Obama Biden Mysteries #1: Hope Never Dies – Andrew Shaffer

This book has been on my TBR pile for a very long time. I finally figured that with the election so close, it was the time to bite the bullet. After all, we all need some hope right now.

So, Obama and Biden as amateur sleuths. I thought this would be a bit of a giggle wrapped up in a whodunnit. While I didn’t mind the story, the laughs I’d been looking forward to didn’t show up. Sure, it had its moments but maybe my hopes were set too high.

I loved the concept. I loved the cover. I loved the image of Biden surviving being thrown out of a speeding train by hanging on with his fingertips. I wanted more scenes like that.

I can’t claim to be an expert on how Obama or Biden speak or act. However, so many times as I was reading I was thinking that there was no way they would have said or done whatever their character had just said or done. Yes, I know this book is fiction and not to be taken seriously.

I probably wouldn’t have picked up this book to begin with if it wasn’t for the promise of some Obama and Biden fun. It was an enjoyable read but I won’t be diving straight into the sequel.

Thank you so much to NetGalley and Quirk Books for the opportunity to read this book.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

It’s been several months since the 2016 presidential election, and “Uncle Joe” Biden is puttering around his house, grouting the tile in his master bathroom, feeling lost and adrift in an America that doesn’t make sense anymore.

But when his favourite Amtrak conductor dies in a suspicious accident, Joe feels a familiar desire to serve – and he leap into the role of amateur sleuth, with a little help from his old friend President Barack Obama (code name: Renegade). Together they’ll plumb the darkest depths of Delaware, traveling from cheap motels to biker bars and beyond, as they uncover the sinister forces advancing America’s opioid epidemic.

The Remaking – Clay McLeod Chapman

If you get too close to this urban legend, you risk becoming part of it.

The residents of Pilot’s Creek always knew there was something strange about Ella Louise Ford. Rumoured to be a witch, she became an outcast, but that didn’t stop the townsfolk from visiting Ella Louise’s apothecary shop to seek cures for what ailed them. Naturally, Ella Louise pays the price for being different.

Tonight, they were going to burn a witch.

Ella Louise is buried in an unmarked grave. Her daughter, Jessica, who was rumoured to have been twice as powerful as her mother, is buried in the town’s cemetery. Jessica’s reinforced steel coffin is filled with concrete. Then there’s a layer of gravel and if that wasn’t enough, there’s a fence of crucifixes surrounding her grave. That little girl scared those men so much they wanted to make sure she would never escape her grave.

If you ask me, those two aren’t done.

Not with this town.

I love urban legends and ghost stories. I was even more invested when I learned Ella Louise and Jessica’s story was inspired by the real double murder of Mary Louise Ford and her daughter, Mary Ellen, which has become its own urban legend.

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Image source: Scary for Kids

I was captivated by the story of this mother and daughter in Part One, but was disappointed when their story was subsumed by that of Amber Pendleton, a child actress. The rest of the story follows Amber, who played Jessica in a B grade movie. Later there is a reboot and finally a podcast, each delving into the urban legend but ultimately focusing more on Amber than the Fords. I really wanted Ella Louise and Jessica to be given more space in this story.

I didn’t find this story scary although, to be fair, I’m not easily scared by fiction. As the story progressed it began to feel more like a social commentary: on child actors and overbearing stage parents, horror movies, their reboots and sequels, horror fans, the victimhood of women, and the injustice of the justice system.

My main niggle was the reliance on repetition in this book. I don’t generally have a problem with repetition, but here it was overdone. It seemed like every other page I was finding passages like:

It’s only a movie …

Only a movie …

Only a movie …

Only …

I’m going to take you back home.

home

home

home

Keep it spinning. Spinning.

Spinning.

Spinning.

Spinning.

Content warnings include mention of alcoholism, bullying, death by suicide, drug addiction, immolation, lynchings, mental health, miscarriage and physical abuse.

Thank you so much to NetGalley and Quirk Books for granting my wish to read this book.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Inspired by a true story, this supernatural thriller for fans of horror and true crime follows a tale as it evolves every twenty years – with terrifying results.

Ella Louise has lived in the woods surrounding Pilot’s Creek, Virginia, for nearly a decade. Publicly, she and her daughter, Jessica, are shunned by her upper-crust family and the local residents. Privately, desperate characters visit her apothecary for a cure to what ails them – until Ella Louise is blamed for the death of a prominent customer. Accused of witchcraft, Ella Louise and Jessica are burned at the stake in the middle of the night. Ella Louise’s burial site is never found, but the little girl has the most famous grave in the South: a steel-reinforced coffin surrounded by a fence of interconnected white crosses.

Their story will take the shape of an urban legend as it’s told around a campfire by a man forever marked by his childhood encounters with Jessica. Decades later, a boy at that campfire will cast Amber Pendleton as Jessica in a ’70s horror movie inspired by the Witch Girl of Pilot’s Creek. Amber’s experiences on that set and its meta-remake in the ’90s will ripple through pop culture, ruining her life and career after she becomes the target of a witch hunt.

Amber’s best chance to break the cycle of horror comes when a true-crime investigator tracks her down to interview her for his popular podcast. But will this final act of storytelling redeem her – or will it bring the story full circle, ready to be told once again? And again. And again

Hocus & Pocus #1: The Legend of Grimm’s Woods – Manuro

Illustrations – Gorobei

I loved Choose Your Own Adventure books as a kid and I’ve loved graphic novels since then so a combination of these in game form seemed like a trifecta that couldn’t fail. In Hocus & Pocus you have the choice of character and which magical creature you will take on your adventure. Aimed at kids in middle school this interactive graphic novel includes “choices, puzzles, mysteries, and powerups”. For this adventure you will need a die, pencil and eraser.

Pocus has pink hair so naturally she was who I wanted to be for my first adventure.

My choice of magical creature was also easy; the Boxobullfrog, “who keeps a bunch of weird things in its mouth to take when you need them”. I barely looked at the other options. Why wouldn’t I want a creature that produces handy weirdness when required?!

So with my character and creature chosen I took off on my adventure and fairly soon I was lost. I ended up on the exact same path in the forest several times and I thought for a while that I was going to be lost forever. There were times where I wandered around paths with no story. I went from a panel where all I needed to do was choose a number, flipped to the number and found another panel where all I needed to do was choose a number.

On my second adventure I decided to be Hocus with his hair sprayed pompadour. I kept my Boxobullfrog because “weird things in its mouth”! There was no other option for me although this little critter wasn’t as useful to me this time around. While I didn’t get lost on a path this time I had to return to the map of the castle so many times I felt the urge to scream in frustration. If I wound up at the Groundhog Day map again in a future adventure I’d write down each number I followed from it so I didn’t accidentally wind up at the same place so many times more than once.

There are rules to follow regarding whether your magical creature is awake or asleep which involve searching for its food in the drawings and marking boxes on your Adventure Tracker. I probably would have loved this part when I was in the age group the book is intended for but now that I’m old it felt too much like homework to me and so I may have cheated, deciding that my magical creature was always going to be awake when the story gave me the option of obtaining their help. I expect a lot of kids will enjoy making notes each time they find some food for their creature or a star.

Because my brain has a habit of connecting pieces of information that have no relevance to one another (thanks, brain!) this book reminded me of an article I read last week where someone was discussing the differences between Pass the Parcel from the good ol’ days and now. Back when I was a child sometimes the music stopped on you during a game and sometimes it didn’t. When the next layer was opened there’d be a cheap plastic toy or a lolly or nothing. Apparently every layer now has a toy (that’s not some cheap plastic thing) and everyone has to win something or they’ll feel left out. Hold on; my brain is about to try to connect the dots for you.

In this story it felt as though no matter what I chose everything would end up fine in the end and that it was more an illusion of choice than the real deal. There was always the possibility in the Choose Your Own Adventures of my childhood that the wrong choice could be dangerous for the character and potentially lead to their demise but when I read this graphic novel straight through I didn’t uncover anything dastardly, which was disappointing. I was encouraged by the amount of panels I came across when I read from cover to cover that I hadn’t already seen so you could potentially read this a number of times and discover different parts of the story, albeit with the same ending.

The illustrations were cute. I particularly liked the tree at the crossroads in the Woods of the Treemen that looked like it was shrugging, not knowing which path to choose either.

Thank you to NetGalley and Quirk Books for granting my wish and giving me the opportunity to read this book.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Introducing a new series of interactive graphic novels – first published in France, and translated/transported to English language readers by Quirk Books.

Enter a world inspired by all of your favorite fairy tales – complete with gingerbread houses, a girl dressed in red, and seven children lost in the woods. Hocus & Pocus offers a new kind of reading experience – part game book, part graphic novel, and part Choose Your Own Adventure story. Readers can play as Hocus (a girl) or Pocus (a boy), choose a magic animal companion, and enter a colourful fairy tale forest of riddles, magical objects, and unusual characters. Succeed or fail, it’s all up to you!