Genevieve and George know that they need to move quickly in able to prove their worth, but the crimes are so skillful, without any evidence of tampering with the cabin locks, that they realize they are dealing with a professional.
George and Genevieve work together to determine who could have known about any valuables hidden in cabins, clear alibis, and deal with the personalities on board the ship--a difficulty compounded by Genevieve's ex-fiance now on board as a newlywed but still interested in Genevieve, and the young woman who quickly falls for George.
MURDER ON THE MARMORA is the fifth in author Conrad Allen's George Dillman/Genevieve Masefield historical mystery series and the strongest to date. Allen added more dimension to his characters while maintaining the entertaining mystery and strong period atmosphere of his earlier mysteries. Allen sets his stories in the glory days of the cruise industry before World War I--a period when manners mattered, dress was formal, and progress seemed certain.

Five For Silver
Five For Silver
by Mary Reed
Edition: Paperback
7 used & new from CDN$ 23.96

5.0 out of 5 stars Great sense of place in fine historical mystery series, June 30 2004
This review is from: Five For Silver (Paperback)
A plague is ripping through Constantinople during the reign of Justinian at the very beginning of the Byzantine Empire. So many people are dying that the Emperor has commissioned ships to be filled with bodies, towed to the harbor, and set ablaze. With so many dead, one more wouldn't seem to be a big deal. But John the Eunuch, Lord Chamberland to the Emperor, feels compelled to search for the killer of one man--a longtime friend and former soldier comrad of Peter, John's cook. According to Peter, an angel came, demanding vengence. While John follows Mithra rather than Christianity, he owes his faithful servant the investigation.
In a city being emptied by plague and people fleeing the plague, it's hard to find witnesses but John establishes a possible connection. Gregory, the dead man, had recently witnessed a will. When other witnesses also turn up dead, it seems that John is onto something--but what.
Authors Mary Reed and John Mayer do a wonderful job depicting what was then the greatest and most powerful city in the world. The holy fool, the aspiring poets, the politically savvy and dangerous Empress Theodora, and especially John the Eunuch and his family really come to life.
Reed and Mayer use the mosaic metaphor several times in their book and, in fact, present a bit of a mosaic of Constantinople. Not all of the crimes that John uncovers are connected to one another, but they are connected to the extended family that John has built in the new Rome. FIVE FOR SILVER is therefore a very personal story.
John the Eunuch is one of the most entertaining of the historical mystery series being written today. If you haven't discovered it yet, you're in for a treat.

Chaos and Amber: Roger Zelazny's The Dawn of Amber
Chaos and Amber: Roger Zelazny's The Dawn of Amber
by John Gregory Betancourt
Edition: Hardcover
Offered by more_for_u
Price: CDN$ 39.83
36 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

3.0 out of 5 stars Plenty of information for us Amber Fans--but not Zelazny, June 27 2004
After escaping an attack that nearly destroyed his family, Oberon wakes up in a near-shadow to Chaos. By the time he has fully recovered consciousness, his father has left for an audience with the king of Chaos and Oberon is left in the care of his brother, Aber. Oberon's magical talents are still developing but he knows that he has to do something--before the evil mage who holds one of his brothers captive destroys their family and all of their dreams.
Hunkered down together in a family palace, Oberon and Aber discuss family, demons, responses to the threat, and a bit of the history of Chaos and Shadows. Because the shadows are a relatively recent event. Although Chaos always cast shadows, these had been few and faint until a strange storm hit Chaos--and Oberon's father has been implicated in the storm and in the creation of shadows. Since the shadows appear to drain much of the magical energy from Chaos, Oberon's father is a distinctly unpopular man.
Roger Zelazny's original Amber series, especially the opening book, NINE PRINCES IN AMBER is a classic and author John Gregory Bethancourt's prequel series is an enjoyable addition to the universe which Zelazny created. But although Bethancourt introduces plenty of information and tells the story of leading to the creation of the great maze of Amber itself, for my tastes, CHAOS AND AMBER was too much talking and not enough action. More than half the book took place in a family palace inhabited by Oberon, Aber, assorted servants, and a door. In the second half, when things actually started to happen, Oberon was too much an observer rather than an actor.
True Amber fans will want to add this to their collection. If you aren't an Amber fan, you'll definitely want to start with the Zelazny originals.

Ties That Bind
Ties That Bind
by Phillip Margolin
Edition: Mass Market Paperback
31 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

4.0 out of 5 stars Exciting conspiracy theory action, June 24 2004
Since she was kidnapped and tortured on an earlier case, lawyer Amanda Jaffe has lived with flashbacks and panic--to the point where she's considering abandoning her career in criminal law. Being a court-appointed attorney to a pimp accused of murdering a senator and his lawyer is close to Amanda's ultimate nightmare. But as she investigates, she starts to wonder if some horrible miscarriage of justice might not be taking place.
Prosecuting attorney Tim Kerrigan should be happy. He's got a beautiful wife, a wonderful daughter, a Heisman trophy, and a father and friends pushing him for more--like becoming U.S. Senator and eventually even President. Tim has a problem with his self-worth, but his powerful friends are willing to make accomodations--and push him as far as he wants to go. But first, he's got to secure what should be an easy conviction in a death penalty case. Of course, there is the little matter of the blackmailing prostitute.
As Tim and Amanda explore the case they share, each begins to learn that there are powerful currents hidden beneath the surface. Amanda picks up vague hints of some sort of cabel--the rich and powerful take care of themselves and others, and stop at nothing to preserve their power. They might even have sent a lawyer to kill his own client--the man who is now her client. But if they are that powerful and that willing to kill, is her own life safe--or has she stepped into her worst nightmare?
Author Phillip Margolin writes a fast-paced and tight thriller. Although the paperback version is four hundred pages long, I tore through the book in a single afternoon, devouring the story as quickly as I could. The powerful cabel, the fears of the primary protagonists, and their feeling of helplessness they learned that the cabel's reach is long indeed added power to the story. I did have some problems with the characters--both Amanda and especially Tim whined a bit much for my taste, but Margolin's powerful writing kept them from becoming completely unsympathetic. One horrible editing error--where Tim's wife first reports that Tim is alive and then claims that she doesn't know whether he is alive or not did jar me out of the story, but not for long.
If you like conspiracy-theory types of stories, you won't go wrong with TIES THAT BIND.

Bridge of Birds: A Novel of an Ancient China That Never Was
Bridge of Birds: A Novel of an Ancient China That Never Was
by Barry Hughart
Edition: Mass Market Paperback
Price: CDN$ 8.90
47 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Pow! Hits you between the eyes., June 23 2004
When a crazy scheme to rob Chinese peasants of their silk harvest leaves the village children poisoned, Lu Yu, known as Number Ten Ox sets off on a journey to find a cure. Most of the wise men in Peking refuse to help him for what the village can afford, but one sage, Li Kao, agrees to help. Li Kao recognizes the problem but the cure is a different matter--and sets Ten Ox and Li Kao in an epic journey that pits them against monsters, a money-hungry Duke, and an ancient legend of Ginsen and Gods.
BRIDGE OF BIRDS was author Barry Hughart's first novel and it does start a bit slowly. Once it gets going, however, it becomes a fascinating adventure, a humorous story, and a thoughtful look at humanity and human obsession. It took me days to get through this book, not because it isn't interesting, but because it is so full. It took me a bit of recovery time to launch myself into the next adventure. By the way, there's also a bit of a mystery. See if you can figure it out before Li Kao and Ten Ox.
Hughart creates a different kind of fantasy. The protagonists aren't powerful warriors, but a peasant and an alcoholic sage. Their quest doesn't start out as saving the world from evil, but saving some children from the evil acts of a couple of misers. But the book's subtle power sucked me in, made me care about the characters and the story, and made me think that I was actually seeing something about the world for the first time.
Too heavy? Okay, the book is also a laugh. It's a series of unfortunate events in an adult style. I like this book a lot.

No Murder Before Its Time
No Murder Before Its Time
by Russ Hall
Edition: Hardcover
9 used & new from CDN$ 11.96

4.0 out of 5 stars Terrifically Texan, June 19 2004
Win Castle has pitted his sons against each other to determine who will take over management of the family's Texas wine business and ranch. Whether it's hunting boar with only a knife or catching sharks, Win pushs them to go further, to take risks. But when his trials are over and he's decided on his successor, he never expects that the winner will be murdered. Nobody much regrets the death of Chaz Castle--the man was a menace to himself and everyone around him. But that only means more suspects for the Texas Rangers and for spunky retired school teacher, winery tour guide, and amateur detective Esbeth Walters. Making things tougher, Win does his best to confuse the case.
Texas Ranger Tillis Macrory has the best conviction record in the Rangers, but he's not too proud to take help where he can get it--and he suspects that Esbeth can help him if she wants. She knows the Castle family, the dynamics within the winery, and the romances that spring up among the Castles and the employees. Even if Esbeth does insist on treating him like a student rather than a law enforcement professional, Tillis sticks it out. Because Esbeth's insights just might be the only thing that will let him cut through the smokescreen that Win is laying and discover the truth.
Author Russ Hall has a terrific ear for the language and manerisms of rural Texas. Expressions like 'meaner than turkey turd beer,' and loonier than the Saturday morning cartoons' are sure to bring a smile--and a nod of recognition. Another nod of recognition goes to Esbeth herself--a carefully drawn character who would be at home anywhere in Texas, sorting things out, protecting her pride, and knowing just a bit more than anyone else. Wine buffs will also enjoy the detailed look at Texas winemaking--and the antics involved in winery tours.
Most of the first half of the novel set the stage for the first murder--but events happen quickly after the Castle family returns from a wedding trip to Belize--with the succession decided and tempers hot. NO MURDER BEFORE ITS TIME is an enjoyable read.

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