Kate’s Review: “My Best Friend’s Exorcism”

26118005Book: “My Best Friend’s Exorcism” by Grady Hendrix

Publishing Info: Quirk Books, May 2016

Where Did I Get This Book: I own it.

Book Description from Goodreads: Abby and Gretchen have been best friends since fifth grade, when they bonded over a shared love of E.T., roller-skating parties, and scratch-and-sniff stickers. But when they arrive at high school, things change. Gretchen begins to act…different. And as the strange coincidences and bizarre behavior start to pile up, Abby realizes there’s only one possible explanation: Gretchen, her favorite person in the world, has a demon living inside her. And Abby is not about to let anyone or anything come between her and her best friend. With help from some unlikely allies, Abby embarks on a quest to save Gretchen. But is their friendship powerful enough to beat the devil?

Review: As a child who was born in 1984, I have vague memories of the 1980s and the cultural amazements that this decade had to offer. Much of my pop culture influences from my early years were solidly 1980s fodder, as my favorite childhood movies were “Ghostbusters” and “Bill and Ted”, I have memories of my nanny subsisting on a soundtrack of Madonna and Prince, and definitely remember a lot of shades of neon in the wardrobes of those around me. I also remember washing my Mom’s car in our driveway using a rag with Reagan’s face on it, because ‘we like wiping mud onto Reagan’s face’, as my Dad put it one day. So I have enough awareness of the decade to have at least a little bit of nostalgia for it. This means, of course, that when I heard about “My Best Friend’s Exorcism” I practically jumped out of my skin in pure, unadulterated excitement. A horror novel that drips of 1980s nostalgia?

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All this needs for maximum excitement is some Ecto-Cooler and some push pops! (source)

True, sometimes the 80s factor was laid on pretty thick, but the good news is that our protagonists, Abby and Gretchen, stand well enough on their own that they aren’t 80s stereotypes walking around on the pages. Hendrix did a really good job of creating a believable and complex girl friendship, so well that I was kind of surprised by it. Not to say that a guy can’t write this kind of thing, but it felt pretty true to life, ups and downs and all, without feeling like it was pandering to the audience. Abby is a girl from a lower income family (during a time when greed was so good) who is desperate to live the upper class life that Gretchen has, even if it’s vicariously and even if Gretchen’s parents are pretty wretched people most of the time. Gretchen’s family life is very representative of this egomaniacal Reagan’s America, and the setting of Charleston, South Carolina adds the racist and sexist and repressive attitudes of Dixie into this already gross recipe. The tension of the hierarchical culture is always present, as Abby is at a prestigious private school on scholarship, surrounded by rich kids (and administrators) who act like friends, but always see Abby as The Other because of her family income. The privilege reeks off of the kids in this school, and Hendrix brings it up through various situations and scenes that not only show the monetary privilege, but racial privilege as well. This is not an idyllic Charleston by any stretch of the imagination, as racism, misogyny, and Satanic Panic are always beneath the surface.

To me I was incredibly fascinated with Gretchen’s possession, and the ways that it manifested. For one, Gretchen’s place in society is one that a stereotypical exorcism story may not place her in. Instead of the daughter of a single parent whoring around actress a la “The Exorcist”, Gretchen’s parents are no doubt the kind of people that William Peter Blatty thought to be the ideal parents. They are conservative, they are religious, and they are strict to be sure that Gretchen has no improper influences in their home. One scene that stuck out in my mind was when Abby and Gretchen were caught listening to Madonna, and when Gretchen’s mother catches them she beats her daughter pretty violently with a hairbrush. A very, very interesting choice of family for a demon to target, in my opinion. It was as if Hendrix took that old chestnut exorcism story theme of ‘if you accept God and Jesus into your life, bad things won’t happen to you’, and spits in it’s face. Bold move, Hendrix, and I feel like it paid off. It was also a cool choice to make Abby, the girl whose family isn’t religious and doesn’t necessarily believe in this stuff, the person to cling hard to the possession theory. Satanic Panic was prevalent in the late 80s and early 90s, where lots of otherwise rational people believed that Satanists were conspiring against the country, so Abby was a good representation of that. I also liked that I was left questioning just what was going on in this story. Hendrix threw enough red herrings and misdirections in there that I was questioning what was the product of a demonic possession, and what was the product of trauma, or really just the fallout of mean girls doing mean things to each other.

And since it wouldn’t be a horror story without some horrific moments, I am happy to report that there are a fair number of decent scares in “My Best Friend’s Exorcism”. Hendrix is pretty solid and taking a concept that could be seen as light hearted and tongue in cheek, and then make it into something very unsettling and disturbing. While I’m not really one to be scared by possession stories in general, there were some moments in here that had me on the edge of my seat, just as there were moments that really grossed me out. One moment in particular. I won’t give it away, but let’s just say that a certain fad diet urban legend was used to the most disgusting degree as a means of demonic torment towards a frenemy of Gretchen’s and Abby’s….

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What has been read can never be un-read…. (source)

There were some things about this book that made me a bit uncomfortable. I understand that Hendrix was setting a place and time and doing so with certain attitudes. But some of the casually thrown about racist and sexist and homophobic things thrown around, while no doubt prevalent to 1988 in Charleston, made my modern sensibilities very uncomfortable. I get what he was trying to do, but I also think that it sometimes fell flat and came off as tone deaf. I cringed a bit more than I wanted to at times.

Overall, however, I tore through “My Best Friend’s Exorcism” and greatly enjoyed the ride. It isn’t for the squeamish at times, but those with an affection for the 1980s and strong girl friendships may want to give it a try. Just…. you know, prepare yourself.

Rating 8: A fun and scary book that puts a very complex and real girl friendship at the center. Sometimes it felt a bit fumbling when it came to social issues, but overall it was a good read.

Reader’s Advisory:

“My Best Friend’s Exorcism” is included on these Goodreads lists: “Upcoming Books of Note: Horror”, and “Book Titles That Give You No Choice But To Check Out The Books”. I would also say that if you liked this, give “The Exorcist” a try if you haven’t already. Lots of influence comes from it, obviously.

Find “My Best Friend’s Exorcism” at your library using WorldCat!

Kate’s Review: “Secret Six (Vol.5): The Reptile Brain”

10241987Book: “Secret Six (Vol.5): The Reptile Brain” by Gail Simone, Paul Cornell, Jim Calafiore (Ill.), and Pete Woods (Ill.)

Publishing Info: DC Comics, May 2011

Where Did I Get This Book: The Library!

My Summary: The Secret Six have split up, with Bane and Jeanette on their own and Scandal, Catman, Deadshot, Ragdoll, and Black Alice remaining. But they soon find themselves on the opposing sides in a mission. Bane’s team is supposed to annex a lost world called Skartaris for the government, while Scandal’s team is hired by Mockingbird to kill them before they can. It’s Six vs Six, and not everyone may make it out alive.

Review: I hate it when teammates fight. This is one of the reasons that I was lukewarm on “Captain America: Civil War”, and had a hard time watching parts of “Batman Vs Superman”. I just want my favorite characters who are friends to remain friends and not hate each other. So when we got to this story arc of The Secret Six, I knew that I was going to a rough spot for me as a reader. Bane and Jeanette have their own team now, which would be fine if Scandal’s Six weren’t trying to kill them as ordered by Mockingbird. I knew that this was going to happen sooner or later, but that didn’t make it any less upsetting.

The pros of this story are that it gave Black Alice a lot more to do this time around outside of angsting. I also liked seeing King Shark make his Secret Six full debut, as he is so damn funny and obnoxious. It was also really neat that Simone decided to address some deeper themes in this arc, specifically that of annexation and colonialism. Black Alice has a lovely monologue about how using the people of Skartaris for their own agendas is wrong, and how they should be left to live their own lives and not ‘civilized’. It treaded towards a bit clunky in it’s execution, but it never quite got there because Black Alice is an earnest teenage girl and it works for her. Had it come from anyone else it might not have worked as well. There was also the watershed moment between Bane and Scandal, who have been at odds and butting heads for quite awhile now. They needed that moment, and I love their very loving, father-daughter relationship.

Speaking of father-daughter relationships, Vandal Savage comes back in this collection, and that was far less interesting to me. I didn’t really need a re-hash of Scandal going against her father’s wishes because she’s a lesbian. Make no mistake, I like that Simone was addressing the complications of this relationship because of who Scandal is (and why her father can’t or won’t accept it), and I really love that Scandal is uncompromising in her sexuality. Given the recent pattern in TV where lesbians have been dropping like flies, I like that in 2011 Scandal was here, being herself, standing up for herself, and not backing down or being thrown aside (though I should note that Scandal’s life isn’t totally immune to the bury your gays trope, as her lover Knockout died heroically and tragically). It just solidified what a creep Vandal is when it comes to his child, even though he does seem to deeply care for her. Complicated? Sure. Interesting? Not as much as it was the first time we addressed this wedge between them. The only benefit is that it gave Scandal more to do, and I am always for that.

We also got a great moment where Deadshot called Jeanette “Sweetie-Pie Cookie Puss”. Those two are just the best.

“The Reptile Brain” was a step down from “Cat’s in the Cradle”, but it was still a good volume. And soon I will be at the end of my “Secret Six” run, as the next volume, “The Darkest House”, is the end of the line.

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(source)

Rating 7: A dip from “Cat’s in the Cradle”, but some touching moments between Scandal and Bane, plus more Scandal character exploration, kept the heart firmly beating in this series.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Secret Six (Vol.5): The Reptile Brain” is included on these Goodreads lists: “Diverse Heroes in Comics/Graphic Novels”, and “Greatest Graphic Novels”.

Find “Secret Six (Vol.5): The Reptile Brain” at your library using WorldCat!

Previous reviews of “Secret Six”: “Villains United”,  “Unhinged“, “Depths”, “Danse Macabre”, “Cats in the Cradle”.

Kate’s Review: “HEX”

25533076Book: “HEX” by Thomas Olde Heuvelt

Publishing Info: Tom Doherty Associates, April 2016; Original Dutch edition published in April, 2013.

Where Did I Get This Book: I own it.

Book Description from Goodreads: Whoever is born here, is doomed to stay ’til death. Whoever settles, never leaves.

Welcome to Black Spring, the seemingly picturesque Hudson Valley town haunted by the Black Rock Witch, a 17th century woman whose eyes and mouth are sewn shut. Muzzled, she walks the streets and enters your homes at will. She stands next to your bed for nights on end. Everybody knows that her eyes may never be opened.

The elders of Black Spring have virtually quarantined the town by using high-tech surveillance to prevent their curse from spreading. Frustrated with being kept in lockdown, the town’s teenagers decide to break their strict regulations and go viral with the haunting, but in so doing send the town spiraling into the dark, medieval practices of the past.

Review: It takes a heck of a lot to scare me, guys. I’ve been watching suspense films like “Rear Window” and “Vertigo” since I was a kid, I started watching slasher films when I was in middle school, and my first venture into horror movies in the theater was when a chaperone took me and a friend to “The Blair Witch Project”the summer before freshman year of high school. Suffice to say, I’m a veteran at the horror rodeo, and it now means that the subject of horror I’m consuming needs to really pull out all the stops in very specific ways before I am affected by it. It’s good in that I’m not kept up late at night jumping at every sound, but bad in that I like being scared for funsies every once in awhile.

But “HEX”? “HEX” kept me up at night.

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I don’t know why I thought reading it before bed was a good idea. (source)

I think that it was a combination of multiple things that made “HEX” such a scary read for me. The first is that Katherine van Wyler (aka the Black Rock Witch) just sounds like a really scary entity. She walks in silence, towers over people, just stands in place for hours on end, and has her eyes and mouth sewn shut. I mean jeeze, this is the stuff that my nightmares are made of. While the people in Black Spring are used to her, and while they pretty much know how to handle her, that isn’t to say that they aren’t living every day in fear of her and what she could do, and has done in the past. You do get Katherine’s backstory, but Heuvelt saves that for a little later. The book itself just opens with our protagonist family, Steve, Jocelyn, Tyler, and Matt Grant, going about their business as Katherine stands and blindly stares in their living room. I closed the book after the first chapter and just sat there for a moment, wondering what exactly it was I was getting myself into. There are scenes with her that took my breath away because I was so tense, and scenes where I was nearly shaking. She is absolutely terrifying. But Katherine is tragic as well. She has cursed this town for what it did to her back when Black Spring was still run by Dutch settlers, and as you find out more about what that is, the more sympathy you feel for this creature that everyone lives in fear of. Not to say that the reader isn’t still in fear of her as the book progresses. I mean, the description alone is just scary as hell, and there were moments of characters tromping through the woods at night that took me back to that summer before freshman year when I was practically pissing myself watching “The Blair Witch Project”. That is to say I had to nope the hell out and stop reading.

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Something about witches, man. (source)

But something that sets this book aside from other genre horror is that it is not The Black Rock Witch who should be most feared. The town of Black Spring has evolved in such a way because of this curse that they have turned into something far more unsettling. While I didn’t have as big of a problem with the HEX Group (the surveillance group that keeps tabs on Katherine’s whereabouts through surveillance and the vigilance of the townspeople reporting in on their phones), I most certainly had a problem with the Town Council. Led by a zealous old man named Cotton Mathers, the elders of the Town Council are determined to make sure that everyone in Black Spring keeps this life and Katherine a secret from the outside world, and anyone who goes against those rules are subject to unspeakable punishments. Black Spring is still stuck in an age that is very reminiscent of the Puritans, and their religious fervor and practices of atonement and groupthink were by far the most upsetting moments in this book. The way that the town gets whipped up into a frenzy out of fear of Katherine just reeked of the scariest parts of history, and while I sometimes had to put the book down because of the witch-related suspense, I was far more upset by the absolutist violence and terror that the humans in this book doled out, to their own citizenry and to Katherine alike.

The characters were also very well written. The members of the Grant Family were the main protagonists, with Steve and Tyler at the forefront. Steve and Jocelyn were unlucky enough to move to Black Spring from the outside and realize that they couldn’t leave for longer than a couple weeks, but Steve has since adapted to the ways of the town and believes in keeping the status quo as a way to protect his family. Steve loves his family to a fault, but most of his love is for his oldest, Tyler. Steve really just wants everyone to be safe, and is acquiescent to the life that they have found themselves in, even if that means that they are ultimately prisoners.

Tyler, on the other hand, has grown up in Black Spring, but has also had the Internet his whole life and has seen the outside world, and wants to live in it. Their conflicting views provide the main conflict at the heart of this book: the old ways being pushed against by the younger generation. Tyler is the one who wants to expose the Black Rock Witch Haunting to the world via his website and blog, thinking that if outsiders knew it may break the curse, while the elders of the town think that it would just spread it. I understood both sides of the argument, and what I liked best about it was that neither side was completely right, or wrong. Tyler has a hard lesson to learn in who to trust for such good intentioned (though ultimately selfish) sentiments, as one could argue it’s one of his friends, Jaydon, who sets of the events of this book. Jaydon has his own personal vendetta against Katherine, and that in combination with a childhood of abuse and rage set off a lot of very upsetting events and violence directed at Katherine that made me, as a woman, a bit sick to my stomach to read. Again, it’s the people of Black Spring that are the biggest villains of all in this book.

I also greatly enjoyed the character of Robert Grim, the head of the HEX Group and main tracker of Katherine’s movements. He’s brash and he’s sarcastic, but he’s also one of the few voices of reason in Black Spring. He’s a realist living in a town filled with superstition and fear, and he is noble to a fault when it comes to trying to protect the community he doesn’t really fit into, not at the heart of his being. It would have been so simple to make him just another antagonist, but Grim is quite possibly the most righteous of characters in Black Spring.

“HEX” was a fabulous, very scary read. Fans of horror really need to pick this one up, because it has everything you could ever want. But maybe don’t read it at night. And if you live by a wooded area like me, definitely try not to think about that either…

Rating 9: This book scared the dickens out of me. Definitely recommended but maybe not for those easily scared.

Reader’s Advisory:

“HEX” is pretty new and not on many Goodreads Lists as of yet, but I would put it on “Best Books Featuring Witches”, and “Boil Boil Toil and Trouble”.

Find “HEX” at your library using WorldCat!

 

Kate’s Review: “Don’t You Cry”

27821486Book: “Don’t You Cry” by Mary Kubica

Publishing Info: MIRA, May 2016

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description from Goodreads: In downtown Chicago, a young woman named Esther Vaughan disappears from her apartment without a trace. A haunting letter addressed to My Dearest is found among her possessions, leaving her friend and roommate Quinn Collins to wonder where Esther is and whether or not she’s the person Quinn thought she knew. 

Meanwhile, in a small Michigan harbor town an hour outside Chicago, a mysterious woman appears in the quiet coffee shop where eighteen-year-old Alex Gallo works as a dishwasher. He is immediately drawn to her charm and beauty, but what starts as an innocent crush quickly spirals into something far more dark and sinister than he ever expected.  

As Quinn searches for answers about Esther, and Alex is drawn further under Pearl’s spell, master of suspense Mary Kubica takes readers on a taut and twisted thrill ride that builds to a stunning conclusion and shows that no matter how fast and far we run, the past always catches up with us in the end. 

Review: I don’t know about you guys, but I have a guilty pleasure love for the movie “Single White Female”. While it never really scared me so much (the only time I’ve lived with a stranger was in the dorms, and my friend Megan is the bee’s knees), I did enjoy how creepy it was. So when I heard about “Don’t You Cry” by Mary Kubica, and saw it described as “‘Single While Female’ on steroids”, well. I mean, come on. Let’s do this. The fact that it was written by Kubica was just the icing on the cake, as I read her previous novel “Pretty Baby” earlier this year and found it truly addictive. Her first person POVs in that were well done and very unreliable, making it a book filled with unpredictable (but yeah, sometimes predictable) twists and turns. The good news is that “Don’t You Cry” follows a similar structure of expectations, as it was definitely creepy and caught me off guard a number of times. The not as good news is that sometimes in an effort to throw the reader off the scent, it made some characters farfetched and treading into mixed up territory.

There are two different perspectives in this book that alternate between chapters. First there is Quinn, the roommate of the missing Esther, and then there is Alex, a teenager in a small town who leads a lonely life until a mysterious stranger arrives. I’m going to start with Alex, as I found his parts to be the weaker of the two. I understand why he was used, for the most part, and seeing him get close to ‘Pearl’ (as he calls the mysterious stranger) was a unique way to present some of the missing puzzle pieces in the mystery at hand. But at the same time, Alex felt like an odd choice of character to plant in this role. He didn’t really have any connection to the rest of the mystery, he felt more like a hapless bystander who was just there out of convenience for later plot points. While I know I was supposed to feel bad for him, he never really got past a superficial characterization of ‘the loner boy who has no one who loves him and aches for affection’. I like this trope just fine if it is properly explored, but in this case it wasn’t, and he just kind of bored me. His hardships were more just there not because it made his character interesting, but because it made some of the late game choices he made plausible. And that didn’t really fly for me.

But then there is Quinn’s side of the story. This was definitely the stronger of the two perspectives, and the one that I most wanted to be reading. But there is a problem with this side too. I know that the whole point of the thriller genre is to make the reader question what is genuine and who the true threats are. Kubica did a really good job of this in her book “Pretty Baby”, as in that book one of the narrators slowly descended into madness. It was written in such a way that it was like the frog in the slow boil. I’m going to be a little spoilery here, because it doesn’t really take away from the overall mystery, because I need to address this issue. Quinn, to me, seemed a bit unhinged and nuts. There were things that she did that just seemed very off and obsessive, and I was fairly convinced that she was going to be the end game antagonist. But lo and behold, she wasn’t. And I can’t help but feel like she was still just a little too nuts to be someone that we are ultimately supposed to be rooting for. I don’t know if I was just assuming that she was insane and therefore just saw that in everything, or if Kubica did too much in trying to red herring her. I appreciate trying to mislead the reader, but I think that it went a little too far with Quinn.

The mystery itself was pretty well done. I had no idea what was going on and when I thought I’d figured something out, it turned out I hadn’t. I was turning the pages very quickly during the climax, eager to see how it all fell into place, and looking back through the narrative the keys to the mystery were sprinkled throughout expertly.

Rating 7: The mystery was pretty strong and kept me guessing, but the characters were either too flat, or overly suspicious.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Don’t You Cry” is included on these Goodreads lists: “2016 Must Reads”, and “Most Anticipated Mysteries 2016”.

Find “Don’t You Cry” at your library using WorldCat!

Kate’s Review: “Secret Six (Vol.4): Cat’s in the Cradle”

8616116Book: “Secret Six (Vol.4): Cat’s in the Cradle” by Gail Simone, Jim Calafiore (Ill.), R.B. Silva (Ill.), and Alexandre Palamaro (Ill.)

Publishing Info: DC Comics, January 2011

Where Did I Get This Book: The Library!

Book Description from Goodreads: Gail Simone’s fan-favorite team of rogues and bad guys returns in an all-new collection that pits one team member against the whole group.This volume finds Thomas Blake – a.k.a. Catman – heading to Africa to find the three men who kidnapped his long lost son. Catman leaves a trail of destruction in his wake that threatens to destroy the Secret Six once and for all.

Review: As I am sure it was clear in my previous review of the series “Secret Six”, I was worried that the story was starting to become stagnant and repetitive. I knew that I still liked it enough to keep going, but I was starting to fret that things weren’t going keep my interest. But when I picked up “Cat’s in the Cradle”, I was immediately pulled back into the story, because the focus was, very clearly, going to be on Catman.

The thing about Catman is that of the entire group, he is the one who is the most morally ambiguous. He has been labeled a villain, and tries to wear that label with pride, but there is something in him that makes him tread towards goodness at times. We finally got some more insight into his past, and why he is the way he is. Spoilers: it’s absolutely heartbreaking. Along with being a story about underdogs and misfits, “Cats in the Cradle” explores the story of fathers and sons. The title alone, clearly taken from Harry Chapin’s song about a father and son relationship that is beyond broken, let’s you know what is in store. Catman finds out that his son with Cheshire has been kidnapped, and while he goes looking for the baby, he thinks about his own relationship with his father, who was abusive and violent.

I liked that Catman didn’t all of a sudden become a no fault hero in his son’s time of need. In fact, he was actually willing to sacrifice his son for his team, and then take bloody awful revenge later (perhaps it’s more fair to say he gambled with the baby’s life, as he was almost totally convinced that the kidnappers would balk). It was nice to see that in a moment where betrayal seemed inevitable, Simone made Catman find another way. I also liked seeing his past, and seeing just why it is that he’s so afraid of being a Dad, and knows that he can’t really be one because of the choices he’s made. I got very misty-eyed at the end. Okay fine, I cried.

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Accurate portrayal. (source)

It was also nice to see that while the team split up because of Catman’s decision (with Bane and Jeanette leaving the group), there weren’t any hard feelings between anyone. I was thinking that when the team split there would be a whole lot of drama, and yet they seem to be perfectly amicable and understanding. It was a nice choice, and not the obvious one.

And this volume marked the return of the funny and unique side stories! The first one involved the Six as prey in a ‘most dangerous game’-like situation, where a compound of wealthy men with Presidential aliases think that they can hunt the Six and live to tell about it….. I’m sure you can guess how well that goes. The other story was an alternate universe story of the Six, which took place in the Old West. It had some steamy scenes with Jeanette and Deadshot (yes please!) and some cute and fun moments with Ragdoll as a puppeteer. But then…. Well, it ended very dark. And I’m very worried that the ending is a hint as to what is to come in the last two volumes. It served as a reminder that these guys aren’t heroes, they’re villains. And villains aren’t known for winning in stories like this…

I am very pleased that the Six are going strong. I can’t wait to dig into Volume 5, “The Reptile Brain”. If they can keep up the momentum, I feel like this series is going to stick the landing. We can only hope.

Rating 8: The Secret Six are back on track, with new character development and some very dark themes. But the humor and the heart is always present.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Secret Six (Vol.4): Cat’s in the Cradle” is included in these Goodreads lists: “Diverse Heroes in Graphic Novels/Comic Books”, and “Swancon 2013 Reading List”.

Find “Secret Six (Vol.4): Cat’s in the Cradle” at your library using Worldcat!

Previous reviews of “Secret Six”: “Villains United”,  “Unhinged“, “Depths”, “Danse Macabre”.

 

Kate’s Review: “Hidden Bodies”

23492288Book: “Hidden Bodies” by Caroline Kepnes

Publishing Info: Atria/ Emily Bestler Books, February 2016

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description from Goodreads: Joe Goldberg is no stranger to hiding bodies. In the past ten years, this thirty-something has buried four of them, collateral damage in his quest for love. Now he’s heading west to Los Angeles, the city of second chances, determined to put his past behind him.

In Hollywood, Joe blends in effortlessly with the other young upstarts. He eats guac, works in a bookstore, and flirts with a journalist neighbor. But while others seem fixated on their own reflections, Joe can’t stop looking over his shoulder. The problem with hidden bodies is that they don’t always stay that way. They re-emerge, like dark thoughts, multiplying and threatening to destroy what Joe wants most: true love. And when he finds it in a darkened room in Soho House, he’s more desperate than ever to keep his secrets buried. He doesn’t want to hurt his new girlfriend—he wants to be with her forever. But if she ever finds out what he’s done, he may not have a choice…

Review: Joe Goldberg has sort of kind of unexpectedly become one of my favorite recent literary narrators. Trust me, I’m shocked too. This is a guy who (oh man will there be spoilers in this review) has killed multiple people, stalked multiple women, and murdered his supposed true love Beck from his first book, “You”. This guy is a predator who targets women all because of his delusions of true love and romance….. And I kind of love him. Which makes me feel yucky.

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(source)

In “Hidden Bodies”, Joe has taken up with Amy, the girl he met in “You” when she tried to commit credit card fraud at his store and he was instantly smitten with her. What the Goodreads description fails to mention is that Joe is going to L.A. because Amy tricks him and rips him off of a whole lot of cash, and he is going not to try and make a fresh start, but for good old fashioned revenge against her. I’m ashamed to say that I was totally on board for Joe tracking her down and making her pay, as what does that say about me?! I think that it says more about Kepnes as a writer, as Joe is a horrible person, but she writes him in a way that is so funny and so entertaining that you just want to see what he does and how he’s going to survive in a city of phony people and platitudes when he thinks so highly of himself. Spoiler alert: the results are both unsettling and incredibly funny.

This book drops the framework of being in the quasi second person, and it’s better for it. Joe is now his own being, and he can do so much more with this range that has opened up for him. This story reminds me quite a bit of “The Talented Mr. Ripley” series, as Ripley, too, was a sociopathic protagonist who you couldn’t help but follow willingly into violence and cruelty. In L.A. Joe shines even more, and Kepnes uses him as a strange Greek Chorus to point out the absurdity of the culture. Joe is a psychopath living in an L.A. that is portrayed as pure sociopathy, and the fact that they do not really mix well until he embraces it is darkly delightful. Joe does embrace it when he meets Love, an heiress to a grocery fortune who is kind, loving, and born with a silver spoon in her mouth. She is different from Beck and Amy in that while those two were trying to make it and rife with insecurity, Love has already made it thanks to her parents’ money and fully secure within herself. She is a striking contrast to her twin brother Forty, who is everything that is wrong with L.A. privilege and excess. Seeing Joe interact with these two people was far more interesting than a repeat of “You”, which I was worried “Hidden Bodies” would be, and it made him more of a “Dexter”-like avenger as he takes out the very worst of what L.A. has to offer. Is this a bit strange rooting for a man who is taking out human trash? Kind of? Does it validate Joe’s stalker actions towards Beck in “You”? I don’t think it does. Joe is still absolutely creepy and repugnant, but why not let a creep take out a few other creeps along the way?

Like with “You” there were a few plot points that felt a bit forced or convenient. There were times that Joe probably should have gotten caught, or at least had some culpability thrown his way, but external circumstances fixed that. I rarely like a deus ex machina solution, and there were moments in this that felt that way. I saw that it was more trying to show that sometimes luck is just on people’s side, like in the movie “Matchpoint” (as Joe loves Woody Allen movies), but it still frustrated me. But one big twist, which I won’t spoil here, was very intriguing, and involved Joe’s girlfriend Love. Love was a unique character in that she always exceeded my expectations. While Beck was pretty two dimensional, at least how Joe saw her, Love is very clearly a complex and hard to read foil for Joe. I am very, very interested in where her character goes, especially with some of the progressions we saw with her.

That is to say, if this series keeps going. It ended on a note that could very easily go either way for Joe. I really do hope that we get to see more of him, and that Kepnes treats us to another book about Joe Goldberg and the terrible, yet enthralling, deeds that he does. “Hidden Bodies” was very fun, and I’m ready for more.

Rating 8: A great follow up to “You” and Joe Goldberg remains fiendishly fun. There were some deus ex machina moments, but ultimately I hope that this series continues.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Hidden Bodies” is included on the Goodreads list “Best Dark Humor”, and while it’s not on this list it would feel right at home on “I Like Serial Killers”.

Find “Hidden Bodies” at your library using WorldCat!

 

Kate’s Review: “Daddy Dearest”

28223107Book: “Daddy Dearest” by Paul Southern

Publishing Info: Self Published. Available on Amazon and Smashwords, June 2016.

Where Did I Get This Book: I received a free ARC edition of this book from the author in exchange for an honest review.

Book Description from Goodreads: An estranged father’s weekend with his beloved five-year-old daughter turns into a nightmare when she gets into the lift of a city centre tower block and goes down without him. She vanishes without a trace. It sets off a race against time, and a nationwide manhunt, to find her. As the police investigation closes in, suspicion falls on those closest to her – with devastating consequences. Daddy Dearest is a terrifying story of love, obsession and psychological meltdown.

Review: I thought I had this book all figured out when I read the description. What is it that Han Solo says? “Don’t get cocky”? I got cocky. I never should have assumed that I knew everything going into this book, because it ended up making me feel very sheepish indeed. I went in with preconceived notions, and “Daddy Dearest” proved me wrong. I like being proved wrong, folks, especially if it works out in my favor, ultimately. I think that part of it is that I’ve read so many thrillers as of late that have big crazy outlandish twists, I am always on the lookout for curves and swerves, and while “Daddy Dearest” does have some twists and turns, I didn’t guess any of them. So BRA-VO, Paul Southern.

I feel that while I would like to keep some of the major plot points tucked away, there are themes that I want to address in this review that could be seen as spoiler-y. So fair warning.

At it’s heart, “Daddy Dearest” is a character study of a man who is grappling with a lot of stress and problems in his personal life. Our unnamed narrator and his unnamed daughter have a pretty decent relationship, one that seemed fairly realistic given the circumstances. He’s divorced from her mother, she only seems him every once in awhile, and he is clearly quite terrified of losing her. While this manifests in a fear of her getting caught in an elevator (or lift in the book, as it takes place in the U.K.), the fear is far broader than that. When she disappears behind those doors, it makes all of his fears a reality, as it seems that she has disappeared from his life without any way to get her back. Our Narrator is an interesting conundrum in and of himself, as while he loves his (also unnamed) daughter very much it becomes clear from early on that he does not like, or at least respect, women as a whole. I honestly had a hard time with some of the ways that he would describe women in this book, and how he would interact with them as well. It took some time to peel back the layers of our narrator, and the more we peeled back the more disturbing he became. At first, when I went in thinking that Our Narrator was going to be a heroic type trying to save his daughter from some unknown threat, I thought that the writing was very sexist and was having a hard time with it. As I kept going, however, it slowly became apparent that all was not as it seemed, and I have to say that it was achieved in a clever and satisfying way. I can’t say that I liked Our Narrator, but I was very invested in how things shook out for him and his missing daughter.

Sometimes when I was reading it I would get tripped up over some of the phrasing. While the story itself was pretty well done and kept me interested, there were times that the writing felt a little choppy or awkward. There were a number of times that I would get hung up on a sentence because of the language that was chosen to convey it. It doesn’t break the book, but it did take me out of the story whenever it did happen. I usually saw what their effect was supposed to be, but mostly they just didn’t quite bring me to where they were meant to. There were also a couple of tangential moves in the story that were a little bit confusing for me, and even after trying to go back and discern what had happened, I was still left scratching my head. I also did, ultimately, have a hard time wrapping my head around the women characters in this book. I know that we were seeing them through the eyes of Our Narrator, who has a lot of contempt for women in general, but I had a hard time understanding the motivations of those who were present, at least when it came to having a relationship with him. This was the most apparent with Our Narrator’s ex-wife. Sure, we know that she got out of the marriage, but I never really understood why she got in it in the first place. I should mention that it’s a first person narrator who is unreliable at best, so this could be me nit picking, but I wanted to see some idea as to why she would have had associated with this man, much less had a child with him!

I was pleasantly surprised by “Daddy Dearest”. I think that if you are a fan of thrillers and can overlook some fumbling writing quirks, this may be one to check out. It definitely left me guessing, which is really what one wants in a book like this.

Rating 6: Though the writing is a bit clunky at times and some of the characters a little flat, the plot is well paced and did keep me guessing. A solid mystery with some good twists.

Reader’s Advisory:

As of this writing “Daddy Dearest” is not on any lists on Goodreads. However, I think that you will find similar stories on “Popular Unreliable Narrator Books”, and “Popular Missing Persons Books”.

Though “Daddy Dearest” is not available on WorldCat as of this writing, you can find it on Amazon and Smashwords on June 1st.