Kate’s Review: “The Dry”

28220971Book: “The Dry” by Jane Harper

Publishing Info: Flatiron Books, January 2017

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description: A small town hides big secrets in this atmospheric, page-turning debut mystery by an award-winning new author.

After getting a note demanding his presence, Federal Agent Aaron Falk arrives in his hometown for the first time in decades to attend the funeral of his best friend, Luke. Twenty years ago when Falk was accused of murder, Luke was his alibi. Falk and his father fled under a cloud of suspicion, saved from prosecution only because of Luke’s steadfast claim that the boys had been together at the time of the crime. But now more than one person knows they didn’t tell the truth back then, and Luke is dead.

Amid the worst drought in a century, Falk and the local detective question what really happened to Luke. As Falk reluctantly investigates to see if there’s more to Luke’s death than there seems to be, long-buried mysteries resurface, as do the lies that have haunted them. And Falk will find that small towns have always hidden big secrets.

Review: I don’t know how I missed “The Dry” by Jane Harper when it first came out. Actually, okay, that’s a lie; I missed it because the title and cover didn’t compel me. Sure, the hype and praise that surrounded it was on my radar, as well as the fact that copies at the library were always on request and being requested by patrons who came to see me at the desk. But I stubbornly and steadfastly stayed away, until I read the plot description of its sequel “Force of Nature”. Given that the plot of that sounds awesome (suspicious misadventures in nature!), and that it was part of series, I was finally convinced to go back and read “The Dry”, so as to fully experience Aaron Falk and his storyline. But given that I am always looking for new mystery series to follow with interesting detective protagonists, I am happy that I finally gave in and decided to give it a chance, stubbornness aside.

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While a lot of the mystery series settings I follow are set in America or England, “The Dry” set itself apart immediately by taking place in Australia. Given that I am still desperately missing New Zealand (not that I think they’re interchangeable, mind you, please don’t hurt me, Australia and New Zealand), I was happy to have a story set in Oceania. Australia’s sprawling divide between metropolis vs small town plays a huge part in the story, and set up for a well done ‘small town with secrets’ kind of plot line. Aaron Falk was a fine protagonist to explore this, given that this involves a homecoming to a place that thinks that he’s a murderer. It’s an interesting tweak to the big town detective trying to maneuver in small town politics and society, as Falk knows how it works, and knows that he’s going to be doubly scrutinized with his background. When his old friend Luke’s apparent family annihilation/suicide brings Aaron back for the funeral, the murder of their mutual friend Ellie still lingers, as does the fact that Aaron and Luke were each other’s alibis. So this story has two mysteries: did Luke actually kill his wife, son, and himself, and who actually killed Ellie? The narrative shifts between the present timeline with a third person perspective through Falk’s eyes, and past perspectives through a vaguer third person narration. If that makes sense. It’s not something I’ve seen very often in fiction, and it was interesting getting more information than Falk was getting and seeing how he interpreted the information as it’s fed to him. It makes for a questionable reliability in the storytelling, and I liked being kept on my toes. But while I was kept on my toes, I wasn’t terribly invested in either mystery that was presented. The problem with Ellie’s was that given some of the sad realities of statistics and violence towards women and girls, I didn’t have a hard time guessing the ultimate solution to her fate, and therefore didn’t feel connected to it. And with Luke’s storyline, I wasn’t invested enough in Luke to want to see his name cleared, so while that one did keep me guessing, I didn’t really care too much one way or the other.

Falk himself was just fine as a protagonist, but I think that for me the difference between this series and, say, the Tempe Brennan Series (working as my go to for a series with a re-occurring detective type)  is that Falk hasn’t really established himself as a unique main character I’m interested in just yet. Tempe Brennan is complex and effervescent and snarky, whereas Falk hasn’t been much outside of a falsely accused outsider looking to redeem a friend (and in some ways himself), and brooding accordingly. I do realize that Tempe has had nineteen books to solidify her personality, and that Falk is really just beginning, so I am not holding any of this as-of-now simplicity against him. There are definitely glimmers of promise within him and where he could go, and I want to see how he’s going to grow in future books now that, theoretically, it won’t be as personal for him going forward. I was happy with the supporting cast that Falk got to play off of. I liked his old friend Gretchen, and her loyalty to him even when others thought that he didn’t deserve it. I liked Raco, a local detective who joins up with Falk on an official investigation against the town’s judgmental gaze. But I’m not sure as of now that they are going to remain large parts of the series, as they are still back in the town that Falk is visiting temporarily. Again, comparing it to Tempe Brennan there are familiar faces that work as foils and give Tempe’s life and character uniqueness and interesting interactions. If it’s just Falk going forward with a revolving door of characters,, it could be a missed opportunity for a strong cast of supporting and familiar faces. We’ll just have to see. “Force of Nature” will give me a better idea of what to expect in this way. And lord knows it’s going to be awhile before my number comes up on the request list.

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Me waiting for “Force of Nature” to end up on the holds shelf…. (source)

So all in all while “The Dry” didn’t blow me away in the fashion that it did to many others, there is a lot of promise going forward. Aaron Falk may not be Temperance Brennan yet, but I have a feeling that he has the potential to join her as a detective in a unique series that I will follow as it moves forward.

Rating 7: A solid mystery with a protagonist that has some potential, “The Dry” didn’t take me in as much as it did others, but it has me interested enough to go onto the next one.

Reader’s Advisory: 

“The Dry” is included on the Goodreads lists “Best Small Mysteries”, and “Australian Bush”.

Find “The Dry” at your library using WorldCat!

Kate’s Review: “The Favorite Sister”

36967019Book: “The Favorite Sister” by Jessica Knoll

Publishing Info: Simon & Schuster, May 2018

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

Book Description: When five hyper-successful women agree to appear on a reality series set in New York City called Goal Diggers, the producers never expect the season will end in murder…

Brett’s the fan favorite. Tattooed and only twenty-seven, the meteoric success of her spin studio—and her recent engagement to her girlfriend—has made her the object of jealousy and vitriol from her cast mates.

Kelly, Brett’s older sister and business partner, is the most recent recruit, dismissed as a hanger-on by veteran cast. The golden child growing up, she defers to Brett now—a role which requires her to protect their shocking secret.

Stephanie, the first black cast member and the oldest, is a successful bestselling author of erotic novels. There have long been whispers about her hot, non-working actor-husband and his wandering eye, but this season the focus is on the rift that has opened between her and Brett, former best friends—and resentment soon breeds contempt.

Lauren, the start-up world’s darling whose drinking has gotten out of control, is Goal Diggers’ recovery narrative—everyone loves a comeback story.

And Jen, made rich and famous through her cultishly popular vegan food line plays a holistic hippie for the cameras, but is perhaps the most ruthless of them all when the cameras are off.

Review: Thanks to NetGalley for giving me an eARC of this book!

As you’ve seen on my various “Not Just Books” lists on this blog, I do have a soft spot for a couple reality TV shows. I tell myself that my enjoyment of “ANTM” and “RuPaul’s Drag Race” is rooted within the inherent creativity that is at the heart of the premises; be it fashion modeling and the skills that go into it or the many facets of doing drag as performance and style, I love seeing these contestants do what I know I never could. But I’ll also be honest here: I do enjoy the petty catfights and drama that almost always arises when you put these people into high stress situations. So “The Favorite Sister” by Jessica Knoll was SUPER intriguing to me within it’s premise. I quite enjoyed her previous book “Luckiest Girl Alive” because of the issues that she tackled under guise of soapy snideness, so I had hopes that her next story would do the same. Along with juicy, sudsy characters tearing each other to shreds, of course.

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The Vixen is the queen of bringing  up social issues and bringing the drama and I love her for all of it. (source)

So the good news is that this is a book that has a plot and mystery that will completely suck you in and not let you go until it’s good and ready to. I was reading this book on one of our late Spring snow storm days and it was the best way to pass the time because it kept me interested and wanting more. The plot concerns a reality show called “Goal Diggers” and the women who make up the cast of the show and all the problems that they have as they strive to maintain their status and fame. Mostly, it details the lead up to and fallout from the murder of the fan favorite Brett, a spinning studio owner who is proud of her curvy body and is an out and proud lesbian. It’s told between three perspectives and jumping through time: there’s Brett’s perspective, of course, but then there are also the perspectives of Kelly, Brett’s sister (mainly told after the fact), and Stephanie, Brett’s former best friend. They all have their own levels of unreliability, as they all have reasons to lie and distort the facts, and as the story slowly came out the rug got pulled out from under me a number of times. Knoll continues to be adept at creating twists and turns that you don’t see coming, even as she intricately lays the groundwork for them so they feel natural and believable. There were a number of moments where I said ‘whoa’ as a new surprise was sprung, and I definitely felt the need to keep reading to see what was going to happen next.

But ultimately, I think that the biggest drawback of “The Favorite Sister” is that all of the characters are completely reprehensible, and so unlikable that I didn’t find myself connecting to really any of them. While I had a fun time reading about how they were all behaving badly, and how they would all justify their behavior in ways that were totally laughable, I ultimately found myself hating almost all of them. The sole exception to this was Layla, Kelly’s twelve year old daughter, but you don’t get much sense of her outside of being a kind and creative (and driven) kid. I appreciate what Knoll was trying to convey, that even within a show that is supposed to be about lifting women up and encouraging them to think outside of what society wants them to be, they are still going to be judged by each other and by themselves because society is so damn ingrained in them. I get that. I appreciate that. It’s not a bad take at all. But when none of them really move beyond being laughably shallow (Lauren), ridiculously cruel (Jen), horrendously deluded by self grandeur (Brett), or just kind of there (Kelly), who do you root for? I had hoped that I could root for Stephanie, as she is probably the one who comes closest to having complexity. She is the only black woman on the show, she’s edging near the age where cast members generally get the ax, and she’s trying to prove herself beyond being a token and model minority. But ultimately she too was just terrible, and the various things that she was going through never QUITE justified the awful shit that she pulled. This was unfortunate because this derailed the commentary that I think that Knoll was trying to achieve. And it’s not like Knoll doesn’t know how to write unlikable characters who have depth and complexity; Ani in “Luckiest Girl Alive” is INCREDIBLY unlikable, but as you learn more about her past and her experiences you understand why she is the way she is. Stephanie, and the other characters, get some glimpses, but you never get the feeling that their behavior is justified with the limited exposure we do get.

I think that if what you’re looking for is purely guilty pleasure mean girl drama, “The Favorite Sister” will probably scratch that itch and give you everything you need. On a purely entertainment, watching bad people get what they deserve level it was very satisfying. But don’t go in expecting to have characters that you can relate to and root for, because you will not find that here.

Rating 6: While the story itself was engrossing and left me guessing until the very end, “The Favorite Sister” didn’t have the complexities to the characters that I was hoping for.

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Favorite Sister” is a new book so it isn’t on many relevant Goodreads lists yet, but I think that it would fit in on “Reality Show Themed Novels”. 

Find “The Favorite Sister” at your library using WorldCat!

Kate’s Review: “Lady Killer: Vol. 2”

30347784Book: “Lady Killer: Vol.2” by Joëlle Jones

Publishing Info: Dark Horse Comics, May 2017

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description: The killer housewife is back! The Schuller family has moved to Cocoa Beach, Florida, where life carries on as usual. Josie continues to juggle Tupperware parties, her kids, and a few human heads. However, when someone from her past tails her on a hit, she may be in for more than she bargained for.

“Lady Killer is worth its weight in gold for the art alone, but the enigmatic Josie Schuller is the real appeal.”—Newsarama
“A level of violence that can only be described as Mad Men’s Betty Draper meets Dexter.”—Comic Book Resources

Review: Given that I enjoyed the first volume of “Lady Killer” by Joëlle Jones, it was a long and difficult wait for “Volume 2” to finally come out. Assassin Housewife Josie Schuller was a character that went above and beyond my expectations in the initial tale, an archetype that could have easily fallen into sex kitten kitsch lie so many other ‘badass’ women before her (Harley Quinn, anyone?). But the strength of her character lies within her complexity, and her multifaceted life and personality makes her an intriguing and fascinating protagonist, and I was excited to see where the choices she made in the previous book took her.

When we left Josie she had broken ties from the group that hired her on as an assassin. In a rather, uh, flamboyant way. Now she and her family (consisting of her husband Gene, her twin daughters Jane and Jessica, and her suspicious mother in law Mrs. Schuller) has moved to Florida, and Josie is working as a free agent assassin as well as maintaining the role of a perfect homemaker. By day she throws cocktail parties and barbecues, by night she’s killing targets. The duality of an ideal 1960s housewife and a cold blooded killer is both hysterical, but a bit barbed as well. Even hit women need to juggle it all, and have certain facades to maintain just as many women today feel a need to do so. I love seeing Josie interact with both her targets and her family. Her love and devotion to Gene is lovely to see (especially since he’s so clueless about who she is and what she is capable of), and little interactions with her daughters shows the fierce love she has for them and keeping them safe, be it from physical dangers or loutish, inappropriate men and their ‘humor’.

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She slits people’s throats but she’ll be damned if some creep says nasty stuff in front of her kids. (source: Dark Horse Comics)

One of the realities of Josie’s new life, however, is that by working solo she doesn’t have the support she had in the past, which makes flying under the radar more difficult. It was one thing to take out a target and have others there to clean up for you; it’s quite another to have to deal with it yourself, especially if you are a petite lady. I like that Jones was realistic in that Josie, capable assassin or not, struggled with body disposal and clean up, and had to turn to a shady character from the past, Irving, to help her with it all, as well as finding herself approached by another group that may want to strike a partnership. I like that Josie is frustrated that she needs help, and wants to continue her career on her own terms. But of course, with everyone having ulterior motives and underestimating the excellence that is Josie Schuller, nothing can come easy, and she finds herself the victim of the toxic assumptions that even though she’s a trained killer, ultimately she’s a woman, and therefore exploitable. The themes are evergreen, aren’t they?

Speaking of underestimating women, Josie isn’t immune to it. We get some background to her crabby and suspicious mother in law, Mrs. Schuller, who up until now Josie has seen as a mere thorn in her side. Turns out, Mrs. Schuller has a lot of stuff she’s been hiding, and some of her knowledge and backstory sparks off some dangers for Josie, and in turn their shared family. I am going to go into this a bit because I have a lot to say and dissect with this revelation, so consider this your warning for

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(source)

As it turns out, Mrs. Schuller used to work as a clerk for the Nazis. She’s now living a secret life in the U.S., hiding her past from those around her. I personally was uncomfortable with this revelation. While I like that it helped propel another plot line further along, it feels gross to me that this woman is pretty much getting off scott free as of now for being an honest to God Nazi. I appreciate the device of her being able to recognize ‘badness’ when she sees it, and that it means that she has some, um, skills that may come in handy down the line, but ultimately I really dislike that she is a foil to Josie. It’s a monster recognizing a ‘monster’ kind of situation, and I find it hypocritical that she wants Josie away from her son and grandchildren when she actively helped commit genocide. It’s a huge blip in what had, up until that point, been a stellar story, and sets it off kilter for me. But if we are willing to set aside the whole Nazi thing, it does show some interesting parallels between Josie and her mother in law, and how they both love their family fiercely in the face of hiding  very large and very dangerous secrets. Secrets that can’t keep sustaining themselves.The idea that Gene will forever be in the dark about Josie’s profession is a tedious one, and I was worried that we would continue to see Josie making roasts, stirring martinis, and keeping him in the dark to a laughable degree. But Jones makes a pretty ballsy decision in this volume that lays the groundwork for Josie’s perfect facade to start cracking as things become more and more out of control. We are left on a pretty big cliffhanger and potential gamechanger about this, as well as the return of someone who could REALLY mess things up for Josie’s personal life.

So Nazi storyline aside, I really enjoyed “Lady Killer: Volume 2”, and the growth and shift that Josie Schuller maneuvers within in. I had to wait so long for this volume, and I have the feeling the the next one will also be a wait. It’s one that I am more than willing to wait for, though. However impatient I may be.

Rating 8: A fun follow up with my favorite assassin housewife, Josie Schuller continues to buck gender norms and subvert expectations of 1960s womanhood! “Lady Killer: Vol. 2” keeps the fun going and I can’t wait for the story to continue.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Lady Killer: Vol.2” is included on the Goodreads lists “Great Graphic Novels (released in 2017)”, and should be included on “Women Creators in Comics”.

Find “Lady Killer: Vol. 2” at your library using WorldCat!

Kate’s Review: “People Like Us”

35356380Book: “People Like Us” by Dana Mele

Publishing Info: G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers, February 2018

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description: Kay Donovan may have skeletons in her closet, but the past is past, and she’s reinvented herself entirely. Now she’s a star soccer player whose group of gorgeous friends run their private school with effortless popularity and acerbic wit. But when a girl’s body is found in the lake, Kay’s carefully constructed life begins to topple. 

The dead girl has left Kay a computer-coded scavenger hunt, which, as it unravels, begins to implicate suspect after suspect, until Kay herself is in the crosshairs of a murder investigation. But if Kay’s finally backed into a corner, she’ll do what it takes to survive. Because at Bates Academy, the truth is something you make…not something that happened.

Review: Oh ho ho what’s this? It’s another ‘horrible kids being horrible at boarding school’ book!! My freaking weakness of a book type (or one of many). “People Like Us” by Dana Mele was one of those books that I just randomly stumbled upon on GoodReads thanks to that site’s propensity to feature books on the side of your feed that they are trying to promote. Most of the time I ignore these ads, but on occasion I’m drawn in because of tantalizing covers or large words promising great things, usually of thriller kind. Knowing full well that I was pretty much taking a gamble, I requested it. When it opened with a bunch of boarding school popular girls finding a body, I was immediately drawn in. Because who doesn’t love a bit of salacious carnage to kick off a book? But as the book kept going, it became quite clear that it was going to be something we’ve seen before without pushing many boundaries inside of the genre.

The cast of characters is a pretty standard cast list for a YA thriller/mystery. Our protagonist is Kay, a girl who came to the prep school Bates Private School with two main motivations: to pursue a soccer scholarship for college, and to run away from a trauma from her past. She has a number of secrets she keeps from her other friends in their popular crowd, just as they have secrets from each other as they rule the school and sometimes torment other students. Unfortunately, there was definitely too much of her hinging on on this tragic and secret past of hers, and while it was slowly and carefully unfolded I never really found a moment of connection to Kay. While most of her relationships with her friends are pretty one dimensional, there are a couple exceptions to this: she is attracted to and perhaps in love with her best friend Brie, but their romance has never come to fruition because the timing has always been wrong (or Kay has been misbehaving in some kind of way). And along with Brie there is Nola, a classmate who has always  been seen as weird, but may be Kay’s only hope in solving who is harassing her and targeting her friends. I really liked that Dana Mele treats Kay’s sexuality as just a fact of the story, and that all of these characters were fairly fluid in their sexual identities. But beyond that, none of them were particularly noteworthy or interesting. As Kay’s friends face their various consequences to being jerks, I never felt particularly bad for them, nor did I really feel a sweet satisfaction outside of a general ‘ha ha awful popular kids get what’s coming to them’ feeling. They weren’t likable, but they weren’t interesting enough to be fun to hate either. Too many of them were placed to either be non lethal body counts, or to make the reader wonder if they are the one who set it all up in the first place.

The mystery too was a little lackluster for me. There were plenty of red herrings the muddle the waters effectively, be it misdirection about the mystery at the forefront or the mystery of Kay’s past. But ultimately, I did kind of brush across the solution well before the solution was revealed, even if I didn’t let it stick in my mind. And by the time we did get to the solution, I didn’t feel like we’d come to a big revelation. It just kind of happened, and I felt neither positive nor negative about how it all sussed out in the end. There was one final twist that did shock me, though, which was a nice surprise given that I thought that I had everything totally figured out within that storyline. It’s the little surprises that felt rewarding in this book, but when you don’t find yourself as a ready very invested in the majority of the mystery, or the consequences that it is going to dole out of the characters.

So what made it so readable, perhaps you are wondering? Well honestly, I am always going to be a sucker for the boarding school brats being rotten to each other trope, along with the themes of the misbehaving idle rich getting what they so richly deserve. If you want a standard book within this trope and genre, “People Like Us” is going to fulfill that want and need because it is so by the book (as it were). It almost acted as a comfort read for me, in that I didn’t have to think too deeply about it and that I knew that bad people were going to have bad things happen to them. Sometimes all we want is a book that hits all the things that we want and to be able to just enjoy it for what it is, and I do have to admit that I got that from “People Like Us” when all was said and done.  

If you are looking for a YA thriller mystery that reinvents the wheel, “People Like Us” probably isn’t going to be the read for you. But if you want that familiar comfort of a genre you’ve come to really enjoy without rocking the boat, it could be a good bet.

Rating 6: A fine example of the thriller genre, especially if it takes place in a boarding school, but “People Like Us” doesn’t really do much to set itself outside the genre.

Reader’s Advisory:

“People Like Us” is included on the Goodreads lists “Prep School Mysteries”, and “Sapphic Boarding School Books”.

Find “People Like Us” at your library using WorldCat!

Kate’s Review: “I’ll Be Gone in the Dark”

35068432Book: “I’ll Be Gone in the Dark: One Woman’s Obsessive Search for the Golden State Killer” by Michelle McNamara

Publishing Info: Harper, February 2018

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book DescriptionA masterful true crime account of the Golden State Killer—the elusive serial rapist turned murderer who terrorized California for over a decade—from Michelle McNamara, the gifted journalist who died tragically while investigating the case.

“You’ll be silent forever, and I’ll be gone in the dark.”

For more than ten years, a mysterious and violent predator committed fifty sexual assaults in Northern California before moving south, where he perpetrated ten sadistic murders. Then he disappeared, eluding capture by multiple police forces and some of the best detectives in the area.

Three decades later, Michelle McNamara, a true crime journalist who created the popular website TrueCrimeDiary.com, was determined to find the violent psychopath she called “the Golden State Killer.” Michelle pored over police reports, interviewed victims, and embedded herself in the online communities that were as obsessed with the case as she was.

At the time of the crimes, the Golden State Killer was between the ages of eighteen and thirty, Caucasian, and athletic—capable of vaulting tall fences. He always wore a mask. After choosing a victim—he favored suburban couples—he often entered their home when no one was there, studying family pictures, mastering the layout. He attacked while they slept, using a flashlight to awaken and blind them. Though they could not recognize him, his victims recalled his voice: a guttural whisper through clenched teeth, abrupt and threatening.

I’ll Be Gone in the Dark—the masterpiece McNamara was writing at the time of her sudden death—offers an atmospheric snapshot of a moment in American history and a chilling account of a criminal mastermind and the wreckage he left behind. It is also a portrait of a woman’s obsession and her unflagging pursuit of the truth. Framed by an introduction by Gillian Flynn and an afterword by her husband, Patton Oswalt, the book was completed by Michelle’s lead researcher and a close colleague. Utterly original and compelling, it is destined to become a true crime classic—and may at last unmask the Golden State Killer.

Review: I woke up on April 25th to a story I never thought, but I had long hoped, to see: there was an arrest in the Golden State Killer case. The Golden State Killer (GSK), aka The East Area Rapist (EARS) or The Original Night Stalker (ONS), was suspected of fifty rapes, a dozen murders, and more than 100 burglaries, all committed in California over the course of a few decades, and it was long thought that he wouldn’t be caught. As a huge true crime fan, I knew this case fairly well, thanks two big factors. The first was the podcast “My Favorite Murder”, and that led to the second: the book “I’ll Be Gone In The Dark” by Michelle McNamara. McNamara was a true crime writer with the blog “True Crime Diary”, and had been doggedly pursuing The Golden State Killer (a phrase she created) at the time of her tragic death in 2016. Earlier this year “I’ll Be Gone In The Dark” was released, in part to Bill Jensen, a co-investigator and investigative journalist in his own right. So when an arrest was made, the news spread like wildfire, and while the police were reluctant to give McNamara any credit outside of raising awareness, many think that that very awareness (starting with her blog and various articles she wrote) was vital to putting pressure on, which in turn led to an arrest. I read “I’ll Be Gone In The Dark” before Joseph DeAngelo, a former police officer and seventy two year old man, was arrested for the crimes. But now that he has been, I want to shine a light on this great book, especially since the story has finally found some closure.

What stands out immediately about this book is how personal it is. While McNamara herself didn’t know anyone who was hurt or killed by GSK/EAR/ONS, an unsolved murder of a childhood neighbor always stuck with her throughout her life. As she started to learn about The Golden State Killer, she began to feel a deep sense of injustice for the victims that he left behind, and started to investigate it herself. She made connections with investigators, she dove into online groups of fellow armchair investigators, she visited locations and dug through box after box of evidence. Her almost obsessive commitment to this case is juxtaposed with the crimes themselves, and the horror that GSK/EAR/ONS brought upon his victims. But she is always sure to be respectful, and to keep the details vague enough to be respectful, but precise enough to paint a picture of just how awful these crimes were. She gives voice and context for the people that GSK/EAR/ONS raped or murdered, and always puts them at the forefront and the fact that justice eluded them and those they left behind for so long. In many true crime books (with a few exceptions, of course, like Ann Rule) the focus is primarily on the murderer, and the victims merely objects in a salacious story. But with McNamara, she wants the reader to know the victims and makes their voices the most important ones. Would this be different had DeAngelo been identified at publishing? Possibly. But I do get the sense that for McNamara, the identity was only important for justice purposes; this wouldn’t have been a story to give him any glory or to make his crimes entertainment.

As you read, McNamara instills actual terror into you. I had to stop reading this book after dark, because any noise and anything out of place sent me into a paranoid spiral. Her writing is that immersive, pulling you in and keeping you engaged. She also makes herself vulnerable by being fully aware and honest with her own obsession, and the toll that it takes on her life and her own mental health. Unlike the book that Robert Graysmith wrote about The Zodiac Killer, McNamara knew that she was treading towards obsession, and that it was deeply affecting her life. The sad fact of the matter is that when Michelle died unexpectedly in her sleep, she could have been seen as, in a way, GSK/EAR/ONS ‘s last victim. She had been having trouble sleeping, and her husband (comedian Patton Oswalt) had suggested she take some Xanax and just sleep until she woke up. And she didn’t wake up, because of an undiagnosed heart condition in tandem to the Xanax and other prescriptions. The tragedy of her death lingers on the page, as there are sections with editor’s notes that explain that they were originally unfinished, or that they were pieced together by her notes or previous articles. It’s so great to see that this book and story she was so dedicated to was finished by people close to her, but the loss is still palpable.

So how does the new information about John DeAngelo affect this book? If anything, it makes it more poignant, and it certainly doesn’t diminish it. I say this because of a specific moment in the epilogue, entitled “A Letter To An Old Man”. It’s a final moment that is essentially a letter from Michelle to GSK/EAR/ONS, and it works as a powerful cap off to a wonderful book. The final paragraph is all the more powerful now. I’m going to quote part of it here to show you what I mean, a quote that’s made the rounds on social media a lot in the days after DeAngelo’s capture.

“The doorbell rings. No side gates are left open. You’re long past leaping over a fence. Take one of your hyper, gulping breaths. Clench your teeth. Inch timidly towards the insistent bell. This is how it ends for you. ‘You’ll be silent forever, and I’ll be gone in the dark,’ you threatened a victim, once. Open the door. Show us your face. Walk into the light.”

And as Patton Oswalt and many others have pointed out, this is exactly what happened on April 25th, 2018.

“I’ll Be Gone in the Dark” is a stunning true crime book and an opus for a voice that left us far too soon. It will surely be considered one of the greats of the genre in the years to come, and Michelle McNamara will be remembered for all the good that she did in her help to bringing closure to the victims of a horrible monster. But it’s also just well written book about confronting darkness in life and in ourselves, and how to battle it as best we can.

Rating 9: A tense and well written true crime opus by a voice gone too soon, “I’ll Be Gone in the Dark” is a tribute to perseverance, and will stand the test of time as not only a true crime classic but as one that probably helped bring justice to the victims of a monster.

Reader’s Advisory:

“I’ll Be Gone In The Dark” is included on the Goodreads lists “My Favorite Murder Books”, and “Best True Crime”.

Find “I’ll Be Gone in the Dark” at your library using WorldCat!

Kate’s Review: “The Woman in the Window”

34848682Book: “The Woman in the Window” by A.J. Finn

Publishing Info: William Morrow, January 2018

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description: Anna Fox lives alone—a recluse in her New York City home, unable to venture outside. She spends her day drinking wine (maybe too much), watching old movies, recalling happier times . . . and spying on her neighbors.

Then the Russells move into the house across the way: a father, a mother, their teenage son. The perfect family. But when Anna, gazing out her window one night, sees something she shouldn’t, her world begins to crumble—and its shocking secrets are laid bare.

What is real? What is imagined? Who is in danger? Who is in control? In this diabolically gripping thriller, no one—and nothing—is what it seems.

Review: We have another runaway hit that I’m tackling this time around. Remember my apprehension about “The Wife Between Us”? I felt the same apprehension about “The Woman in the Window”. It’s not that I don’t trust the general public to know a good book when they see it, it’s that I’ve  been burned far too many times to think that my tastes line up with theirs in all things. So going into it I hoped that I would have a similar experience to “The Wife Between Us” and would enjoy myself as much as the hype implied I would. And plus, it’s basically an homage to “Rear Window”, one of my very favorite Alfred Hitchcock movies, so my hopes were raised all the higher by that. Jimmy Stewart, Grace Kelley, and Raymond Burr were big shoes to fill to be certain.

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I’d be remiss if I didn’t give Thelma Ritter SOME KIND of shout out. (source)

Lord knows others have tried to update the classic voyeur thriller before, but I think that “The Woman in the Window” did it in a way that made it feel fresh and unique. For one, Anna is a far more complex and damaged character than Jimmy Stewart’s Jeffries was (though that’s kind of a prerequisite for this kind of book). Her agoraphobia and alcoholism, combined with her severe depression and loneliness make her quite a bit more sympathetic as she lives vicariously through those who she sees across the way from her building. You don’t know why she is this way, but as she talks to her ex husband and daughter who no longer live with her bits and pieces to that puzzle are slowly given to you. You also don’t know why they no longer live there with her, but that too slowly comes to light as Anna starts paying a bit more attention to her new neighbors, the Russells. They practically mirror what Anna would consider a happy family, something that she has lost, so her fixation is understandable, if not a bit creepy. These small insights to her life came at a parsed out pace, and I had a good time trying to figure out just what was going on with her. There was a strange quasi-romantic subplot with her and a tenant she has rented a space out to in the large empty home, and it felt a little bit unnecessary and kind of yucky given how unstable that she is in her emotional state and personal life.

The mysteries within the book, the biggee being as to whether or not Anna witnessed Mrs. Russell being murdered, were more of a mixed bag. There were a couple of twists that I did see coming, even if I didn’t seem their complete relevance, while there were others that caught be totally by surprise. One of those surprises worked VERY well, so much so that I actually said ‘wait WHAT?’ and had to page back to confirm that it had, in fact, been set up pretty much perfectly (and looking back I’m kind of ashamed that I didn’t see it sooner, but Finn was GREAT at misdirection, I guess, because I fell for it). The other one, however, did kind of fall into that familiar pitfall of being too much of a twist a bit too late into the game. It’s not as bad as some of the other ones in terms of placement, but when it was finally revealed I just kind of snorted and grinned and bore it through until the end. I think that ultimately the biggest strength of this book is Anna and trying to understand her as a person, which does tie into the overall mystery. After all, with all of the problems that Anna has, the reader doesn’t really know what to believe as fact and fiction/fabrication.

The other aspect I really enjoyed about this book was the number of thriller movies that are mentioned or paid tribute too. It’s not just “Rear Window” that we see bits of, but “Vertigo”, “Double Indemnity”, and others that I have enjoyed since I was a kid. And knowing a few of the plot points to those movies helped me figure out some of the plot twists, so if you too are a junkie of black and white thrillers and mysteries, that may help you out when reading this book if you like to solve as you go.

So while the mystery had some problems, I did really enjoy “The Woman in the Window” and think that the popularity it has garnered is well deserved. I pretty much devoured it in one day and didn’t want to put it down for anything, and honestly, that’s what I am really looking for in a thriller. It you want to be snapped up by a novel, this could be a pretty good bet.

Rating 7: A thriller that kept me on my toes and kept me wondering, “The Woman in the Window” was a fun read. While one twist shocked me, another was a bit meh, but the story overall really sucked me in.

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Woman in the Window” is included on the Goodreads lists “Chilling New York Novels”, and “2018: Let The Reading Begin!”.

Find “The Woman in the Window” at your library using WorldCat!

Kate’s Review: “Batgirl and the Birds of Prey: Source Codes”

34662772Book: “Batgirl and the Birds of Prey (Vol. 2): Source Codes” by Julie Benson, Shauna Benson, Roge Antonio (Ill.), and Claire Roe (Ill.).

Publishing Info: DC Comics, December 2017

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description: The origin of the new Oracle—the super-hacker who has become an invaluable ally to the Birds of Prey—is revealed in the newest collection of BATGIRL AND THE BIRDS OF PREY!

Oracle’s connection to the mastermind known as Calculator causes stain on his relationship with Batgirl, Black Canary and the Huntress. Black Canary goes undercover to discover the secrets of the woman called Blackbird, who can unlock any super-being’s true potential. But Blackbird doesn’t just enhance powers—she takes them for herself, making her an army of one who threatens the Birds of Prey’s biggest secrets. Can guest stars Green Arrow and Nightwing turn the tide against this incredible new foe? Or will they be Blackbird’s newest victims?

Gotham City’s greatest super-team is a force to be reckoned with in BATGIRL AND THE BIRDS OF PREY VOL. 2: SOURCE CODE! From writers Shawna Benson and Julie Benson (TV’s The 100) and artists Roge Antonio (NIGHTWING) and Claire Roe (WONDER WOMAN). Collects issues #7-13.

Review: It’s funny coming off of the Cameron Stewart “Batgirl” Series and jumping into the new “Batgirl and the Birds of Prey” series, if only because the same character is interpreted in such different ways. As much as I did like the more quirky and insecure Batgirl that Stewart created, a self assured and assertive Batgirl is more in line with what I am looking for in Barbara, and the Benson Sisters are really delivering in that regard. When we left off, Batgirl, Huntress, and Black Canary had reformed the Birds of Prey, with a new Oracle by the name of Gus. Gus is a hacker who seems to be a HUGE fan on Batgirl and her adventures, and is capable with the computer. Of course, is anything ever that easy in Gotham? Rarely. So along with the new faces in this series, we also get to see some old ones, faces that I was VERY happy to see when all was said and done!

The first thing that really struck me with this volume was that while Batgirl is the leader of this rag tag group of kick ass ladies, it definitely gives a lot of time to her compatriots. We saw a lot of Huntress and her backstory in the previous volume, but this time some of the attention and shine was focused on Black Canary, aka Dinah Lance. You all know how I feel about her so I will spare you yet another screed on her excellence, but it was nice seeing her get some meaty plot points this time around. Not only does have a lot of opportunities to show off her entire repertoire of fight skills, she also has moments of emotional growth and pathos. It’s easy to forget that of the Birds, she is the only ‘metahuman’, aka person with supernatural powers. Even though she’s a member of the team, she is the Other, and while Babs and Helena may see past this, Dinah is always aware of it. When other metahumans are being targeted and manipulated by a mysterious villain named Blackbird, Dinah takes it upon herself to go forth, undercover, and try to take her down. I loved this storyline because Dinah not only had a lot to do, but we got to see some of her insecurities, and she moved beyond being the sarcastic badass that she usually is within these stories. Also? ALSO????…… Oliver Queen, aka Green Arrow, shows up, and his main purpose is to look on at Dinah lovingly. There is a moment where he is encouraged to think about what he loves most in this world as his motivation, and he repeats ‘Dinah’ over and over and over again. As a gigantic Dinah/Oliver shipper, this turn of events was quite excellent.

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(source)

But it’s not just Oliver that makes an appearance I wasn’t expecting! Because two of my very best lady anti-heroes of DC also decided to drop in for fun, Catwoman and Poison Ivy! And these appearances harken back to older Birds of Prey realities, in some ways, as while Catwoman has always been a potential ally to the heroes and heroines of Gotham (if you’re willing to risk a future backstab), Poison Ivy has been in the Birds of Prey rotation in past iterations of the team. For her to come back and have a role, and hints at future interactions, is great not only for nostalgia, but also for the concept of girl power. DC has been KILLING IT in the girl power departments, as between this series and “DC Bombshells” ladies are taking charge and getting shit done.

And finally, we are now seeing some hints about Gus, our new Oracle. I was open minded about Gus as a member of the team (in spite of the fact I was hoping that Frankie was going to be Oracle), though it was obvious at the end of the last collection that he was perhaps hiding something. All of that comes out in the open in this collection, and while I don’t want to spoil TOO much, I do feel like it should be stated that one of the major components involves mental illness. I’m always worried that in stories, particularly in comics or more adventure-y tales, mental illness can be used in an irresponsible way to either bring in conflict or to give excuses for bad or violent behavior. But when it comes to Gus’s issues, it is made clear by her partners that not only is he still one of the team, but that he isn’t broken and that they will try to support and understand him in any way that the can. So not only do we have a character who has a disability, we have other characters who are willing to break down the stigma and still treat him as an equal. It was very heartening to see.

But sadly, it was recently announced that “Batgirl and the Birds of Prey” was cancelled by DC. So my love and enjoyment of this series has an expiration date. With this information, I’m considering just stopping my reading journey with these characters right here. It wraps up in a way that was personally satisfying to me, and knowing that it’s going to end (and with rumors of some questionable plot twists that make my blood boil) makes me feel like I should quit while I’m ahead. DC, as per usual, you are really, REALLY making it difficult to be a fan of yours (AND YES I’M STILL PISSED AS HELL THAT YOU CANCELLED BOMBSHELLS!!!!)! I swear, the moment they kill Catwoman to give Bruce some man pain (AND I WOULDN’T PUT IT PAST THEM!), I am OUT, so help me GOD!!!

For now, I’m just happy that I did get to spend some fun arcs with some great chicks who kick serious ass. “Batgirl and the Birds of Prey”, you burned brightly, and did justice to characters that I love.

Rating 8: A highly enjoyable return to this series with a lot of fun cameos, “Batgirl and the Birds of Prey (Vol. 2): Source Codes” gave us a healthy bit of nostalgia as well as some very compelling and new insights into our characters.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Batgirl and the Birds of Prey (Vol.2): Source Code” is still kind of new and not on many Goodreads lists, but it is included on “DC Universe: Rebirth Collections”.

Find “Batgirl and the Birds of Prey (Vol.2): Source Code” at your library using WorldCat!

Previously reviewed: “Batgirl and the Birds of Prey (Vol.1): Who Is Oracle?”