Kate’s Review: “Bombshells United: War Bonds”

39208018Book: “Bombshells United (Vol.2): War Bonds” by Marguerite Bennett, Stephen Byrne (Ill.), Mirka Andolfo (Ill.), Sia Oum (Ill.), and Sandy Jarrell (Ill.).

Publishing Info: DC Comics, October 2018

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description: Years ago, before she became the battling Bombshell known as Batwoman, Kate Kane and Renee Montoya loved and fought together in the Spanish Resistance, and even formed a family with their adopted son Jasón. But their lives were turned upside down, and Kate found a new life and a new love for herself in Gotham City.

Now Kate is back in Spain, working with Renee once again to save the country from a tyrannical ruler…only this time the despot has unstoppable occult powers. His name is Black Adam, and he’s lived for millennia seeking the moment he can gain control of the powers of life and death.

Batwoman, Renee and Black Adam are all defined by whom they’ve loved and lost. But beneath the ancient streets of Madrid, a mystical labyrinth conceals the means to bring life back to the dead: a Lazarus Pit. 

With this incredible power, will Black Adam gain the final piece he needs to crush the entire world under his heel? Or will the dead have their own say in it?

Writer Marguerite Bennett (Batwoman) and artists Mirka Andolfo (Harley Quinn), Siya Oum (Lola XO) and Stephen Byrne (Green Arrow) bring fan-favorite Bombshell Kate Kane back to where she began…but how much will her past define her future? Collects Bombshells: United #7-12.

Review: I’m feeling a bit morose that this is going to be the second to last “Bombshells” story collection for the foreseeable future. I’ve moved on from being angry to depressed when it comes to this series being cancelled, and I’m thinking that I’m moving closer and closer to acceptance. There are a couple of reasons for this acceptance that are more on the unfortunate side, but more on that in a little bit. Because at the end of the day I still think that it is a damn travesty that DC cancelled this title just because of how unique it is and how it covers a vast swath of characters who come from diverse backgrounds and give diverse voices to the stories they are telling. And now it sounds like I’m reverting back towards anger, so before that happens let’s get to the nitty gritty of what worked, and what didn’t, in “Bombshells United: War Bonds”.

It’s been a little while, but we once again have caught up with Kate Kane and Renée Montoya, aka Batwoman and The Question. They have moved on from their final battle and have ended up back in Spain, where they first met and fell in love. But it’s also where they lost their adopted son Jasón, when mercenary The Cheetah murdered him for the hell of it. The loss is still gaping, and while Kate and Renée have found each other again the pain lingers. I liked that we got to see their grief in this way, as something that will always be with them, even if it isn’t as all encompassing as it had been initially. This theme of grief is where the crux of this story comes in, post-Franco Spain,’s new ruler is a whole new tyrant that we know as Black Adam, who is also haunted by a terrible loss from his past. He is looking for a way to resurrect his dead queen Isis, and has heard of a pit with magical powers that can bring people back to life. But it’s Kate and Renée who stumble upon it first, finding this Lazarus pit in the middle of an underground labyrinth. And who else do they find there, but Talia Al Ghul and Cheetah. And Cheetah is there because she has brought Jasón back to life, as she is now driven by guilt and a need for forgiveness and redemption.

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Me as I realized that this kind of plot point seemed VERY familiar… (source)

Okay folks, it’s real talk time. I really, REALLY appreciate that Bennett is trying to think beyond the usual physical and violent conflict resolution that we see in superhero stories, and I understand that it’s a fun way to show that women’s roles and stereotypes of being peacemakers and nurturers can be subverted into something powerful enough to stand up against super villainy. But, for the love of God, this is the fourth time that a nemesis has seen the evil of their ways thanks to spending time with the Bombshells (or in Cheetah’s and Paula Van Gunther’s cases, just kind of needing the conflict resolution to fit an upcoming plot device), and it is getting old. I am all for redemption arcs, and I think that it’s especially important that bad women in fiction get these arcs since it feels like men do when it suits the storyteller. But I want them to be complex and interesting, not just tossed together in a moment because of peace love and understanding. It also makes it so that our cast of villains becomes smaller and smaller, and you instead need to introduce new (albeit familiar) antagonists to stir the pot, like Black Adam. I will admit that I’m not as familiar with him, as Shazam (aka Miri Marvel as she is in this story) was never a title that I got into very much. But even if I had been into him, I feel like introducing a new huge big bad at this point was just another example of fantasy bloat that “Bombshells” is starting to see more of.

That makes it sound like that I didn’t like anything about this turn of events, and that’s not totally true. Like many stories with similar themes that come before it, Kate and Renée will have to contend with the unforeseen consequences of Jasón’s resurrection. Though it isn’t full on zombie Jasón or anything like that, you do get the sense as the story goes on that perhaps things won’t be as happily ever after as Cheetah intended it to be. I also liked that for Kate and Renée, Cheetah’s actions weren’t automatically welcomed with open arms. They didn’t forgive her automatically because of this, and I thought that that was a realistic and refreshing turn of events. It’s one thing of the Batgirls or Wonder Girls  are able to take a former enemy into the fold and show them compassion. But Harvey Dent and Clayface didn’t murder their kids just for the fun of it. I thought that Bennett hit that nail on the head, that atonement doesn’t automatically earn forgiveness.

The art in this collection worked better for me than it did in “Bombshells United: American Soil”, mainly because it didn’t feel as cutesy. There were also nice moments of pondering or waxing poetic on mythology that felt more muted and subdued, and I really took to it. Maybe it helped that during one of these sequences Kate ACTUALLY ACKNOWLEDGED THAT MAGGIE SAWYER IS STILL BACK HOME WAITING FOR HER. In any case, I thought that the design worked well and added a lot to the retro style narrative.

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As mentioned above, we are only getting one more collection of “Bombshells United” before it’s over. One more. There are so many things that haven’t really been addressed across the other characters, and given that there has been a new explosion of characters I’m worried that the focus is in no way going to be brought back to where it needs to be to have a totally satisfying ending where all loose ends get tied up. And while that is in part certainly the fault of the cancellation (I’m sure that Bennett had lots of really good ideas and paths on how and when she was going to take them on), it’s also in part an example of why exploding character rosters and plot lines can come back and bite you in the butt. As I slide closer to acceptance that this series has ended, I hope that in the next, and final, issue I will walk away with some satisfaction. And that Kate, Diana, Kara, Harley, and all the rest are given their due that they so richly deserve.

Rating 6: There was a lot to like about “Bombshells United: War Bonds”, but repetitive storytelling is starting to take it’s toll.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Bombshells United (Vol.2): War Bonds” is not on any Goodreads lists as of yet, but I think that it would fit in on “Girls Read Comics”, and “Show Me Your Queers”.

Find “Bombshells United (Vol 2): War Bonds” at your library using WorldCat!

Previously Reviewed:

Kate’s Review: “Two Can Keep A Secret”

38225791Book: “Two Can Keep A Secret” by Karen M. McManus

Publishing Info: Delacorte Press, January 2019

Where Did I Get This Book: I received an eARC from NetGalley.

Book Description: Echo Ridge is small-town America. Ellery’s never been there, but she’s heard all about it. Her aunt went missing there at age seventeen. And only five years ago, a homecoming queen put the town on the map when she was killed. Now Ellery has to move there to live with a grandmother she barely knows.

The town is picture-perfect, but it’s hiding secrets. And before school even begins for Ellery, someone’s declared open season on homecoming, promising to make it as dangerous as it was five years ago. Then, almost as if to prove it, another girl goes missing.

Ellery knows all about secrets. Her mother has them; her grandmother does too. And the longer she’s in Echo Ridge, the clearer it becomes that everyone there is hiding something. The thing is, secrets are dangerous–and most people aren’t good at keeping them. Which is why in Echo Ridge, it’s safest to keep your secrets to yourself.

Review: Thank you so much to NetGalley for sending me an eARC of this book!

I know that I probably over reference “Twin Peaks” in my blog posts, but given that for me it’s the pinnacle of storytelling it’s a standard that I can’t help but hold certain types of stories to. Basically, if you are writing a book about a small town with seedy secrets, I’m going to immediately start chanting in my head about magicians longing to see and stuff of that nature. If a book doesn’t live up to those (probably unfair) expectations, woe be unto the author and the universe they create. But when they do?

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And that brings me to Karen M. McManus’s newest YA mystery thriller “Two Can Keep A Secret”. Given my enjoyment of her previous book, “One of Us Is Lying”, I was excited and nervous to read her follow up to a stellar debut. The good news is that I liked “Two Can Keep A Secret” even more than “One of Us Is Lying”!

Once again, McManus has a compelling hook and likable characters that immediately pull the reader in. While on the surface our cast seems to fill various tropes of the genre (the cynical new girl, the misunderstood outsider, the manipulative and popular bitch), McManus writes them all in such a way that they feel fresh and unique. Our main two perspectives are Ellery, a true crime obsessed teen who has just moved to her mother’s home town of Echo Park, and Malcolm, the younger brother of a former golden boy. Both have outside connections to tragedy in this small town, as Ellery’s aunt disappeared when she and Ellery’s mom were teens, and Malcolm’s brother fell from grace after his girlfriend was murdered and he was the prime suspect. While it may have been easy to follow ever explored formulas for both our main characters, Ellery and Malcolm both surprised me with their depth. They both have moments of triumph and moments that were less than flattering, but at all times they felt like realistic teens who are trying to move past painful realities and traumas. While the supporting cast didn’t have as much time to shine as these two, when they were on the page they, too, felt like real teens with lives they were navigating as best they could. I especially liked Ezra, Ellery’s twin brother, whose love and loyalty to his sister was a good way to counterbalance the ever so tempting ‘all alone new kid’ plot line. It was also a thoughtful way to show how different people can approach and process a shared pain, as the twins have to navigate moving to a new place after their mother Sadie ends up rehab.

There are multiple mysteries tied up in “Two Can Keep A Secret”, but McManus juggles them with ease so they never feel overwhelming. Echo Park is a town filled with secrets, from who killed Lacey the Homecoming Queen, to the disappearance of Sadie’s twin sister Sarah (which, understandably, has possibly contributed to her mental problems), to secret familial connections that no one wants to talk about. The various tragedies at the center of this story were where the book most reminded me of “Twin Peaks”, and I think that’s in part due to how well McManus laid out this town and those who inhabit it. While there were some answers I was able to discern on my own before their reveals, for the most part I was left guessing and theorizing up until the answer was given. I greatly enjoyed the many different mysteries, from the tragic to the sudsy. They were all satisfying from start to finish, and McManus did a superb job of making sure all of her threads were pulled together by the end of the book.

“Two Can Keep A Secret” was a fun and suspenseful mystery, and it solidifies Karen M. McManus as a talented thriller author. Readers of thrillers, no matter their age, will almost assuredly find something to like here. And if you like the less surreal aspects of “Twin Peaks”, this book could be a good fit for you as well!

Rating 9: A fabulous follow up to a great debut, “Two Can Keep A Secret” is a tantalizing mystery with fun characters and many satisfying twists and turns. Fans of thrillers should check it out.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Two Can Keep A Secret” is included on the Goodreads lists “Secrets and Lies”, and “Mystery Thriller 2019”.

Find “Two Can Keep A Secret” at your library using WorldCat!

Kate’s Review and Giveaway: “An Anonymous Girl”

39863515Book: “An Anonymous Girl” by Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen

Publishing Info: St. Martin’s Press, January 2019

Where Did I Get This Book: The publisher sent me an ARC.

Book Description: Seeking women ages 18–32 to participate in a study on ethics and morality. Generous compensation. Anonymity guaranteed. 

When Jessica Farris signs up for a psychology study conducted by the mysterious Dr. Shields, she thinks all she’ll have to do is answer a few questions, collect her money, and leave. But as the questions grow more and more intense and invasive and the sessions become outings where Jess is told what to wear and how to act, she begins to feel as though Dr. Shields may know what she’s thinking…and what she’s hiding. As Jess’s paranoia grows, it becomes clear that she can no longer trust what in her life is real, and what is one of Dr. Shields’ manipulative experiments. Caught in a web of deceit and jealousy, Jess quickly learns that some obsessions can be deadly. 

Review: I want to extend a very special thank you to St. Martin’s Press for sending me an ARC of this novel!

In my younger years I was deeply fascinated with psychology, specifically of the abnormal type. During my undergraduate program I was especially taken with the various unethical studies that were conducted in the name of ‘science’. While studies of these natures could never get past an IRB today, I think about the Milgram Experiment (where a subject thought that they were giving people violent electric shocks and were told to keep going no matter what) and The Zimbardo Prison Experiment (where students were separated into prisoner and guard roles in a faux prison setting, and horrific abuse began almost instantly), and wonder just how these things were ever thought to be okay. Because of this lingering fascination, when I saw the new book “An Anonymous Girl”, written by Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen of “The Wife Between Us” fame, was about unethical psych subjects I was excited to read it. I really enjoyed “The Wife Between Us”, so my expectations were set pretty high for their newest work.

“An Anonymous Girl” has a similar narrative structure to “The Wife Between Us”, with dual narrators who have distinct voices and their own takes on unreliability. The first and more prominent of the two is Jess, a make up artist who is living a meager and somewhat unfulfilling existence. She used to have dreams of making it on Broadway as a make up artist, but has since stalled out and settled for a job that sends her to private appointments around New York City. Her past is a bit hidden at first, though you know she’s sending money to her family to help care for her younger sister, who suffered a traumatic brain injury as a child. Jess is a narrator whose motivations are always laid out and clear, and while she has a tendency to make questionable to poor decisions, she’s written in a way that makes you totally believe why she would make said decisions. The other narrator is Dr. Shields, and she is a bit more muddled in her motivations. The mystery of the novel is just what Dr. Shields is doing with the experiment that Jess volunteers for, and as her intent is slowly revealed her character’s layers are peeled back to show a dark mind at work, far darker than Jess’s. Both characters are interesting enough that I was invested in figuring out just what Dr. Shields wanted with Jess, and how far Jess would be pushed within the ‘experiment’ she was participating in. I kept thinking back to Milgram and how the subjects would sally forth, no matter how uncomfortable they were, because they thought that they had to.

The mystery sustained itself as long as it wanted to, laying out various hints towards both womens’ overall story arcs and their pasts. But eventually the narrative shifts from a mysterious question of intrigue to a pins and needles cat and mouse game. And it is that shift where “An Anonymous Girl” stumbled a little bit for me. Once we found out what it was that Dr. Shields was trying to accomplish, the reveal was a bit disappointing if only because it’s something we have seen many times before within this genre. I’m not going to spoil it here because I do think that getting there and the ensuing predator and prey dynamic is worth the read. But I will say that I went in hoping for a send of of unethical experiments of the past, where the likes of Milgram and Zimbardo were doing awful things in the name of science and learning about human nature. And what is very much not the case here at the end of the day.

“An Anonymous Girl” is a strong follow up to Hendricks’s and Pekkanen’s previous hit. While I do wish it had thought outside the box a little more, it was still an enjoyable thriller that serves the genre well. And I have some good news for you! I am going to give my ARC away so a lucky winner can read it for themselves! This giveaway runs through January 14 and is open to U.S. Residents only.

Click Here To Enter The Giveaway!

Rating 7: A suspenseful and engrossing thriller that mostly kept me on my toes, “An Anonymous Girl” was enjoyable, though I wish it hadn’t fallen on some old reliable plot points of the genre.

Reader’s Advisory:

“An Anonymous Girl” is including on the Goodreads lists “Psychological Chillers by Women Authors”, and “Chilling New York Novels”.

Find “An Anonymous Girl” at your library using WorldCat!

Kate’s Review: “Monstress (Vol. 2): The Blood”

33540347Book: “Monstress (Vol. 2): The Blood” by Marjorie Liu and Sana Takeda (Ill.)

Publishing Info: Image Comics, July 2017

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description: Maika Halfwolf is on the run from a coalition of forces determined to control or destroy the powerful Monstrum that lives beneath her skin. But Maika still has a mission of her own: to discover the secrets of her late mother, Moriko. 

In this second volume of Monstress, collecting issues 7-12, Maika’s quest takes her to the pirate-controlled city of Thyria and across the sea to the mysterious Isle of Bones. It is a journey that will force Maika to reevaluate her past, present, and future, and contemplate whether there’s anyone, or anything, she can truly trust–including her own body.

Review: A popular definition of ‘insanity’ is repeating the same behaviors and expecting a different outcome each time. In this regard, I can call myself ‘insane’, because even though I wasn’t totally taken in by “Monstress” in it’s first volume, I went into “Monstress (Vol. 2): The Blood” thinking that perhaps this time something would be different. I really want to like this series, because it has so many features that draw me in: the art is beautiful; the world is dark and foreboding; two of the main characters are a Fox/human child and a necromancing CAT! Plus, monsters. Like, a seriously CREEPY monster. And yet, the joy that others get from “Monstress” continues to elude me.

I will start with the positives of this volume of Maika’s journey. Marjorie Liu has certainly made a creative world that her characters roam in. It continues to be complex and intricate, and it just keeps expanding. This time we get to spend time with a band of pirate Arcanics (those that are part human and part Ancient, and tend to have Animal characteristics), and on a mysterious Island of Bones where an Ancient creature named Blood-Fox resides. Maika is desperate to get answers about her mother, and perhaps figure out how to get rid of the Monster that’s living inside of her. All the while she’s being pursued by the Dawn Court’s Warlord, a military leader who also happens to be Maika’s Aunt. Ultimately, “Blood” isn’t really about the blood of battle, but the blood that runs in our veins and whom it connects us to. I liked seeing Maika try to find out some answers, and I liked that both Maika AND the Monster inside of her have to confront truths about their pasts that make them both uncomfortable. I also still have a great affection for Maika’s sidekicks, the sweet and adorable Kippa, and the sarcastic and somewhat mysterious necromancing cat Ren. As these three continue to travel together, they become more connected to each other, and they all balance each other out.

The art also continues to be gorgeous. There is less time in urban settings in this volume, in favor of taking it to the high seas and to a creepy as all get out island, which means there’s a bit less Art Deco influence. But Takeda’s style remains intricate and sumptuous, and I found my breath taken away a number of times as I turned the pages. The style for her characters also feels so unique, as all of the characters are stark contrasts from each other in their designs. I was especially impressed with the ghostly imagery that’s found on and near the Isle of Bones, as the ghosts are both ethereal but very present.

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But, like with the first volume, “Monstress: The Blood” still hasn’t made me fall head over heels for this series. I like the characters and the art, but the high fantasy aspects have not worked for me, and I found myself not as interested in it as I had hoped I would be. As the world continued to expand, I wanted more focus on the witches we’d seen in the previous volume. I’m connected to Maika as a character, but I’m not really invested in her story, which is hard for me to wrap my head around. Ultimately, it just comes back to my tastes about high fantasy, and how limited they are. That isn’t “Monstress”‘s fault.

And yes, I’m going to keep going. Even though I have been kind of left cold by the first and second volumes of this series, I REALLY want to like it, and I think that there are shades within these two volumes that make me think that I still can. So I’ve put Volume Three on my request list. And maybe next time I will have a more positive review to give. For now, know that my opinions of “Monstress (Vol. 2): The Blood” probably don’t and shouldn’t reflect the merits and positives of this series. So, like I said in my previous review, if you like high fantasy that has a bit of a darkness to it, you should absolutely check this series out. It will probably work for you better than it does for me.

Rating 6: Once again, I’m blown away by the amazing artwork, and I have a fondness for a few of the characters. But the high fantasy setting still isn’t gelling with me.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Monstress (Vol. 2): The Blood” is included on the Goodreads lists “Girls Read Comics”, and “SFF Written by WOC and Non-Binary People of Color”.

Find “Monstress (Vol. 2): The Blood” at your library using WorldCat!

Previously Reviewed:

Kate’s Favorite Reads of 2018: Picks 5 Through 1

Another a year, another almost impossible task trying to each choose our Top 10 Reads of the year! And since it’s the end of the reading year, don’t forget to enter our “Twelve Days of Christmas” Giveaway! Today I’m going to countdown my favorites reads, ten to six. 

40774524Pick Number 5: “Lethal White” by Robert Galbraith

“Lethal White” Joint Review

I waited three long years for this book to finally be released, and not only did it not disappoint, it became my favorite of the Cormoran Strike series! Cormoran and Robin’s continuing adventures as detectives in London have never been longer, but they’ve also never been more satisfying. This time they take on the privileged class when a politician may have ties to a potential murder from decades past. “Lethal White” is a showcase of how much Galbraith has grown as a mystery author since the series debuted, and it is also a good reminded that Galbraith is a great master of characterization. All we need now is for Cormoran and Robin to finally start figuring out their feelings for each other, though I know we’re probably still a few books away from that. If you haven’t started the Strike books, you absolutely should, because “Lethal White” pays off big.

36124936Pick Number 4: “The Outsider” by Stephen King

“The Outsider” Review

Speaking of masters within their field, I was so happy to see that Stephen King returned to his horror roots this year with “The Outsider”. When a young boy is molested and murdered in a small town, the cops think that they have an open and shut case when DNA evidence points to a local little league coach. But all is not what it seems, as the coach has not only an air tight alibi, but video evidence of being hundreds of miles away at the time of the murder. The monster in this book is one of the most unsettling that King has ever created, but it’s the appearance of his character Holly Gibney that really sold this book for me. Throw in some homages to “Dracula” and a number of likable characters, and “The Outsider” is just another example of the new Golden Age of King we are living in.

36686229Pick Number 3: “Exit Stage Left: The Snagglepuss Chronicles” by Mark Russell and Mike Feehan (Ill.)

“Exit Stage Left: The Snagglepuss Chronicles” Review

The best graphic novel of my reading year was also one of the most unique concepts I’ve seen put to comic page. I myself would have never thought to take the Hanna-Barbera character of Snagglepuss and make him a symbol of LGBTQIA+ resistance during the Lavender Scare, but Mark Russell did just that and MAN did he create a powerful tale. In this universe, Snagglepuss is a successful playwright who lives a life of glamour and glitz as the toast of Broadway. But when those around him start getting targeted by the Government for their sexualities, Snagglepuss has to decide if he wants to be a sign of rebellion, or to play ball. This book was a powerful and all too relevant tale about Othering, and it gave an emotional story to a character that was decidedly not emotional in his original conception. Bring tissues to this one though. You will probably cry.

34810320Pick Number 2: “Sadie” by Courtney Summers

“Sadie” Review

Honestly, we’re basically in crying territory from here on out, because “Sadie” almost wrecked me. But it’s power and rage and devastation is what makes it so good. When Sadie’s younger sister is murdered, she is determined to hunt down the man she is convinced killed her and get her revenge. Meanwhile, a podcast about Sadie’s disappearance and the murder of her sister is telling her story to thousands of listeners, and two narratives converge to tell a larger picture about love, misogyny, poverty, and loss. Summers doesn’t hold back any punches as Sadie goes on her mission, and she faces awful circumstances and hardships along the way. She is a tough and gritty protagonist that you root for, and her story is absolutely soul crushing in it’s realism. But it’s hands down one of the best YA books I’ve ever read.

35226186Pick Number 1: “Providence” by Caroline Kepnes

“Providence” Review

It probably comes as no surprise that one of my favorite authors made the top of the list this year! Caroline Kepnes may be well known for her disturbing Joe Goldberg books, but “Providence” is more of a tragic romance with speculative fiction thrown in for good measure. Jon and Chloe are teenage best friends, but when Jon disappears the romance that was blooming stops. When Jon reappears a few years later, something about him has changed, and his very presence is lethal for those around him. I fell in love with Jon and Chloe, I rooted for them and their star crossed relationship, and I loved the Lovecraftian influence that Kepnes brought into this book. It had me filled with suspense, elation, and woe, and when I set it down I knew that she had once again kicked me in my feels and left me raw. “Providence” is a WONDERFUL book, and it’s my favorite book of 2018.

So there’s my complete list! What were your top five reads of 2018?

Kate’s Favorite Reads of 2018: Picks 10 Through 6

Another a year, another almost impossible task trying to each choose our Top 10 Reads of the year! And since it’s the end of the reading year, don’t forget to enter our “Twelve Days of Christmas” Giveaway! Today I’m going to countdown my favorites reads, ten to six. 

33918887Pick Number 10: “Bruja Born” by Zoraida Córdova

“Bruja Born” Review

This creepy follow up to “Labyrinth Lost” was the book that confirmed that I had a new favorite witch series to follow! A witch series that shows the dangers of bringing the dead back to life, as Lula Mortiz does to her boyfriend. The sad and also very creepy continuing story of the Mortiz Sisters was an improvement on the first, as not only does it center more on the scares and the dangers of the magical world the sisters live within, it ups the stakes and makes the consequences of their magic feel very apparent. Plus, the focus on impetuous and flawed Lula gave me a more well rounded character this time around, with lots of emotional moments as well as scary moments that would make “Pet Sematary” proud.

35068432Pick Number 9: “I’ll Be Gone in the Dark” by Michelle McNamara

“I’ll Be Gone In The Dark” Review

The passing of Michelle McNamara was devastating, especially since her book about The Golden State Killer was such a labor of determination and hope for justice. What made it all the more poignant was that shortly after this book was published, The Golden State Killer was caught. “I’ll Be Gone In The Dark” would have been a true crime powerhouse even had he not been, as McNamara does a superb job of tracking the case to the most specific detail, as well as putting the focus less on the monster, and more on getting justice for his many victims of rape and murder. This is a haunting book for many reasons, and will assuredly be a classic in the genre.

38746485Pick Number 8: “Becoming” by Michelle Obama

Goodreads Page

While this memoir didn’t make the blog reviews, I was completely blown away by Michelle Obama’s “Becoming”. Our former First Lady was already an amazing person in my book before reading her memoir, but as I read it realized that not only is she incredibly intelligent, compassionate, civically minded, and poised and fabulous, she is also a great, great writer. I was taken in from page one, and her memories of childhood, meeting Barack, the ups and downs of married life and parenthood, and then being FLOTUS all leap off the page. She is candid and frank about how hard it could be to be in the spotlight, and the misogyny and racism she faced as First Lady made my blood boil. But, of course, she transcends all expectations and speaks her truth with eloquence and fierceness. This woman is a national treasure, and we don’t deserve her.

36750068Pick Number 7: “The Last Time I Lied” by Riley Sager

“The Last Time I Lied” Review

Riley Sager blew me away with his previous book “Final Girls, and I had high hopes that he’d be following it up with something just as strong. He came back with something better. Part gritty and scary mystery, part homage to “Nancy Drew”, “The Last Time I Lied” follows Emma, a woman whose past at a summer camp has haunted her. Specifically when three of her fellow campers went missing, and she told a lie that had rippling consequences. Emma’s return to the camp is rife with tension, as someone is stalking her for her misdeeds. This one kept me guessing up until the very end, and the suspense was palpable throughout the entire book.

36381091Pick Number 6: “The Cabin At The End of the World” by Paul Tremblay

“The Cabin At The End of the World” Review

Some consider Paul Tremblay to be a new master of horror, but I see him as the master of ripping my heart into a billion little pieces. His horror stories are emotional rollercoasters, and “The Cabin At The End of the World” had me scared to death and sobbing my eyes out by the end. When a home invasion interrupts the cabin weekend of two men and their adopted daughter, the invaders speak of an apocalyptic prophecy and a terrible choice the family has to make. There are many questions as to whether or not the invaders are right or just nuts, and this book raises questions about faith, family, and how far you’ll go to protect the things you love, no matter the cost.

So that’s ten through six. Next time I will give a countdown of my top five. What have been some of your favorite reads of 2018?

 

Kate’s Review: “Bring Me Back”

35857495Book: “Bring Me Back” by B.A. Paris

Publishing Info: St Martin’s Press, June 2018

Where Did I Get This Book: I was given a copy by the publisher.

Book Description: Finn and Layla are young, in love, and on vacation. They’re driving along the highway when Finn decides to stop at a service station to use the restroom. He hops out of the car, locks the doors behind him, and goes inside. When he returns Layla is gone—never to be seen again. That is the story Finn told to the police. But it is not the whole story.

Ten years later Finn is engaged to Layla’s sister, Ellen. Their shared grief over what happened to Layla drew them close and now they intend to remain together. Still, there’s something about Ellen that Finn has never fully understood. His heart wants to believe that she is the one for him…even though a sixth sense tells him not to trust her.

Then, not long before he and Ellen are to be married, Finn gets a phone call. Someone from his past has seen Layla—hiding in plain sight. There are other odd occurrences: Long-lost items from Layla’s past that keep turning up around Finn and Ellen’s house. Emails from strangers who seem to know too much. Secret messages, clues, warnings. If Layla is alive—and on Finn’s trail—what does she want? And how much does she know?

A tour de force of psychological suspense, Bring Me Back will have you questioning everything and everyone until its stunning climax.

Review: Thank you to St. Martin’s Press for sending me an ARC of this book!

Every once in awhile my book pile gets out of control. Okay, more than every once in awhile. It’s always teetering on the edge, and it does start to get to be too big. But earlier this year it was SO big that I felt a need to make two separate piles on my nightstand. My husband would taunt me saying that it was too much, TOO MUCH, but I told him that I had a system and that it was fool proof. Unfortunately, the second pile fell a bit to the wayside, as it was filled with non-library books and non- ARCs, which I deemed not as big of a priority… Until I looked at it a few months later and realized that one of the ARCs, “Bring Me Back” by B.A. Paris, had been sitting in that pile the whole time.

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My system! How could my system FAIL me so?! (source)

Kicking myself, I threw it on the regular pile, and when I finally, FINALLY, sat down to read it I promised myself that I would check these two piles a bit more frequently from now on, as I had missed out on a read I had been looking forward to.

And then… THEN. I finished it and wished that I hadn’t let the anticipation build. Because I did not care for “Bring Me Back”. And to fully explain my frustrations with this book, I’m going to give this a big ol’ SPOILER ALERT. If you still want to read this book, by all means have at it, and skip the bulk of this review because you’ll find nothing but sadness here.

For one thing, none of the characters are very likable or sympathetic. We get this book in two narratives: Finn and Layla. Finn is creepy as hell and has moments of toxicity and violence towards women in his life, be it verbal or physical. He is the epitome of ‘broken fellow who is deathly obsessed with one woman’, but unlike in books with similar characters (HELLO, JOE GOLDBERG) there are no interesting or complex or SATIRICAL things about his personality. He’s just a mess. We eventually find out that that Layla didn’t just ‘disappear while he was in the toilet’ while at that roadside stop; she’d confessed that she’d slept with someone else and he DRAGGED HER out of the car in a rage.

Then there’s Layla. Her parts are a little more understandable in their muddledness, given how her character enters into all of this. But my biggest problem with her is that, in SPITE of the fact that Finn is the goddamn worst and that she runs away with him in a fear that he’ll kill her, SHE STILL WANTS HIM BACK. And I kept waiting and waiting for a reveal, or a twist, or something that I had missed. But nope. She just wants him back, and wants Ellen out of the way. I really hated that aspect of this book, and while I know that there are a lot of complicated factors that enter into abusive relationships when it comes to how abusers can control and keep sway over their victims, but this seemed far fetched and really seemed to sweep Finn’s violence under the rug (as Layla repeatedly says that she KNOWS he’d never ACTUALLY hurt her, as if dragging her out of a car in a rage isn’t damaging).

But the biggest frustration for me was the end. The other B.A. Paris book I’ve read is “The Breakdown”, and if you recall I was very ‘meh’ on it until the last third of the book, when it did a surprising and well pulled off twist that pretty much saved the read for me. Going into “Bring Me Back” I hoped that it would get to the point a little faster than “The Breakdown”, but then it did the other extreme and about a fourth of the way in I figured out what one of the big reveals was. It is set up from pretty early on that Finn is an unreliable narrator. He talks about having moments of rage that he can’t control, talks about moments where he’s had minor black outs, and talks about his obsessive love for Layla. So from the get go I was saying ‘Layla is dead, Finn killed her, and now the guilt is resurfacing and he’s made a split personality a la Norman Bates’. I’m not quite right. The end is far more ludicrous. Turn back, y’all, if you really don’t want to know. The whole time, Ellen WAS Layla. Finn had been with Layla thinking that she was Ellen, because she has been wearing concealer, lost some weight, and tinted her eyebrows and changed her hair, along with other minor physical tweaks. Also, she took on all of Ellen’s mannerisms. I just CANNOT suspend my disbelief to this point, guys! Paris tries to make it all work, with other ‘changes’ that Layla made being brought up, and the fact that before Layla had disappeared Finn had never met Ellen (P.S.:Ellen is dead, y’all: their father killed her) so he didn’t have a frame of reference. But it really, really didn’t work for me. On top of all of this, the big reveal happens in the form of a long winded letter, a literal telling as opposed to showing faux pas being laid out on the page.

There were a couple of things that I liked about this book. Mainly a couple of side characters named Ruby and Harry. They are both meant to be red herrings, but I liked Ruby’s kind personality and I liked Harry’s tolerance of other people’s BS. They both seemed like supportive friends at the end of the day. It was also a quick read, and while I was having a hard time with everything, it did keep me going and I didn’t find myself slogging as I went through. It’s fast paced to be sure, and clocking in at less that 300 pages it could be a way to spend an afternoon during this holiday season if you find yourself with time off.

So it’s another book that pulls out Ranganathan’s Law 3.

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“Bring Me Back” wasn’t the book for me, but that doesn’t mean it’s not the book for you.

Rating 3: With a twist that was easy to guess and an incredibly improbable ending that felt way too far fetched, “Bring Me Back” really didn’t work for me.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Bring Me Back” is included on the Goodreads lists “Matryoshka/Nesting Dolls”, and “OMG Where Did That Come From?!”.

Find “Bring Me Back” at your library using WorldCat!