Monday, December 21, 2015

Murchie Plus Books: December 13th to 19th

The premise: I love my dog. I love books. I bring the two together by photographing my dog with every book I read, barring the comics I get in single issue form.

The photos: go live on Instagram as I edit them and (usually) appear here in digest form every Sunday, with descriptive alt tags and additional commentary. This week’s installment was delayed due to technical difficulties (ie, an utter lack of an internet connection).

Not pictured: I tried to hunker down with Marvel Unlimited before the abovementioned technical difficulties set in. I made it through a couple of Secret Wars tie ins (THORS and ANGELA) and some GOTG.

I also read THE FAVOURITE, Kiera Cass’s latest Selection novella. It was really more of a novelette, so I elected not to force any dogs to pose with it.

A fuzzy grey poodle, Murchie, lays on a sheep-shaped pillow. He wears a red t-shirt with green trim. In front of him is a white Kobo with The Witch Hunter's cover on its screen. The cover features a burning triangle enclosed within a circle formed by a fiery snake biting its own tail.

THE WITCH HUNTER, Virginia Boecker’s debut, is one of those books I intended to read this summer--which, as you’ll recall, is when my three-month reading slump happened. So I pushed it back a teensy bit.

Perhaps this was a good thing, because I ended up reading it at exactly the right time. I’ve been craving historical fiction, quick fiction, and fiction that invites me to guess along, all of which qualities THE WITCH HUNTER possesses in spades. It’s set in an alternate version of the sixteenth century where a team of highly trained fighters enforces England’s witchcraft ban in the wake of a magical plague that left the country devastated. Except they’re less than popular with the country at large, since our daring protagonist, Elizabeth, doesn’t know the half of what actually happened with the plague; a setup that encourages the reader to speculate as to what really went down and how Elizabeth will react when she inevitably learns the truth. Which also makes it a nice, quick read for anyone who liked to see their suspicions confirmed in short order.

I enjoyed it very much.

One jarring note: Boecker utilizes so many flashbacks and here’s-what-happened-right-before-this-scene-started vignettes that I think the book would’ve been much stronger in past tense. The core present tense narration felt more like a concession to the popular YA mode than something the author truly believed was best for the story.

Also, there’s this scene where someone magically hurls a slew of unplucked dead birds at Elizabeth, and it’s a set piece straight out of my own personal hell (in which the dead bird-chucking will happen within a leaky, glass-sided submarine deep under murky water).

Murchie curls up on his sheep pillow. He wears the same t-shirt. Below his nose is a white iPod with Of Sorrow and Such's orange-tinted cover on its screen. The cover features a pale-skinned woman with foliage intertwined with, or perhaps growing out of, her pale brown hair. Her eyes are closed.

Friends, Ana wrote such an eloquent review of Angela Slatter’s OF SORROW AND SUCH that I knew I had to read it as soon as ever I could. Then Scribd made it one of their unlimited audio selections for December, and I followed through far quicker than I usually do.

This is what it’s gonna be like when la TBR is dead. I’ll read books as soon as I hear about them.

Or as soon as I’ve finished whatever I’ve got on the go when I hear about them. Y’all know what I mean.

OF SORROW AND SUCH proved to be just as absorbing as Ana promised. It’s deeply concerned with how women find ways to be in the world, and how these ways aren’t the same for everyone. There are queer women, and women who do bad things, and women with poor judgement, and women who screw each other over, and women who help each other. It's wonderful and devastating.

I’m bummed my library doesn’t have any of Angela Slatter’s other work. Ana ensures me there are more stories about Patience Gideon out there, but I shall have to hunt for them.

Murchie lays on a red blanket with one paw over his nose. Beside him is a paperback copy of Evil For Evil, bound in greyish watercolour paper with the title in large, cobalt blue letters.

Y’all, I’m so pleased with K.J. Parker’s Engineer Trilogy. It’s far more gripping than the Scavenger Trilogy, and it’s got me thinking about all sorts of different things. There’s plenty of How Stuff Works, with a strong side of Why Does Stuff Have To Work This Way?, which I enjoy because I’m all about challenging the dominant paradigm. (That said, a lot of the characters wonder if they should challenge the dominant paradigm, then decide not to because it’s just too much bother.) There are meditations on duty and privilege and they ways they may work in concert under particular conditions, and what happens to your sense of duty when your privilege evaporates? Everyone makes phenomenally bad decisions because they’re in love with someone who doesn’t necessarily love them back, probably because so many of them base their love on their idea of the person rather than who the person really is.

It’s a great big catastrophe packed with interestingness.

I was quite content to wallow in EVIL FOR EVIL for hours at a stretch, but as soon as I finished it I decided I needed a bit of a break before I went along to THE ESCAPEMENT. Parker’s great, but he’s also fairly depressing. As Jenny once said, "K. J. Parker only believes in happy endings in the way that K. J. Parker believes in New Guinea. It exists but has no impact on K. J. Parker."

So, yeah.

I do like Miel quite a bit, though, so I hope he survives the trilogy. I figure he’s probably doomed, since he’s a K.J. Parker character, but he's done a fairly decent job of not dying to date so one can wish.

(Sidebar: Miel means honey in French so I keep wanting to call him Honey, much as I always wanted to call my mother's former coworker, Serise, Cherry. Because Serise sounds more or less the same as cerise, you know? Which is cherry in French?)

A hardcover copy of Step Aside, Pops appears upright on a red patterned carpet. Murchie backs away from it, one paw raised. He is blurred while the book is in focus.

Kate Beaton alarms Murchie. All those history jokes! And the literary allusions! A dog can't help but recoil from so much awesome in one place.

STEP ASIDE, POPS is just as funny as Beaton's first collection, HARK! A VAGRANT. I had all these issues when I tried to read it late at night, because I wanted to laugh and laugh and laugh and everyone else wanted to sleep and sleep and sleep.

Murchie may have a point about Kate Beaton. She's clearly a disruptive influence.

Murchie lays on his sheep pillow, his head raised. He still wears his shirt, because I'm a rubbish dog-parent and I dress him in the same thing every day. In front of him is a white iPod with The Last Witness's cover on its screen. It features a pale-skinned woman whispering something in the ear of a man with his back to the viewer.

Hey! It’s more no-happy-endings-here-thanks K.J. Parker!

THE LAST WITNESS rounds out our slate of novellas in Scribd’s December unlimited selection. Between this and EVIL FOR EVIL’s 730 pages I’ve decided novella- and novelette-length is my K.J. Parker sweet spot. I’ve loved some of his novels and some of his short stories, but I've loved all his novellas and novelettes.

Unless I’ve forgotten a stinker somewhere along the way.

This one reminded me I’d really like to find a K.J. Parker timeline. Either all or most of his fiction takes place in the same world, and I wanted to see how it all slots together, chronologically speaking, because that’s the sort of thing I geek out over. Alas, a bit of slapdash googling just now turned up absolutely nothing, and I read his stuff so sporadically that I can never seem to make meaningful sense of the clues. I'm stuck making contextually-empty connections, like, "The Invincible Sun's worship seems quite well established here," or, "Clearly Mezentia still produces goods for export."

Murchie sprawls in a nest formed by a red comforter and a red blanket, fast asleep. His right paw stretches at right angles before him, while his right ear is flopped away from his face. He wears the same shirt as above, for the same reason as above. Near his head is a hardcover copy of The Dream Hunters, featuring an illustration of a wild-haired Japanese man set into the otherwise black cover.

Murchie’s a twitchy little fellow, but every once in a while he sleeps so soundly that you could have a high jump competition right next to him without waking him up. When this is the case, he sprawls with no dignity whatsoever.

How appropriate that he adopted this pose alongside THE DREAM HUNTERS, Neil Gaiman's collaboration with Yoshitaka Amano.

After I finished THE SANDMAN: OVERTURE, I realized I couldn’t remember anything about THE DREAM HUNTERS. A quick peek through my LibraryThing catalogue told me this was because I hadn’t actually read THE DREAM HUNTERS.

That’ll do it every time.

I requested it, and read it, and discovered that some parts of it were pretty durned familiar after all. Maybe I read an excerpt long, long ago? Or a portion of P. Craig Russell’s comics adaptation? Or a critical paper about its most enduring themes? I don’t even know, y’all.

It was good, at any rate, and the art was lovely.

Next week: a schnauzer with impressive eyebrows. Some comics and stuff. Some novels, too.

12 Books of Christmas Tally:

  • MEMORY by Lois McMaster Bujold
  • BETWEEN THE WORLD AND ME by Ta-Nehisi Coates
  • STATUS UPDATE by Annabeth Albert
  • KOMARR by Lois McMaster Bujold
  • THE WITCH HUNTER by Virginia Boecker
  • OF SORROW AND SUCH by Angela Slatter
  • EVIL FOR EVIL by K.J. Parker
  • THE DREAM HUNTERS by Neil Gaiman and Yoshitaka Amano
  • THE LAST WITNESS by K.J. Parker


  1. I don't remember Miel at all and can shed no light on the possibility of his survival. I do feel that everyone in KJ Parker books either dies or survives but in a very miserable manner so you can't feel good about it. But perhaps that has changed in his more recent work?

    1. SPOILERS PEOPLE WHO ARE NOT JENNY. As of the end of the second book Miel's surviving in a very miserable manner, but he seems pretty chill with it. He's well suited to life inside a K.J. Parker novel.

      THE LAST WITNESS also has the whole surviving-in-a-very-miserable-manner thing going on, with somewhat less of the chill-with-it factor.

  2. "This is what it’s gonna be like when la TBR is dead. I’ll read books as soon as I hear about them." I cannot wait for this moment. Next year. Next year I swear.