Another year, another set of books I read. Here are reviews of some of them.
My Life Next Door by Huntley Fitzpatrick
Now, let it be known that I don’t like romantic comedies—with a few exceptions (2015’s Man Up and 2013’s Not Another Happy Ending being my weaknesses—Simon Pegg and Karen Gillan are joys). I just cannot get into them. And, as a guy, I’m not expected to do so. But, for whatever reason, I read a lot of romance novels. Blame it on me liking Paper Towns by John Green so much, I guess. In any case, I ended up reading both this and one of its sequels, The Boy Most Likely To, and found them both strong in the same way: realistic, lived-in characters—even with a huge cast—and surprisingly complex moral dilemmas. The characters end up facing huge, realistic gray morality conundrums, and though the solutions for them are not perhaps what the audience wants (and might be a little too neat and clean), it is still a compelling puzzler for how a person would deal with them up until that point. And, for that, and some genuinely sweet romantic moments, it is worth a recommendation if romance novels are your thing.
Welcome to Night Vale by Jeffrey Cranor and Joseph Fink
I’m sorry to say, due to my free time being wonky, I stopped listening to the podcast. But even if you only have gotten through the first 25 episodes, this is a story for you. Even stranger than its parent series (probably because it’s book length, and not confined to one or two characters or locations) it is both horrific and humorous, bewildering and morbid. Genuine horror narrative style situations come up a few times, and, though, if you are a fan of the series you might be a little numb to the macabre, it is still done well and wholly atmospheric.
Also, and this is perhaps the most surprising thing: it has a moral. Night Vale, of all franchises, seeks to tell a story with an underlying theme besides nihilism and absurdism—and does it well. Like, shockingly well. Pick it up if you’re a fan. And listen to the podcast if you are not, then become a fan, and softly scream during your entire forced march to the closest bookstore or online store where you will find a void, a cup of human blood, a banana peel with hostile intentions, and this book—which you should read.
The Lunar Chronicles (Cinder, Scarlet, Cress, Winter, Fairest, Stars Above) by Merissa Meyers
This 2000+ page series is what I’ve been reading almost the entire year. I recommended the first book last time, and now I am through the entire series, and I can say it is worth the time spent. The twists on classic fairy tales are fantastic in how inventive they are, and how brutal in its violence it’s willing to go with them: harkening back to the origins of the fairy tales.
While both the romance and the solutions to certain fights are a little hammy and predictable at times, the characters really do stand up to scrutiny, and by the end the weight of what they had to go through is palpable.
Depending on your sexual orientation, I can almost guarantee a feeling of affection toward at least one character (mine was Cress), and for those who like romance (which, again, apparently, I do) you are also guaranteed to find a couple you’ll root for by the end.
Winter, the last book in the main series, is of special mention as well, due to its protracted showdown finale which is so earned at that point. And is one of the rare instances in recent memory where a book made me lose track of time to the degree it screwed up my schedule.
Additionally, both Fairest and Stars Above, the companion pieces, do interesting things with the narrative that the main series can’t for tonal and cohesion reasons. Including touching on even darker and more morbid themes and concepts. One’s arguably more brutal/twisted than the main series’ preoccupation with deadly plagues and dismemberment (I’m not even kidding). If you can stomach a mixture of cutesy preteen-friendly romance, visceral violence, and out-there sci-fi concepts, they are all wonderful books, and worthy of the serious amount of time it takes to get through them.
And that’s what I got for this year. I’m looking forward to the next one. Especially considering I have a stack of books sitting on my bed right now from Christmas.
So, have a happy New Year’s celebration everyone! See you in 2017!
Special thanks to: Bob Gerkin, Collin Pearman, Dylan Alexander, Jerry Banfield, and Michael The Comic Nerd.
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