Tilt-a-Whirl (Audiobook) by Chris Grabenstein, Jeff Woodman

Tilt-a-Whirl (Audiobook)Tilt-a-Whirl

by Chris Grabenstein, Jeff Woodman (Narrator)
Series: John Ceepak Mystery, #1
Unabridged Audiobook, 8 hrs., 18 min.
Audible Studios, 2007

Read: July 18 – 20, 2007


Danny Boyle grew up in Sea Haven, NJ — a tourist trap of a town on the Jersey Shore. He likes the life — hanging out with the friends he’s had since high school, goofing around, eating and drinking more than he should. He’s got a nice Summer gig — working as a Part-Time police officer. The downside is his partner — John Ceepak, an Iraq War vet and former MP. He’s so by the book, he might as well have written it. The Sea Haven chief served with Ceepak and offered him a job when he was done with the Army. After an incident (IED-related), Ceepak can’t drive anymore — which is where Danny comes in.

It’s not an ideal working relationship, but Danny can put up with Ceepak’s eccentricities well enough. Until one day their pre-shift breakfast is interrupted by a girl covered in blood, standing in the middle of the street screaming. Ceepak jumps into action, and Danny tries to keep up. The girl takes them to the local amusement park, to the Tilt-a-Whirl ride, where her father lies shot dead. They’d snuck in before the place opened and had been held up by some junkie hiding near the ride. Or so she reports later. Her father owns half the real-estate in NY and NJ (or so it seems), sort of a would-be Trump, so his murder is big, big news.

Ceepak and Danny have to deal with media attention, annoying lawyers, gang members possibly trying to go straight, local politics, a Crime Scene Investigator that’s more of a hindrance than a help, and Danny’s inexperience if they’re going to solve this murder and let Sea Haven get back to what it does best in the summer — taking in every tourist dollar that it can.

The book is told with a light touch — Danny’s a smart-aleck and is (truthfully) too immature for his job; which is bad for the populace of Sea Haven, good for the reader/listener. But the lightness never gets in the way of the seriousness of the initial murder, and the crimes that follow.

Woodman is exactly the narrator that this book needed — he’s able to sound the right age for Danny, the right attitude, everything (apparently, he does a lot of YA Audiobook work, that makes sense to me). Until I heard Woodman, I hadn’t thought what a challenge it might be to get just the right narrator for this. Thankfully, I noted that with a strong sense of relief, because man…he was so good.

The Ceepak books were one of those series I fully enjoyed, and had forgotten how much I had liked them since I (apparently) finished the series. This audiobook helped me remember how much I missed reading them. If you haven’t gotten around to them, you should — either as an audiobook or text — Ceepak and Boyle are some of the most entertaining police officers around.

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3.5 Stars

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Open and Shut (Audiobook) by David Rosenfelt, Grover Gardner

Open and ShutOpen and Shut

by David Rosenfelt, Grover Gardner (Narrator)
Series: Andy Carpenter, #1
Unabridged Audiobook, 6 hrs, 50 min.
Listen & Live Audio, Inc., 2008

Read: August 21 – 22, 2017


I honestly can’t believe I’ve talked to little about Andy Carpenter and David Rosenfelt here — it works out, when you look at timelines and whatnot, I’ve been reading him a long time before I started blogging. Still, it’s hard to believe since it’s one of my favorite series, and has been going for so long. Yeah, maybe the series is getting too long in the tooth, but for something to get to book 16+, it’s got to have a pretty solid foundation, right? That foundation is Open and Shut, where Rosenfelt introduces the world to Andy Carpenter, dog lover extraordinaire and pretty decent defense attorney.

Carpenter is a hard-working lawyer, taking on many cases that don’t pay much, but do some good. He’s obsessed with New York sports and his golden retriever. He’s going through a divorce — and has started dating his investigator. He’s got a great sense of humor, is known for a hijink or two in court, and seems like the kind of guy you want in your corner. His father is a big-time D. A., the kind of Prosecutor that people hope/assume theirs is — honest, hard-working, tough on crime. So it shocks Andy when his dad asks him to take on a client for a retrial on a murder case — a murderer his dad put away and his currently on Death Row.

Andy goes ahead with the case, not sure that he should. But it doesn’t take long before he starts to believe in his client’s innocence. About that time, things get interesting and maybe even a little dangerous.

Almost all the elements that go into a typical Andy Carpenter novel are here — even if they’re just being introduced at this point. The jokes are fresh, the clichés have yet to be developed. It’s a good mystery with some good non-mystery story elements. And, best of all, some really fun courtroom moments — not just antics on Andy’s part, but some good depictions of legal/trial strategy and the like. I’ve been thinking lately that the latter Carpenter books have been giving the courtroom short shrift, and seeing what Rosenfelt does here just solidifies that thinking.

Gardner’s narration didn’t blow me away or anything, but it was good work. I can easily believe him as Andy’s voice and can see him really growing on me (not unlike George Guidall and Walt Longmire). He’ll keep you engaged in the story, and deliver a line or two in a way that will bring a smile to your face.

Give this one a whirl, folks — text or audio — you’ll enjoy yourself.

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3.5 Stars

McCall & Company: Workman’s Complication by Rich Leder

Workman's ComplicationMcCall & Company: Workman’s Complication

by Rich Leder
Series: McCall & Company, #1

Kindle Edition, 390 pg.
Laugh Riot Press, 2014

Read: September 29 – October 2, 2017


Kate McCall is an actress struggling to make it — she’s had a few dozen jobs to support her acting (and her son while he was growing up), and is now a building manager, dog walker and off-off-off Broadway actress (I’m probably leaving off a couple of “off”s there). One recurring gig has been helping her father, a private investigator, from time to time.

When Jimmy McCall is murdered he leaves his agency to Kate — which she doesn’t want, she’s not a P.I. ,she’s an actress — just ask her. Nevertheless, she’s driven to see if she can’t figure out what led him to the building he was killed in. Before she knows it, she’s lying to the police about what he was working on that might have led to his murder, as well as getting pretty deep into the investigation herself.

Meanwhile, her father’s lawyer sends a prospective client to her — Teddy Barkowski is a general contractor who is being sued by someone who fell off some scaffolding and injured his back. Kate doesn’t want to take this case, but honestly, the money woos her. Soon she agrees, with internal reservations, to look at the case. After meeting Barkowski’s wife and kids, she’s all in — there’s no way that she’ll let this guy and his lawyer hurt the family. Easier said than done, really — this is one tough nut to crack.

Thankfully, Kate’s not alone — she has two great sources to turn to for help. She’s got the actors, producers, writers and the rest from her theater to pitch in, playing various roles to try to help her get information about the workman’s compensation case. Not only that, many (if not all) of the tenants in the building she manages are friends with Kate and each other. She calls the apartment the House of Emotional Tics and to say that it’s populated by a collection of strange characters, is an understatement. With a variety of particular skills (many of which are legal to exercise), Kate calls upon them to help with her investigation of her father’s death.

Her son, an assistant DA in the city and the homicide detective she starts dating, aren’t nearly as supportive of her new career. In fact, they’re downright discouraging. I wasn’t a fan of almost all the interactions with her son — but his last appearance in the novel won me over. The love interest-detective, on the other hand, I thought worked very well.

This is a light/comedic mystery novel — but it is a mystery novel with strong PI stories, both of which could’ve been told without the comedic elements and made a pretty good novel. But they do work better the way that Leder told them. Basically Kate’s Stephanie Plum with actual skills, or David Ahern’s Derry O’Donnell with a bit more maturity, success in theater, and no psychic abilities. The first-person narration is amusing and crisply written, there are more laughs than tense moments — but all the elements work together and balance each other out well. Occasionally, the goofiness that accompanies the people from the D-Cup theater or the House of Emotional Tics threatens to interfere with the narrative, but it never does — and usually ends up supporting the detective stories. In the end, Kate’s large collection of sidekicks are more like the team that Fox & O’Hare use than Stephanie Plum’s coworkers/family/friends — they aren’t inept, but they can actually accomplish most of what they set out to do (and when they don’t, it’s not because they’re jokes — it’s because they got beaten fair and square).

I’ve compared this to Evanovich enough, how does this compare with Rich Leder’s work? Well, I quite enjoyed Let There Be Linda, and I can say that this isn’t the same kind of book. Linda frequently felt out of control, in a good way, mind you, but you could argue that Leder took a handful of whacky ideas and threw them together in a contained space to see what would happen when they combined with each other. This was just as funny (sometimes more so, sometimes not as much), but felt controlled — there was one strong narrative and a few others that supported it. Characters that were more grounded (note, I said more grounded, not grounded), and some emotional depth to the story/storytelling. I’m belaboring this point to underline the differences in the books because I think it demonstrates Leder’s skill, and because I know that Linda‘s style can be off-putting for some, and I don’t want those people to think that this book should be avoided.

When the reveal of the murderer happened, I was a little annoyed with myself for not catching the clue that tipped her off. I will admit, I noticed the same thing she did, but shrugged it off, assuming it was a problem with the editing. But, naturally, the folks at Laugh Riot Press don’t make flubs like that — it was a genuine clue and I didn’t run with it. Beyond my annoyance with myself for not figuring out the murderer, I rather enjoyed the reveal — and Kate’s ultimate triumph in the other case, too.

A very satisfying, entertaining novel — really funny with real emotion — that introduces you to a cast of characters that you want to spend more time with — thankfully, there are two more books in the series and I hope to return to them soon. Give this one a shot, folks.

Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book from the author in exchange for my honest opinion.

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3.5 Stars

The Hunger Angels by Jason Miller

The Hunger AngelsThe Hunger Angels

by Jason Miller
Series: Slim in Little Egypt, #1.5

Kindle Edition, 62 pg.
Harper Paperbacks, 2016

Read: September 29, 2017

Taking place sometime after Dead Don’t Bother Me, Slim’s night of Scrabble with his daughter, Anci is interrupted by his friend, Jeep and a former co-worker, Snake.

Don’t you just love the names of these characters?

Anyway, since leaving the coal mines, Snake has made a little money here and there, and has a few rental properties now. His nicest place is being rented by the nicest young couple, but Snake has family that needs it, so he has to evict the nice folks. Which is where Slim and Jeep come in. Because when Snake visits the house, its overrun with bikers and met and all sorts of property damage. The local law stops by everything looks fine and the housewife is as pleasant as Snake thought.

So now, Slim and Jeep need to do two things: 1. See if things are really as bad as Snake thinks, or if the police are right (well, I should say, confirm Snake’s version) and 2. Serve the tenants with an eviction notice. All of which goes just as easily as you’d expect. Excitement and sleuthing ensues.

The best part of this story is Anci — her relationship with her father is wonderful and it’s the kind of thing you want to read more of. Like Spenser and Hawk at their best, or Lydia Chin and Bill Smith, you just want to read pages and pages of their conversations. It took about 6 sentences from Anci for me to note, “Oh yeah, that’s why I loved her.” Slim’s easy to like, too — I’ve got notes aplenty about some of his lines, but I won’t quote any because the story is so short, I don’t want to ruin anything for you. Great dialogue, great Chandler-esque narration, and lot of action. That’s all I need to be satisfied.

This is listed as 62 pages, but I’m guessing at least 20 of those are promotional pages for the 2nd novel — it’s so hard to guess at Kindle length. It was long enough to justify reading, and short enough that you can breeze through it.

I’ve been nagging myself lately to get around to Red Dog, and getting this short story only served to make that a more pressing desire. Which I’m pretty sure was most of its purpose — I’ve got to spend more time with Slim, Anci and the rest in Little Egypt. Read this and you’ll feel the same way.

3.5 Stars

Travels and Travails of Small Minds by Daniel Falatko

Travels and Travails of Small MindsTravels and Travails of Small Minds

by Daniel Falatko

eARC, 252 pg.
The Ardent Writer Press, 2017

Read: September 20 – 21, 2017

“I feel like I’m stuck in a mystery novel written by an unhinged individual, Amy.”

There’s a lot of truth to that lament Nathan makes to his girlfriend, Amy. In the same conversation, she had a different take on it:

“Mystery Englishmen? Ever-evolving eccentric casts of characters? Intricate layers of plot involving absolutely nothing? Two unaware and wayward employees leading the story? Nathan, you are living in a Wes Anderson film. And I’m not sure if I like it. You’re definitely more Life Aquatic than Rushmore at this point.”

There’s a lot truth to that, too. At the same time, neither of them is quite right (and please, don’t go looking for a Wes Anderson/unhinged mystery writer kind of book, you won’t get it. But you may get something that appeals to someone who’d like that kind of book). Just these commentaries on Nathan’s life during this novel shows you just how strange this is.

I don’t want to say there isn’t a plot — there is one; nor do I want to say that it’s not important, or nonsensical — there is a good amount of sense and it is a pretty good story; but compared to the experience of spending time with Nathan, his friends and colleagues, as well as those he meets over the course of the novel outweighs the story.

You’ve got Nathan; his girlfriend, Amy; his boss Dr. Behr, an elderly gentleman who just might be the living incarnation of “eccentric”; his coworker, Edward, who has spent far too many years working for Dr. Behr; and Nathan’s neighbor, who seems to do little other than use recreational pharmaceuticals. Throw in the study of a beatnik novelist of dubious quality, the attempted illegal eviction of a young woman, and some strange British citizens, and then step back and watch the lunacy begin. There’s a real estate deal at the core of this — which allows Falatko to indulge his fixation on NYC rental properties (and seals my conviction that I’ll never move there) — the sheer number of things that are wrong with the deal and that can go wrong with it. And here we are, proof that I can’t talk about this book in a way that makes a whole lot of sense.

This is a funny book, but not a comedy. It’s absurd in the best sense. It’s a wild ride, with a very human — and relatable center. Relatable might not be the best word, because I can’t imagine that any reader will have an experience like it. But even at the strangest moments, you’ll find yourself nodding with Nathan’s actions and reactions, saying to yourself, “yeah, I can see why he’d do that.” Even the conclusion that the plot careens to — for most of the book you’d say that wouldn’t work at all, but by the time it happens, it seems pretty perfect.

The illustrations are a nice touch — I don’t know that I needed them, and I don’t know that they really added all that much. At the same time, I enjoyed them. At what point was it decided that only kids could use a picture every now and then in their books?

I wasn’t a fan of Falatko’s previous novel, Condominium, but I thought it did display an element of talent. Travels and Travails put a lot more on display, and kept me entertained and engaged (and frequently smiling) throughout the novel. Although, I should note that I also spent a good deal of time wondering what I’d just read and why — but I was having such a good time that I really didn’t care about the answers to those questions. You won’t read many books like this one, but you’ll wish you could.

Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book from the author in exchange for my honest opinion and participation in this book tour. I just wish I had something more coherent to say about it.

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3.5 Stars

Wonder Woman: Warbringer (Audiobook) by Leigh Bardugo, Mozhan Marno

Wonder Woman: Warbringer Wonder Woman: Warbringer

by Leigh Bardugo, Mozhan Marno (Narrator)
Series: DC Icons, #1

Unabridged Audiobook, 11 hrs. and 55 mins.
Listening Library, 2017

Read: September 12 – 15, 2017


So this YA Wonder Woman novel starts off on Themyscira, where 17-ish year-old Diana is struggling to find her identity in the shadow of her mother. In this novel, Themyscira is populated by more than just ancient Amazons, they’ve been augmented by women throughout history who, while dying in battle, call upon a female god. They are then transplanted to Themyscira as a sort of feminist Valhalla.

Diana rescues a young woman from a boat explosion she witnesses, bringing her to the island (but not letting anyone know about her). This starts to destroy the island and the women who live there — and Diana receives quite the prophetic word about this girl. She’s a descendant of Helen of Troy, and like her ancestor, her mere existence promises to bring war throughout the Earth. Unless Diana can bring her to a certain place in the next few days. So Diana grabs a certain lasso, a couple of bracelets and takes off.

Basically, what ensues is a Rick Riordan-esque journey to get Alia to the goal. Sure, they start with a heck of a detour to New York City — which is pretty fun detour for the reader. While in NYC, they pick up a little entourage to accompany them. There are people who are trying to kill the Warbringer (not realizing there’s a way to cure her) before World War III erupts and a few minor figures from Greek mythology show up to make things more difficult.

There’s some really good interaction between Diana, Alia and Alia’s BFF (name escapes me). The action scenes are pretty good. The big twisty reveal wasn’t. There seemed to be some inconsistency about how familiar Diana was with things in the modern world, but on the whole, the book worked well enough I could ignore that. What worked in this book, worked really well. The things that didn’t work, also didn’t ruin anything

As far as the audiobook part goes — Marno does a fine job. Initially, I thought she sounded too much like Hillary Huber, but the more I listened the more I decided I was silly for thinking that. I do think that she could put a little more excitement in her voice during the combat or chase scenes (see the aforementioned Huber for an example), it really didn’t seem matter what was going on in the scene, her reading was the same. But aside from that, I had no complaints.

I’m not saying that i loved it, but I’d absolutely read/listen to the sequel that’s hinted at in the last chapter. Good story, interesting characters, and a pretty good narrator. All the elements for an entertaining 12 hours are there — a good way to spend some time, and a promising beginning to this new series. Although, the next is Batman, and so you have to guess that the third will be everyone’s favorite Kryptonian Boy Scout — hopefully they move beyond DC’s Trinity soon, I’d quite enjoy something like this about The Flash, Green Lantern, etc.

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3.5 Stars

Pub Day Repost: Miss Kopp’s Midnight Confessions by Amy Stewart

Miss Kopp's Midnight ConfessionsMiss Kopp’s Midnight Confessions

by Amy Stewart
Series: The Kopp Sisters, #3
eARC, 384 pg.
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2017
Read: August 15 – 16, 2017

Without meaning to slight Girl Waits with Gun or Lady Cop makes Trouble, this is the best constructed novel in this series. There’s a unity of theme, stories that complement each other, and a level of (honest) introspection from the characters that we haven’t seen before. That said, I don’t think I enjoyed it nearly as much as I did the others. So it’s a little bit of a trade-off.

We are treated to three stories of young women, one sixteen year-old and two eighteen year-olds, who leave home for various reasons. They all want something more than they can have at home — meaning, a job, excitement, freedom, and maybe something more. One girl did everything right, but sill was arrested for waywardness. One was pretty foolish, and did some illegal things, but was really arrested for the foolish mistake. The third was Constance’s little sister, Fleurette. Constance went to bat for all three — interceding with the law (when applicable), with family (when she could), trying to give them the ability to live the life they wanted to — and each of them pressed Constance’s ability, job and standing as she did so.

While this is going on, Constance is making headlines across the nation — making her both a distraction to her friend the Sheriff, as well as a voice for social change. I know she regrets the former, and I’m not convinced she relishes the latter. If she had her druthers, I think Constance would prefer just to do her job and be left alone. But she is learning how to use her notoriety — or at least her relationship with members of The Press — to help her accomplish her goals.

Constance begins to come to terms with some very unfortunate realities of her life, and begins to grasp what the future may hold for her, both professionally and personally. In some way (I think), she thought she could keep the life she had and just add on her job on top of it. But between her fame, the time she spends away from the home, Fleurette’s aging and getting ready to leave the nest, and everything else going on around the sisters, that’s no longer possible. Her old life is gone, and the new one is too in flux for her to get a handle on it. Assuming that there are more Kopp Sister novels to come, watching Constance figure out what her life will be — and hopefully she gets a hand in shaping it — will be the key to the series as it progresses.

On the whole, this one didn’t work as well for me as the previous books did. But several of the individual elements I found compelling and wanted more of — I wish we got more of the story about Edna Heustis (I don’t need to know what happened over the rest of her life, I just want a clearer picture of the next few months) or her roommate. I’d have liked more interaction between Constance and her boss — we just didn’t get enough of them — and an honest conversation about the future would’ve been nice. I did think the ending of the Fleurette story was handled perfectly — I don’t think I’d change a thing about that whole storyline, really. Still, this novel was somehow less than the sum of its parts, for me — but I can easily see where I’ll be in the minority for thinking that. I’m not saying I didn’t enjoy it, I just should’ve enjoyed it more.

Strong characters, some strong themes (ones you usually don’t see in Detective fiction), and a tumultuous time period (for several reasons) combine to deliver another satisfying entry in this series that’ll please existing fans and probably pick up a few more.

Disclaimer: I received this eARC from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt via NetGalley in exchange for this post — thanks to both for this.

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3.5 Stars