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Books We Like

Published 6/9/2015 by Bianca Orellana

Books We Like

I’m not a fan of the real world. Anyone who knows me well can attest to the fact that I’m often found daydreaming, writing stories, and, of course, reading. I like lots of books across the board. I love the stories that make me think, make me happy, make me sad, make me throw the book across the room (and then pick it right back up and apologize to it), and the stories that make me feel like I just have to own them so I can read them again later.

With all my love for escaping into a story, it’s no surprise to anyone that one of my favorite genres of literature is fantasy. A story that can make me shiver, one that sounds just realistic enough to truly make me feel as if it could happen, that’s the most effective kind, in my opinion. I love it when I’m reading a story and I feel like I want the particular world I’m reading about to exist so I can live in it. Out of the books I’ve read so far this year, there are three that have evoked many of the aforementioned emotions in me, while also appealing to my need for a little fantastical escape.

Burned by Karen Marie Moning is one I had been anticipating for a while now, mainly because I’ve been following this series since day one. It’s the latest installment in Moning’s Iced series, which consists of just one other title, Iced, and is a small segue in Moning’s longer-standing Fever series, which so far consists of Dark Fever, Blood Fever, Fae Fever, Dream Fever, and Shadow Fever. This is important to know, because Moning’s set of characters in the world she’s built develops over time, and you have to start at the beginning or you’ll be a bit lost.

Moning’s series is set in modern-day Ireland, and it’s about fairies. That’s right -- fairies. But I’m not talking about the tiny, cute, iridescent-winged, glitter-spreading variety. Anyone remotely familiar with the fae of Celtic lore knows these creatures are a bit… scarier than we like to portray them here in the U.S. They’re sometimes evil, sometimes ugly, all the time complex beings, and they don’t care about humans at all. Moning’s fairies are about as disturbing and repellent as you can imagine, even the “pretty” ones.

Since this is a continuation, and backtracking through the series would take more pages than this article affords me (although it’d be a thrilling recap!), I’ll say, in a nutshell, that Burned continues the story of MacKayla “Mac” Lane, gifted sidhe-seer (pronounced she-seer, a person who can see through the glamour that the fae dress themselves in so they can mingle in the human world). Mac, along with the not-quite-human and darkly sexy Jericho Barrons, has recently defeated the Sinsar Dubh (pronounced she-suh doo, an ancient book of evil). However, evil still runs rampant because the wall that separated humans from the fae was torn down on Halloween night, and now the fae have overrun not just Dublin, but the entire planet. Everyone is vying for ultimate control over everyone else: Humans are battling fae; the Seelie and Unseelie -- the light fae and dark fae -- themselves are pitted against one another; a rival band of sidhe-seers have come, seemingly from nowhere, determined to claim the city for their own; and the Crimson Hag, a disgusting and evil being, is holding the powerful Highland druid Christian MacKeltar hostage. On top of it all, Mac has lost her former friend and protégé, fourteen-year-old Dani “Mega” O’Malley, to betrayal and one grave misunderstanding. Nothing is normal or safe in this new world, so it’s no surprise that unlikely alliances are formed, the good turn to evil (and vice versa), and everyone -- including Mac -- has to decide how much they’re willing to sacrifice to survive.

Many fantasy fans already know Karen Marie Moning through her Highlander books. By the time you read Burned, you really care about the characters Moning has introduced you to, so it’s important to start at the beginning.

More importantly, as far as fantasy is concerned, I like scary stuff -- I mean, I like having my pants scared off me. More impressive, to me, is when a book or a movie or a similar medium can truly disturb me with subtle creepiness. Over-the-top scares are fun, but you know they’re not real (in fact, you go to bed at night telling yourself that so you can fall asleep). The subtler the scare, the more realistic it feels, the more it sticks with me. And it’s such a sophisticated way of storytelling. As soon as I saw The Voices by F.R. Tallis sitting on the New Books shelf at the Library, I plucked it right up. A version of the classic haunted house story, I could just tell it had the right amount of thrills I was looking for.

Set in mid-1970s London during a heatwave, this story surrounds Christopher Norton, a composer of film soundtracks; his wife, Laura, a former model; and their new daughter, Faye. After having just moved into a new - or rather, very old - Victorian house, Laura begins hearing strange things over the baby monitor. First it’s barely audible. Then the voices begin coming through loud and clear. Chris, having built a recording studio so he could work from home, sees the strange, disembodied voices as an opportunity to be taken seriously again in the music world. He begins conjuring the voices and recording them for an ingenious symphony, and becomes obsessed with the project. But one voice in particular wants something Chris isn’t willing to give up, although it may be too late by the time he figures that out.

The concept of The Voices reminds me of a mixture of Stephen King’s classic The Shining and the 2010 film Insidious (one of the scariest movies I’ve seen in a while, for the record). I’m reminded of this pair of works in particular because of two things pervasive throughout this story: the sense of frenetic desire to create something (and the creation threatening to consume you), and the idea that your house might not be haunted, but, in fact, you are. How scary is that -- knowing you can’t get away from the thing that’s haunting you, no matter where you go?

Okay, so maybe I wouldn’t choose to put myself in a situation like that, but the sheer ordinariness of the lives of the main characters, the details of their ups and downs, their worries as new parents, and the small interjections of actual London history from that time period all make me feel like it could be me.

With all this talk about my tendency to avoid reality, I was certainly caught off-guard by the stark realness of Nobel Prize-winning Toni Morrison’s latest novel, God Help the Child. This book dealt with some very real issues and detailed struggles in the lives of African-Americans as it pertains to identity through skin color, something I can totally relate to.

Simply put, God Help the Child tells the story of Bride, a beautiful woman with very dark skin who finds herself jilted more than once in her life. First, her father’s abhorrence for the color of his own daughter’s dark skin causes him to leave the family the moment she’s born. Her mother, the only person left to take care of her, treats her horribly throughout her young life because of the way she looks. Then her lover, Booker, leaves her, though his reasons aren’t as obvious as we’re originally led to believe. Though Bride becomes wildly successful later in life. mainly because of the color of her skin, she spends the majority of this story taking from her hurtful past to validate her present decisions, yearnings, and obsessions.

For all its realness, there is still a sense of other-worldliness woven ever so delicately throughout this story, a tendency of Morrison’s as a storyteller. As Bride goes searching for Booker, for example, she’s under the impression that she’s regressing to a pre-pubescent state: certain feminine features of hers are changing, and her once-pierced ears are closing up, among other things. Whether or not these things are really happening is never revealed, and appear to be all in Bride’s head. I was never really sure, but it brought to light how powerful the mind is, how much of an escape it can provide, or how the realities of life can affect it.

I don’t think it’s a problem at all to willingly lose yourself in a bit of whimsy, especially as an adult. Whether you prefer to lounge on the reality side of the pool and dip your toes in fantasy -- an experience you’ll find yourself having with Morrison’s book -- or you prefer to cannonball dive right in with Moning’s Fever series, it’s always a refreshing way to escape this world. After all, that’s the reason why we read in the first place, isn’t it?