Saturday, December 31, 2016

2016 books

Another year comes to an end, so it's time to look back at the books and movies I consumed in 2016, as well as calculate all the spare change I acquired along the way.

Books first. It wasn't a great year for reading for me, because school got in the way, so there hasn't been as much spare time to read for pleasure. I wound up only reading 28 books this year, and a number of those were graphic novels. Still, I suspect that's higher than the average American citizen accomplishes, so I still can maintain some sense of superiority.
As always, the final sentence of the book is in parenthesis after my review, with all of it whited-out other than the final word. So, beware of spoilers, I guess.

1)      The Man From Primrose Lane by James Renner – A nice and confusing murder mystery that at about the half-way point took a HUGE left turn, that simultaneously cleared up a lot of the confusion, and doubled down on how much confusion there was. (David poured another finger of scotch and sipped at it as they looked out at all the stars of the Milky Way above.)

2)      K-PAX III  the worlds of prot by Gene Brewer -  I had read the first K-PAX novel years ago, thought it was okay. Then I read the sequel, and I have absolutely no memory of it. Stumbled across the ‘final book of the prot trilogy’ (and also discovered that there are two more books following this one) and figured, “eh, why not?”. This was really REALLY poorly written. None of the characters were developed (calling them one dimensional would be a stretch) and there was no plot.  I forced myself thru it, because I have completionist tendencies, I guess. Not recommended. (Rather, I see us, the galaxy, and even the universe itself as a tiny part of the wisdom, beauty, and mystery of God.)
3)      Bird Box by Josh Malerman – much better. Very quick, very tense read. Mallory finds herself pregnant just as reports start pouring in that *something* is out there that is causing people to turn homicidal/suicidal simply by viewing it. Mallory and a group of survivors lock themselves in a house with the windows covered. Any time they need to go out of the house, they have to don blindfolds. The story takes place  between when Mallory first arrived at the house, and 4 years later, when she  decides to take her children out into the world to find a place that she believes is safe. Yes, they have to travel blindfolded.  This was a great creepy little book that I really enjoyed. (Or alone.)
4)      Brilliance by Marcus Sakey – In this alternate universe, starting in 1980, for unknown reasons, 1% of the population began to be born with heightened brainpower. These “brilliants” (or “abnorms” or “twists”) were just like you and me, but …better. They’re able to see patterns that you and I aren’t – can tell if a person is lying simply by reading body language, for example. Or appear to be invisible, simply by knowing where to walk where a person won’t be looking. Naturally these don’t sit well with some of the “Normals” who feel that the Brilliants will make them obsolete in a generation or two. So society sets up safeguards to keep the Brilliants in check: all children are tested at age 8. Any child that ranks as a “tier one” Brilliant is taken from their family and sent to a special academy which will supposedly help train the Brilliant use their abilities for good. Because not all the Brilliants are good people, of course. A Brilliant named John Smith massacred 73 innocent men, women, and children, including a prominent Senator,  in broad daylight, and then simply avoided capture. A special agency (the DAR… I forget what the acronym stands for now) is created to keep tabs on the Brilliants and to track down and capture John Smith. Our protagonist, Nick Cooper, is an agent of the DAR. He’s also a Brilliant that can read body language.  Whew. That’s a LOT of setup. This was a fun rollercoaster with a lot of action and some really intriguing questions about how society should (and does) react to threats  (real and perceived). But it wasn’t perfect. I predicted a turn of  the plot VERY early, and was disappointed when it turned out to be true. And the book ended with “END OF BOOK ONE” There was NO indication on the outside that this was going to be a series (I’ve since done research, found that it’s a trilogy) This was more-or-less a standalone, but it did set things up for books 2 and 3, so I may be reading some more of this series in the near future. (For a little while, at least.)
5)      Fellside by M.R. Carey – Jess Moulson is a junkie who attempts to murder her live-in boyfriend (and drug provider) by setting their apartment on fire. The fire doesn’t kill him, but does claim the life of a 10 year old boy (Alex) who lived upstairs from them. Jess is sent to Fellside, a maximum security women’s prison as a result. While there, she gets visited by the ghost of  Alex. This was compelling and unique and overall just a great read. While a lot of the characters were involved in unpleasant activities (it IS a prison, after all), all of them were multi-faceted and interesting people. And the ghost realm was fascinating.  Highly recommended read. (And keep saying your name until she comes.)
6)      The Orion Plan by Mark Alpert – This started out rather intriguing – an asteroid heading towards earth is noticed pretty late in the game, but it doesn’t impact, instead it drops off a satellite that begins burrowing itself into the ground. Neat little twist on the alien invasion/first contact trope. But once the satellite started infecting various characters with nanotechnology and having conversations with them by impersonating their dead children and/or the Lord… yeah. Kinda went off the rails. I finished it out of the perverse desire to see how it all ended up, not because I cared about anyone things were happening to. Wish I hadn’t. (And then Joe Graham, the man who helped her save the world, walked out of the park.)
7)      Quantum Night by Robert J. Sawyer – there are three types of people in the world: Those who think of others, those who only think of themselves (psychopaths), and those who don’t think at all. In Sawyer’s book, a method is devised to determine what category you fall into. Very interesting thought-experiment, although most of the characters and the plot itself were pretty thin. But I don’t care. Sawyer is one of my favorite authors, his books always get me thinking, and this one was no different. (But they would think of something.)
8)      Every Anxious Wave by Mo Daviau –  What a great little book! All about bartender and ex-rock star Karl Bender, his brilliant but unhappy friend Wayne, and also brilliant and unhappy Lena Guduldig. Karl discovers a wormhole in his closet that allows one to time travel into the past. With Wayne’s help, he sets it up so that you can choose when and where to travel back to. They then start charging friends to go back and see past rock concerts. (LOL! Awesome idea for time travel!!) Wayne decides that he wants to prevent the murder of John Lennon in 1980, but Karl accidently sends him to 980, and that’s when he recruits Lena (she’s an astrophysicist) to help bring Wayne back to the present.  This novel was funny, unique, and touching. Recommended. (My 980 was this crumbled city, gauzy sky and gray water, and my family’s heads bobbing above the surface, breathing, me holding on to them so they wouldn’t float away.)
9)      This is a Book by Demetri Martin by Demetri Martin – light funny read. Not every bit worked, but there were plenty of laugh out loud moments, especially near the beginning. (The End)
10)   Chew Vol 10 Blood Pudding – The series is wrapping things up, but sadly seems to be losing a lot of its charm while doing so. Chew is still fun overall, and there are some great gags throughout, but the showdown between Tony and the Collector turned out to be a bit anticlimactic. There were hints thrown that there are still threats on the horizon – and there’s at least one more volume to go -  but I’m just hoping that the finale is something that measures up to the better parts of the series. (Good.)
11)   My Best Friend’s Exorcism by Grady Hendrix – Abby & Gretchen are best friends after they meet at Abby’s birthday party in 3rd grade in 1982. In 1988, Abby, Gretchen, and their two other friends (Glee and Margaret) drop some acid, and as a result, Gretchen gets lost in the woods for a while. While she was missing, it turns out that she got herself possessed by a demon. (Or did she?) The relationship between the foursome is tested by Gretchen’s personality and behavior changes, and they do not all emerge unscathed. The book was a lot of fun (much like Ready Player One, this was overflowing with 80s nostalgia. It really was like being transported back in time. There were things mentioned in this book I haven’t thought of/remembered for literally decades, but it brought it all back.). I felt that the demonic aspect could have been made less ambiguous to begin with, and I felt like the adults wouldn’t have ALL been so dismissive of the obvious (although, to be fair, it was a horror story. Adults are ALWAYS like that in horror stories), but those are minor complaints. This was a pretty light breezy fun read that ended up being remarkably touching in the end. Or, as the book blurb put it best, “A heartwarming story about friendship and demonic possession.” (But they tried.)
12)   The Fireman by Joe Hill –If The Stand and Firestarter had a baby, it would probably be The Fireman. There was a lot that was enjoyable in this, but there were quite a bit of eye-roll-inducing parts, too. The tie-ins to Mary Poppins and Harry Potter were clunky. And while I appreciated the nod here and there to The Stand, the part where we find out Harper’s middle name was a bit too much. There’s clever, and then there’s not. Ya know? Also, I think that this didn’t need to be QUITE as long as it was. At nearly 800 pages, it certainly was EPIC, but honestly, losing a hundred pages or so might have helped. Anyway. The story – a spore (which got more and more magical abilities as time went on) infects people, and it causes them to spontaneously combust. Society reacts poorly. Certain people find that being infected with “Dragonscale” doesn’t have to be a death sentence, though. If you’re able to control the spore, it can be quite beneficial. Overall, a pretty good read.  Joe Hill is a heckuva writer, and abso-freaking-lutely a geek, so I’m grateful for having the opportunity to visit his worlds. Even if he’s burning them down. (“No one loves a show-off, Caius,” Elaina warned him, but her smile suggested she didn’t mean it.)
13)   The Walking Dead vol 25 No Turning Back – Since the “All Out War” story arc, and the timejump, this series has become very interesting, in a whole new way. The zombies are no longer the main focus, and no longer the biggest threat (not that they ever truly were, it was always our inability to get along with others that caused the greatest damages), so the story has focused more on the rebuilding of society and the different struggles that brings with it. It’s been interesting. This volume was a slow burn, with not a whole lot actually happening, but a lot of setting things up for future events. Maybe this is being done while the writer’s figure out WHAT they want to happen, but for now, at least, I’m highly intrigued, which is a good thing. (Atta boy.)
14)   Chew Vol 11 The Last Suppers – MUCH better than the previous volume. I laughed out loud several times again, and was even surprised by certain turns of events. There’s only one volume of Chew left to go, but it certainly looks like it’s going to go out on a high note, which makes me quite happy. (Eat me)
15)   End of Watch by  Stephen King – the Bill Hodges/Brady Hartsfield trilogy wraps up, with things getting extremely supernatural in this outing. Very quick read, and very enjoyable. It may have been the best of the trilogy. Maybe. (They leave Fairlawn and walk back into the world together.)
16)   Invader Zim Vol. 1 by Jhonen Vasquez – ZIIIIIIIIIMMMM!!!! Oh, this was a treasure. Invader Zim was a cartoon on Nickelodeon back in the early 2000s. It was bizarre, disgusting, and very very funny. The show in a nutshell: Zim is an alien banished to earth by his leaders (The Tallest). Zim’s sole purpose is to take over the earth. He’s “assisted” in this goal with the help of his robot, GIR, who is prone to non-sequiturs, exploding, and waffles. GIR is the best. Fortunately for the sake of humanity, Zim is not very good at his job. But even if he were, he’s thwarted by his nemesis, Dib. Dib is the only human who sees thru Zim’s façade as a human. (Well, Dib’s sister, Gaz, does, too, but she doesn’t care.) Dib and Zim are a lot like the roadrunner and coyote, only, way way more insane. Anyway. The cartoon is amazing. And now it’s back, in comic book form! And it really is like holding a few episodes of the show in your hands. The voices were all spot on, and the artwork is just as mind-bending, and the humor absolutely worked just as well. I laughed many times during the reading of this, and it was only a few dozen pages long. So thrilled to have Invader Zim back. The only downside was having finished it so quickly. That made me sad. To quote GIR, “YAAAAAAY!!! Sadness!!!!!” Highly recommended to all Earth beings. (Cheater!)
17)   Harrow County, Vol. 1 Countless Haints by Cullen Bunn – a graphic novel about a witch named Hester who was burned and hung by the townspeople of Harrow County. While dying, Hester promised that she would return at some point. 18 years later, Emmy begins to exhibit some disturbing signs (the ability to heal herself and sick calves, constant nightmares, oh, and a talking skin suit that she keeps in her bag.) The townsfolk figure out that Hester has returned as Emmy, and decide she needs a’killin’.  Before they can succeed, Emmy winds up semi-embracing her Hesterness  and warns them that if they TRY to kill her, she’s going to take them out with her. This was a lot of setup for story to come, I’m assuming, and for a large part of it, the characters just felt flat and uninteresting. Near the end, though, I had warmed up to it a little, and I’ll stick with the series for a bit longer. (The city… the world… all of it.) 
18)   Disappearance at Devil’s Rock  by Paul Tremblay – Tommy, barely fourteen, is out with his friends, Josh and Luis, when he disappears. The novel showcases the fallout on Tommy’s family, and his friends, and the community at large as more and more secrets are discovered. This was not quite a supernatural thriller, but it kinda skirted the genre, I guess. It was very effective, and very emotional. I admit to tearing up a few times (having a child disappear has to be the #1 fear of every parent on the planet) and the ending gave me legit goosebumps. Highly recommended. (Elizabeth unfolds the pages and starts to read.)
19)   Sex Criminals, vol. 1: One Weird Trick by Matt Fraction – Suzie has a pretty special power. Whenever she has an orgasm, time stops (for everyone but her). Suzie gets into her twenties, doing twenty-something stuff, figuring out bits and pieces of her power, and just living life. She works as a librarian, but is facing a foreclosure from the bank (which happens to be where her father worked before he was murdered years ago). At a party one night, Suzie meets Jon, they hit it off, and that’s how Suzie discovers that she’s not the only one with the ability to go into The Quiet. Jon and Suzie decide to commit a ‘victimless’ crime of stealing the money to pay off the bank FROM the bank. And they would have gotten away with it too, except for the Sex Police. This was a very unique (and funny! Oh, and very adult-themed) graphic novel, and I’m looking forward to reading more volumes.  (Like a couple of criminals.)
20)   How To Ruin Everything (Essays) by George Watsky – I discovered the rapper Watsky a few weeks ago, and became a little obsessed. His spoken word and raps are by turn humorous, insightful, and amazing. When I found out he had written a book of essays, I checked it out from the library. Sadly, while the power of his words is evident, the magic didn’t quite translate from hearing him rap to reading him write. There were some great bits, but the overall book didn’t quite land for me. I’d happily read anything else he puts out, and I’ll continue to follow his career, this one was just not as ‘knocked-it-out-of-the-park’ as his albums were. (So if anybody asks, tell them three city kids threw an epic concert down at the beach, there was a pyrotechnic malfunction but no one was hurt too bad, and it was even better than if the show had gone according to plan because the band just laughed and played on – one encore after another, after another.)
21)   Everything is Teeth by Evie Wyld – a graphic novel memoir about Evie growing up as a young girl in Australia, where her whole life is filtered thru her obsession (and fear) of sharks. The artwork was amazing, but the memoir …less so. Quick read, but mostly forgettable. (An inhalation of breath.)
22)   Romeo and/or Juliet: A Chooseable-Path Adventure by Ryan North (and William Shakespeare) – I didn’t read the WHOLE thing, but this was amazing. Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet retold in a choose your own adventure manner. And it was hilarious, too. Depending on how you decide the story should go, you can have Romeo and Juliet never meet (the very first path I chose had her meeting a man named Yolo (hehe!!) and winding up a pirate!), you can have sidequests with Juliet’s nurse, and there’s even OTHER Shakespeare plays as chooseable-path books within this one. This book was a lot of fun. You should definitely buy it, instead of getting it from the library. It’s just better that way. ;) I’m not going to have a ‘last sentence’ for this one, since there were multiple endings. But, this was one of the highlights of the year.
23)   Harrow County, Vol 2 Twice  Told Tales by Cullen Bunn – ehhh. The artwork is still the best thing about this series. This volume brought in a twin sister for Emmy, who turned out to be evil, and also dealt with much too quickly. There’s no real passion in the story. It’s just kind of ..there. I don’t think I’ll be continuing with the series. (Both those who had sided with Kammi and those who had defended Emmy scurried back to the grave… the place where all dead things lurk... dreaming of the time when they might live again.)
24)   I Hate Fairyland, Volume 1: Madly Ever After by Skottie Young – Super gory & psychotic artwork (think Ren & Stimpy style, but taken up a notch) but the story is extremely one-note, and it got old quick. In this, eight year old Gert is sucked into the magical “Fairyland”. She meets the queen (it’s extremely derivative of the start of Wizard of Oz) who tells her to return home she needs to find the key. 27 years later, Gert has not found the key, and she HATES Fairyland, and all its inhabitants. She still looks eight years old, but has aged mentally into a cynical, violent, bitter woman. Anyone who gets in her path toward finding the key is typically killed violently. Ha ha ha, it’s funny because she looks like a kid, I guess. I won’t be reading any more of this. (Upon the death of the king or queen the one who deals the fatal blow must take up the crown and become the queen of fluffing Fairyland.)
25)   We Stand on Guard by Brian K. Vaughn – another graphic novel. This one set about a hundred years from now, where the US has invaded our neighbors to the north. A few renegades fight back. The artwork was great, and it was a quick read, and it was nice to have something that was a stand-alone story, and not going to be an ongoing series. Overall, though, there wasn’t a lot of a point. I mean, the story was okay, but it wasn’t earth-shattering or anything. Just an “okay” book in the end. (We’re all right here.)
26)   HEX by Thomas Olde Heuvelt – Really creepy, and unique. About a witch who has some elements of a ghost (she can teleport herself to various parts of the town she appears to be stuck in). (Steve Grant picked up the needle and the catgut, and as the thing at the door kept knocking and knocking, he started on his eyes, hoping the loneliness of the eternal darkness would offer him a bit of comfort from the cold.)
27)   Saga, volume 6 by Brian K Vaughn – Saga still looks amazing, and (most) of the characters are still enjoyable to spend time with, but… nothing really happened with this volume. Well, there was the ending, which I suspect will not end happily, because reasons. There was a lot of foreshadowing by Hazel regarding death. And the whole story does take place in the midst of an interplanetary war… so, yeah, I’m expecting that storyline to wind up a tragic one. But overall this volume felt like a lot of filler. Pretty and witty filler, but filler. (Oh.)
28)   The Walking Dead Vol 26 A Call to Arms by Robert Kirkman – It’s the Negan show, everyone. Not complaining (much) because I guess every story needs an antagonist, and Negan can be entertaining, but I do sort of want to see more of the rebuilding and how the kids (Carl and Sophia, for example, as well as the NEXT generation) really deal with this new world. But the whole leadership issues are interesting as well. It’ll be neat to see how the citizens at large react to what Negan has done, considering what Rick wouldn’t (or couldn’t) do himself… (Wait until Rick gets a look at you.)

Dinner is ready, so I'll publish this post now, and get to the movies and change momentarily.

No comments: