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

Whispers Under Ground (Audiobook) by Ben Aaronovitch, Kobna Holdbrook-Smith

Whispers Under Ground (Audiobook)Whispers Under Ground

by Ben Aaronovitch, Kobna Holdbrook-Smith (Narrator)
Series: The Rivers of London, #3

Unabridged Audioboook, 10 hrs., 17 min.
Tantor Media, 2012

Read: July 24 – August 5, 2017


Okay . . . man, how to sum this one up. Peter, Lesley and Abigail Kamara (a teen-aged neighbor of Peter’s parents) go down into the tunnels of the Underground to look for ghosts, and find one. What we learn here will be important come The Furthest Station. This is a fun little foray into the wider supernatural world of this series.

And then we get back to police work — a man is stabbed at the Baker Street tube and there’s enough for Stephanopoulis to bring in Peter just to rule out magic. Which he can’t do. It turns out that the victim is an American, which makes everything unnecessarily complicated. And then it turns out that he’s the son of a US Senator, and things get worse. The FBI sends an agent — Kimberly Reynolds — over to help out/observe/get in the way. So Peter has to handle to non-normal side of the investigation, keep Seawoll from having to hear about magic (because it interferes with actual police work in his mind), and not let Reynolds know that there’s anything not run-of-the-mill about Peter and the investigation. All at the same time.

Very quickly, it seems clear that there’s something going on that Peter and the rest just don’t get. Yeah, magic was involved in the killing, but there’s no real trace of it in the victim’s life — not with him, his school, his friends, his enemies, or anything. So where’s that come into play? The answer comes when it’s least expected and in a direction that was impossible to predict.

Aaronovich really pulled a rabbit out of his hat this time. Sure, he made both the rabbit and the hat, so it’s to be expected that he’d do that. But, there’s just something about the way he did this one — police procedural that accidentally turns up the answers and leads to something bigger than anyone expected. A great balance of UF and Procedural (the last one was a bit too light on the procedural for me).

Guleed doesn’t get enough to do, but I liked her presence. Lesley really gets to shine a bit here, and her inability to be a regular part of the police force is underlined here for her and Peter — and just how horrible that is emphasized throughout. When Stephanopoulis is the rational, supportive authority figure for Peter (other than Nightingale), you know that Seawoll is a little over the top in his antagonism to all things Folly. But mostly, this was about characters we know and like getting to do things to keep us liking them, and probably liking them more while introducing some new figures for us to enjoy.

Really, the main take away I had from this audio production was a bit of joy over the fact that Holdbrook-Smith isn’t perfect. His Agent Reynolds was just bad. At least the American accent part of it. I enjoyed his flubbing of that more than I should have. Meanwhile, everything else he did was just fantastic — especially Lesley. The range of emotion, sarcasm, etc. that he can put into her voice while still accounting for her lack of face is just incredible. Also, Zach Palmer — the roommate of the murder victim — was just hilarious. I know a lot of that was in the text, but the way Holdbrook-Smith brought him to life was wonderful.

As impressed as I was with the way that Aaronvich did everything he did, something about this one didn’t work for me as much as others in the series do (either in this re-read or originally). I’m not sure why. Still, this was a good, entertaining book that anyone who likes the concept of a Police Officer/Wizard in training should enjoy.

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3.5 Stars

Miles Morales (Audiobook) by Jason Reynolds, Guy Lockard

Miles MoralesMiles Morales

by Jason Reynolds, Guy Lockard (Narrator)

Unabridged Audiobook, 6 hrs. 53 min.
Listening Library, 2017

Read: August 7 – 8, 2017


It was Bendis/Bagley’s Ultimate Spider-Man that brought me back to comics after a decade-plus break, and no matter what else I read, it was one of my Top 2 titles on my pull-list. Financial concerns got me to stop reading/collecting about a year before Miles Morales showed up. I was able to deal with letting everything else go, but USM was tough — especially when I heard about this new kid. I never learned much about him, I know he’s Afro-Hispanic, that his uniform is the best one since Ditko’s original, I heard they did a good job showing Miles and his parents going through a Charter School lottery, I know he’s popular enough they brought him over from the Ultimate universe.

Still, I saw this cover floating around Twitter last week and thought it looked pretty cool, so grabbed it when I had a moment. There’s a lot of Miles, his family and his school, not a lot of Web Head. But when he shows up, it counts.

Miles is having some Spidey Sense problems, which is leading to problems at school — a suspension and some trouble with his History teacher. He’s not sleeping well — tormented by nightmares about his uncle’s death. Miles starts to wonder if people like him — descendants of criminals –should have super-powers, if he should be a super-hero. It’s hard to describe the threat that Miles and his alter-ego face, really it unveils itself slowly throughout the book. But it’s a doozy, and it’s not what it seems to be early on.

I think Miles is a great character, he’s Peter Parker-esque in the best sense of the word, while being his own guy. His parents are fun, his dad in particular is a wonderful character — a great dad, it seems. Miles’ best friend and roommate, Ganke is a hoot. There’s a girl, of course, because he’s 16. I don’t know if Alicia’s a fixture in the comic or not, but it’d be interesting to see how she is outside of this.

Oh, Miles having camouflage powers? That’s just cool.

I think Lockard went over the top occasionally with his narration. Maybe part of that is pandering to the 11-13 year-old audience that Audible tells me this is directed toward. Maybe he and the director are just excitable and/or excited. It didn’t detract from anything, it was just occasionally too much. By and large, his energy kept things moving, lively — just the way a Spider-Man story should be.

This isn’t for everyone, but for those who like the idea of a Spider-Man novel, for fans of Miles Morales, or those who are just curious about him — this’ll entertain. I won’t say I’ve read every Spider-Man novel printed in the last couple of decades — but I’m willing to be my percentage is pretty high. Miles Morales is among the best.

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3.5 Stars

Ewan Pendle and the White Wraith by Shaun Hume

Ewan Pendle and the White WraithEwan Pendle and the White Wraith

by Shaun Hume
Series: Ewan Pendle, #1

Kindle Edition, 496 pg.
Popcorn & Rice Publishing, 2012

Read: August 1 – 2, 2017d


Yeah, so this is a MG Fantasy about an orphan boy with horrible foster parents being recruited to go to a private school where he’s trained in mystical arts and gets in all sorts of adventures. But it’s totally not Harry Potter. Clearly inspired by that series by Rowling — but others as well, don’t get me wrong (Riordan and Mull leap to mind as examples) — but Ewan Pendle and the White Wraith is its own thing. Every now and then its non-Harry Potterness gets in your face and is a bit distracting. At the same time, focusing on how Hume zags when Rowling zigs, or how they approach the same convention differently displays the strengths of this project while making it appealing for the reader missing the Hogwarts crew.

Ewan and the others at his school have the rare ability to see all sorts of mythical Creatures, and as such, are trained to deal with them and other exotic threats. Classic boarding school-type hijinks ensue, Ewan makes a couple of really good friends, and a few others. He and Mathilde and Enid, his two best friends, come across some information which they believe indicates that graduates, officials and at least one student are involved in an attempt to kill the Queen. They bend, break, and ignore rules to investigate and try to stop this plot.

Meanwhile, they have all sorts of interesting studies — there’s a class involving swords, one hand-to-hand combat, one involving making potions (of sorts), one involving the Creatures (of course), and things of that nature. That’s pretty fun.

The relationships between Ewan and his two closest friends, as well as those between the other students and some of the teachers are just great. I can easily see fan favorites emerging from among the student body as the series continues. There’s a couple of kids in his class that have an irrational hatred of Ewan and his friends. Those two are a little too underdeveloped now, they might as well have mustaches to twirl. It won’t take much in book 2 to develop them into something interesting.

On the whole, an entertaining, heartfelt, and quick fantasy novel that’ll please the MG crowd. The plot is solid, ditto for the characters, and the world is both familiar and foreign. I’d like book 2 to deepened everything a little, but given the worldbuilding and plotting that one had to establish that it won’t, that should be easy. Give this one a shot.

Disclaimer: This book was provided to me by the author in exchange for this post and my honest opinion.

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3.5 Stars

Mortal Causes by Ian Rankin

Mortal CausesMortal Causes

by Ian Rankin
Series: John Rebus, #6
Hardcover, 310 pg.
Minotaur Books, 1994
Read: July 15 – 18, 2017

When he’d washed his eyes last night, it had been like washing behind them as well. Always it came to this, he tried to do things by the books and ended up cooking them instead. It was easier, that was all. Where would the crime detection rates be without a few shortcuts?

Before Rebus gets to his shortcuts, he’s called to investigate a homicide. A particularly grisly one, reminiscent of some that Rebus saw in Northern Ireland when he was serving there.

It’s his familiarity with that execution that gets him loaned to a special squad also investigating the homicide, especially as it seems tied into some gun smuggling. Rebus isn’t pleased at all to be the new guy — much less, the temporary new guy — on a team, as much as he seems to appreciate some of the individuals on the team (while others make him think more fondly of Chief Inspector Lauderdale). The investigation takes him to Northern Ireland to collect some intelligence, to a dangerous neighborhood, and he brushes up against an American who’s funneling guns of all kinds to (and through) Edinburgh.

In the midst of all of this, Rebus has some drama in his personal life — nothing involving his tenants or brother, but things with Patience Aitken aren’t going as smoothly as one might want (are they ever?) — and there’s another woman who has Rebus in her sights (the guy isn’t a catch, from what I can tell — how does this happen so regularly?).

Throw in an appearance by Big Ger Cafferty while the bodies are piling up and you’ve got yourself a story.

I’m not sure why I don’t have much to say about this one. Maybe because we live on this side of the Good Friday Agreement? But that doesn’t seem to ring true. Rebus is Rebus, Clarke is Clarke, Holmes is Holmes, Farmer Watson is off the wagon, but still pushing his bad coffee . . . the new squad ha some interesting characters, but we don’t spend much time with them. There are some great and colorful characters we brush into during the investigation, too. I don’t know. I liked it, but I can’t think of anything to say beyond that.

There’s a lot to commend in this novel, from great lines like: “He’d had wrong hunches before, enough for a convention of the Quasimodo fan club”; to the wide-ranging sources of trouble for Rebus; to the horrible history and equally horrible present behind the crimes — this is a solid and haunting novel. Something about this was a little off, I’m not sure what — at least as I think back on it, it doesn’t seem as fully developed as the last two. But in the moment I was gripped. I’m not saying that this isn’t fine, I just know Rankin can do better.

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3.5 Stars
2017 Library Love Challenge

The Mask (Audiobook) by Taylor Stevens, Hilary Huber

The MaskThe Mask

by Taylor Stevens, Hillary Huber (Narrator)
Series: Vanessa Michael Munroe, #5

Unabridged Audiobook, 13 hrs., 54 min.
Random House Audio, 2015
Read: June 1 – 6, 2017


I spent a lot of time being annoyed with Michael in this novel — more time being annoyed with Miles, however. Well, that’s not true — events keep Miles off of the board for most of the book, so let me say that I spent more time annoyed with him while he active. I get that communication is hard for them, and I guess it was good to see that Miles was human, too — even his ability to understand Michael’s needs and desires has limits.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

So Michael’s got her head on right after The Catch and goes to join Miles in Japan. He’s there in a strange corporate security consulting gig that he really won’t clue her in on. They spend a few months together, him working days and her trying not to get bored and learning Japanese. The latter of those two works a whole lot better than the former. She needs something to do — and not in the “I’ve gotta kill someone or take drugs” kind of way she did back in The Vessel. She just needs something to occupy her time while he’s putting in 15 hour days. Which isn’t dong their relationship any good. Before she can have it out with him, he gets arrested for murdering someone at the tech company he’s working for. If she had tried to talk, if he’d explained himself a little better — if they had communicated at all . . . so much of this novel wouldn’t have happened. Too many books/movies/TV shows rely on this poor interpersonal communication to force plots forward, it really gets on my nerves.

First, we get a little lesson in Japanese jurisprudence, which by itself was enough to convince me that I don’t want to end up arrested in Japan (not that I really want to be arrested anywhere). Then Michael goes to work to clear his name, no one else is going to. The hoops she has to jump through make her previous adventures seem easy — sure, she was in more peril in most of the previous books, but it seemed easier for her to get around and get the information she wanted. Cultural and corporate protocols are tougher to beat by bribery, sensuality and violence than other things, I guess. Throw in some underworld figures and you’ve got yourself a thriller worthy of Monroe. I really enjoyed this story once Miles got arrested and things got moving — Stevens is getting better at plot intricacies.

There’s a great corporate espionage plot throughout with an operative that could probably sustain her own novel if Stevens ever got around to it. I’m not sure I can say more than that without messing something up. But as despicable as I find (some of) her methods, they made for good reading.

About the time that I’d given up on Michael doing more than outwitting her opponents, she got sucked into a very violent confrontation. I didn’t spend a second thinking that she was in trouble, but man, she had to work hard to eliminate these guys. There’s that scene in The Vessel where Stevens cuts away from the action, and we don’t get to see Michael kill her captives, we just know she’s about to do something and then Miles comes along later and finds the aftermath. This fight scene was probably pretty similar to that — but there’s no cut. We get the whole thing.

I should take a moment to talk about Hilary Huber, but I can’t say anything about her narration than I’ve said before. Now that I’m caught up with these, I’m going to have to track down some other books that she’s narrated.

I never expected a happily ever after scenario between Michael and Miles — but I expected something better than this (not that this is in any way, shape or form the end of their relationship), and that took some of the shine off this book for me. Otherwise, this was very entertaining, gripping, and so on — a Michael Monroe thriller that tops its predecessors, and deepens our understanding of Michael. Not much more to ask.

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3.5 Stars

One by One by Robert Germaux

And so we bring this Book Tour stop to the point where the material wasn’t pre-made, here are my thoughts on the novel. Short version: I enjoyed it.

One by OneOne by One

by Robert Germaux
Series: A Daniel Hays Mystery, Book 2
Kindle Edition, 342 pg.
2017
Read: July 12 – 13, 2017

Daniel Hays and his Special Assignment Squad — a Major Crimes squad set up to help smaller cities in the county around Pittsburgh — haven’t had a lot to do since being formed. That changes when the chief him Hampton Township has a strange homicide show up. He doesn’t need the help necessarily, but is concerned that the strangeness of the murder indicates that there could be something “big” coming. Another few homicides (at least) with the same strange element.

There’s a note left on the corpse, it reads “Blue is Better” and has a big, red check mark underneath. Daniel and his partner agree, they probably don’t need to be involved, but should be familiar with the investigation, just in case.

Good thing, too — because one week later in a very different part of the county, here’s another murder. With another note. Now things are getting serious and the SAS has to jump into action.

There’s no connection between the victims that they can find, no clues, no anything for them to go on. Just the notes, and repeated homicides on Fridays.

From there, we get an interesting twist or two there, some wrong turns, until after a lucky stroke, all the pieces fall together.

The characters are nice to spend time with, professionals who get along and work for the common good. They could possibly be a little more interesting if they were a little less professional, if there were a glitch or two in the teamwork. One by One falls into something like a “blue-sky” drama on TV — like NCIS, Burn Notice or White Collar, not the grittier Homicide, The Wire, or Bosch. This is not a dig at One by One to compare it to those shows — people love them, I’ve watched every episode of NCIS and enjoyed over 87% of them. But readers should go into this with eyes open — just because it’s a detective squad working multiple homicides, don’t go in expecting Michael Connelly, Owen Laukkanen, or Ian Rankin — expect Chris Grabenstein, David Rosenfelt, Aaron J. Elkins (check my archives, you’ll see that I’ve really enjoyed all those authors — again, this isn’t a knock, this is me describing where this belongs on a spectrum).

That said, Germaux could’ve given us a little more sense of urgency, had the characters seem less casual in their approach to this work. They did a lot of run of the mill, interviews with people that didn’t get them anywhere — even just showing more of that, would’ve been something. Maybe all of the smaller departments weren’t as cooperative with the task force. It wouldn’t have to be much, the book could’ve used a little something to intensify the drama. This was a good read, a light and enjoyable mystery; it’s thiiis close to me saying it’s a must read, but instead, I’ll leave it as a good read. You will enjoy it.This is a quick, easy story with a nice puzzle and some charming characters. I planned on reading the previous novel in the series, Small Talk, I just hadn’t got around to it — I’m going to work a little harder on that now.

If nothing else, read it for the recommendation on your new favorite version of “Over the Rainbow.” Wow.

Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book in exchange for my participation in the Book Tour.

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3.5 Stars