Before the Fall, by Noah Hawley

Before the FallI was pretty interested in this book when I first heard about it, as it’s by Noah Hawley who is responsible for the excellent TV series Fargo (and the weird series Legion, but I watched that well after reading this book). The holds list was surprisingly long for what I thought was a fairly obscure book, so I decided to leave it alone and just grab my library’s copy when it finally came back for good.

And, honestly, that kind of sums up my feelings about this book. Pretty good, wouldn’t wait in a long line to read it.

I liked a lot of things about this book, and I think (for better or worse) that my favorite bit is the premise. A private jet crashes on the way from Martha’s Vineyard to the mainland and two people survive — the young son of a fabulously wealthy Rupert Murdoch type, and some random dude who was invited by the Murdoch type’s wife to join them. These two are left to grapple with life after a harrowing incident that is compounded by the kid’s dad’s celebrity. How did this happen? Does it have to do with [insert scandal here]? Who’s this schmuck who just so happened to save this kid’s life? INQUIRING MINDS WANT TO KNOW AND WE WONT STOP ASKING ‘TIL YOU TELL US. That sort of thing.

And for that, the book does take an interesting look at the world of pundit-based news and the 24-hour news cycle and the public’s seemingly unending need to know things that literally no one actually wants to know. This is where the book is very good.

The other part, the part with the answering of the questions… it’s all right. I like the way Hawley looks through all of the characters’ points of view, even the ones who end up dead, and connects all their lives together to get them on the plane. But, and this is kind of a spoiler, so feel free to skip to the next paragraph, he spends all this time building up the characters and their backstories and then the big whodunit reveal is not any of those people we’ve spent time getting to know. I mean, I’m glad none of them are plane crash causers, but… seriously?

My other problem with the book, and I will grant that others probably see this as a benefit, is that the book is written very visually. You could copy and paste most of this book straight into a film script with no problems. It’s kind of cool in small doses — I did enjoy a scene in which a dude in the bathroom uses the soap dispenser (hand dryer? Something like that) — but after a while I was like, come on dude, let’s just get on with the story!

But let me be clear that overall I quite enjoyed this book. The writing is great, the characters are interesting, and Hawley knows how to keep you turning pages. It just, for me, had just enough issues to leave me wanting to have read something very slightly different.

Recommendation: If you like Hawley’s stuff, you’ll certainly like this. Unless you only like Legion. This is nothing like Legion.

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Weekend Shorts: The Inevitable Hoopla Binge

When I first started with hoopla, I thought I could be responsible. I could check out a trade here and a couple issues there, and I’d be fine. FINE. I could stop at any time.

But no, no I couldn’t. With one of my libraries offering me an absurd number of checkouts every month, I should have known it would only be a matter of time before I read 25 single issues over the course of three days. I’m fine.

Of course, this makes for terrible blogging as I can’t possibly remember all those stories enough to write about them, but here’s my best college try:

Giant Days, #5-12, by John Allison and Lissa Treiman
Giant Days #12It’s just, it’s so good, guys. It’s also appropriate that this series would lead to my downfall, as my beloved characters are also having some seriously bad times in this set of issues. My BFF Susan is off having an unexpected relationship that starts off okay but runs into some serious turbulence when Susan stops putting enough effort into it. Esther continues her term as Drama Queen with both an end-of-term panic over not studying for exams and an ill-advised relationship with a TA. Ed finally finds a girl who likes him back but that relationship fizzles before it even begins. Daisy stays relatively drama-free but does become temporarily obsessed with Friday Night Lights. The stories continue to be adorable and hilarious. I am mad at myself for reading all of these and not saving any for later.

Welcome Back, #1-5, by Christopher Sebela and Jonathan Brandon Sawyer
Welcome Back #1I actually own the first two or three of these in print, but am lazy and had hoopla handy so I read everything available there in one go. I’m kind of mad at myself for reading all of these, but for a different reason.

See, I own the issues because this was supposed to be a quick four-issue series, and I’m a weird backward person who buys those in issues but ongoing series in trades. But if you are proficient in numbers, you’ll see that I read five issues because someone decided to make this an ongoing series.

I can see why — the series has an interesting premise in that there are people in the world (lots of people? Just a relative few? It’s not super clear) who are involved in some crazypants eons-long war for the purpose of which one hunts the other down, kills them, and then kills themself so that the two can reincarnate together and do it all again. Why this seemed like a great idea to whoever set it up, I do not know, but it leads to some very exciting intrigue and subterfuge so I am willing to suspend some disbelief for a while.

But what I can’t let go of is the fact that there is a pretty obvious ending that’s being built up to in issue four, but at the last minute the story swerves to accommodate the new ongoing nature of the series and ruins it. I don’t know if it would have been a great ending (I’ve been burned by miniseries before), but I can tell that it didn’t get a chance to be. Issue five was okay, but I’m not sure I’m excited enough about it to keep going.

Lumberjanes, #14-24, by Noelle Stevenson, Shannon Watters, Brooke Allen, Carolyn Nowak, and Carey Pietsch (and other people too)
Lumberjanes #14Holy Mae Jemison. This is what happens when you have a nice relaxing day off of work and you get all your productive stuff done early. You get to read ALL THE LUMBERJANES. What happened here, let’s see…

Well, badges, obviously, but also a crazy snowstorm that leads to some interesting and terrible camp backstory, mermaids with friendship problems, and some serious shape-shifter adventures. Throughout, our favorite Lumberjanes work through the lovely insanity of friendship to the max, including reining in loose cannon friends and dealing with new friends who seem like they’re taking over and wondering whether friendship is more important than personal development. These are some deep thoughts to be reading about at the same time as mermaids, I’ll tell you.

Reading all these issues at once was a little crazy in another way, as there was some serious turnover going on at Lumberjanes headquarters, with the departure of Noelle Stevenson as writer and the introduction of other writers and artists. I have to say, if I can’t have Brooke Allen I hope I can keep having Carey Pietsch going forward; I think the two of them have the best interpretations of the characters. Writing-wise the series seems pretty much the same, probably because it’s hard to go wrong throwing teenagers into crazy supernatural circumstances.

Lumberjanes: Beyond Bay Leaf Special #1, by Faith Erin Hicks and Rosemary Valero-O’Connell
Lumberjanes: Beyond Bay Leaf #1Bonus Lumberjanes fun! Comixology says this is a one-shot special, so I’m not sure what’s up with the #1, but whatever, it’s cute. This issue is a weird sort of The Last Unicorn-esque story about a magic ghost pony and a strange camper who has designs on the pony and on the Lumberjanes while she’s at it. It’s completely outside the realm of regular Lumberjanes, so you don’t really need to read it, but if you love this series I know you’ll read it anyway.

Weekend Shorts: Hoopla Trades

I talked about the awesomeness that is hoopla about a month ago, but really mostly about the wonder that is Lumberjanes single issues. I had indicated that I was going to read ALL THE COMICS on hoopla and report back, but of course best laid plans and all that.

However, I did use some of my monthly allotment to grab up various trade editions, so now I can tell you what it’s like to read in volumes rather than issues, and the answer is, well, basically the same as with their print counterparts. The biggest difference I found between the digital and print volumes is that in digital, my brain and thumb are poised to skip over all the non-essential pages, so sometimes I found myself in a new issue unexpectedly, or hit a switch in storyline and wondered if I’d missed the issue break somehow. Note to self: SLOW DOWN.

But otherwise I continue to highly recommend hoopla for your free-comics needs! I’m even strongly considering a tablet purchase in the near future so that I can read these comics in closer to full-size glory. But don’t worry, local comic shop, I’m also considering buying a lot of really pretty comics in the future now that I’ve seen them all tiny and loved them. It’s a win-win!

Here’s some of what I’ve been devouring:

iZombie, Vols. 2 & 3, by Chris Roberson and Mike Allred
iZombie, Vol. 2iZombie, Vol. 3I picked up the first volume in this series last summer when my beloved show was on summer break, and I liked it actually way more than I was expecting. I meant to read more, but I never got around to buying them. How convenient to get them for free!

Having them for free was probably a great thing, though, as I wasn’t as excited about them as I’d hoped. The first volume is so interesting and ends on such a weird note, and then the second volume starts off with a standalone backstory issue and when it gets into the main story again does a lot of rehashing of the premise that I found very boring. Then we get into Gwen’s backstory via Gwen having to interact with people who think she’s dead, which should be fascinating but is somehow just… not. I was disappointed in the second volume.

If I wanted crazy, though, Volume 3 delivers, giving us more strange things to worry about in the form of monster hunters and Dead Presidents (probably not exactly what you’re thinking…) and zombie hordes and a Big Bad who wants to do, I don’t know, bad things, and it doesn’t lack for twists and turns. It’s a little much, but I have to say that I am clearly loving the action in this series more than anything else, so it worked for me.

I’m intrigued to see how this is all finished up in the TEN ISSUE Volume 4 (that is an insane number of issues, fyi), but something that enormous is probably going to have to wait a while.

Giant Days, Vol. 1, by John Allison and Lissa Treiman
Giant Days, Vol. 1I never read the whole thing, but for a year or two in high school I was obsessed with the webcomic Scary Go Round, written and drawn by John Allison. When I heard about Giant Days, I was intrigued; when I realized it was written by Allison, I was hooked; when I saw it on hoopla I devoured Volume 1 immediately.

And it is the best. Most of the comics I read are like iZombie — fantasy or sci-fi or just generally weird. Weird is so much fun in comic form. But this is that other kind of weird that I like, the kind that is quirky and sarcastic and just so wonderful.

The comic follows a group of friends at university (not college, ’cause Britain is weird) who are, as mentioned, quirky and sarcastic. They probably go to class, but we see them in the in-between periods, hanging out and being friends and making new friends and living in that strange bubble that is college, where everything is just so important. If you want to feel some serious college nostalgia, I very much recommend this book.

I love the three lady protagonists (especially Susan!) and I love how their escapades are things like attempting to stay drama-free or survive a terrible flu but also things like writing a feminist screed that gets a little out of hand. I am so excited to see what these ladies get up to next, and so glad that single issues are current on hoopla. Once more unto the breach!

Fangirl, by Rainbow Rowell

FangirlWell, I’m finally done with the Great Rainbow Rowell Catchup, at least until her next book comes out (more on that later). It’s been a pretty good adventure, although I made the mistake (totally not a mistake) of reading her best book first, so even though the others are awesome I’m like, but they’re not as good as Attachments. This is clearly a terrible problem to have.

I was pretty excited to read Fangirl, due to the fact that it’s about a college kid who writes fanfiction and I was once a high school kid who wrote fanfiction (about Dawson’s Creek, natch) that I very much hope is lost to the internet these days. I’m not even sure I should have admitted that. It was really bad fanfiction.

Anyway. Fangirl. So there’s a girl, she’s called Cath, she has a twin sister called Wren, she writes legitimately good fanfiction about Totally Not Harry Potter (aka Simon Snow) in which Not Harry (Simon) makes out a lot with Not Draco (Baz), and she’s off to college. This should be a good thing, because college is good and she got into a fancy upper-level creative writing class which is awesome. But it’s not that great, because her sister doesn’t want to be a matched set anymore and so lives across campus and hangs out with people completely different from Cath and Cath is a super-introvert who could really use a built-in best friend at the moment, because college. There are boys to be reckoned with and bad grades to get over and serious family drama and fanfic that isn’t getting written because of all this, and oh my goodness I don’t miss college. Well, maybe a little bit.

Rainbow Rowell can write an awesome love story and I think that Cath and her eventual boyfriend (there are two guys and it’s not really spoilery but just in case, I’m not telling you) rival Lincoln and Beth from Attachments in sheer adorableness marred by weirdness. And the fanfiction aspect was well done, with little excerpts from both the “real” Simon Snow books and Cath’s various Simon/Baz stories in between Fangirl chapters that were appropriate to the upcoming chapters, which is a thing that I like. I also liked that you could clearly tell whether it was Cath or Gemma’s story before you even got to the credit at the end, and that Cath’s stories were clearly superior, at least as far as Simon and Baz are concerned.

So the important parts were fantastic. And there was a lot of good stuff about Cath’s family drama and how she and her sister dealt with it completely differently and how it caused issues in all of Cath’s other interpersonal dealings. And I thought that Rowell captured the essence of college life really well, from eating in the dining hall to the concept of “college time” and the fact that classes are pretty much the least interesting thing about being in college.

But certain implausible aspects of the story kept it from being the perfect book for me, starting with the fact that Cath has a non-freshman roommate and culminating in the fact that the Simon Snow novels exist in the same universe as the Harry Potter novels. Seriously, that one throwaway line about Harry Potter is still bothering me — how did Simon and Harry rise to equal prominence without lawyers getting involved?

In the end, I think it was a pretty fantastic book and that you should totally read it because omg Team Cath. You should also read it because Rowell’s next book is going to be the full-length fanfiction that Cath is writing throughout this book, and I am kind of super excited about that.

Recommendation: For fangirls of all stripes and people who went to college and want to relive it without having to go back.

Rating: 9/10