Thursday, March 3, 2016

Murchie Plus Books: Catch-Up Edition, Part I

I took an eleven-day vacation at the end of February--my first in ages and ages--and, as expected, I had neither the time nor the energy to keep to Murchie Plus Books's regular Sunday schedule. I subscribe to the go-go-go style of vacations: lots of walking, lots of cultural absorption, and very little computer time. It's a productivity-killer, but I can't be too bummed about it because it's also the very point of vacations.

I'm gonna do a couple of catch-up posts to fill you in on everything I've read since we last talked on February 13th. (My initial plan--one catch-up post before a return to weekly installments every Sunday--fell by the wayside when I realized how very many words I'd written.) For the usual Not Pictured section, just assume I read a lot of vintage UNCANNY X-MEN and will tell you all about it in more detail a week or two down the line.

A fuzzy grey poodle, Murchie, lounges on a fuzzy white pillow. He wears a pink and white houndstooth sweater. Beside him is a white Kobo with Phonogram's cover on its screen. The cover features a young, dark-haired, pale-skinned woman laying face first against a Union Flag. A pitchfork emerges from her back, and a dark stain spreads over the back of her white t-shirt.

I've loved Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie's recent collaborations so much that I bought the latest Image Humble Bundle mostly so I could get the first volume of PHONOGRAM. It's an earlier work in stark greyscale, and I'll warn you up front that it's not nice.

It's also not meant to be.

PHONOGRAM is about music and identity, and the ways music shapes identity, and the magic some people can grasp when they listen to music. Except instead of casting all this as metaphor, Gillen and McKelvie make it hard truth. Music is magic, and the protagonist, David Kohl, has rooted his identity so firmly in his connection to the first music he ever paid magical court to--Britpop--that he's effectively screwed if something happens to diminish it. Which is exactly his problem as the story opens, ten years on from his vile-tongued glory days.

It's absolutely fascinating stuff, if you can get past Kohl being an utter asshole of the frustrating rather than entertaining variety. I sort of want to write more about it, so I may do that at a later date if I can gather my thoughts sufficiently. I'll also be keeping an eye out for the rest of the series.

Murchie lays on a red blanket, a trade paperback copy of Batgirl Volume One beside him. The cover features a redhaired woman in formfitting black armour and a bat-eared black cowl bursting towards the viewer, grinning.

Batgirl is fun to say, y'all. Batgirl. Batgirl. Batgirl.

Anyways, I'm still committed to this whole read-DC-in-2016 plan, and I figured BATGIRL would be good territory to cover. People love her, and based on this first volume by Gail Simone and Ardian Syaf I think I could come to love her too. She's got a lot of guts, she's trying to figure out her place in the nonsuperheroic world, and she's extremely good at kicking asses.

I've requested the rest of Simone's run now I'm back from my vacation. With any luck, I'll have it in hand by Saturday.

Murchie lays on his fuzzy pillow with his head raised and his paws splayed out before him. He wears a blue and white striped t-shirt. Beside him is a white-bordered iPod with the cover of To All the Boys I've Loved Before on its screen. It features a conservatively-dressed girl of Korean descent propped up on her elbows across a bed.

Jenny Han's TO ALL THE BOYS I'VE LOVED BEFORE gets a lot of press, so I leaped at the chance to listen to it when Scribd made it one of their February Selects. It has a lot to offer the reader, including strong sister relationships, but I had trouble sinking into the story itself. This was at least partially because the voice is much younger than I expected; an effect bolstered by the narrator, no doubt, but also evident in the prose. It's not a bad thing. It's just not my thing.

So I put it aside and listened to something else.

Murchie crouches on his fuzzy pillow. He wears his pink and white sweater and has his head twisted to look at something behind him. Beside him is a white-bordered iPod with the cover of Captain Vorpatril's Alliance on its screen. The cover features a futuristic silver ship hovering over a city, sandwiched between the author's name and the title in large block letters.

Namely, CAPTAIN VORPATRIL'S ALLIANCE, which brings me this close to being caught up with the Vorkosigan saga.

This particular installment saw me through my pre-trip prep, then my first couple of days in Victoria. (I didn't listen to anything during the mainland portion of my trip because I took all my walks in company with family.) It was fun and funny and exciting and emotional, and I had an absolute blast with it. I continue to like Ivan awfully much, and Tej is great, and I'm dead chuffed that Ivan's alliance turned out to be something completely different than I expected.

This might not have been the case if I'd read the jacket copy first, like a normal person.

One downside: I was bummed to reach the author's note at the end and learn Bujold strongly advocates for reading the series in chronological order, not publication order. Y'all will recall I took the publication order route, and I myself have become a strong advocate in its favour because I had so much fun with the divide between what the characters know and what the reader knows. I thought Bujold was having fun with that too, but I guess not.

Oh well. It's not like she can make me revisit the series a particular way, when the time comes. And I'll still urge y'all to read it in publication order if you, too, delight in watching beloved characters making ironic and/or prescient choices as you zip back and forth through their timelines.

Murchie lays his fuzzy head close to Girl of Nightmares's red and black hardcover spine.

I needed Kendare Blake's GIRL OF NIGHTMARES immediately after I finished ANNA DRESSED IN BLOOD, so I rushed to the library and managed to grab my local branch's copy before anyone else got their grubby hands on it.

Then I failed to finish it before I hopped on my plane, because I had a lot more trouble with this one than its predecessor.

What a bummer.

It all comes down to the setting. I was able to overlook the lack of Canadian flavour in ANNA because I enjoyed the overall setup so much, but it irked the hell out of me this time. I couldn't quite believe the characters were in Thunder Bay, or in anywhere other than Nowhereseville, USA. The high school was exactly like an American high school, complete with a shorter school year, nicknames for grades, and that US thing where everyone's a year behind where I'd expect them to be, age-wise1.

It's been a fair few years since I was in high school, so maybe Canadian schools are Americanized now. Or maybe it's just Ontario that's Americanized. I've read enough other recentish Ontarian books where this isn't the case that I'm doubtful, though.

Even if Canadian schools are totally the same as American ones these days, it felt really, really off to me that nobody in the whole frickin' place comments on Cas being an American. If Canadians love one thing above all others, it's telling Americans how we're different from them.

Hell, I think pretty well every non-American loves doing this. If you don't believe me, visit any hostel (or go on any cruise, if you're anti-hostel) anywhere in the world and tell someone in the common room you're an American. You'll soon be surrounded by people eager to tell you how Life Is Different Elsewhere.

So that distracted me and made it difficult for me to sink into the book, even though there were parts I really loved. I also felt, overall, like Blake was setting things up for a longer series her publisher declined to contract her for, which makes certain aspects rather unsatisfying in retrospect. Still, if she ever writes more about these characters you can bet I'll read it, and I plan to start her other series good and soon.

The cover of Carry On, featuring the yellow and blue silhouettes of two boys poised to kiss, appears on the screen of a white Kobo. Behind it, mountains are visible far below through an airplane window.

I had to take GIRL OF NIGHTMARES on the plane with me, which was a total bummer since it was a hardcover and I traveled without carry-on (ie, with everything crammed into my regular bag), but once I finished it was able to switch back to ebooks with CARRY ON.

There's probably a joke in there somewhere.

I was also well away from Murchie by this point, of course, so I called upon the first of my special guest stars: the Rocky Mountains.

I fucking love mountains, friends.

I also fucking loved this precious gift of a book, and I'll be writing about it at greater length sometime in the next couple of weeks.

A grey cat perches on a wooden kitchen chair. He sniffs at a white Kobo with Namesake's cover on its screen. The purple-toned cover features a roundel of a dark-haired, brown-skinned girl in a dark forest.

Special Guest Star #2 is Mr Grey, my aunt and uncle's new rescue cat. He's probably too timid to be a hit man, but maybe he just has a really effective cover identity.

Mr Grey helped me with the first two volumes of NAMESAKE, a webcomic by Isabelle Melançon and Megan Lavey-Heaton. These books were another of my perks from the VALOR kickstarter, and you can bet I'll be following the ongoing story from now on. NAMESAKE features a Canadian WOC lead, a new take on the land of Oz, and a large cast of characters who subscribe to complicated, often magically-induced moralities. It's pretty durned cool.

If you'd like to give it a try, the whole thing is available on the Namesake website.

Next Time: a bunch more stuff I read on my winter vacation, plus a Very Special Guest Star with strong ties to Murchie.

  1. I'm told this isn't the way of it in every US state, and many actual American students' ages match what I experienced as a Canadian student, but it seems like American YA authors always employ the delayed year thing. So, someone's either eighteen or set to turn eighteen before January when they enter Grade Twelve, while here they'd be either seventeen or set to turn seventeen before January.

    Unless all our schools have become totally Americanized.


  1. I was 18 the month after I started grade 12 and I live in Canada... The cut off here used to be October 1st but now it is January. :)

    1. Wow! Were eighteen-year-old grade twelve students common at your school, then? The whole time I was growing up, I only knew one kid who was born in a different year than his classmates because his parents kept him out of kindergarten until he was about to turn six. (His birthday was Hallowe'en.) Everyone else had the same birth year unless the school bumped them forward or held them back a grade, so nearly everyone in my graduating class was sixteen or seventeen at the start of the school year. The sixteen-year-olds had all aged up by the end of December; some of them at the very, very end.

      I wonder if the drinking age has much to do with it? Ours is eighteen instead of your nineteen and America's twenty-one, so there could be different perceptions in play with how the school board and parents choose to manage their students' ages, too.

  2. I think it's about half and half, kids who turn eighteen before January of 12th grade and kids who don't. I have a slightly late birthday (May), so I was seventeen when I started senior year (Grade Twelve to you), and I turned eighteen at the tail end of it. But most of my friends were by that time already turned eighteen. I don't think any of them were eighteen prior to starting senior year.

    Phonogram! Thank you for the warning about the protagonist, as well! That's good information to have so that my expectations can be regulated.

    1. I turned eighteen three days after I graduated at the end of June. This was somewhat frustrating because it meant I couldn't drink at my school grad party. All my friends with January to June birthdays got wristbands, while the rest of us had to just dance and eat cold cuts at midnight and stuff.

      Kohl is such a jerk, Jenny. Such a jerk.