Book Description: A single mother turns up dead at the bottom of the river that runs through town. Earlier in the summer, a vulnerable teenage girl met the same fate. They are not the first women lost to these dark waters, but their deaths disturb the river and its history, dredging up secrets long submerged.
Left behind is a lonely fifteen-year-old girl. Parentless and friendless, she now finds herself in the care of her mother’s sister, a fearful stranger who has been dragged back to the place she deliberately ran from—a place to which she vowed she’d never return.
With the same propulsive writing and acute understanding of human instincts that captivated millions of readers around the world in her explosive debut thriller, The Girl on the Train, Paula Hawkins delivers an urgent, twisting, deeply satisfying read that hinges on the deceptiveness of emotion and memory, as well as the devastating ways that the past can reach a long arm into the present.
Beware a calm surface—you never know what lies beneath.
Review: A couple years ago I got the book “The Girl on the Train” from my library, a spoil of war known as the ‘New Items Wall’. I had been waiting for it to be up for the allotted amount of time employees have to wait before it’s up for grabs, and as soon as that time was up I grabbed it and claimed it as my own. It didn’t take me long to read it. I found it pretty okay. I was entertained, even if I guessed the big twist long before the reveal was meant to happen. Though it’s gotten a bit of backlash as of late, I knew that anything else that Paula Hawkins wrote would get a lot of attention, and that I would be interested in reading it. So enter “Into the Water”, the newest book by Paula Hawkins. Like “The Girl on the Train”, I had to wait for this one to pass the time limit. And then I grabbed it for myself.
When “Into the Water” took me in, it took me in pretty hard. The book is told through multiple perspectives, each of them slowly giving tiny pieces of the overall puzzle as to what exactly happened to the two dead ladies who drowned in the local pond. The first is Katie, a teenage girl who jumped to her death from the cliff above the drowning pool. The second is Nel, a single mother whose daughter, Lena, was best friends with Katie. No one knows what happened to Nel. She was writing a book about the large number of women who died in the drowning pool over the years, either by suicide, witch craft trial, or straight up murder. Various perspectives include the eyes of Jules, Nel’s sister, Lena, Nel’s daughter, Sean, a detective and a man with his own connection to the pool, and Erin, Sean’s partner on the force. These four voices were the strongest of the bunch, as others either felt overdramatic (the mother of Katie was especially grating, even though I did feel sympathy for her), superfluous (a local psychic who has her own beef with Sean’s family), or just downright yucky (Mark, a teacher who may have had an improper relationship with one of his students). While they all added their own important pieces, it was hard to keep track of all of them at times at first. You add in chapters from Nel’s book about the other women who died in the drowning pool and you get a lot of information to process as you are paging through quickly because it’s so enthralling.
I had a few theories about what was going on this book, and unlike “The Girl on the Train” I wasn’t totally convinced about what had happened very early one. While I liked that it kept me guessing pretty well, I did take issue with the fact that this book is the kind of story that likes to keep yanking the rug out from under you. I am okay with twists and turns, but I get really sore when a solution is presented, a conclusion is presumed, and then in the last paragraph, NAY, the last SENTENCE, the solution is completely thrown out the window and a new reality is set in place. That’s not clever to me, that’s not inventive or an ‘ah ha!’ moment. That’s a cop out, and I am not impressed with cop outs.
I think that I need to just start to accept the fact that while I am definitely going to keep up with Paula Hawkins books in the future, I’m going to have to accept that for me it’s going to be less about the solution and more about the journey getting there. I would definitely say that “Into the Water” kept me entertained and captivated well until the final pages were turned, but on the other side of the coin the ending was a huge let down. What I will say is that Hawkins knows how to construct a mystery and a thriller, and just because the endings have disappointed me it doesn’t mean that I will completely overlook the experience as a whole.
Rating 6: Incredibly engrossing and addictive, but with a dud of an ending, “Into the Water” kept me going but left me frustrated.
Book: “DC Bombshells (Vol.3): Uprising” by Marguerite Bennett, Mirka Andolfo (Ill.), and Laura Braga (Ill.)
Publishing Info: DC Comics, March 2017
Where Did I Get This Book: The library!
Book Description:Based on the hit DC Collectibles product line! As World War II rages across Europe, the Allied forces issue a call to arms for the greatest heroines the world has ever known! With an old villain arising from beyond the grave, Wonder Woman, Batwoman, Kara Starikov, Kortni Duginova and Mera must aid the Allied forces while at home, a brave group of Batgirls must defend the homeland! The incredibly popular DC Collectibles line is brought to life in these stories that reimagine the course of history! From writer Marguerite Bennett (BATGIRL, EARTH 2: WORLD’S END) and featuring artists including Marguerite Sauvage (HINTERKIND), Laura Braga (Witchblade) and Mirka Andolfo (Chaos) comes DC COMICS: BOMBSHELLS VOL. 3.
Review: With the way that the last “DC Bombshells” collection ended (if you’ll remember, it was devastating), I was wondering if we were going to get into more pathos in which we’d have to potentially say goodbye to another of our beloved heroines. I suppose that I should have steeled myself for that possibility from the get go, as this is WWII and with war comes death. And given that our ladies are spread out across various fronts, battling not only Nazis, but also Nazi Zombies, the stakes are pretty high. And we jumped right back into it.
But first, we went back to the home front to check in with the Bat Girls! They’re continuing there time of taking up the mantle for Batwoman while she is overseas, and this time they have a new ally to go along with Maggie Sawyer.
Seeing Lois introduced (and giving her a very interesting backstory that gently but deftly touches on the immigrant experience) was a serious treat for this Lois Lane fangirl. It was also great seeing her jump in without having to worry about needing help from Superman (still nowhere in sight), and helping the Bat Girls break up a crime ring (involving the Penguin!), though they find themselves wanted in the process. Seeing this and a non-Two Face-d version of Harvey Dent going on and on as a political candidate with an “America First” platform made this story feel pretty close to home.
But meanwhile, in Europe, we catch up with our Bombshells on the front lines. We don’t get to see Wonder Woman, Supergirl, or the aftermath of Stargirl’s death this time, but that’s okay by me. I’m not ready to see the fallout from that. But that isn’t to say that we have a lack of stories this time around, as we are juggling a number of story lines. We have Batwoman, leaving Wonder Woman and Stargirl to try and get back to the front lines, who meets up with an old flame, Renee Montoya (aka The Question). They first met during the Spanish Civil War, and fought on the rebel side against the fascists. Now they are teaming up again, in spite of bad memories of losing a young protege and friend named Jacon (YES AS IN JASON TODD I AM SCREAMING) and the end of their love. You have Zatanna, who has been sent to a ghetto because of her Jewish and Romani heritage, and is being tormented by Joker’s Daughter, who has taken away her powers. You have Mera, who has washed up in Ireland without her powers, banished from Atlantis and her rightful throne. And we finally come back to Harley and Ivy, who have become freedom fighters for the resistance, and have found love with each other as they try to make their way to Berlin to take down the Nazis from their home base. And I haven’t even mentioned Huntress, Miri Marvel, Joker, Catwoman, Raven, and Aquaman, who all make appearances as well.
It’s definitely a lot to balance. But Bennett does a really good job of slowly but surely weaving all of these stories together. It was SO lovely to see my girls Harley and Ivy again, and to see how they play into this whole thing. I was wondering how it was all going to fit together, but it does. I was also really relieved that even though we did get a bit more romance with some of the heavy hitting men of the Universe (Aquaman and Constantine, specifically), it didn’t bring down Mera or Zatanna. Even though Mera has found lighthouse keeper Arthur, there is no sign of him having powers that are going to outdo hers as of yet. Their romance is just another part of her as a person, but Mera remains Mera and isn’t distracted from her goal of getting her powers and Atlantis back. The same can be said for Constantine, who is in the ghetto with Zatanna. He is there to support her, but his presence doesn’t weaken her or make her seem like he is her only strength in a horrific situation.
I loved seeing all of these women come together to fight against Joker’s Daughter and the Nazis, and that a number of these women in this story are Jewish or of Jewish descent, as Batwoman, Zatanna, Miri, and Harley all make mention of their heritage while they are inside the ghetto during a shabbat dinner. There was great beauty in this entire moment, as it wasn’t solely a ‘savior’ moment, as these women are also targets because of their heritage. The symbolism was bittersweet, and I really appreciated it. It was also good seeing the concept of abusive and controlling relationships being addressed, and not just in romantic ways. There was a small moment with Harley and Joker as she tells Ivy about her past, but there is also the relationship between Joker’s Daughter and Zatanna, and the relationship between Mera and her former beau. There is also poor Raven, who has only known Joker’s Mother as her mother figure, and is so damaged in her need to please her but also her need to escape. These are things that women in real life have to grapple with, and I so appreciate that this series dares to bring up the toxicity of relationships like these, and contrast them with healthy relationships. Harley finds Ivy. Zatanna finds Constantine. Raven finds a new group of women to mother her. Mera finds Arthur. And they all find more self respect. It’s just so positive!!! I can’t gush about it enough!!
There is just so much to love in this series. It continues to be super feminist, it continues to strive for diversity, and it continues to have some awesome action sequences that are just as good as any other superhero comic out there. I am once again sitting on the edge of my seat waiting for the next one in the series (out this fall I think!). While I’m worried that some characters are done, I am excited to see who else could show up.
Rating 10: Once again “DC Bombshells” knocks me off my seat and excites and thrills me until I turn the final page. These ladies continue to kick serious ass!!!
Where Did I Get This Book: Audiobook download from the library!
Book Description:A Stephen King ghost story in the grand tradition, Riding the Bullet is the ultimate warning about the dangers of hitchhiking.
A college student’s mother is dying in a Maine hospital. When he hitches a ride to see her, the driver is not who he appears to be. Soon the journey veers off into a dark landscape that could only be drawn by Stephen King.
Review: As a longtime Stephen King fan, I have read a lot, and I mean a LOT, of his books. But given how prolific of an author he is, and given how long he’s been at it, there are still plenty of King books, novellas, short stories, et all that I haven’t read yet. And while I’ve hit most of his more popular and famous works, it’s the ones that I’ve never heard of that continuously surprise me on my reading adventures. Be it “The Long Walk” (written under his Richard Bachman pen name) or “Charlie the Choo-Choo” (a children’s book based on the book within his “Dark Tower” series), King has popped up and shown me new things in the past couple of years. So when I was looking for something to listen to in the car, I just punched King’s name into the search bar to see what was available. It was then that I saw a title I had never heard of before: “Riding the Bullet”. Seeing that it was short and that I’m always trying to expand my King repertoire, I downloaded it.
Even in a novella such as this one, King has created a cast of characters who feel so well explored and real that I got a sense for who they were and what motivated them. Specifically Alan Parker, our narrator and protagonist who is picked up by a ghost on the night his mother is sick in the hospital. As you read the story you get the sense that Alan has a strained relationship with his mother; though they are really all the other one has, Alan also notes moments in their past that could be seen as abusive. You understand the love he has for his mother and why he would drop everything to try and hitchhike down to see her when she has a minor stroke and ends up in the hospital. But taking this into account, even without King saying how deep this tension and complexity to their relationship goes, it makes things down the line seem believable in the face of incredulity.
I really enjoyed how king took the old urban legend/ghost story of the Phantom Hitchhiker and turned it on it’s head, with the hitchhiker being the one who is potentially in the presence of a ghost who leaves a trinket behind. In the usual story a person picks up a hitchhiker on the side of the road on a dark night. Usually it’s a man picking up a young woman. They talk and connect, telling each other their names and about their lives, and the driver drops the hitchhiker off to wherever she wants to go. They part on friendly terms, but as the driver is driving away he realizes that she left a sweater, or a scarf, or something behind. He tracks down where she lives based on her name, and when he brings the object back to the house, a family member will ultimately tell the driver that “She died ten years ago” or something to that effect. It’s a classic. In this case the ghost is George Staub, the ghost of a man whose grave Alan had seen in a cemetery on his journey south. While on the short but terrifying ride with George, Alan notices the button that the ghost is wearing: “I Rode The Bullet At Thrill Village, Laconia”, a rollercoaster that Alan once had the chance to ride when he was a child. But when he and his mother got to the front of the line, he chickened out. Now instead of trying to return the forgotten object (as there is no question that Staub is a ghost from the get go), it serves as a reminder for what happened that night, and the consequences to what happened in the car between Alan and Staub.
What I liked most about this story is that there is a certain ambiguity to it. The ambiguity isn’t whether or not Alan was picked up by a ghost that night, as that much is clear. But the ambiguity is placed within the choice that Alan makes (which I don’t want to reveal), and whether he ultimately has any culpability in the potential consequences that may, or may not, come because of it. It kind of digs into philosophy about what children owe to their parents, and what parents want from their children. As the story carries on beyond the encounter with the ghost, Alan has to grapple with these questions. He’s convinced that because of his actions, something bad will happen to his mother…. And the tension of this, of finding out whether or not this is the case, definitely had me on the edge of my seat in the car. I think that there wasn’t really a good release for the tension I was feeling, and that I could have used more story to really unwind from all of it. As it was, it just kind of tapered off, and I was left wanting a bit more.
I should also mention that Josh Hamilton was the narrator for this audiobook, and I thought that he did a great job. I know him best from when he played Serge on “Absolutely Fabulous” and also from a driver’s ed video I watched when I was a teenager (I WISH I COULD FIND THIS VIDEO). It’s so important to have a person who really dives into the story they are reading, and I was totally immersed in his narration.
Overall, I enjoyed “Riding The Bullet”, both for it’s effective suspense and for the bittersweet pathos that it had. Stephen King is so good at both horror and humanity, and “Riding the Bullet” is a solid example of both.
Rating 7: A solid ghost story with some fun references to various urban legends. King is so good with characterization that while I felt more could have gone into this book, I got a feel for Alan and George Staub alike.
Book: “The Stepsister” (Fear Street #9) by R.L. Stine
Publishing Info: Simon Pulse, October 1990
Where Did I Get This Book: ILL from the library!
Book Description:Emily wants to like her stepsister, but it hasn’t been easy. As soon as Jessie moves in, she takes over Emily’s room, starts wearing Emily’s clothes, makes secret late-night calls on Emily’s phone – and that’s just the beginning!
Before long, Emily is living in total fear of her stepsister. Emily tries complaining to her parents. But Jessie is such a good liar, no one will believe Emily!
Emily’s terror mounts when she picks up Jessie’s diary and learns a horrifying secret from Jessie’s past. Did Jessie really murder someone? Does she plan to murder again? Emily knows she must find out the rest of her stepsister’s dark secret. Her own life depends on it!
Had I Read It Before: No.
The Plot: So this is the story of Emily Casey and her newly cobbled together blended family. While she and her sister Nancy have been the only siblings in the house for awhile, their mother just married a man named Hugh Wallner and he has two kids, Jessie and Rich. Now that Hugh and Mom (because why should she have a name?) are married, they’re finally moving in together. There’s talk of Jessie and Rich’s mom being an absent parent, but it isn’t really harped on too much. Jessie and Emily are going to share a room, and when they both go up there Jessie establishes herself as a total cooze. First she says the room is too small, then she says that it’s a ‘dump’. It then turns into making fun of Emily’s Mom for being ‘enthusiastic’ and Nancy for having red hair, and bitching about lack of closet space. Then she says she’s sorry because she’s so ‘nervous’ and worried about the changes of becoming a blended family. Yeah, okay, because that makes it alright to be such a bitch. To make matters worse, Tiger the terrier runs in, and Jessie freaks out and shoves him away lest he get fur all over her sweater. Then, as the coup de grace, she ‘accidentally’ rips the head off of Emily’s teddy bear. JESUS. Nancy comes in and tries to quell the tension by talking about Rich and his love for Stephen King (You’re a good man, Rich), and slips in the plot exposition that Emily is now dating Nancy’s ex Josh. Yeah, I don’t think that’s so cool, Emily.
Over cake and ice cream we get to see what a dick Mr. Wallner is. He makes fun of Jessie’s anxieties, makes fun of Rich for reading and for his cracking voice, and acts indignant when his abuse isn’t seen as funny. He also likes to brag about not reading books. Emily is reminded that her Dad loved to read books. But on a camping trip to Fear Island, when he and little girl Emily were out on a boat on Fear Lake, a wind kicked up and her father fell overboard, drowning. Oof.
The next night after Emily and Josh arrange a time for him to come over, she goes down to eat dinner with the family. And then Jessie comes down wearing Emily’s sweater, but insists that it’s hers. An argument ensues, but no one believes Emily. Mr. Wallner says that he’s glad that he has ‘four women’ in the house to clean up. (SO, not only is he applying antiquated gender roles, he’s also picking on his young and shy son by calling him ‘womanly’. This fucking guy.). After dinner Emily goes to work on her big paper for school. She leaves the room to get an apple, and when she comes back Jessie is at the computer. Emily tells her she isn’t done, but when she tries to pull up her paper again, it’s been erased. As someone who has been there to some degree, I legitimately feel for her in this moment. Emily pitches a fit and attacks Jessie. Everyone runs into the room and believes Jessie when she says she didn’t do it. After they leave Jessie snarls at Emily to not embarrass her in front of her father, and then kicks at the poor dog Tiger. Emily grabs her dog and runs to Nancy’s room. Nancy tells her that Jessie is seeing a therapist a couple of times a week and that she has emotional problems.
Josh comes over. As he and Emily make out, Jessie spies on them. Emily ignores it. That night Emily wakes up and hears Jessie on the phone saying ‘I really could kill her!’
A few days later, things seem better, as Emily and Jessie are going to make a cake. Their playful natures come out and they spray whipped cream all over each other, and Nancy too. Emily goes to take a shower. But when she gets out, she sees her hair has become patchy and miscolored. Someone put peroxide in her shampoo! And this time, no one believes that Jessie didn’t do it, because Nancy says Jessie spent a lot of time in the bathroom earlier in the day. Jessie runs off crying, and Emily’s hair is somehow saved by a home haircut that Nancy performs.
Not to be outdone by his sisters, Rich is escorted home by the police for shoplifting.
A few nights later is the homecoming dance. While Emily and Josh have a great time dancing and then making out in the car afterwards, the fun is short lived. Because when Emily gets to her room, she finds that someone has killed Tiger! While Emily accuses Jessie because she always hated Tiger, Nancy accuses RICH because HE LIKES TO READ STEPHEN KING AND IS READING “PET SEMATARY”!! Rich denies it because OF COURSE HE DIDN’T DO IT BECAUSE OF STEPHEN KING, and Jessie offers to run a bath for Emily she she can relax. Emily is interested at first, but as Jessie is in the bathroom Emily decides to read her diary! In it Jessie talks about how in her old town people think that she was involved a murder! She hides the diary before Jessie can see that she was reading it, and balks at the bath because the water looks like Jessie put some kind of crazy chemicals in it! But then Jessie takes the bath instead, because water conservation, and proves that Emily is succumbing to paranoia.
Emily is awakened from a nightmare by Rich, who really wants to tell her that he didn’t kill her dog. She believes him. Later she wakes up again, and sees that Jessie’s bed is empty! She discerns that Jessie must have snuck out because the window is open, and decides to read more in her stepsister’s diary. Seems that Jessie’s friend Jolie died in some kind of awful accident and everyone assumed that Jessie had something to do with it because she was the one who found the body. I think that’s pretty flimsy, but her reputation was ruined. The next day Emily wants to get away from the house and says that she’s going to a computer lab at school. And when she opens her backpack, Tiger’s corpse is inside.
At dinner that next week, talk goes from talking about Rich getting into fights at school to Jessie talking on the phone at late hours (which she denies of course). After dinner she’s upstairs expecting Josh, and hears voices downstairs. Josh is down there, having a VERY in depth conversation with Jessie! Emily pulls Josh outside and chews him out for talking with Jessie. Josh thinks she’s acting silly.
At school, Emily is trying to enjoy a lunch of suspect macaroni when Jessie’s friend Krysta confronts her about being so mean to Jessie. Emily spills food on her shirt and goes to the girls’ room, only to find Jessie. They rehash the usual fight, accusing each other of being awful, and Jessie leaves. Emily dawdles, and while she’s in there she hears footsteps come and go. And then she smells smoke. Someone has set the bathroom on fire! And when she tries to escape, the door won’t budge and the windows have been painted shut! Luckily the teacher Mrs. Hoffler opens the door and Emily is freed. The school is evacuated and Emily can slowly breathe again after nearly choking to death on all the smoke. Nancy takes Emily home, and it seems like she finally believes her now about Jessie.
Though a bit later they’re all going to a concert together. Emily and Nancy hadn’t wanted to take her, but their parents insisted. Jessie has been very nice to Emily since the fire, but Emily isn’t buying it. At the concert they are up in the nosebleed section, with very steep cement stairs. It should come as no surprise, therefore, that someone shoves Emily when the lights drop of the concert to start. She falls down the steps a few seconds, but someone stops her before too much damage is done. Must have been Jessie! A few weeks later it’s cold out and Emily is walking home, when she sees Josh’s car in the driveway. Did he come to surprise her? NOPE! He’s making out with someone else! JESSIE! Emily starts to run off, but then decides to go home and confront Jessie once and for all (but apparently not Josh for kissing someone else. Typical)!! She doesn’t find them anywhere, but does find a knife in Jessie’s drawer! The one that must have killed Tiger! It’s all coming together.
And now the family is going on a camping trip together. Because Mr. Wallner wants them to act like a family for once. I would argue that he’s one of the main tension factors in the house, but it’s nothing a little wilderness can’t fix. Nancy and Emily are frustrated because they were trying to organize their evidence (and Nancy has SO MUCH HOMEWORK) but now they have to go camping in South Carolina, boo hoo hoo. Once on the trip Mr. Wallner refers to his family as a harem and I think he should seriously be reported to the police, guys. Emily, Nancy, and Jessie are recruited to go get wood. Emily gets separated from Nancy, and in a paranoid moment runs away, convinced Jessie is going to kill her. She runs into an old cemetery, and falls into an open grave!!!! She screams at Jessie to let her out, and she can’t climb out herself, and thinks that she’s going to die in there as Jessie leaves her to rot. But when she looks up, she sees it isn’t Jessie… It’s NANCY!!!! IT WAS NANCY THE WHOLE TIME! Everything that Emily thought was Jessie was Nancy, the dog, the peroxide, the fire, the JOSH! Nancy blames her for their father dying, and for stealing Josh, as they were the two most important men in her life!!!!
But luckily Jessie is there, as she hits Nancy with a shovel to knock her out, and helps Emily out of the grave. I still can’t get over that there’s just a random open grave in an old timey woods cemetery. They go get the rest of the family, because there’s no way this camping trip is continuing.
So we end with assurance that Nancy is getting the help she needs, and Jessie and Emily are finally sorting out their differences. Jessie didn’t kill Jolie, of course, and would disappear at night or be up late on the phone because of her mystery boyfriend that she is seeing. Emily apologizes for blaming her for everything. Rich comes into the room with a new book. But when they ask if it’s another Stephen King story he reveals that it’s, in fact, The Hardy Boys! And the book ends with the three of them laughing and saying “Wow! Things really ARE changing around here!”
Body Count: One, in the form of poor poor Tiger. We had a good run of not killing any animals in these books, but that ended.
Romance Rating: 1. First of all, I still contend that Emily never should have hooked up with her sister’s ex, and then Josh just happily makes out with Nancy again? Terrible boyfriend. Also, Mr. Wallner is a total prick and his wife can do much better.
Bonkers Rating: 5. Sure, the fact that it was Nancy the whole time was kind of crazy, but it was clear that there was going to be some twist from the start because no way Jessie was doing these horrible things.
Fear Street Relevance: 7. Once again, our characters live on Fear Street, so that’s a given. And the initial ill fated camping trip was on Fear Island, so I’ll rate it higher than average.
Silliest End of Chapter Cliffhanger:
“Struggling to free herself from Jessie’s emotional grip, Emily realized she had never been so afraid in her life.”
…. And then the next scene is them going to a concert together. Doesn’t seem very resonant.
That’s So Dated! Moments: At a school dance, Emily is dancing a song that has the lyrics ‘pump it up pump it up’ and a description of synthesizers in it, and while it wasn’t expressly said I’m thinking it was supposed to be “Pump Up The Jam” by Technotronic? The timing may be off, but it sure seems to line up. Also talk of floppy discs.
“She’s totally crazy about him, Emily thought with some dismay. What on EARTH does she see in him? He really IS a sexist pig!”
I like that Emily seems to be hip to feminism.
“The Stepsister” was predictable and kind of flat, and I don’t really know how it warranted a second one, “The Stepsister 2”. But that’s a long ways off in this re-read. Next up is “Ski Weekend” .
Book: “Batgirl (Vol.2): Family Business” by Cameron Stewart, Brendan Fletcher (Ill.), and Babs Tarr (Ill.).
Publishing Info: DC Comics, February 2016
Where Did I Get This Book: The library!
Book Description:Like daughter, like father.
Over the past few months, Barbara Gordon has made some big changes to her Batgirl alter ego. She has a new look, new support team and new home base in Burnside, Gotham’s trendiest neighborhood. But just when she’s hitting her stride, her fahter drops a bombshell–Babs isn’t the only masked crime-fighter in the family anymore. Jim Gordon is the new Batman.
After the original Batman fell fighting the Joker, the former police commissioner was given a high-tech super-suit and asked to take up the mantle. With a team of GCPD officers watching his every move, Jim Gordon’s new law-and-order Batman has zero tolerance for vigilantism. He’s been ordered to arrest any unsanctioned superhero in Gotham–and Batgirl is next!
Review: Barbara Gordon, as we all know, has a very special place in my heart. Because of that, I was very excited that I liked the new “Batgirl” storyline that Cameron Stewart brought to the world, but also kind of nervous. What if I liked it, and then it collapsed under it’s own weight? After all, that’s what happened to “Black Canary” in my reading experience. So while I was very eager to pick up “Batgirl (Vol.2): Family Business”, part of me was anxious. I finally sat down and read it, and I’m pleased to say that it did not disappoint.
I like how Barbara is progressing. While I was a bit lost regarding her father (ex) Chief Gordon taking up the Batman mantle (I haven’t read any New 52 Batman stories), I liked that we got an interesting shift in power dynamic, with Barbara knowing his secret identity without him knowing hers. Seeing her interact with her father in his Batman form (in a giant robotic suit, no less) was both a little bittersweet, and also a confirmation of both of their personalities; she being stubborn and fervent, and him being willing to bend the rules when deep in his heart he knows he should. This wasn’t the only crossover we got in this book, as Barbara also ran afoul Maps and Olive at Gotham Academy. I’m glad that they didn’t spend too much time there, though, because while it was good for a taste I tend to get a bit weary of crossovers. I do keep up with “Gotham Academy” as best I can, but I don’t think that I should necessarily have to read multiple storylines in the DC Universe to keep up with one title.
We also got a glimpse of Dick Grayson and whatever he is up to right now in the DC Universe. This was probably my least favorite of the crossover storylines, because it was just Dick trying to maintain the facade that he is dead, and hiding from Barbara… Until he decided to jump back into her life on his own terms and expected her to jump back into his arms, no questions asked.
I was happy to see that Barbara didn’t take any of that lying down, and called him out on it and how it’s not romantic, but incredibly hurtful…. But that said, as a person who deeply, deeply ships Batgirl and Nightwing, I was upset to see it go down the way it did. Not only was it sad for them, it just felt shoehorned in, and it distracted from a much happier (and lighter) storyline, which was Alysia and her girlfriend Jo getting married!!! True, the storyline leading up to it was a bit silly (involving tigers mauling people), but the end game was very pleasant. Nice to see that Barbara can still be there for her friends in spite of her life of daring do.
I am also happy to report that it seems that I’m going to be getting my Oracle fix in the very near future!! While Barbara herself won’t be taking this role, there have been hints that Frankie, Barbara’s coder roommate, is going to team up with her and serve as this role. Even if Barbara is reluctant to let her take it on just yet, because of worries to Frankie’s safety. The tension that this brings is a good way to remind us that Barbara, while well meaning, hasn’t quite reconciled that she does, in fact, need help. I think that giving this role to Frankie is perfect, because she’s incredibly technologically adept, and she is there to be a voice of reason to Barbara as well as someone she can confide in. And THIS, I feel, is how to reinvent a character in a comic setting. The transition wasn’t forced and the adjustment felt natural and completely plausible, nor did Barbara have to be humiliated or character assassinated to make it work. If Frankie is, indeed, on her way to becoming the new Oracle, I welcome it with open arms and hope that she gets a lot of cool, research-y things to do.
Overall, a couple of bumps notwithstanding, I was pleased with how the “Batgirl” storyline has been progressing. “Family Business” was a fun and bubbly read. Barbara is still charming and complex, and her adventures will keep me coming back for more.
Rating 8: The re-emergence of a new Oracle and some more fun action and thrills with Barbara made a fun second installment in the new “Batgirl” iteration!
Book Description:Young Jude Brighton has been missing for three days, and while the search for him is in full swing in the small town of Deer Valley, Oregon, the locals are starting to lose hope. They’re well aware that the first forty-eight hours are critical and after that, the odds usually point to a worst-case scenario. And despite Stevie Clark’s youth, he knows that, too; he’s seen the cop shows. He knows what each ticking moment may mean for Jude, his cousin and best friend.
That, and there was that boy, Max Larsen…the one from years ago, found dead after also disappearing under mysterious circumstances. And then there were the animals: pets gone missing out of yards. For years, the residents of Deer Valley have murmured about these unsolved crimes…and that a killer may still be lurking around their quiet town. Now, fear is reborn—and for Stevie, who is determined to find out what really happened to Jude, the awful truth may be too horrifying to imagine.
Review: Summer is here and my summer childhood memories have a lot of ‘wandering through the woods’ in them. My childhood home was near a wooded area along the Mississippi River, and my sister and I would wander down to a secret waterfall and to the banks of the river. So there is something a bit familiar about a story that involves children spending their time exploring in the woods. I’m thankful that nothing bad ever happened to us while on our adventures, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t enjoy reading about bad things happening to other people in the woods! So I was very interested when I heard about “The Devil Crept In” by Ania Ahlborn. Kids disappearing in a forest that holds many secrets? Oh hell yeah, I’ll read that, I’ll read the HELL out of that!
But I think that the ultimate problem I had with this book was that it kind of had two stories going on, and though they sort of connected, there were too many questions left behind for both of them. To really review this, I’m going to go into spoilers for this book, so that’s a warning to you all who may want to read it. And for posterity…
Our first story is the one that is put in the description of the book. You have Stevie, an awkward and lonely ten year old in a fraught home life. His older brother Duncan is a bully, his Mom doesn’t really understand him, and his stepfather Terry is abusive and cruel. His only friend is his cousin Jude, who has problems and behavioral issues of his own, as he’s carried quite a bit of rage in him since his father died. When Jude disappears, Stevie is obsessed with finding him, even if he’s heard stories and rumors about the woods and those who have disappeared before. Specifically a young boy named Max, who disappeared and whose body was found weeks later. While those around him want to believe that Jude just ran away, Stevie thinks that the weird shadow he’s seen in the woods, especially around an old abandoned house, is the real answer to Jude’s disappearance.
The second story involves that house. A woman named Rosie lives there. Years before she was married to a doctor, and she desperately wanted children, but couldn’t carry a pregnancy to term. After a traumatic miscarriage, she drove down to Big Sur in a tizzy, and met a strange biker hippie named Ras. He asked her what she would do to have a baby. And she said “Anything.”
After she goes home, shortly thereafter her husband dies in a car accident. Shortly thereafter, she discovers she’s pregnant. For whatever reason that I didn’t think was properly fleshed out or explored beyond “I already am anxious around people and how mortifying to be a pregnant widow!”, she stays isolated in her cabin the woods and basically gives birth to a monster, who likes to eat flesh and blood. She names him Otto, and is perfectly fine with the fact he grows up eating cats, dogs, stray animals, and then….. Max Larsen.
So you see where this is all going. Jude disappears because he falls into the thrall of Rosie and Otto. But he isn’t killed by Otto, and when he gets home, he keeps hearing the siren’s call to go back and be with them. So there is a connection between story one and story two. And I loved that I could see the woods and the atmosphere, as well as the creepy shadows out in the trees or on the porch or through the window. That is the kind of creep that I live for. But boy oh boy, do I have so many questions that are never explained or answered. Sometimes this is okay. But in this case, t’s done in a way that comes off as less ambiguous and more forgotten about. My biggest issue is that Ras storyline. Ras plays such an important role in this book for obvious reasons, but he we don’t get any answers about him. What is he? What are his motivations? Is he the Devil? Is he a servant of the Devil? How does he keep track and tabs on Otto and Rosie (because it is implied near the end that he does), is it because he’s magic? I don’t necessarily need all the answers about this guy, but I would like a little more to him as opposed to just being a super convenient plot device! There is also some ambiguity at the end, which I WILL keep under wraps because it’s relevant to the endgame, that didn’t quite sit well with me. I had a hard time figuring out if it was the case of an unreliable narrator, or a magical system that was at play, or people unable to believe or accept the things they see. And also, WHY is it that Jude seems to be able to be possessed by Otto all of a sudden? So now Otto can astral project? It was a lot of mythos that didn’t have much rhyme or reason, and only worked because it needed to work for the story to progress.
Also, I had a hard time with the characters and their personalities. I understand that our protagonist and his family are flawed and have all had hard lives, but for a horror story to be very effective you need to care about the characters to some extent. If you don’t, you won’t be afraid for them. I was afraid for Stevie, because he was pretty sympathetic, but everyone else was pretty cardboard cut out antagonistic (always fun to see the evil stepdad knocking kids around, or the mean older brother hurling anti-Semitic comments here and there) or simpering (Stevie’s Mom and Aunt Mandy are understandably passive, but it was hard to deal with when their passivity leads to their kids being hurt). I basically was just waiting for them all to have horrible things happen to them so I could move onto the next moment, and then onto the next story. Which isn’t how I want to feel when getting to the end of a horror novel.
“The Devil Crept In” had promise, but it didn’t live up to my expectations. I’m not looking at the woods I can see through my kitchen window and feeling afraid, so you know it didn’t bring the scares. I’ll stick to “Disappearance at Devil’s Rock” if I want lost child and scary nature fiction.
Rating 5: Definitely had some creepy moments and imagery, but there were too many threads that were left untied. Plus I couldn’t find much to like about the characters.
Where Did I Get This Book: Audiobook from the library!
Book Description:FEEDBACK is a full-length Newsflesh novel which overlaps the events of New York Times bestseller Mira Grant’s classic Feed and follows a group of reporters covering the Democratic side of the Presidential campaign.
There are two sides to every story…
Mira Grant creates a chilling portrait of an America paralyzed with fear. No street is safe and entire swaths of the country have been abandoned. And only the brave, the determined, or the very stupid, venture out into the wild. Step inside a world a half-step from our own in this novel of geeks, zombies, politics and social media.
Review: And we get another zombie story! The zombie story is one that is still riding pretty high, thanks to “The Walking Dead” and it’s continued (though perhaps wavering) popularity. I’ve been into the zombie genre ever since high school when me and my sister (I was sixteen, she was twelve) sat down and watched the original “Night of the Living Dead”. Though she was absolutely horrified by the disgusting cannibalistic violence on the screen, I was completely into it, finding it to be scary and unsettling and super fun. Now I’m in the thirties and I still can’t get enough, though I’m more interested in unique takes on the genre as a whole. I’ve mentioned Mira Grant’s “Newsflesh” Series here before, and while I really do enjoy it for it’s creativity and the badass blogging main character Georgia “George” Mason, I felt that the rest of her team of bloggers (including hot headed brother Shaun) to be not as endearing. However, a world where zombies came about due to the cure for the common cold and the cure for cancer merging and mutating is SO enjoyable that I love the universe that she has created.
So enter “Feedback”. While “Feed” and it’s sequels “Deadline” and “Blackout” follow the Masons and their turn from political bloggers to targets of government ire, “Feedback” is something totally new within the same timeline. This time we’re following another blogging team, this one a bit more scrappy and independent. You have Aislinn “Ash” North, an Irish Irwin (aka blogger who goes into the thick of zombie danger for clicks and likes) who has attitude and snark for days. You have her husband Ben, a Newsie (news blogger) who married Ash to give her U.S. citizenship (as being a lesbian in post Rising, incredibly zealous Ireland was a bad spot) who is loyal and determined to get the truth out there. You have Audrey, a fiction blogger who is hiding from her past. And you have Mat, a techie/make up blogger who is genderfluid and hoping to end up as a make up artist to the powerful of this world. So when they are approached by Susan Kilburn, Democratic Governor of Oregon and Presidential Hopeful, to follower her on the campaign trail, much as the Masons are doing with the Republican front runner, this team is thrilled. And of course, much like in “Feed”, all does not go well.
While my love for George Mason will never be replaced by anyone else, I have to say that “Feedback” was super enjoyable and Ash was a great protagonist! She has a little more attitude and is a little rougher around the edges than George, and she wears her heart on her sleeve, which made her very easy to connect with. You get the sense from the get go that she and her team have had to fight tooth and nail to get where they are, and while sometimes she could be a little precious in her toughness, she always had her vulnerabilities laid out. As a whole I enjoyed this team more than the bloggers at After the End Times because in one book you got a sense for each and every single one of them, even with it being filtered through a First Person Perspective. I also liked that in this book there was far from societal speculation in regards to how different countries would react to the zombie plague, specifically Ash’s home country of Ireland. Ash, a lesbian who has no interest in fitting into societal norms, was highly oppressed in Ireland, which became a far more conservative and patriarchal state after the rising. It felt very dour and yet realistic to address the fact that in reaction to something as awful as a zombie apocalypse, some countries would put stake into zealous and restrictive morals such as forced breeding and the debasement of those who don’t wish to lead that kind of life. Grant tackles a lot of social issues in this book in regards to sexuality, race, and gender, and it was nice to see these things cropping up as important matters to address.
The plot itself was pretty good too. The intrigue and cloak and dagger issues of someone deliberately planting zombies at various political gatherings is something that we might remember from the original “Newsflesh” series, and to what ends this all will shake out. But seeing this group of journalists stumble into it quicker and more accidentally was fun, because it made for a lot more action as the consequences came to a head. I will keep it vague here, because you may want to read “Feed” and it’s sequels first, but let’s just say that Ash and her team are a bit more aware and have more time to make some decisions in regards to how to proceed. But that also kind of leads to the problem I had with this book, which I am going to talk about in it’s full spoilery glory. So yep, that means you get a
Ash and her team eventually end up running away from the (redacted) threat, hoping to make it into the wilds of Canada. But as they are moving their way through the Pacific Northwest, they are kidnapped by a group of survivors run by a cruel and misogynistic despot who intends on creating a new society literally underground. His name is Clive, and he decides that Ash is going to be one of his many companions who he will eventually use to have an array of children to keep the human species going. Mind you, this happens about two thirds of the way into the book. This storyline is something that 1) we have seen many times before in our zombie fiction, from “28 Days Later” to “The Walking Dead”, and 2) is far too large of a plot point to introduce so far into a narrative. It honestly could have taken up an entire book of it’s own, so to try and shoehorn it in felt rushed and disingenuous. I really did not see a point to it. HAD this book ended with them being taken by this group, and HAD that story been saved for a second book in a series, it would have made more sense. Even if it would have been a bit old hat, it still could have been fleshed out enough that I would have been able to give it something of a pass. As it was, it just kind of felt like Grant wanted one more hurdle for this group and this was tossed in and rushed through. That was pretty aggravating.
I should also mention that I really liked Georgia Dolenz, the woman who did the narration for this audiobook! She was great at varying her voices for each character, and held consistent accents for the characters who had them.
So while “Feedback” isn’t necessarily as strong as “Feed”, overall I liked this team more than the team in that series (Georgia Mason aside), and would SO read more about them. The book kind of ended on a note of finality, but I could easily see Grant picking them up again and telling us more. I hope that she does, because I am still hungry for more stories about the Kellis-Amberlee Zombie Universe!
Rating 8: A fun and new group of bloggers are a great addition to the “Newsflesh” series. Had it not been for a random detour too far into the plot, this could have lived up to the greatness that was the original “Feed”.