Kate’s Review: “Secret Six: Villains United”

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Book: “Secret Six: Villains United” by Gail Simone, Dale Eaglesham (Ill.), and Brad Walker (Ill.)

Publishing Info: DC Comics, February 2015

Where Did I Get this Book: The library!

Book Description from Goodreads: Collecting the series that led into INFINITE CRISIS! Six of justice’s deadliest enemies band together to start a revolution. Together, they want to take a stand to stop the super-heroic community from tampering with their minds and to prove how deadly they can be! But not everyone agrees to this agenda. Six rogues are recruited by the enigmatic Mockingbird, charged with opposing the Society and given assignments to thwart their rivals and even help their enemies. Who is Mockingbird? Could it be one of the six? The status quo is rocked by the Society’s formation and the revelations along the way make certain that when the Secret Six are done, nothing in the DCU will ever be the same!

Review: Remember how I screwed up when I started reading the Secret Six trades? Remember how I jumped into “Unhinged” and felt like I’d missed something, and came to understand that I had missed the entire backstory comic miniseries “Villains United”? Well guess what! I went back and read not only the prequel series, but two other prequel arcs that were included inside the collection “Secret Six: Villains United”. Let me tell you, so many things make so much more sense now. And being reintroduced to these characters in their original introductions was a bit surreal, though very helpful.

Like the summary says, the Secret Six was originally formed in opposition to Lex Luthor’s group the Secret Society of Supervillains. The recruits included Scandal Savage, Deadshot, Ragdoll, Parademon, and Cheshire. Catman joined after Luthor had his pride of lions killed. The group isn’t exactly doing this of their own volition, as Mockingbird is using blackmail as a weapon against them. Secret Six has to help their enemies as ordered by Mockingbird, and has to contend with the fact that they may all betray each other. As far as a set up series goes, I liked “Villains United” for what it was. Sometimes it felt muddled when it came to motivations, and the plot got a little bloated for a six issue arc. But the fact of the matter is that this story was far more about the characters and less about the mess that surrounded them. Finding out why each of these villains joined made me love many of them even more. I was probably biased going in, given that the team has switched up between this story and “Unhinged”. I unapologetically love the current line up, and when the line up didn’t involve them, I stubbornly refused to be on board (mainly because I just love Jeanette, and Cheshire didn’t do anything for me outside of irritate me. Yes, I know that Jeanette didn’t even get introduced until “Unhinged”, but I never said I was rational).

But I really liked Catman again. Seeing his pretty tragic backstory and seeing why he would be so resentful for his current situation shed some serious light on his character. I like that he’s a villain, but is also very conflicted about being one. I doubt that he will become a hero by any means, but he’s a breath of fresh air in how sarcastic and crabby he is, while having a good heart that he resents. I also liked seeing Scandal’s own back story, from her love story with Knockout to her broken relationship with her assassin father who is ashamed that his daughter is a lesbian, and wants her to produce an heir to their line. Deadshot is still just a snark machine who makes questionable decisions, and Ragdoll is definitely the quirky weirdo that I loved in “Unhinged”, but this time he has an adorable friendship with Parademon, who is convinced that he’s a clown that must be protected AT ALL COSTS. Their friendship even got my misty-eyed at one point, a sign of Simone’s writing skills. She does such a good job of humanizing these villains while still making them, ultimately, villains. I just wish that it hadn’t been so convoluted at times.

Just to note as well, Doomsday showed up, and I’m still not totally over “Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice”, so I was both happy to see him and also suffering teary flashbacks.

Now that I’m all caught up in Secret Six I’m going to charge on through the series. Simone has a great group of characters, and a lot of heart and humor with edgy stories.

Rating 7: A good origin story with fun characters, but sometimes felt a little bloated and muddled.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Secret Six: Villains United” is included in these Goodreads lists: “Current DC Titles”. Yep, that’s it. You can find more on my initial “Secret Six” post here.

Find “Secret Six: Villains United” at your library using WorldCat!

Kate’s Review: “Dear Daughter”

 

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Book: “Dear Daughter” by Elizabeth Little

Publishing Info: Viking, July 2014

Where Did I Get this Book: I own it.

Book Description from Goodreads: As soon as they processed my release Noah and I hit the ground running. A change of clothes. A wig. An inconspicuous sedan. We doubled back once, twice, then drove south when we were really headed east. In San Francisco we had a girl who looked like me board a plane to Hawaii.

Oh, I thought I was so clever.

But you probably already know that I’m not.

LA It Girl Janie Jenkins has it all. The looks, the brains, the connections. The criminal record.

Ten years ago, in a trial that transfixed America, Janie was convicted of murdering her mother. Now she’s been released on a technicality she’s determined to unravel the mystery of her mother’s last words, words that send her to a tiny town in the very back of beyond. But with the whole of America’s media on her tail, convinced she’s literally got away with murder, she has to do everything she can to throw her pursuers off the scent.

She knows she really didn’t like her mother. Could she have killed her?

Review: Two years ago, Serena and I (and a few of our near and dear library friends) took a trip out to the American Library Association Annual Conference in Las Vegas, Nevada. Many happy memories, valuable lessons, and crazy stories to whip out at cocktail parties were cultivated there, but one of the best aspects was having access to many, many books. And a number of these books were ARC copies of upcoming (as of June 2014) publications. In the flurry and excitement, I got a copy of “Dear Daughter” by Elizabeth Little. And then it sat on my bookshelf until, oh, three days ago. It was always there, waiting patiently, and I knew that I was going to get to it eventually. Which I finally did.

Boy oh boy is Janie Jenkins an unlikable person! That’s the first thing I noticed about this book. Janie joins the ranks of anti-heroine protagonists who have started flooding thriller fiction, who have more baggage than a fully booked Boeing. This time we have Janie, who has just been released from prison on a technicality. She was convicted of murdering her mother ten years prior, and even though she’s out no one actually believes that she’s innocent. After all, she spent a lot of her teenage years making headlines for courting controversy while her nouveau riche mother just let it happen (usually with cutting insults and cruelty). She’s earned the chip on her shoulder, but then, it sounds as thought she’s always been this way, even before her stint in the slammer. I suppose that I should be happy that we are getting more realized female protagonists who neither virgins nor whores, but the trope is kind of overstaying it’s welcome. That said, I did like Janie, at least for how entertaining that she was and how delightfully bitchy she was. Sometimes I like watching a crazy train wreck character, usually if he or she makes me laugh.

I was pleasantly surprised that I liked a lot of the side characters almost as much as I liked(?) Janie. I feel like it’s sometimes really easy to just have side characters fulfill minimal plot progressions, or be people that the main character can bounce off of, especially in thrillers like this one. But many of the side characters were enjoyable, and I liked getting information about all of them. It’s true that sometimes they were a little two dimensional, but the small town connections meant that everyone had some association with each other and made way for good interactions. One character I especially liked was Leo, the town cop that is on to Janie as she makes her way through the town history in an effort to figure out who she is. He was certainly abrasive, and probably would be considered problematic in how they interacted with each other, but I liked that he gave Janie a run for her money when it came to her nastiness.

This book also could be classified as partially epistolary, as some of the story is told in texts, news reports, blog posts, and other forms of correspondence, which really worked in this book. The notoriety of Janie Jenkins in this world makes her a prime target for gossip sites and bloodthirsty news organizations, and getting that whole other side of the story as the paparazzi closes in on her was great and effective at building the tension. For me the best mystery was the identity of one of the obsessed and relentless bloggers that was hounding Janie and convinced of her guilt, as the way that he was harassing her and practically stalking her made me very uncomfortable. I like being uncomfortable when I read books like this.

My main critique with this book is some of the dialogue that Little gave to Janie, be it outward or inner monologue. There were a number of times that I actually rolled my eyes because it went from being slick and snide to overdone and overcompensating. I’m sure that it was very over the top to show just how snarky and wicked she is, and that was hard to stomach because of the ham fisted way that it skewed a good amount of the time. I get it. She’s unpleasant and mean but vulnerable too. No need to oversell the point.

“Dear Daughter” was a book that I practically couldn’t put down, and I really wish that I’d thought to pick it up sooner. I hope that Elizabeth Little keeps writing thrillers, because this was a zippy read that I would definitely recommend to those who like books in the genre. Consider me a Janie Jenkies supporter through and through, and I think that I wouldn’t be the only one.

Rating 7: A solid mystery and an interesting protagonist, but sometimes on the nose and unsubtle with its dialogue.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Dear Daughter” is included in these Goodreads lists: “Books for Serial Podcast Lovers” and “If You Enjoyed ‘Gone Girl’, You Might Also Like…”

Find “Dear Daughter” at your library using WorldCat!

Kate’s Review: “Batwoman (Vol. 1): Hydrology”

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Book: “Batwoman (Vol. 1): Hydrology” by J.H. Williams (Writer & Ill.), W. Haden Blackman (Writer), Amy Reeder (Ill.), Richard Friend (Ill.), Dave Stewart (Colorist)

Publishing Info: DC Comics, June 2012

Where Did I Get this Book: The library!

Book Description from Goodreads: As a part of the acclaimed DC Comics—The New 52 event of September 2011, Batwoman’s new series finally begins! The creative team of J.H. Williams III and W. Haden Blackman launch the ongoing Batwoman series, as Batwoman (a.ka. Kate Kane) faces deadly new challenges in her war against Gotham City’s underworld–and new trials in her personal life.Who or what is stealing children from the barrio, and for what vile purpose? Will Kate train her cousin, Bette Kane (a.k.a. Flamebird), as her new sidekick? How will she handle unsettling revelations about her father, Colonel Jacob Kane? And why is a certain government agency suddenly taking an interest in her? These are some of the questions that will be answered in this long-awaited series!

Review: Batwoman is a character who has gone through a lot of changes since her introduction in the 1960s. When she was first introduced, her alter ego was Kathy Kane, heiress and love interest for Batman (because DC felt that there were too many people joking that Batman and Robin were gay lovers). She was more of a thorn in Batman’s side than an equal, as she was his competition, but wasn’t terribly competent at being a superhero. Not to mention Kathy only donned the cape and cowl so she could woo Batman. She kind of disappeared as time went on, making occasional appearances but not having much to do beyond her original intention. So when she came back for Infinite Crisis, she was given quite the makeover. She was darker and grittier. She was the daughter of a military man and was at West Point for some time. That is, until she was kicked out because she is a lesbian (before the death of DADT). The New 52 decided to give her her own series, and while it was eventually cancelled in 2014 (noooooooo!), Batwoman lived on her own terms an in her own series. I wanted to give Batwoman a try because I’d read enough peripheral comics to get a taste of her, and “Hydrology” seemed to be the next logical step in my exploration.

There were multiple strengths about this story arc that I greatly enjoyed. Of course I love where they have taken the character of Kate Kane, as back in the sixties when she was Kathy Kane she was a sexist stereotype of womanhood who was fawning over Batman like no tomorrow. So obviously I love that not only are she and Batman on tenuous terms at best, she has no romantic interest in him because she is a lesbian. I also liked her relationship with Maggie, a no nonsense detective who is trying to figure out who the mysterious Batwoman is. Maggie and Kate have a tentative romance going at first, and I enjoyed seeing them interact. As a huge fan of the La Llorona myth, having an iteration of it being the antagonist (as a ghost that is kidnapping the children of Gotham) was a neat change of pace and really intrigued me. La Llorona was legitimately scary, but also sympathetic in her own way. The other major plot line involves a mysterious group, and while it hasn’t been completely explored, it’s been set up pretty well, enough so that I’m quite interested in how this is going to develop. The artwork is also very beautiful, with lots of vibrant colors and different styles for different scenes with different tones about them. It isn’t very often that I am awestruck by artwork in comics and graphic novels, just because I don’t have an eye for art. But with “Hydrology” I was consistently impressed, sometimes having to pause just to take it all in.

My one complaint with this story arc had mainly to do with Flamebird, aka Kate’s cousin Bette. I feel that the plot line of ‘sidekick with something to prove who ultimately gets in over their head’ is one that is overdone. Bette is fine, but I had little patience for Kate underestimating her, and then Flamebird in turn overestimating herself out of anger, so when she found herself in a perilous situation I wasn’t so much worried as I was irritated. Why is it that when sidekicks have to impulsively prove themselves, it invariably goes wrong? And why did the “Batwoman” story have to go down this route when it is so original in other ways?!

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Alexa said it, we were all thinking it.

I was especially frustrated because there was a weird juxtaposition between Flamebird’s peril and a romantic interlude between Kate and Maggie. Couldn’t we have just had a lovely romantic scene without tossing in some pretty gritty and upsetting violence? It just didn’t work for me, and seeing that as of now I have no investment in Flamebird outside of Kate’s affection for her, this storyline didn’t do much for me and took me out of the book.

But overall I think that the Batwoman series is going to be strong. It’s a bummer that it ended, but I think that means that I will be able to follow it to its completion. Definitely looking forward to more Kate Kane in my reading life!

Rating 7: Beautiful artwork and coloring, and a solid start for the new and improved Batwoman. It could probably remove some of the drama with her cousin, though. 

Reader’s Advisory:

“Batwoman (Vol. 1): Hydrology” is included in these Goodreads lists: “Graphic Novels with GLBTQ Themes” and “Kickass Women in Superhero Comics”.

Find “Batwoman (Vol.1): Hydrology” at your library using WorldCat!

Kate’s Review: “Perfect Days”

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Book: “Perfect Days” by Raphael Montes

Publishing Info: Penguin Press, February 2016

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description from Goodreads: A twisted young medical student kidnaps the girl of his dreams and embarks on a dark and delirious road trip across Brazil in the English-language debut of Brazil’s most celebrated young crime writer.
 
Teo Avelar is a loner. He lives with his paraplegic mother and her dog in Rio de Janeiro, he doesn’t have many friends, and the only time he feels honest human emotion is in the presence of his medical school cadaver—that is, until he meets Clarice. She’s almost his exact opposite: exotic, spontaneous, unafraid to speak her mind. An aspiring screenwriter, she’s working on a screenplay called Perfect Days about three friends who go on a road trip across Brazil in search of romance. Teo is obsessed. He begins to stalk her, first following her to her university, then to her home, and when she ultimately rejects him, he kidnaps her and they embark upon their very own twisted odyssey across Brazil, tracing the same route outlined in her screenplay. Through it all, Teo is certain that time is all he needs to prove to Clarice that they are made for each other, that time is all he needs to make her fall in love with him. But as the journey progresses, he digs himself deeper and deeper into a pit that he can’t get out of, stopping at nothing to ensure that no one gets in the way of their life together. Both tense and lurid, and brimming with suspense from the very first page, Perfect Days is a psychological thriller in the vein of Patricia Highsmith’s The Talented Mr. Ripley—a chilling journey in the passenger seat with a psychopath, and the English language debut of one of Brazil’s most deliciously dark young writers.

Review: I honestly could not tell you what gave me the idea to pick up this book. I think that I saw it on a list on upcoming thrillers and when I perused the description I thought ‘sure, let’s give that one a go’. I’m also always on the look out for works that are of a more diverse kind, so when I saw that the author, Raphael Montes, is from Brazil, I was extra intrigued. But thriller? This is listed as a thriller? Because to me, as a woman, this is pure, unbridled horror. So I am going to call this book as such, this is a horror novel. This is a book where a crazy man, WHO IS THE MAIN PERSPECTIVE WE GET, stalks, kidnaps, and holds a woman prisoner in hopes that she will fall in love with him. Who decided this is a thriller? Lies. False. Now I’m someone who can take a lot of messed up twisted nonsense in her books. Hell, I read “A Clockwork Orange” when I was fourteen years old, not to mention a LOT of the Stephen King catalog at that age as well. But even this book gave me lots of moments of pause, and one moment where I just had to set it down and walk away after yelling out in pure, unadulterated unsettlement.

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This was basically me for about 2o minutes after the fact.

Teo is the worst, and he is supposed to be the worst, so Montes got his point across. But as much as he was worst and as much as reading this book gave me a serious case of the icks, I really, really appreciated what Montes did with it. Nay, I would go so far as to say that I even liked it. I liked it a lot. It wasn’t a pleasant experience reading it by any means, but it was visceral and it was scary as hell, and I really see what Montes was doing with the whole thing. Bully for me, I guess. What I liked about this was that by seeing this all through the eyes of Teo, we see his perspective and what he’s thinking and why he’s thinking it. But, along with that, Montes does it in such a way that you never, EVER, feel anything but disgust and contempt for him, and for everything he does to Clarice, the supposed girl of his dreams. I feel the need to put out there right away that what he does to her is awful and extensive, so I am going to set out a TRIGGER WARNING for violence against women and men alike, and a rape scene. You’ve been warned. Clarice, however, is a very interesting character even when seen through the unreliable eyes of Teo. She’s certainly a victim of a horrible crime and unspeakable acts at the hands of a psychopath, but what I liked about her was that she wasn’t merely a victim; she has moments of manipulation, moments of power, moments of getting the best of Teo and the upper hand. While initially I was worried that she was going to be one of those ‘I’ll save you with how interesting I am’ characters, and while she was at first, she very early on made herself her own person who is not anyone’s sex object, be it through the eyes of a blatant stalker sociopath like Teo, or even through just a nice guy who needs a jolt in his boring life. The brilliance of this was that Teo completely bought into the idea that she was going to be the one to save him from his dull life (A life, I might add, that involves spending waaaaaay too much quality time with a cadaver at his medical school. That he has named GERTRUDE), and exposes this ‘wonderful interesting savior girl’ fantasy for the harmful and misogynistic nonsense that, at its heart and in its most extreme form, it is. I would even go so far as to say that Montes rips it to shreds. The moment that clicked for me, my mind was blown and I had to have another moment of stepping away for a short while. I saw Clarice through Teo’s eyes, but I also saw her through my own, and the character that I got from her was very, very satisfying and someone that I cared about. I think that had this been a two hundred-some page book of her just being abused, I would have had to put it down. But there were a lot of mind games going on and power plays that simmered below the surface, which gave me hope that somehow she would eventually, totally, find that moment of empowerment and revenge.

I need to talk about that ending though. Without spoilers, of course. But I need to talk about it because I’m not really certain what to make of it. A lot of the reviews and notes I’ve read about this book say that the ending is incredibly, poetically unjust. And while part of me is inclined to agree with that, another part of me wonders if there is a bit of a glimmer of hope to it. I’m waxing poetic here, I realize, but there was one thing thrown out there that, if my own personal theory/interpretation is right, could completely turn the meaning on it’s head. I don’t know if it’s because I need to cling to hope in a book that is basically hopeless, but I see something there that makes me think that all isn’t what it seems by the time we turn the final page in this book. I think that Clarice is going to surprise Teo one last time, even if we as the readers don’t get to see it.

“Perfect Days” was a difficult read, and I wouldn’t recommend it willy nilly to just anyone. But while it made me feel gross and upset and deeply disturbed, I really, really liked it. Raphael Montes, I’m going to keep my eye on you.

Rating 9: A very well plotted and scary book, but not for the faint of heart. Trigger warnings all over the friggin’ place. Skip this unless you are prepared to be very upset.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Perfect Days” is included in these Goodreads lists: “Amazon Best Books of February 2016 – Combined Fiction” and  “What Women Born in the 90’s Have Read in 2016”. (Note: Okay let’s be real, it’s not on many lists yet. Tell you what, if you liked ‘Misery’ this will probably be reminiscent.)

Find “Perfect Days” at your library using WorldCat!

Kate’s Review: “Secret Six (Vol 1): Unhinged”

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Book: “Secret Six (Vol 1): Unhinged” by Gail Simone, Nicola Scott (Ill.), and Doug Hazelwood (Ill.)

Publishing Info: DC Comics, September 2009

Where Did I Get this Book: The library!

Book Description from Goodreads: The Secret Six are back in an all-new ongoing series that promises to deliver some of the darkest, most twisted action-adventure the DC Universe has seen since…well, the last time the Secret Six got together!

Join Catman, Scandal, Deadshot, Ragdoll, and their two newest members as they hit the road on the run from some of the world’s most dangerous killers! A contract has been put out on the lives of the Six, but the sly team has some tricks – and a whole lot of bullets – up their own sleeves! Prepare for an adventure that will take them through a gauntlet across the seediest parts of the DC Universe, and will ultimately pit them against a foe more monstrous and murderous than any they’ve ever had to face!

Review: This summer the movie “Suicide Squad” is coming out, and while a lot of people are already making fun of it (as many people are wont to do when it comes to DC movies), I’m intrigued by it and will probably go see it. I like the idea of villains being the anti-heroes and stars of the story, so “Suicide Squad” appeals to me. But along with Suicide Squad, there is another team of villains turned (sorta) good in the DC Universe, and that is the Secret Six. The Secret Six first appeared during the Silver Age of DC Comics, but they tapered off and didn’t reappear until Gail Simone (comic writer extraordinaire) brought them back from the dead with a new team and a new, edgier image. Though they started with a couple miniseries (which I AM getting from the library and will address in a later post), I started with their first stand alone volume, “Secret Six: Unhinged”*. In which our intrepid and jaded group of anti-heroes find themselves breaking former baddie Tarantula (Catalina Flores edition!) out of prison, and the target of a very scary crime boss named Junior. Because Junior is interested in something that Tarantula has in her possession….

I’ll admit that I was a little confused at first, as I inadvertently jumped in kind of in the middle of the story. But Simone does a really good job of getting newbies up to speed, and the new arc starts quick and takes over right away. All of the characters are drawn in many shades of grey, but they are all very likable even when they are doing pretty questionable things. What I liked the most about The Secret Six was that while they were all pretty snarky and had their own quirks, there was always a dangerous, and sad, vibe about each and every one of them. Scandal Savage is their sort of unofficial leader, but she is mourning the loss of her girlfriend, and that makes her fragile and unpredictable. Catman is going through his own traumatic memories, but that doesn’t stop him from snarking at Batman while they come to fisticuffs on the rooftops of Gotham (I was cackling hysterically when Catman was convinced there was a taco place around due to the scents in the air and would just. not. let. it. go.). Ragdoll is a weirdo who can contort and shift his limbs, but he may have a sadder backstory than he’s letting on. Deadshot is a tough guy with a mean streak, but you can tell he does care about his teammates. Jeannette is gorgeous and sexy, but has a mysterious power that goes back centuries. And then there’s Bane. A very conflicted, paternal Bane who has sworn off Venom because he doesn’t want to be an addict anymore. Which is weird. But along with thinking it was weird, I really, really loved it and was totally on board with it. Bane without Venom? Sure! Let’s do this!

All of these personalities combine to make a very likable team, and in turn a very likable series. It isn’t all snarky and espionage-ridden sunshine and rainbows, however, as Simone does bring in a lot of darker themes. The villain (well, the actual antagonistic villain, I should say), Junior, is seriously one of the most disturbing creations I have seen come out of DC comics. Heck, maybe even in all of comic-dom, at least for me, and that’s coming from someone who dabbles in lots of other twisted comics as well (Hellooooo “The Walking Dead”). Junior was a very depraved and upsetting villain, but even Junior has a lot of character and a lot of history that gives the reader no other choice but to feel some empathy for how this really scary villain got this far gone. That said, it’s hard to forget that the first thing we see of Junior is an unfortunate victim being pulled into a small wooden box and destroyed in ways that is only left to the reader’s imagination. And let’s just say my mind went to really awful places.

I also want to mention that there are laugh out loud hilarious moments in this first book. The aforementioned Batman vs Catman fight, some of Ragdoll’s eccentricities that put the rest of his teammates off, how exasperated Scandal gets with Bane’s misguided, if not sweet, attempts to be a father figure to her, and the snappy dialogue that Simone is known for. As someone who likes her superheroes with a little bit of edge, this team of ne’er do wells tickled me absolutely pink.

While I’m wondering how long this can sustain itself, and while I already found myself a little weary of the potential for constant double crossing, as of right now I am really digging Secret Six. This is a great example of why I am a DC girl at heart. It’s all about the villains, baby.

*NOTE: Simone’s original Secret Six run has been re-released as of late. I’m reading the original trades, which may be harder to find. If you want to read this series in the new trades, the titles are as follows: “Villains United”, “Money for Murder”, “Cat’s Cradle”, and a yet unnamed final trade, according to Goodreads.

Rating 8: Interesting characters and the right balance of action, pathos, and humor.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Secret Six (Vol 1): Unhinged” is included in these Goodreads lists: “Graphic Novels that Rocked My World” and “Comics Starring Villains”

Find “Secret Six (Vol 1): Unhinged” at your library using WorldCat!

Kate’s Review: The Kind Worth Killing

21936809Book: “The Kind Worth Killing” by Peter Swanson

Publishing Info: William Morrow, February 2015

Where Did I Get this Book: The library!

Book Description from Goodreads: A devious tale of psychological suspense involving sex, deception, and an accidental encounter that leads to murder. This is a modern re-imagining of Patricia Highsmith’s classic Strangers on a Train from the author of the acclaimed The Girl with a Clock for a Heart.

On a night flight from London to Boston, Ted Severson meets the mysterious Lily Kintner. Sharing one too many martinis, the strangers begin to play a game of truth, revealing intimate details about themselves. Ted talks about his marriage and his wife Miranda, who he’s sure is cheating on him. But their game turns dark when Ted jokes that he could kill Miranda for what she’s done. Lily, without missing a beat, says calmly, “I’d like to help.”

From there, Ted and Lily’s twisted bond grows stronger as they plot Miranda’s demise, but soon these co-conspirators are embroiled in a game of cat-and-mouse–one they both cannot survive–with a shrewd and very determined detective on their tail.

Review: What I am about to admit is probably considered sacrilege, but I am really not a fan of “Gone Girl”. As a fan of thrillers and someone who would consider herself a feminist, I had been told that I would really like it. Heck the popularity of it made me think that it was going to be up my alley. And then… it wasn’t. So as I’ve wandered through the jungle of thriller fiction, I’ve approached the books I’ve read with “Gone Girl” in my mind, in the sense of ‘is this the kind of book is what I wanted “Gone Girl” to be?’ Whenever I find a book that measures up to my mind’s perception of what “Gone Girl” was, I rejoice. I’m happy to report that “The Kind Worth Killing” is one of those books. I had initially picked it up as a fun vacation read, thinking that it was going to be fairly predictable as well as entertaining. So imagine my surprise when it suddenly took a sharp turn from the narrative I’d assumed, and sucked me in so completely that I finished it in about one day.

The plot is simple and sinister; a man is approached by a beautiful stranger while waiting for his flight. He is Ted, a computer mogul who saw his wife Miranda sleeping with the contractor of the house he’s building for her. She is Lily, charming and filled with mystery. And when he confides his marital woes, she says that not only should he kill her, but that she will help him get away with it. But any expectations that I went in with were tossed out the damn window as I read this book. Without giving anything away, as you NEED to be surprised by it, I can assure you that this doesn’t go the way that you think it’s supposed to. While Ted is a fairly opaque character in his own right, Lily is the true shining star of this twisted and devious thriller. The chapters alternate perspectives between multiple characters, and I found myself most looking forward to those that were from hers. While Lily has a lot of despicable baggage and qualities, Swanson wrote her in such a way that I not only understood where she was coming from and what motivated her, I found myself rooting for her a lot of the time. As creepy as that probably is. Swanson made her very likable, or at least fascinating, even if you knew that she was a devious and dangerous person underneath everything.

That isn’t to say that this book didn’t have weaknesses as well as strong points. I was dissatisfied with the character of the detective, whose purpose was certainly clear, but at the same time seemed superfluous to the story. His plot points were the weakest and his portrayal was by far the most two dimensional of all of the characters, along with perpetrating some distasteful sexual objectification of Lily (when at that point as far as he knew she had nothing to do with the crime) as if to further turn ‘what’s good vs what’s bad’ on its head. It felt heavy handed to me at best, and lazy writing at worst. That along with some hastily plotted out aspects of the ending made part of this book feel like it fumbled a bit by the conclusion, but since the ride getting there and getting to know Lily was a sinister delight, I am more than willing to give these minor details a pass.

“The Kind Worth Killing” is a thriller that I hope picks up some notice and interest from the thriller loving community. It’s a very fun read that will keep you on the edge of your seat. And also make you root for some shady, shady characters.

Rating 8: A thriller filled with twists, turns, and some very fun, and despicable, characters.

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Kind Worth Killing” is included in these Goodreads lists: “Female Psychological Thrillers/Suspense” and “If You Enjoyed ‘Gone Girl’ You Might Also Like…”

Find “The Kind Worth Killing” at your library using WorldCat!

Kate’s Review: “Swerve”

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Book: “Swerve” by Vicki Pettersson

Publishing Info: Gallery Books, July 2015

Where Did I Get this Book: The library!

Book Description from Goodreads: It’s high summer in the Mojave Desert, and Kristine Rush and her fiancé, Daniel, are en route from Las Vegas to Lake Arrowhead, California, for the July Fourth holiday weekend. But when Daniel is abducted from a desolate rest stop, Kristine is forced to choose: return home unharmed, but never to see her fiancé again, or plunge forward into the searing desert to find him…where a killer lies in wait.

Review: This book sounded really great on paper. I liked the idea of bending the usual gender theme of a damsel in distress on the open highway and the hero who runs in to save her. That isn’t to say I don’t like that genre; from “Duel” to “Breakdown” to even the original “The Hitcher“, a good on-the-road chase story can be incredibly entertaining. When I thought I’d found this kind of thing in book form, I was quite excited. It started out promising, as Kristine, after being attacked in a rest room and finding her husband to be kidnapped, is sent on a hellish scavenger hunt of sorts on a desert highway. The kidnapper contacts her and lets her know that he’s keeping his eye on her, and makes her do a number of cruel and sadistic tasks in hopes of keeping Daniel alive. But then about half way through the book, the tone shifted, and I felt like I had been kind of duped. I won’t spoil it for those still interested in reading it, but it turned into a story that I feel like I’ve read before.

There were also a lot of tropes that I’ve seen in this kind of fiction, especially when it comes to female protagonists, and though I did like Kristine as a main character over all, some of her quirks felt like things we’ve seen before. I sometimes worry that authors have a harder time creating a realistically complex female character in stories like this, as if certain traits (a hard life, certain personality quirks) automatically make her ‘strong’ or ‘badass’. Kristine fell into some of these traps. She had an abusive childhood. She pulled herself up by her bootstraps as a single Mom and made a life for herself in spite of the odds. She ‘doesn’t cry’ (I really hope that this wasn’t implying that strong women don’t cry easily). I think that taken as different parts of different wholes this would have been okay, but in this instance it felt like we were ticking off boxes of how to make Kristine the tough kick butt female that a reader may feel she needs to be to survive this situation. I would have liked more nuance to her character. Enjoyable as she was, she could have been great!

The writing, however, is very suspenseful, and while the book was still in full blown scavenger hunt mode I was very entertained. Pettersson was very good at cranking up the tension bit by bit, and I was all out nervous as I read the first half of the book. I worried for Kristine and Daniel, and the creep factor was very high. There is a scene in a diner that attacked me from two different sides, and I was both horrified but unable to look away from the page. To me, that says volumes about the ability Pettersson has to scare a person. Had the entire book been like that, I would have been one hundred percent sold on this book. As it was, though, she had me for awhile, but once it became clear the book was changing, the tension waned, and I was less enthusiastic. “Swerve” is a fun ride for awhile, but it loses steam.

Rating: 6. A fast paced story, but not what I was looking for in the end.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Swerve” is included on these Goodreads lists: “Best Beach Reads 2015” and “What Women Born in the 1970s Read in 2015″.

Find “Swerve” at your library using WorldCat!