Book Review: Swamp Team 3

Book: Swamp Team 3

Author: Jana Deleon

book2

(No Spoilers)

This is the fourth book in the series, and I’m not sure how long the series is planned to go. I’ve seen up to at least nine books.

I will give you fair warning. If you can’t overlook grammar and punctuation issues, this author is not for you. I realized after reading this book so closely to the other just how much I was over looking. Comma splices abound. Consider yourself warned.

I’m starting to think I’m not much of a series person. While the author does a great job of not rehashing the previous books, and this book can stand alone, I felt like it was missing something.

The story still revolves around Fortune Redding hiding out in in Sinful, Louisiana, because she has put a price on her head and a leak in the CIA. She’s been befriended by the Geritol Mafia, senior citizens Gertie and Ida Belle, who are former counter intelligence operatives and leaders of the Sinful Ladies Society. One of Fortune’s new Sinful friends has her home set on fire and is being stalked.

Yes, you get your usual hijinks, although those are starting to become less funny. A wet tee shirt contest? Really? I was also a little leery on the way the author treated the stalker. I’ve done zero research on stalkers, and even so, I found it hard to believe.  Still trying to figure out how Fortune survived as a CIA assassin given some of her antics and choices.

I also needed more to sell me on Fortune and the gang getting involved in solving the arson attempt. For some reason, this felt more disingenuous than in previous books. Why couldn’t Carter solve this? Why are they getting into the middle of a police investigation? In the other books this is more clear. In this one, it feels more like “my friend is involved, so hey, I can’t trust the law”. Carter even points out all the foolishness they went through and risks they took were for nothing when he already knew what a suspect was doing because, you know, that’s the first person he investigated, too. And he can do it lawfully.

The romance moved along a little, but as a reader of romance novels, this is moving so slowly that it might as well be non-existent.  Book four, and we’re still no closer to knowing any of Fortune’s backstory or what’s happening with the CIA. We are seeing some change in the heroine. Seeing her develop real friendships and have real feelings for the people in the town.

For me, I think the best thing is to take a break from the series for a while. These are not deep thought books. They will not withstand too deep of an analysis, and the more of them I read, the more my brain starts processing patterns and can’t simply relax and enjoy the book candy. It starts analyzing and dissecting, and these books can’t stand up to that. That’s okay. It’s not what they’re meant for. They are meant to be funny and an easy read on a rainy Saturday.

Rise of Consumerism

In this post,  I discussed some of the key things that Americans spend their money on. A couple of readers brought up the concept of consumerism and how it’s made some people with a good income still live on the edge.

This resonated with me as I actually know some of these people. They have solid middle class earnings, yet, they still live paycheck to paycheck. The three categories I talked about before definitely come into play here. Buying more house than you can afford. Having new cars all the time. Eating out a lot.

This was definitely true for one person I knew who’d bought a massive four bedroom home, then his wife quit working when their first child was born. Suddenly, making the mortgage was really hard.

finance2

I decided to do some investigating. Things usually happen for a reason, and I discovered that while the the drive to overspend is huge, it wasn’t always. Consumerism came into play at the same time the cosmetics industry has. I believe for the same reasons.

The rise in consumerism, whether buying a bigger house, new car, or just having stuff is a manufactured need. And it was manufactured on purpose. Consumerism has risen along with advertising and the ability for advertisers to reach large sections of the population. Advertising makes us want things. That’s what it’s designed to do, and it’s no coincidence that consumerism has grown along with increasingly sophisticated ads that target humans’ deepest needs.

 

A little history.

After WWI, corporations were making more stuff than people needed. Paul Mazur of Lehman Brothers (yes, that Lehman Brothers) wrote, “We must shift America from a needs, to a desires culture. People must be trained to desire, to want new things even before the old had been entirely consumed. We must shape a new mentality in America. Man’s desires must overshadow his needs.”

Rather than rejecting this premise, the US government openly supported it.

Advertising was key, and Mazur knew this, so he recruited Edward Bernays, the nephew of Sigmund Freud. Bernays began to figure out how to make people want things they didn’t need by linking mass-produced goods to unconscious desires.

  •  He was the first to work with car companies on selling cars as a symbol of masculine sexuality than as a means of getting from point A to point B.
auto-424119_640
Seems to work to this day.
  • He helped break the taboo of women smoking so cigarettes companies could sell cigarettes to women. He persuaded a group of debutantes to smoke in public at a parade. He then told the media ahead of time that this was happening, and called the cigarettes “Torches Of Freedom” and linked women smoking with challenging male authority.
  • He pioneered product placement and celebrity endorsements

 

Bernays would continue his work, with future generations further refining their understanding of human desire and preying on/satisfying it. Presidents starting with Herbert Hoover embraced consumerism, and after WWII, the National Association of Manufacturers and other groups launched PR campaigns that linked consumerism with capitalism and glorified both.

Advertising got increasingly sophisticated, and with the advent of social media, people were no longer comparing themselves to the Joneses. They were now comparing themselves to the Kardashians.

It’s been a win all around for businesses, and in some ways, for the consumer as we’ve never had such choice.

food-2179178_640

And, companies have had to cater to consumer demand and preferences, pushing froward innovation on computers, social media, and even cars. Remember when there weren’t SUVs or crossovers? Or the focus American car companies have had to put on quality or lose their consumers to Japanese companies.

 

Where Does It Leave Us

Does this mean consumerism is the new normal? That there is no escape from it?

I’m going to argue “no”.

For all the bad rap Millennials regularly get, they are driving some industries to worry. They are more focused on experiences than stuff, and this has the diamond industry very concerned. A Millennial is more likely to skimp on the ring and splash out on a huge honeymoon. They want memories, or as some cynics might say, lots of stuff to post on social media.

woman-1446557_640

Still, millennials are harder for advertisers to reach, and advertisers are fighting to find ways to get to them.

This inability to reach people is part of the reason why advertisers are terrified of “cord cutting” and consumers moving to Netflix or Amazon Prime for their viewing needs. Why? Because they can’t easily reach large numbers people. They can’t influence us to want their product by making us think it makes us sexier, more worthy of love, of whatever other needs they’re now trying to appeal to.

Advertisers are scrambling to find other ways to reach us. Many of us don’t want to be reached. Amazing how many people pay for an ad-blocking service.

In the advent of the internet, it also makes it more difficult for advertisers as there is no longer a mass market. The internet makes it much easier for niche markets to take hold, and for very personalized preferences to be met.

 

My Experience

I can say I’ve seen a significant change in my home when we “cut the cord” (got rid of all cable and even regular TV) in 2009. It was the Great Recession, and we had to trim expenses. Cable was an easy one for us. (So was our gym membership, but that’s another story!).

plug-672231_640

We’ve never looked back. After seven years of being close to commercial free, you find yourself a little outside the “cutting edge” of pop culture, but we’ve learned to accept that, too. And if there’s a show you really want to watch, you can usually purchase the individual episodes or find them for free a few days later.

When we’ve gone to a friend’s house and they happened to have a football game on, we were astounded at how many commercials there were.

Afterward, we looked at the average kids’ show our daughters watch. They range between 20 and 22 minutes for a 30 minute time slot. That means a full 1/3 of a child’s show is advertising!

There’s a reason our kids’ Christmas lists are small (other than them being a little spoiled), and why we can walk down the cereal aisle and walk out with only Cheerios and no tears.

 

 

What do you think? Do you see the side-effects of consumerism? Maybe you’ve experienced them? Know someone who has? Do you think advertisers create desire? Do you think they’re part of consumerism?

Book Review: Swamp Sniper

Book: Swamp Sniper (Book 3 of the Miss Fortune series)

Author: Jana Deleon

Book1

(No Spoilers)

I’ve been working through this series, and I have to be careful to not devour them too quickly. Not sure how many books there are, but it’s nice that each is a contained story. At this point, you don’t need to have read the first two books to understand what’s going on or to enjoy the third installment.

The author does a nice job of writing a series. You get snippets of what happened in the past, but it’s no more than a few paragraphs sprinkled throughout the book.

This is a series, so the romance is moving at a snail’s pace. As is the back story on Fortune, the story’s protagonist.

This is a mystery novel, but with a lot of humor. Think Janet Evanovich. Starting to raise a brow, though, as this is the third murder investigation in as many weeks for the heroine. Looks like Sinful is getting to be more dangerous, per capita, than New Orleans. Unless, of course, my suspicion is correct about who the leak at the CIA is that put Fortune in sinful…

Fortune has been stashed in the backwater, rural Louisiana town of Sinful while the CIA tries to ferret out the leak that sold her out to some very bad men. While there, she’s befriended by some of the locals, including the Geritol Mafia. The premise of this book is that Fortune’s friend, Ida Belle, is accused of murdering Ted through poisoned cough syrup (moonshine).

Ted had been running against Ida Belle in the mayoral race, but that’s not a reason to kill anyone in Sinful. No motive is ever established as to why she’d want ted dead, but the real issue is the poison used to kill Ted happens to be the gopher killer that resides in Ida Bell’s shed. The story lost a little believability for me that there would be a solid case against Ida Bell as everyone knew the poison was there, and it wasn’t exactly locked up. Lots of people also had access to the cough syrup. But, I suspended disbelief as Gertie and Fortune try to prove Ida Belle’s innocence.

Carter, the deputy sheriff, doesn’t think that Ida Belle is the killer, but Sinful wants an arrest and so does the prosecutor. Of course he doesn’t want Gertie and Fortune investigating, and that adds to the hijinks.

This story is written in the same vein as the first two. It’s a fun, easy read. I appreciate that a lot. While I sometimes doubt how effective of a CIA assassin Fortune actually was, she doesn’t do anything I’d deem too stupid. I also appreciate that the author keeps the female characters strong and mostly competent. I love the cast of characters in this story, and even the secondary characters have a great deal of personality.

A good, easy read to make you smile and that you can finish in an evening.

Practice (Part 2)

If you’d like to catch-up with the story, Part 1 is here.

coat-of-arms-145264_640

Skyla caught up to Mara, the mage’s soft grey eyes bright with the excitement. “We did it. Just like you said.”

Mara nodded once.

“You really think this’ll work?”

Mara shrugged. “Where I’m from it would.”

Skyla chewed her lower lip as she avoided Mara’s gaze.

“You’re sure you’re okay with this?”

“Yes.” A beautiful blush reddened her checks. “Only way I’ll know. And I’m curious.”

“Haven’t met a mage that wasn’t.”

Skyla stared at her for too long. “Are you okay?”

“It’s Keenan you should be worried about.”

A blush colored the mage’s cheeks, and she followed Mara the rest of the way to Ndrek’s bar in silence.

Mara nodded to Ndrek than took a table in the back corner. She sprawled into the rearmost chair, keeping her back to the wall as she surveyed the bar. A few regulars were already there, and a steady trickle of customers was slowly filling the rest of the tables.

The floor was tacky from spilled ale, but the tables were clean enough and the chairs comfortable after a day toying with Knights. Mara would have had more fun if she didn’t know what the Knights would face on in the eastern provinces.

They were kids, most of them who hadn’t faced anything more threatening than a pack of wolves or a couple petty thieves. Nothing compared to the horrors beyond Tamryn’s borders. And it was beyond those traditional boards that most of those Knights would be stationed. And where they’d die.

She didn’t share that with Skyla.

Instead, Mara leaned back and listened to Skyla’s stories and anecdotes as she waited for Keenan to join them. He was a Knight. He wouldn’t go back on his word.

Ndrek stopped over and gave Skyla a grin that showed his perfect white teeth. “To what do I owe the pleasure of having one of the most promising students from the University of Arcane Arts in my humble establishment?”

Skyla blushed and mumbled something.

“Three hellfires,” Mara said. “Knight Keenan will be picking up the tab when he arrives.”

“I will have to charge him double to make up for having a Knight in my bar.”

“Or you could double his drink.”

Ndrek grinned, bowed, and disappeared back behind the bar.

As Ndrek returned with the smoking drinks, Keenan entered the bar. Uncertainty pinched his brow as he walked into the darkened taproom, but he spotted Mara and worked his way toward her.

The Knight eyed the deep red drinks that still emitted a trail of smoke, but Keenan paid Ndrek and took the seat opposite Mara.

“I’ll buy you one of these awful things every day if you’ll help me whip the new Knights into shape.”

Mara took a long drink of her hellfire. “Tell me about their training program.”

She listened as Keenan talked.

When he paused, Mara nodded to Skyla. “If you’re really sending those kids outside of Tamryn, you need to teach them how to fight magic. And you need to put more than Dracor’s light on their side.”

“Work with the University of Arcane Arts?”

“What other mages do you have?”

“They’re not warriors. Can’t wear armor.”

“Skyla wasn’t wearing armor, and she lit up your cadets.”

Keenan glanced at the mage, and Mara could see his discomfort. Skyla had told her the history between her and Keenan, but it looked like there was a lot more interest on the Knight’s part than Skyla had imagined.

Kennan lifted his half-empty glass. “These things are terrible.”

Mara downed the rest of hers. “Didn’t come here for the drinks.”

“But you won the bet.”

Mara leaned across the table and dropped a key in front of him.

Keenan’s eyes saucered as he looked at the key and then up at Mara. “Are you propositioning me?”

Mara smiled. “No. We are.”

Playing in the Sandbox (Practice Part 1)

No, not my children’s sandbox. Too messy. We turned it into a water table for very good reasons.

I mean taking my characters for a spin in the sandbox of my imagination.

I have a character that has been knocking around in my head for sometime. You see her as an ancillary character in a few stories, but she’s never the love interest. I wanted to change that and write a story about her, but she’s very different from other characters I’ve written.

Having been allowed very little free will of her own for most of her existence, her morality is different. Her wants and desires are different. Her worldview is different. Not sure I’ll ever be able to write her as the heroine, but I want to try.

To help me better understand her, I wrote a short story from her point of view. The steamy scenes are very different than any of my other work, but I think it’s because she’s so much different than my other heroines.

coat-of-arms-145264_640

 

Practice

Mara swept the first young Knight’s feet out from beneath him and shoved him hard with her shield. He crashed to the ground, and before he could roll away, she hit his breastplate with her sword.

A second Knight charged her, but she pivoted, letting his momentum in full armor carry him past her. As he tripped over the first Knight, Mara hit his back with the flat of her sword.

Two kill shots. Both Mara’s. Anything but a training exercise, and the two Knights of Valor would be dead.

There was laughter and teasing from the sidelines, but a quick look from Mara silenced the other Knights. “How long will you survive in the eastern provinces?”

Knight Keenan helped the two younger men back to their feet. “We’re practicing. They’ll get better.”

“But not good enough.”

“Not all of us can be Sir Marcus,” the Knight Mara had tripped said.

Mara pierced the boy with her hard stare. “Sir Marcus spent his life training to fight a lich. You spent yours training to protect the safe streets of Tamryn.”

Knight Keenan cleared his throat. “We’ll practice again tomorrow.”

Mara looked over the assembled Knights, her gaze resting on each man in turn. “Anything you face in the eastern provinces will be alive because it’s survived worse than whatever haunts your nightmares. Do you think your enemies get knocked down during practice then toddle off to say a few prayers?”

The Knights stared back at her, and several of them were clenching their fists at their sides.

“Good. Get angry at me. Better angry than dead. Next lesson.” Mara motioned to a figure dressed in a plain brown cloak.

The woman walked over to Mara and bowed, then turned toward the Knights.

“Skyla,” Keenan said. “What are you doing here?”

“She’s going to help me demonstrate a lesson,” Mara said. “Are your healers out here?”

Keenan nodded toward Knight Matthias, but concern mirrored in his pale green eyes. “Is this safe?”

“Less dangerous than sending out half-trained men.”

Knight Keenan glanced at Skyla then stepped back. “Be careful.”

Mara looked at the woman in the robes. Her rich brown hair was tied in a simple ponytail, and her large grey eyes seemed too big for her face. She was easy to underestimate as so many mages were.

“Just like we practiced,” Mara said.

Skyla nodded and moved several sword lengths behind Mara.

“Do you think your Knights can beat Skyla and me?” Mara raised a challenging brow at Keenan. “Or are you going to send them to their prayer vigil and hope Dracor gives them fighting skills?”

“I don’t want her to get hurt.”

“Not what I asked.” Mara smiled at the gathered Knights, a taunting expression meant to rile them. “Pick your best seven. If they can get three points in before I get a killing blow, you win and I will come back and help you train them until the new moon.”

Keenan glanced at the recruits and then back at Mara. “You called for a healer. What do you have in mind?”

“Don’t think seven of your Knights can get in three hits?”

“And if they can’t?”

“You owe Skyla and me a hellfire at Ndrek’s bar.”

“Seven against you and Skyla?”

Mara nodded.

“Until the new moon?”

Mara nodded again.

“They could really use the practice against someone with your skills. You’re sure Skyla won’t be hurt?”

“It’s not her you should be worrying about.”

Mara fell into her battle stance, and she felt Skyla already building the first spell as seven young Knights took their positions opposite her.

Keenan signaled the start of combat, and Skyla let loose with her first spell.

A wall of flames scorched the ground and rose up between Mara and the Knights. Mara ignored the fire, ducking her head as she charged through them and tapped the chest plate of one of the Knights. Pivoting, she tapped the chest plate of a second before any of them had recovered their wits enough to close their mouths.

The remaining five backed away from the fire and Mara’s blade. Just as she’d anticipated.

Skyla loosed her second spell, and the ground under the remaining Knight’s feet turned to mud.

Mara charged.

Slamming her shield into the first Knight’s sword, she shoved hard and sent him stumbling back then barreled into the second. Surprise widened his eyes, and when he tried to turn, he slipped in the mud.

Mara slammed his chest plate with her sword, and if it hadn’t been a practice blade, she’d have killed the Knight. Instead, she sent him into the mud with the first, who’s chest plate she tapped.

They’d hurt, but the bruises would bring home a lesson they wouldn’t forget.

The remaining three Knights extricated themselves from the mud as Mara circled around them. She smiled as one tried to flank her while the other two came at her. Sprinting towards one, she used her shield as a battering ram and knocked him to the ground as the second scored a glancing blow against her arm.

She pivoted and knocked his feet out from underneath him them hit his chest plate with her sword. Leaping over him, she tapped the Knight she’d steamrolled to the ground.

One Knight remained.

As he stood watching her, black vines shot out of the ground and encased his feet, rooting him there.

Mara circled around him, but he couldn’t turn to face her. She came up behind him and tapped the middle of his back.

There were growing whispers that the battle hadn’t been fair. That they hadn’t been warned.

Mara only smiled. “Combat isn’t about fair. Or justice. Or right and wrong. It’s about winning. In real combat, Skyla would’ve been using fireballs, flame clouds, and ice storms. Never under estimate a mage.”

“Good lesson,” Sir Leopold said. “Well done, both of you.”

Mara felt the High-Knight’s faded blue eyes fix on her. She met his stare, her face impassive even as her stomach clenched. Tall and broad, the only thing that belied his age was the silver in his hair and the rank insignia on his uniform.

She wondered again what he’d feel like beneath her and how hard he’d fight her for top. How much she’d relish that fight. The thought made her belly tighten.

Stabbing the thought and leaving it to bleed to death, Mara handed her practice sword back to Keenan.

She picked up her sword and wiped the soot from her cheeks. “One hit to seven kills. See you at Ndrek’s.”

Keenan only nodded as he checked on his men.