Over the last few months, I’ve almost started a lot of entries, and then ended up just plain not getting around to them.
In some cases, the moment came and went, and in others, like with all things creative, the need to babble was met elsewhere.
What I’ve noticed, however, is that my last few entries were mostly about problems (with TV, and other things) and solutions thereto.
But I have had a few things I’ve really enjoyed lately. And I wanted to write them all up in nice, long entries that talk about how wonderful they are, but, it didn’t happen, and now I’m not sure that long entries are needed.
So here, then, are a few things I’ve really enjoyed over the last couple of months. Do yourself a favor and check them out.
Light: A Gone Novel
I’ve been a big fan of the Gone novels since I got my hands on the first one. At the start of the story, a giant dome appears, everyone over the age of fourteen in the dome vanishes, and some of the kids start to develop superpowers.
Then, over the course of six books, people develop alliances. More people develop powers. A lot of kids die. Strange creatures appear.
And everyone fights an evil monster that can worm its way into your mind.
Michael Grant stated at one point that he did no planning for the series – he just gets every morning, types, and see what comes out.
And man, I have to say, what came out was a lot of fun. It was entertaining, and heartfelt, and most impressively, it was brutal in ways that I wouldn’t have thought a YA series could be. By the time this book came out to conclude the series, almost all the food is gone, much of the place has been burned to the ground, and just about everyone is dressed in rags.
To top it off, they’re all under a literal microscope.
I’ve read a few series over the last five or ten years that really failed to deliver when it came time to conclude. The Hunger Games had a brutal but unsatisfying ending that never really pulled together for me. Harry Potter spent too much time on an interminable camping trip. And Twilight didn’t even bother to end with a whimper. Instead it made a whole lot of nothing happen, and then a whole lot more nothing.
But the end of the Gone series is tough and fair. These kids, by the time they get to the end of their tale, aren’t really kids anymore, and that’s addressed. The big final battle puts all the major players into the mix and lets some of them go and has some of them die.
And perhaps most importantly, it’s not a book full of wasted words. Look the end of most series and you’ll see the final volume is massive, bigger than all the books before it and often filled with bloat.
Light, by contrast, is shorter than the previous books, and the taughtness just sings.
I would never argue that it’s a perfect series, grant you. The writing is sometimes overly simplistic, and even occasionally awkward. This is not a book that makes you marvel at its prose.
But it’s fun, wonderful, brutal, and full of questions and answers and philosophical musings, and most of all it plays fair.
If you like Stephen King and want to see what he’d do with some young X-Men, this is your series.
One of the things that tough about recommending something is that after a while you start to forget why you love it.
My wife and I were and are huge fans of the Gilmore Girls. But we’re not really the type to watch and rewatch a series over and over again like comfort food. So over time, we’ve gone from remembering all the little details that made it awesome to mostly just remembering we like it a lot.
That said, we’ve recommended Gilmore to probably a dozen people, and we haven’t found anyone who didn’t like it yet.
And now, along comes Bunheads, which my own father referred to as Gilmore Girls 2.0.
Is it that? Sort of. A middle-aged woman surrounded by a small town of quirky characters? Sure, it’s that.
But while the Gilmore protagonists were smart and strong and mostly had their lives together, Michelle, the main woman of Bunheads, is pretty much a wreck in a dead-end job at the start of the show.
Then she gets married and moves, and she changes the people around her, and they start to change her.
Ultimately, it’s a show about friends and family and how they affect each other, and how our perception of other people and ourselves change.
Which makes it sound really boring.
But trust me, it isn’t.
First of all, it takes up an hour, which should make it a drama. But in reality, it’s a single camera comedy that has time to stretch out and tell a long, meandering story that often meanders more than it tells, but never lets a minute go without being hilarious.
Second, it’s a dancing/singing show that gets everything right that Glee gets wrong. It chooses fun and sometimes offbeat music, the dances are choreographed instead of cut together (many of them are shot in a single take and last for two minutes or more) and perhaps most importantly, while everything is perhaps emotionally heightened, the people on the show still act like actual people, and not automatons in service of the story.
And the acting.. look, ABC Family blew it when they didn’t even bother to submit these people for Emmys. Sutton Foster is here in her first lead role on television, and while it takes her a few episodes to really nail the voice of her character, once it’s there, it’s THERE.
The same can be said of the four teenage ballet students, all of them appearing on TV for the first time, or just about. All of them are great, all of them dive in and swim and never look back, and the writing supports them at almost every turn.
The only real issue I have with the show is that it was cancelled.
I theorize that there’s never going to be a DVD set of the show. That you’ll be able to get it on iTunes and Amazon, but ABC Family will never put these episodes into a box you can buy, and here’s why: Box sets lead to people loaning things out, which leads to growing fanbases, which leads to people sending irate letters about how you can cancel such a great show and never look back.
How good is the show? Despite that fact that we had three other TV series that we were trying to catch up with, my wife and I put in the first episode and never even thought about going back and working our way through something else.
It was eighteen wonderful, heartfelt episodes, and now it’s gone.
Imagine Dragons: Night Visions
One of the problems with avoiding the radio is that I’m painfully behind on music trends.
Heck, Glee is probably the only reason I’m up on any popular music at all, and even then, I’m probably roughly three months behind. By the time I find out what’s in, it’s usually on the way out.
Such is life.
I mention all this because Night Visions had probably been out almost a year by the time I realized that a Glee song I’d rather enjoyed way written and performed by Imagine Dragons. And then came Radioactive, which is one of those songs that ended up everywhere.
Pentatonix was covering it. American Idol was cramming it into their “here’s who’s still on the show” montages. And it’s been used in a handful of movie trailers.
And so I did as I sometimes do, and I just went out and bought the CD.
The one thing that’s nice about being behind the times is that sometimes it can be a win for you. The album has been put out a half a dozen ways as it turns out, with different bonus songs on each version. I own one that has 18 songs on it, and the people who bought it 12 months ago could only get an 11 song version.
And you know what aggravates me? It the UK, there’s a 21 song version, and I honestly want that one.
Night Visions is an odd little grower of a record, wherein no two songs sound alike. If you enjoy Radioactive and want more songs like that, well, you’ll have to look to another band, because there’s nothing else like it on Night Visions.
Likewise, if you enjoy the soaring melody and echoing guitar of America, a bonus track found only on the Target edition of the record, you’re better off checking out old U2 albums.
As for the seemingly Ethiopian-flavored inflections of Underdog? Yeah, don’t go poking around the record looking for more songs like that.
I’m a big fan of the eclectic in general, but this is the first album in a while where it’s really felt like I can just keep listening to an album and discovering hidden gems in it. Even after two months of driving around with it in my car, I would grow tired of one song, only to find another one that hits me a new way on the tenth listen.
My only disappointment, really, has been just how hard it is to track down all their songs. They have two EPs from their indie days that are hard to locate, and they’ve released several EPs and singles with one or two bonus songs.
And then there are the soundtracks.
The Dragons are on the road now, and it will probably be another year before they get a new record out. I’ve gotta say, I’d just about kill for them to put all the hard-to-find stuff on one disc so that I don’t have to find it track-by-track.
Honestly, even if it’s a little random, I can’t help but think it will be just as interesting as their first full-length record is.
(How much did I love it? After two months of listening to it, I stopped for about two months just to give it a break. And now it’s back in my car, on repeat. It never even made it onto a shelf in my home.)
A Really Awesome Mess
I long ago outed myself as a Brendan Halpin Superfan. I really love a handful of his books, and like the rest of them to varying degrees.
A few years ago Brendan starting writing a series of collaborative novels, wherein he takes the boy narration and she (in this case, Trish Cook) takes the girl narration, and together they tell a story of love, loss, and zany adventures.
(That sentence started as a joke, but it’s pretty accurate.)
And in this case, it’s about two kids, a boy and a girl, who have been sent to a mental health facility/school to sort out their mental health and other issues.
We’re a little over halfway through the year now, and I’ll go ahead and say it – I’m not sure there’s going to be a book I like better this year.
It’s probably that this has a lot to do with where I’m at this year. The book deals extremely explicitly with mental health struggles and adoption issues, both of which are very close to my heart right now. More to the point, it contains one of the best descriptions of depression I’ve ever read in a novel.
The story could be dark and hard to swallow, but it isn’t. It’s kept about as light as something like this can be, and yeah, by the end it stretches credulity just a little bit, allowing the characters a bit of a magical ending.
But you know what? Sometimes, I think, readers need to know that things CAN turn out okay, even if it takes a little more luck than seems possible.
I want to share more of the plot, but to do so would wreck a twist or two, and at least one moment that, as they say, got me right in the feels. (It has to do with an elephant.)
I will say this, however. (Settle in for a story, kids.) Due to the various stresses of life, reading an entire book has, just in this last year, gone from something I did every week to something I manage maybe once or twice a month. In years past, we’ve both gotten into the adult reading program at our local library and stuffed the box of read books with slips.
This year, I managed to put in five in the course of three months. One was a gift book that took twenty minutes to read. Two of the books I started before the summer even began, and it took me ages to finish them.
I sailed through A Really Awesome Mess in two days. What’s more, my wife did the same in three, which is the fastest she’s read a book in just about forever.
I guess this is where I enter my plea, as Brendan has struggled to keep books coming out these last few years, as his publishers have stopped supporting him and he’s had more and more difficulty selling his work.
Last year, he put out one novel direct to the Kindle. This year, he decided to Kickstarter his latest book, which I gladly put money into. (The ebook arrived yesterday. I’m waiting for the physical one. Maybe. Waiting is HARD, yo.)
Please, please, please, people. I’m not asking for a bestseller here. I’m just asking that this sells enough copies that Brendan can keep writing and remain financially solvent. I’m begging you. Give it a try.
And I’m out.