February 7th, two books that I was greatly anticipating were released. Thanks to it being my birthday on the 10th, I was able to get both. Even luckier than that, I loved them both. Said books were Universal Harvester by John Darnielle and Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman. I’m going to do a double review here discussing these and hopefully convince you to give them a shot.
Universal Harvester is one of those books with a deliciously vague summary. Jeremy works at a video rental store, and the VHS tapes start coming in with spliced in scenes that are troubling and sinister. The mystery unravels from there. The fantastic thing about this is, while it is thrilling, it’s not a murder mystery. At its heart, Universal Harvester is about grief. Even more specifically, it’s about the difference between people who have suffered through intense grief and loss and the people who haven’t. Even among readers, there will be people who “get” this and those who don’t. It’s not for everyone.
Yet it felt like it was made for me. There were so many moments that hit me right in the gut. Passages that were written in that illuminating way, and when you read them, you get that feeling that someone else understands. Someone else in the world knows how to capture this feeling that you’ve had before. I can’t ask everyone to have the same experience with this book that I did, but I will say that for me it was incredibly moving, and I felt at home with this book.
I know I said the point was not really that it’s a thriller, but it does have that. Darnielle is a master at suddenly turning the prose and making you blink. And you read the line again to be sure you read that right. And it sinks in. And you’re thoroughly creeped out. It’s what I loved about Wolf in White Van, and he does it again here. He has a very deft hand with words, and he can make them cut like a knife.
Ultimately this one was, for me, a perfect read. Weird, dark, and then strangely touching. I know I’m being vague, but the weirdness and unexpected turns really are part of the fun. If that sounds like it’s up your street, check this one out.
Final Rating: 5/5
Next up is Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman. I wouldn’t call this a retelling. More a retreading. Gaiman takes the old myths and puts them in his own words essentially. Herein lie the tales of Odin, Thor, and Loki and all their pals. It was fantastic fun.
I was looking for something just like this. Like anyone who loves fairy tales and myth, I want to dive deep and learn more. Especially when super popular franchises crop up like Marvel, and you start asking yourself what the original tale was like before they tweaked it for superhero films. I do appreciate it being put together in this way, as well. Gaiman makes it very accessible, exciting, and entertaining. It has his particular flare for whimsical yet dark storytelling. It went by in a flash, and part of me wishes I’d savored it even though it was so compulsively readable.
There’s a palpable comfort he has with these characters. He gives them quirks and writes their dialogue with ease. Though I think it’s pretty clear Loki was the most interesting guy in the bunch, with his unpredictability and how easily he could go from harmless prankster to genuine villain. I can recommend this for most readers, though there might be some too-raunchy humor for the very young. I hope Gaiman returns to this idea for some other mythologies. I’d love to see Egyptian myth handled this same way.
Final Rating: 5/5
Thank you for reading, and happy geeking!
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