Finally Finished: It’s Time For The June Book Reviews

I did it! After last month’s “failure” I finally finished Hearts in Atlantis and made some progress on my reading list goals. Being back at work in a temporary location meant more time on the bus, which resulted in me getting back that reading time I lost.

I also had another win when it came to reading on the bus. That motion sickness that crept up on me at the beginning of the pandemic has been mostly vanquished. During one of my 1.5 hour bus rides across the city to my allergy doctor’s, I was able to read on the bus there and on the way back! Now, on some days when my IBS is flaring up I get a little too motion sick reading on the bus, but at least I’m making progress.

I’m so, so happy I’m able to read on the bus again. And now that I know where the new location will be for my part-time job, I know that I’ll get a little bit longer commute each day, and a little bit more reading time. I’m looking forward to it.

Hearts in Atlantis by Stephen King:

I thought I knew what I was going to get out of this book. I watched and enjoyed the movie, and I expected there would be some differences between both formats of the story (as movies rarely follow the book to a T), but not like this.

Part one went as expected. It was the same story, same plot, as the movie. The only significantly noticeable differences were the references to the Dark Tower series and a little bit more cosmic horror-type scenarios where the low men and their cars were concerned. I thoroughly enjoyed part one, but wondered what was left when the plot shown in the movie was over but there was still so much left to the book.

And then part two came with a sudden shift in tone, pace, narration, story, everything. It took a little longer to get into that section of the story because I was trying to wrap my head around what was going on. I had a new main character to keep track of, new threats, with only a few references and recurring characters to link it to part one. It’s a completely different story that is only peripherally linked to the first one.

But that doesn’t mean I didn’t enjoy it. It was a phenomenal narrative about life in the sixties from the point of view of a character who was at risk of getting drafted to fight in the Vietnam War. And by the end of part two, I loved this story just as much as I loved part one.

By part 3, I got the hang of it. This is not a single novel as I expected when I started reading, and as the movie lead me to believe. This is a story collection about the sixties, although it’s not necessarily a cohesive one. The first novella, like the movie, could easily be a standalone as it deals primarily with childhood. The following novella and two short stories, focus on adulthood and how a generation was impacted by the effects of the Vietnam War. The final short story is more of an epilogue to part one. Although there are recurring themes and characters, the collection as a whole feels disjointed at times.

And although I personally feel that the short stories were much weaker than the two novellas, I did enjoy this book overall. I wouldn’t say it’s King’s best work, but I have yet to read anything from him that I haven’t enjoyed.

The Umbrella Academy: Hotel Oblivion by Gerard Way and Gabriel Ba:

With season three newly arrived on Netflix, this was the obvious choice for the next comic book on my reading list. Although I was a little late getting to it. I was about halfway through season three by the time I started reading this comic (which has been sitting unread on my shelf since it’s publication).

Jeff Lemire’s introduction to Hotel Oblivion not only articulates the main points of The Umbrella Academy, but in doing so it highlight’s the key difference between the show and the comics. This is a superhero comic book that is more about the family dynamics of the superheroes themselves than the superhuman feats. Yes, Hotel Oblivion features a cast of crazy villains, but it is the dysfunctional Umbrella family that is at the center of the story.

In the Netflix series, there are no super hero battles against villains with powers – not until season three at least when the Umbrellas face off against the Sparrows. Any superhuman abilities in the show are simply a way to emphasize the dysfunction and trauma that runs rampant throughout this chaotic family. So although season three references some of what happens in Hotel Oblivion, and puts a new spin on some of the characters and situations, they are very different stories.

The Umbrella comics are so chaotic and fast paced that I probably should have re-read the first two volumes to get me back up to speed before plunging myself headfirst into this delightful mess. But I would love to re-read all of them at some point, so I’m sure I’ll pick up on anything I may have missed. But despite the chaos, this was a wonderful story filled with so many layers of trauma. And personally, I don’t think any of the characters in the story deal with their traumas in a healthy way (at least, not at first), but that’s what drives the action of the plot. As someone who’s had to deal with my own family trauma, maybe that’s one of the reasons why I find these stories so appealing.

Another reason I love this comic series is the attention to detail. In the notes and sketches at the back of the book, Ba writes that Way puts a lot of thought into the supporting characters for the series, even if readers only see them for a brief moment. Ba takes the same care when it comes to drawing those characters. So even if a villain or other supporting character only shows up for a couple of panels, you still get the feeling that they are a fully fleshed out person with a unique back story.

Maybe that’s part of why I felt like I was missing something, like I should have read the previous books to refresh my memory first, when I started into this third volume of the comics. Characters who I have never seen before appear as if they’ve been a part of this fictional world for years. And although it adds to the chaos, I appreciate that Way and Ba don’t waste time with unnecessary introductions that would only slow down the action.

I can’t wait to see what comes next for the Umbrella Academy, both on the show and in the comics. This series has everything I look for in a graphic novel – good writing and interesting/unconventional artwork – and I would love to see more from this messed up world. Much, much more.

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