Sunday, May 22, 2016

Murchie Plus Books: May 15th to 21st

The premise: I make my dog pose with every book I read. Sometimes he cooperates. Sometimes he refuses to keep his head still. It's a crapshoot, basically.

The photos: go live on Instagram as I take them and appear here every in digest form every Sunday, with descriptive alt tags and additional commentary.

Not pictured: I read another volume of PARADISE KISS and forgot to photograph it before I took it back to the library. It's likely to be my last one for a while, since someone appears to have stolen the rest of the series. Grrrr. Here's hoping my library purchases the rest of the reissues good and soon so the whole city can once again dig in.

A fuzzy grey poodle, Murchie, lies with his front paws dangling off a sheep-shaped pillow. His head is twisted to peer over the top of a white Kobo with the cover of The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms on its screen. The yellow-toned cover features a massive city perched atop a thing column. An indistinct figure with wild hair hovers in the background.

I thought I was doing a pretty great job of maintaining my readerly momentum in a post-Raven Cycle world, but it turns out I only managed to delay the slump for a single week. When it set in, it set in hard. I started and drifted away from four other books before I finally settled on THE HUNDRED THOUSAND KINGDOMS by N.K. Jemisin.

This one's a reread, tugged off the library's ereserve so I can finally finally finally finish the series, and I knew going in that it was exactly what I felt like. Epic. Personal. Twisty. Packed with foreshadowing and difficult choices and plenty of jaw about identity.

Even here, though, I struggled to love it the way I did the first time. I was well into the second half before I transitioned from, "This is really good, and I remember how much I loved it the first time1" to, "I loooooooove this it's so wonderful here's what I'm doing with the next hour of my life wheeeeeeeeee."

Bloody post-awesome-book reading slumps sap the joy out of everything.

I did get there in the end, though; and in the process, I realized I'm craving the hell out of epic fantasy right now. After further reflection, I decided this is partly down to how much I enjoyed the back half of THE HUNDRED THOUSAND KINGDOMS and partly because I made my last charge into the Wheel of Time around this time last year. Now my subconscious is all, "Yes, good, we must read epic fantasy in late spring and early summer. This will be our new thing."

Okay, subconscious. Whatever you say.

Murchie lies on his sheep-shaped pillow. Beside him is a white iPod with The Crown's purple-tinted cover on its screen. The cover features a pale-skinned girl in a purple ball gown.

2016 is a huge year for series-enders. THE CROWN, the fifth and final volume in Kiera Cass's Selection series, is my fourth, and I've got a ton more lurking around the corner.

I enjoyed these books so much more than I ever expected to. They're fun and emotionally charged, if predictable. The romance here played out exactly as I expected it to, but I still had a great time listening to Eadlyn work through her feelings about her suitors and her country alike. I appreciate how many of the boys become her true friends, too. It's about who she connects with as much as who she wants to snog.

And hey, there are finally some gay people! (I shook my head over the lack of gay people in THE SELECTION. All those girls, and you're telling me not one of them is a secret teenage lesbian? Pfft.) Y'all know I appreciate SFnal futures with gay people in them, though it's clear this particular future society still has a ways to go.

Murchie lies on a bronze comforter, his mouth stretched open in a yawn that looks a little like a roar and a little like a grin. Beside him is a hardcover copy of Batwoman Volume 3. Its cover features a redhaired white woman in a skintight black bat costume with red accents. Flames surround her.

Murchie's roaring here, not yawning. He's got a lot of emotions about Batwoman, see, and he needs to vent 'em somehow.

I'm pleased to report that volumes two and three of J.H. Williams III and W. Hadyn Blackman's BATWOMAN were just as good as the first. Artist Amy Reeder steps in for the bulk of volume two, TO DROWN THE WORLD, while artist Trevor McCarthy also contributes issues to volume three, WORLD'S FINEST, but the book's visual syntax remains consistent. In his role as artist, Williams (who also co-writes) obeys only the most important rule of comics: the story's gotta flow. As long as you can draw the reader's eye smoothly from one action to the next, you're golden--and Williams is 24 carat. He can and does turn anything into a visually arresting panel that smoothly draws the reader's eye to the next piece of the story. Pair his layouts and pencils with Dave Stewart's colours and you've got a visual feast on your hands; one the other contributing artists take care to preserve the flavour of, even as they add their own spin on the material.

It's awesome to look at, is what I'm saying.

Storywise, there's tons of mythology, plenty of women who help and hinder one another, a lesbian protagonist, and a slew of tough choices all around. While I haven't loved any individual volume yet, I'm loving the series as a whole and I'm gonna be so bummed when this creative team departs after Volume Four.

Murchie lies on a brown pillow. He wears a blue hoodie with white trim and has one paw stretched out before him. In front of him is a white Kobo with the cover of Fairy Tales for Modern Queers on its screen. The cover features a clear glass slipper and assorted clear jewels against a white background.

I've actually been poking at Emily Reed's FAIRY TALES FOR MODERN QUEERS for a couple weeks, but I wanted to wait and comment on the collection as a whole because it's a review copy. As the title suggests, it's a collection of fairy tales featuring queer teenagers--and it's wonderfully varied. The earliest stories are contemporary fairy tale retellings sans magic, while those that come after are original secondary world stories with fairy tale bones. A few of them focus on queerness, but most don't depend on it. Reed takes the all-too-infrequent stance that queer kids can have exactly the same sort of adventures as hetero ones. Her protagonists sometimes face challenges due to their gender or sexuality, which remains an important part of who they are, but it's never the sum total of their lives.

Reed works hard to include protagonists from many different corners of the quiltbag, too. These teenagers are gay, lesbian, bi, trans, nonbinary, and asexual. Some of them identify as more than one label, because these things are far from mutually exclusive. I was thrilled to see such an obvious commitment to inclusion, and to note the many POC characters.

Reed's prose isn't particularly fancy, but that's not a bad thing. She places the emphasis firmly on the protagonists and their actions, with an especial focus on the sorts of details that anchor each offering in modern life and model a positive future for queer youth. These really are stories for modern queers, whether they're set in the real world or a fairy tale kingdom, and I recommend the collection to anyone who's been longing for less heteronormativity in their folklore.

Murchie lies on his sheep-shaped pillow with his head twisted into profile. He wears his blue hoodie. At an angle in front of him is The Broken Kingdoms's blue-toned cover, featuring a massive tree with a palace awkwardly positioned within its branches. An indistinct, white-eyed figure hovers behind it, face turned up to meet the sun.

Even though it's been nearly six years since I read it, I'm shocked at how much of THE BROKEN KINGDOMS I'd forgotten. I remembered Oree, Shiny, the Tree, Hado, and the person to whom Oree tells the story. Otherwise, I might as well have been reading something I'd only heard described to me.

In a way, that made it all the better. I had so many things to (re)discover and thrill to, and I took full advantage of the opportunity. While I remember enjoying this one slightly less than THTK the first time through, I now love it even more; maybe because it took me so long to sink into THTK last week, but maybe because of the discovery factor. It's familiar and new all at once. I love stuff like that.

I probably tore through to the end right after I scheduled this post.

Murchie sniffs a white iPod held in the forefront of the shot. The iPod's screen features the cover of Tell the Wind and Fire, which consists of a nighttime shot of New York with the Brooklyn Bridge in clear view. The title appears in red and white lettering in the water under the bridge.

Sarah Rees Brennan is one of my yes-or-no authors. I'm either, "Yes! I love this!" or, "it was okay" about her work.

Unfortunately, TELL THE WIND AND FIRE is one of the ones that didn't quite hook me. I listened to it in its entirety (having borrowed the audiobook form Hoopla because I was doing such a crap job of making time for the DRC I received ages ago) and appreciated it, but I never managed to form an emotional connection with it.

The stuff I appreciated is most worthy of comment, though. TELL THE WIND AND FIRE is a contemporary, magic-laden retelling of A TALE OF TWO CITIES by Charles Dickens, a book I tried to read when I was nine2 and never quite went back to. I'm sure there are plenty of awesome compare-and-contrast opportunities for people with higher brows than mine. There's also a strong focus on making choices for oneself, not for others. Lucie, the protagonist, is clear about what she does or doesn't want to fight for, and about who gets to influence her decisions. She's equally firm on who gets to touch her, and under what circumstances. I'm always pleased to encounter protagonists of her type.

From the other responses I've heard, I gather many people consider her unlikeable in the extreme. It never even occurred to me to question whether I felt that way myself. She's a driven person who makes difficult, sometimes selfish choices that push the plot in interesting directions. That trumps any likeability concerns in my book.

There's also a great deal of complicated magic, much of it quite dark even on the supposedly Light side of the equation, and a spectacularly snarky doppelganger who isn't interested in pretending to be Not Evil. When I think about it in the abstract and weigh all its good qualities, I like it very much. I can't quite explain why I failed to click with it.

I should note, too, that those of you who do click with it are liable to end up bawling your hearts out. It's that sort of a book.

Next week: more N.K. Jemisin. More review books. Murchie's face is set to get a whole lot grubbier, too, thanks to a messy new medication and his consistent refusal to let me brush him.

  1. I first read the bulk of THE HUNDRED THOUSAND KINGDOMS on the day I climbed One Tree Hill, a (dormant) volcano that buts up against my beloved Cornwall Park. It was my first serious volcano, so I had this plan to trek up to the top and eat my lunch (peanut butter and strawberry jam sandwiches) while I read my book and gazed out at the vistas.

    I love a good vista.

    Trouble is, One Tree Hill discourages visitors from lingering. There's a parking lot and a memorial and that's it. No convenient places to sit and read, let alone sit and read and eat.

    (Unless they've added something in the nearly six years since then.)

    So I took in the vistas, then walked back down the mountain and found a picnic table where I could eat my sandwich and read my book. It was a good day.

  2. I wanted to read every book in the school library, alphabetically. I also wanted to avoid spending nine hundred years on a single letter, so I decided I'd read one book from A, one from B, and so on and so forth. A TALE OF TWO CITIES was the first book in the D section, and nine-year-old me had so much trouble with the first page that I promptly abandoned the whole alphabetical reading scheme and went back to binging on children's mystery novels.

    I've always been low brow, y'all. Just took me a while to admit it.


  1. I probably would have a lot of series ending this year if I was better at keeping up with series... lol

    1. I'm also gonna go back and finally finish a bunch of the ones I started but never completed, like the Inheritance Trilogy.

  2. You have brows of perfect height!

    Also, I am SO EXCITED that Jemisin's crowdfund push succeeded. We are going to have so much more excellent fantasy over the next couple of years!

    1. It's so wonderful when the internet comes through for a talented author!

  3. The post-great read slump is the worst, sounds like you're trucking through it, though. Hope more great reads are right around the corner!

  4. I have been experiencing post-readathon slump, and have exclusively listened to audiobooks (hello Raven Cycle marathon) until this weekend. Slowly getting back into it, which is slow and frustrating. Reading slumps are the worst. Looks like you're still getting some reading done so yay!

    1. Boo reading slumps. Jemisin seems to have jolted me out of mine before it could really get its claws in me. Whe.

  5. Murchie's roar is the cutest roar in the whole entire world. Tiny tiny Murchie!

    I've got Tell the Wind and Fire on my iPad against the day I have a chance to read it. I've never read Tale of Two Cities, but I think it's probably fine, right? Not a thing I need to have read before I read the Sarah Rees Brennan?

    1. Definitely not a thing you have to have read. My entire experience with it involves a single page I read more than twenty years ago, coupled with my grandma telling me about the character who knits while she watches the guillotine get down to business. I did just fine and you will too.