Fantasy Land

It's time to dive into end-of-the-year lists! Those lists are one of my favorite parts of the cultural year, both making them and reading others'. Before I can report on what stood out as the best, though, I have to tie a bow on everything that I completed in 2015 to make sure everything is represented. For the world of reading, that means mentioning the last two books I'm likely to finish this year.

The first was Chris Colfer's 2012 book, The Land of Stories: The Wishing Spell. If Colfer's name looks familiar, it's because he played Kurt Hummel on Glee, which is really the only reason I was interested in reading this. What would a series of children's books by an actor barely out of childhood himself look like? The Land of Stories is a fairy tale series targeted to readers from about third to seventh grade. The Wishing Spell revolves around twins Conner and Alex Bailey, who, along with their widowed mother, are struggling to do their best on their own. Alex escapes the problems of daily life by immersing herself in fairy tales, and when the book of stories her late father read to her from starts to beckon her, she answers the call, with Conner in tow.

The twins have adventures alongside all the usual fairy tale characters, and if I were in the intended audience's age range, I may very well have wound up loving it. I'm an adult, though, so I've encountered Once Upon a Time. And Wicked. And Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister. And Wolf Among Us. And a million other reimagined angles for these classic stories. It requires a pretty fresh take to make yet another retelling of Cinderella or Red Riding Hood interesting, and this book just couldn't pull it off. It wasn't a bad read by any stretch, but unlike a lot of other books for kids, this has no winking material woven in that's designed to appeal to more mature readers.

Hype played a part in me reading the second book, too. Paula Hawkins' The Girl on the Train was one of the most talked-about books of 2015, and its premise appealed to me. Rachel rides a commuter train past a row of houses, and has come to admire the adoring couple she always spots in their backyard. When she sees something that threatens what she perceives as their perfect relationship, she entwines herself in their business, which exacerbates the troubles in her own life. That's about all I can say without delving into spoilers.

This book has already been optioned as a movie, and I can see the appeal. The story reads like a Diet Gone Girl, with Rachel being an unreliable narrator and the sordid secrets of many couples being exposed. I'm not sure it's worth the hysteria it generated, though. The book goes along at a good clip, but a lot of the plot developments are overly contrived, with developments happening at extremely convenient times, and with characters relying on some pretty unlikely chains of events. I liked it, but this may be one of those stories that works better as a movie.

So there ya go. Two fairly good books that have absolutely no prayer of being in my top five of 2015. It may be an anticlimactic end to the year, but I guess I'd rather read solidly entertaining stories like these than stumble into something I expected to like and hated instead. Well done, 2015! You're...solid!

The Land of Stories: The Wishing Spell: B-
The Girl on the Train: B


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