Heroine Complex by Sarah Kuhn

Heroine ComplexHeroine Complex

by Sarah Kuhn
Series: Heroine Complex, #1

Paperback, 375 pg.
DAW, 2016

Read: April 6 – 8, 2017


A few years back, the city of San Francisco was visited by trans-dimensional demons — they were unable to stay long before being driven back, but in their wake certain individuals were left with superpowers. Some powers were impressive, others were . . . well, let’s just say less-so. Most didn’t use their powers much, but some heeded the call of Ben Parker and used their abilities to serve the common good. Chief among them was Aveda Jupiter — who spends her days defending SF from further demon incursions as well as more mundane menaces.

Aveda is helped in her quest for justice (and good PR) by a fighting coach, a scientist studying demons and a PA. Her PA, Evie Tanaka, is her childhood best-friend and the only one who can weather her mood swings, demands for affirmation and schedule with good humor and grace (at least externally).

Events transpire, and Evie has to pose as Aveda at an event — and things go awry in a pretty significant way. Demons attack (while displaying some new characteristics that require a new long-term strategy for battling them) and Evie demonstrates a super-power of her own. In the next few weeks, Evie has to continue the ruse while learning how to use (and hopefully lose) her own power and learning how to adjust to a newfound confidence, level of esteem, a change in her friendship with Aveda, and even a love life — while trying to beat back the invasion force once and for all.

I’ll be honest — the plot was okay, but almost entirely predictable by page 50 or so. But name the super-hero story that’s not, right? Especially origin stories. What matters is how Kuhn told the story — with heart, charm, and wit. So that you aren’t getting to various story beats saying, “Yup, right on time,” (or whatever unintentionally pompous thing you say to yourself when you get to a point in a book like this), rather you’re saying, “Oh, I like how she did that,” or “that’s a great take on X.”

The characters and the relationships between them are the key to this — none of them act their best, none of them are really hero-material, all of them ring true. These could be your friends (not my friends, mind you — there’s not enough book talk, and a whole lot of things that happen outside of a house), or at least the friends of someone you know. If, you know, your friends are known for dressing in leather, beating up inanimate objects inhabited by pan-dimensional beings, and fending off the prying and gossiping eyes of a fashion/lifestyle blogger.

I don’t think I’ve done the best sales job on this, but I’m not sure what else to say. Heroine Complex is light, breezy and fun — a quick and enjoyable read with characters you want to spend time with. A great way to kill a couple of hours — I’m looking forward to Book 2.

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3 Stars

2017 Library Love Challenge

Remnants by Carolyn Arnold

RemnantsRemnants

by Carolyn Arnold
Series: Brandon Fisher FBI, #8

eARC, 260 pg.
Hibbert & Stiles Publishing Inc., 2017

Read: April 4, 2017


After some strong storms go through the area, some dismembered body parts are discovered in and near the Little Ogeechee River in Savannah, Georgia. While the local law enforcement is unable to quickly identify who the parts belonged to, it was clear that multiple victims were involved, and a FBI team is called in to investigate. The limbs don’t come with any identifying marks outside of DNA, making it incredibly difficult to identify the victims — which increases the difficulty in determining why they were chosen, and therefore who might be doing the dismembering.

It’s going to take some out-of-the-box thinking, and no little bit of luck, for profiler Brandon Fisher and the rest of his team to come up with suspects before the killer strikes again.

Once a theory of the crime is starting to develop, one team member displays a fairly detailed and technical understanding of a fairly esoteric subject. Which was convenient in that it helped flush out the theory, but was a little hard to swallow. Something we learn later about that character (long-time readers probably know it already) makes it a little easier to accept, but not totally (at least for me). It’s a minor thing, and it didn’t detract from anything — just made me roll my eyes.

The one complaint I have with the writing is the voice — it doesn’t change whether the chapter is in the first person (as Brandon) or third person (focusing on other agents or the killer). Other than that, the pacing is good, the twists come at the right moments and the plotting is strong, Arnold’s a good storyteller.

I’m not sure if it’s typical for Agent Paige Dawson, but she really connected with the victim’s families. It’s not often — or at least not often enough — that this kind of attention is given to those characters. That was a nice touch. I’d like to spend more time with all these characters, Paige probably most of all.

There are a few nuances I missed since I haven’t read the previous 7 books in the series, but only nuances. There’s nothing keeping someone new to the series — or someone looking for a standalone — from getting everything you need to from this book. Arnold’s kept this very newbie-friendly, which is nice.

This isn’t the most exciting or revolutionary – or, thankfully, most disturbing — serial killer novel you’ll find. It is a solid procedural with believable characters (on either side of the law), an interesting solution, and some credible emotional beats. This is an entertaining read and if the rest of this series is of similar quality, it’s worth your time to check out the others, too.

Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book from Hibbert & Stiles Publishing in exchange for this post. I appreciate the opportunity to read this book.

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3 Stars

The Forgotten Girls by Owen Laukkanen

The Forgotten GirlsThe Forgotten Girls

by Owen Laukkanen
Series: Stevens & Windermere, #6

Hardcover, 355 pg.
G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 2017

Read: March 25 – 27, 2017

I’m really of two minds about this one — it was a pretty rock-solid thriller, full of suspense and all the other things you want in a book about a serial killer being hunted down over several states. On the other hand, it’s a lousy Stevens & Windermere novel — it could have literally been any other detectives/agents/maverick cops and the book would’ve played out the same way.

For years — women who no one will miss, women who are pretty much expected to leave town at any moment — have been the target of “the rider.” He’s a presence — some would say an Urban Legend — on the “High Line” (a railroad route in Montana, Idaho, Washington), and is responsible for the deaths of many: small town waitresses, prostitutes, runaways, train hoppers. Since these women weren’t noticed by many, were expected to be seeking opportunities out of the small towns they live in, and so on — no one raises a fuss over their disappearances (or the eventual discovery of their remains after the snow abates. A girl named Ash feels like she has to ignore the warnings about the High Line to make it somewhere in record time. She becomes one of “the riders”‘ victims — her friend decides to get a little vengeance and goes off to hunt “the ride” and make sure no one else forgets these women.

About the same time, Stevens and Windermere learn about Ash’s murder — and soon the begin to learn about others. So while Mathers stays home to handle the technical and research portions of the investigation, the agents hit the road to dig up some better clues. Which leads to uncovering many, many more deaths; a Herculean effort to save the friend’s life (hard to do while she’s running from the law); and a showdown with “the rider.”

What I liked: the suspense, the way that Laukkanen told the story (although I admit having a little trouble keeping names straight at the beginning) — bouncing between perspectives while ratcheting up the suspense. I’m not always the biggest fan of this maneuver, but Laukkanen nailed it. The world — the culture of train hopping — was fascinating, and I’m willing to bet really well researched and pretty based in reality. Overall, it’s not the best thriller I’ve read lately, but it was very satisfying.

What I didn’t like: as I said, it could’ve been the most generic pairing of a male/female FBI agents on the hunt for this killer. Until maybe the last 50 pages — but even then, it didn’t need to be Kirk Stevens or Carla Windermere, but it made it easier to handle the emotional beats for them to be the central characters. Also, while I absolutely bought the killer, his motivation, his twisted way of thinking — but when he was responding to questions, explaining himself? Ugh. He sounded like he was reading off of a list of sexual predator prejudices from Wikipedia. Honestly, you take out that one segment where he’s responding to questions about his motivation and the whole book is better.

I’m still planning on reading whatever Laukkanen puts out for the next 5< years, don’t misunderstand me. This one just didn’t work for me the way I’d hoped. Not a bad book — just a bad seines entry.

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3 Stars

2017 Library Love Challenge

The Religious Life of Robert E. Lee by R. David Cox

The Religious Life of Robert E. LeeThe Religious Life of Robert E. Lee

by R. David Cox
Series: Library of Religious BiographyPDF (will be published as paperback), 259 pg.
Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2017
Read: December 25, 2016 – January 1, 2017

I feel always as safe in the wilderness as in a crowded city. I know in whose powerful hands I am, & in them rely, & I feel that in all our life we are upheld & sustained by Divine Providence. But that Providence requires us to use the means he has put under our control. He deigns no blessing to idle & inactive wishes, & the only miracle he now exhibits to us, is the power he gives to truth & justice, to work their way in this wicked world.

So wrote Robert E. Lee in a letter to his wife while serving in Texas, and according to R. David Cox it summarizes his theology. If you have to sum up a man’s theology in 3 sentences, that’s a decent one to have.

Robert E. Lee was no theologian, he wasn’t a pastor or preacher or religious scholar of any kind. He was a churchman, however. Seemingly a faithful one who served as he could — and he was a believer in the middle of a tumultuous time for American Protestantism and American as a whole, as such what he thought about the tumult from his religious perspective is instructive and fascinating reading. Which is pretty much why anyone might want to read this (and probably why Cox wrote the thing).

By and large, the book is a chronological look at Lee’s life, what’s going on in the national and ecclesiastical culture, and how Lee (and his family members — particularly his wife) responded to it and how his faith grew throughout his life. It’s not exactly a biography, but it is biographical. There were a couple of chapters that stepped back from the chronological look, and examined Lee’s perspectives on specific topics (the above quotation about providence comes from one of those). I particularly enjoyed and appreciated those.

I was surprised how little space was devoted to the years of The War Between the States, honestly. It may be that there wasn’t that much material — Lee was probably too busy to write a lot of things in letters that he might normally have (like: thoughts about sermons heard, theology, ecclesiastical concerns, etc.), that’d certain be understandable. Cox might be the one historian who doesn’t like writing about that time period. It might just be that his pre- and post- War writings were better material for the book — there are any number of good reasons for it, I was just surprised that the one thing the man is best known for is so little represented in the book.

One of the drawbacks of this book is the author’s perspective on Lee himself (at least what came across to me as his perspective, I could have read him wrong, he could have written it in such a way as to be easily misinterpreted, etc.). I’m not saying that I want a hagiography, nor do I want Cox to be some sort of Lee fanboy. A critical eye is essential. There’s an element of Chronological Snobbery (to borrow Lewis’ phrase) here when reflecting on Lee’s racial and political views. I have no problem with Cox disagreeing with them (I disagree with many of them), but he came across as patronizing (at least on the border of it). To a lesser degree, I thought the same about some of Lee’s religious views. But this didn’t crop up often, and when it did, it was easy to gloss over or ignore. It’s a drawback to the book, but not a reason to avoid it. If anything, Cox came across as detached and neutral when it came to the subject and his religion (it was impossible to tell if Cox shared any aspect of belief with Lee) 98% of the time. It’s just that 2% or so . . .

This is a part of Eerdman’s Library of Religious Biography series — which I hadn’t heard of until now. I have one sitting at the top of my To Be Bought pile (talked about it last month in a Saturday Miscellany post), but I didn’t realize it was part of a series. The books in the series are intended to “link the lives of their subjects – not always thought of as ‘religious’ persons – to the broader cultural contexts and religious issues that surrounded them.” It’s a fascinating concept, and I’m glad this series exists. I hope to get more of them soon.

This was a fascinating read, if a bit dry and detached. Neither’s bad, and may be commendable under the right circumstances (which may include such a divisive figure as Lee), but it doesn’t make for the best read. That, plus my ambivalence towards some of Cox’s attitudes toward the subject, makes me rate this 3 Stars. That’s still a recommendation, and I’ll gladly tell anyone to read it — believer or nonbeliever — if they want to understand Lee better, but I’m not that enthusiastic about the book.

Disclaimer: I received this eARC from Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company via NetGalley in exchange for this post — thanks to both for this opportunity.
N.B.: As this was an ARC, any quotations above may be changed in the published work — I will endeavor to verify them as soon as possible.

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3 Stars

Defying the Prophet by Gibson Michaels

Defying the ProphetDefying the Prophet

by Gibson Michaels
Series: The Sentience Trilogy, #2

Kindle Edition, 370 pg.
Arc Flash Publishing, 2014

Read: February 23 – 27, 2017


The second installment of a trilogy has the hardest role — the first introduces us to the world, the characters, the conflict — basically sets the stage for everything in the series. The third has to tie up everything and give a satisfying conclusion. The second has to build on the first and make the audience want to read the end. There needs to be a clear arc to the book (or what’s the point), yet the conclusion has to make us thirst for more. It’s also bound to be the most overlooked entry in the trilogy (The Empire Strikes Back being one of the exceptions that proves the rule). As such, Defying the Prophet fulfilled most of the duties of the second installment, and was entertaining enough — but man, I just wanted more from it.

I also usually find it difficult to talk about the second installments more than the other two, so here are some general observations as I put off any real analysis off until I finish the series.

I was surprised — and pleased — at how quickly Michaels wrapped up the Civil War story in this book — I really expected it to go on much longer. I’m not entirely certain I liked the mechanism by which he did it — but I can’t say I disliked it, but it almost seemed a bit too easy. Oh well, he uses the state of military readiness of the various human governments to be able to respond to the looming alien invasion in an effective manner.

The battles between the human factions were good. The battles between Raknii and humans was great. Seriously great — particularly the first one. I’m not sure Michaels could’ve sustained things there longer without sacrificing quality, but I wish he did. Thankfully, there’s more to come on this front, and I can’t wait to see how things go there.

I didn’t find the plots involving the internal developments and movements with Raknii as compelling this time around — and they were my favorite parts of the first book. We also didn’t get as much of them this time. Still, I appreciate what he’s doing with the Raknii overall and would willingly read more about them beyond this series.

Meanwhile, at least a few people in the USA have started to figure out just how the AI that runs things for them undermined them in the lead-up to the Civil War — and during it. They still don’t seem to have a great idea what they’re going to do with that knowledge however . . .

My biggest problem with this book is that at a certain point it was like Michaels realized — “you know what I haven’t included in this series? Romance. I’d better fix that.” — and then, bang-zoom, we’ve got two love stories going. One page it’s all political/economic/military intrigue and action and the next it’s political/economic/military intrigue and action plus hearts, flowers, and anatomy. Which was awkward enough, but then those love stories just weren’t that well-executed. He reminded me of Aaron Sorkin’s attempts at romantic comedy in Sports Night, The West Wing, and The Newsroom — I loved almost every other thing Sorkin did in those shows, but man . . . romance just isn’t his thing (I’m not even going to mention Studio 60, because that was just bad all around) . Michaels tried — and I appreciate the effort, and could enjoy what he was going for, they were sweet, but I just don’t think he nailed the telling (and, yes, Mr. Michaels, if you read this, feel free to summarize this as “He favorably compared me to an Oscar Winning writer”).

So we’ve got an interstellar conflict to wrap-up; at least one species’ culture is going to be changed by this conflict; some internal shake-ups to go along with that among the Raknii; at least one human government responding to the sentient AI; the sentient AI up to something new; and a couple of other dangling plotlines — and 340 pages to do it all in. Wrath of an Angry God is going to be a busy, busy conclusion — should be a fun ride. This? This was good, but it’s clearly the middle volume and really the poof’s going to be in whether Michaels can stick the landing. My guess is that he can, but we’ll have to see.

Disclaimer: I received this novel from the author in exchange for this post — thanks Mr. Michaels.

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3 Stars

Hide and Seek by Ian Rankin

Hide and SeekHide and Seek

by Ian Rankin
Series: John Rebus, #2

Hardcover, 272 pg.
Minotaur Books, 1991

Read: March 4, 2017


Now, this is more like it. You’ve got a seasoned detective who sees something that just doesn’t jibe — a routine O. D. that just doesn’t look right. At least to him — everyone else (including the detective who’d normally be assigned to the case) is good with the obvious answer. Not at all shockingly, there is more than meets the eye to this death.

Rebus’ ex and daughter have moved away, his brother is in jail, Gill is now seeing a DJ (who seems to be pretty popular), and Rebus has a new boss (and a promotion) — so outside of Rebus himself, there’s not a whole lot to tie the two novels together. It’s not just his coply intuition (to borrow Jesse Stone’s phrase), it’s some occult symbolism, a stolen camera, and the testimony of a near-witness that make Rebus continue to investigate. He spends time with druggies, students, male prostitutes, artists, academics, and the upper crust of local society in an effort to explain the death.

There’s something to Rankin’s prose that elevates it above most of what you find in Police Procedurals — I can’t put my finger on it, but you can feel it. The description of the corpse was fantastic, filled with those little details that will stick with me longer than your typical macabre tableau à la Thomas Harris or Val McDermid. The closing image was just as strong — ambiguous, but striking. I can’t wait to see what he does as he becomes a better writer.

Rebus isn’t good with people — family, friends, co-workers, lovers — he drinks and smokes too much, and cares more about police work than anything else. Even when he makes an effort with people (not part of a case), it just doesn’t go well at all — we’ve seen this character before, but it still works — readers just like this kind of cop.

So much of this feels (when you think back on it — or when you start to realize what he’s doing in a scene/with a character) like something you’ve seen before — maybe several times. Even by 1991 standards. But when you’re reading it, somehow , Rankin makes it feel fresh. I should note, incidentally, that a lot of what you think you’ve seen before, you maybe haven’t, if you give him enough time. He didn’t cheat with the solution, or how it was reached — but it felt like it came out of nowhere (it didn’t). That’s good enough for me.

That’s 2 down, 19 to go. Knots & Crosses felt like a character study, a good crime novel. Hide and Seek, on the other hand, feels like someone is building/introducing a series. It’s a subtle difference, but important. I’m reminded of the difference between Parker’s The Godwulf Manuscript and God Save the Child. It’s only going to get better from here. I really like this character, even if I’m not doing a good job talking about him — I think that’ll change in forthcoming books. Once Rankin stops establishing the character/building the series’ foundation and starts building.Also, I look forward to getting a better understanding of Rankin’s use of the term “Calvinist.” This one was good, solid writing with a satisfying story — not dazzling, but everything you want in a procedural.

2017 Library Love Challenge

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3 Stars

Wires and Nerve, Volume 1 by Marissa Meyer, Douglas Holgate

Wires and Nerve, Volume 1Wires and Nerve, Volume 1

by Marissa Meyer, Douglas Holgate (Art)
Series: Wires and Nerve, #1

Hardcover, 238 pg.
Feiwel & Friends, 2017

Read: March 1, 2017


So, in the months following Winter, life has progressed as one would expect — Cinder has strengthened her position on the Moon, Scarlet’s returned to the farm with Ze’ev Kesley, and Cress and the Captain are touring Earth. One of the loose strings that Meyer left hanging was the fate of the Lunar military troops all over Earth. They’re still out there, causing trouble.

Cinder can’t send any troops down — in the aftermath of a failed invasion, the optics alone would be bad. But . . . she can send a single operative, and Iko nominates herself for that. She spends weeks taking out pack after pack, helping local authorities take them into custody.

But they’re not just going to roll over, there are some that are preparing to strike back against Iko — and Cinder.

Throw in a love story, an examination of Iko’s true nature, and some nice catch-up with our old friends, and you’ve got yourself a fun story. It’s fun, but it’s light. If it were prose instead of a graphic novel, it might take 40 pages to tell this story. Which doesn’t make it bad, just slight.

The art was . . . oh, I don’t know — cartoonish? Not in a bad way, but I see why some people I know weren’t impressed. Once I got used to it (after about 30-40 pages), I even kind of liked it.

Basically, I’m saying that the book was okay — I enjoyed it, but man, I wanted more. At the same time, I think it delivered everything that Meyer and Holgate were looking for, so I can’t complain. Fans of the series may enjoy it, but it’s not a must read. People who haven’t read the books had best avoid it — but should probably go back and read the novels.

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3 Stars
2017 Library Love Challenge