Sunday, July 10, 2016

Murchie Plus Books: July 1st to 9th

The premise: I make my dog pose with every book I read. You'd think he'd be used to it after two years of this schtick, but he still has a lot of trouble keeping his head still. Sigh.

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

Not pictured: I made real headway through UNCANNY X-MEN despite some crossover events that demanded I read issues of X-FACTOR, too. #275, here I come!

I'm also plugging away through THE WITCH WHO CAME IN FROM THE COLD, and it's great. I may make it my primary read this week so's I can finish it and discuss it--and Serial Box--with you quicker.

A sleek grey poodle, Murchie, lies curled up just behind a white Kobo with the NetGalley page for The Bourbon Thief on its screen. The page is zoomed in on the book's cover, which features a forest of thin, red-leafed trees against a misty blue-green background.

I reviewed THE BOURBON THIEF last Wednesday, so I'll curb my verbosity and tell y'all to go read that if you want to know what I thought of Tiffany Reisz's latest.

A large-headed Funko Pop bobblehead of Finn from Star Wars stands next to a red-bordered iPod with Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe's cover on it. The cover features the title in swirling white letters above a dark blue sky with a red pickup truck beneath it.

I want to talk about this one under my Representation Is Not A Spoiler policy.

Benjamin Alire Sáenz's ARISTOTLE AND DANTE DISCOVER THE SECRETS OF THE UNIVERSE has received a lot of press over the last couple of years, and I'd always seen it touted as a coming of age story with a gay romance at its heart. And yet, until the very, very end, it's conceivably one of those intense friendship stories where one of the kids is gay and desperately in love with their best friend, who's Totes Hetero And Therefore Uninterested.

Of course, this isn't a Gay Dude Falls For His Hetero BFF novel--but until the 95% mark, you've either gotta live off the subtext or have someone tell you the characters do, in fact, make out in the final scene.

I dunno about you, but I'm sick of living off subtext and I'd rather not have to rely on other people to assure me stuff is actually queer if you hold out long enough.

To be fair, Ari lies to himself as a self-preservation move that's completely in line with his character. It fits with the story Sáenz set out to tell, and it's hardly the author's fault that I'm over unrequited queer love stories. Obviously, many other readers have thrilled to the subtext, and to the slow pace at which Ari accepts his true feelings.

I should note, too, that I also found Ari's voice a lot younger than I expected. I had trouble sinking into the story on account of that, and the delayed self-acceptance didn't help. I did enjoy the book very much overall, but those issues kept me from loving it the way everyone else does.

An overhead shot of Murchie, curled up asleep on a bronze comforter. His visible ear is flipped over. Directly beside him is a trade paperback copy of I Hate Fairyland. Its cover features a green-haired white girl wielding an enormous axe. She stands atop a toadstool surrounded by battered fairy tale creatures like teddy bears and talking trees.

The central character of Skottie Young's I HATE FAIRYLAND has been trapped in the body of an eight-year-old for the last twenty-seven years because she can't find the fluffin' key that'll let her leave Fairyland and return to her own world. She's rather bitter about it, and that bitterness manifests itself in gruesome ways that Young and colourist Jean-Francois Beaulieu illustrate in much the same fashion as other artists might a pleasant and adorable romp.

There's a lot of trope subversion going on and I enjoyed it in the moment, but I think I need another volume before I decide whether it's a series I can come to love.

Murchie, still asleep, curls up just behind a paperback copy of A Silent Voice volume one. Its cover features a Japanese boy and girl standing in an otherwise empty classroom. The boy looks distinctly nervous, while the girl has a welcoming expression on her face.

I requested the first volume of Yoshitoki Oima's A SILENT VOICE after it was featured on Panels, and this was one of my better decisions. I couldn't tear myself away from this intense manga about bullying and tolerance, and I'm hoping the person who's got volume two returns it early so I can binge-read the rest of it.

I do worry Oima may be setting up Shoko, a deaf girl, as a Sainted Disabled Person Who Teaches Abled People Tolerance, though. I'll report back on that.

Murchie's face appears very close to the camera, in profile. Behind him is a digital copy of Sunbolt. Its cover features the title and a round mandala in orange against a swirling blue and black background.

Murchie was so comfy on my lap that I elected to take the awkward selfie route instead of making him move.

I reread Intisar Khanani's SUNBOLT last week because I needed a refresher before MEMORIES OF ASH, its sequel. Khanani's work has a sort of a Mercedes Lackey vibe to it, shot through with hints of Robin McKinley, and I enjoyed this novella even more the second time despite my issues with present tense narration1.

An overhead shot of Murchie curled up on a bronze comforter beside a paperback copy of French Milk. The book's cover features a photograph of a fancy French apartment building against a blue sky. A black and white drawing of a white girl smoking a cigarette emerges from the nearest window.

I haven't found the time to binge read Lucy Knisley's backlist, to my sorrow, but I made sure to fit her debut in this week. FRENCH MILK is her comics journal of the January she spent in Paris with her mother, and as such it's less structured than her later work. She chronicles her meals, her explorations, and her ever-changing mental state as it happens, with the occasional manatee to perk her up when things get bad. I enjoyed it very much, but overall I preferred her partly-after-the-fact approach in SOMETHING NEW.

A large-headed Funko Pop of Finn from Star Wars stands beside a white iPod with Elysium's blue-tinged cover on its screen. The title appears in gold against a black banner that curves between two city skylines.

A few months back, I asked Twitter to recommend their favourite novellas by POC. Three people popped into my mentions to say I had to read Jennifer Marie Brissett's ELYSIUM, a novel that was already on my radar thanks to a podcast I listened to back when I still made time for podcasts2. (I want to say I heard about it on the Outer Alliance, but don't quote me on that.)

Of course, since it's a novel and not a novella I couldn't slip it into the reading list I was compiling at the time, but I jumped at the chance to listen to it when it appeared on Hoopla. Hurray for audiobooks!

Turns out, ELYSIUM is weird and great. It's ambitious, casting the same characters across a multitude of different realities that sometimes echo one another and sometimes diverge wildly. It's queer and genderfluid as the core cast slips from gender to gender in response to the reality shifts, renegotiating their relationships with each new world in mind. And it's ambiguous, leaving the reader to wonder which, if any, of the realities is the original. (One in particular stands out as a likely urtext, but given the computer glitches seeded throughout the narrative I'm reluctant to say it hasn't been compromised.) I had an awesome time with it.

Murchie sits on a black mat just outside a screen door. He faces the viewer. One of his ears is flipped over. Inside, a pale hand holds a white Kobo with the cover of Bookburners S2 E3 on its screen. The cover features a presentation screen with a woodcut of a demon approaching a woman on it.

Hey, I finally got a semi-successful indoor/outdoor Murchie shot!

If you missed my earlier gushing, be aware BOOKBURNERS is a weekly serial that follows the Vatican's anti-magic squad on their quest to find and contain dangerous artifacts. It brings me joy.

In S2E3, "Mistakes Were Made," writer Brian Francis Slattery takes Asanti, the team's archivist, to a magical academic conference in company with Frances and Liam, her assistant and the team's computer guy respectively. While I'd initially hoped this episode would hold some good conflict between Asanti and Liam, who stand at opposite ends of the magical tolerance spectrum, I can't possibly complain about the lack given all the meaty stuff we do get. There's plenty of academia mixed with a generous side of doubt--not in regard to magic's effectiveness, but to magic-loving Asanti's role within a team that locks magic away instead of trying to utilize it in productive ways. There may not be an Asanti/Liam clash this episode, but I can only assume there's an Asanti/entire team battle lurking just over the horizon.

Frances, Asanti's new assistant, plays a large enough role here that I'm inclined to think she'll get as much focus as the rest of the team going forward; another excellent thing, given her academic curiosity, her ability to adapt, and her clear loyalty to Asanti personally.

It also seems clear we'll see a more involved search for Team Four (the Vatican's magical R&D department, which closed down centuries ago) throughout this season, though whether that'll be an official thing or Asanti's rogue side project remains to be seen.

And on top of the series-wide implications, there's a durned good standalone story here. I loved this episode, y'all. I'm excited for the next one.

An overhead shot of a white Kobo sitting to the left of a glass of iced coffee. The Kobo's screen holds the cover of Beyond Magenta, featuring a brunette white boy wearing a pink shirt with a black bow tie, jeans, and a rainbow belt.

Murchie desperately needed a break, so I called upon a glass of iced coffee to take his place. Then I drank it, which was probably a shitty reward for its service.

Farewell, iced coffee. You were delicious.

BEYOND MAGENTA: TRANSGENDER TEENS SPEAK OUT has been on my radar for ages, and I decided to bump it up when I saw it listed as one of American Library Association's most challenged books of 2015. It's a collection of photographs of and informal interviews with young trans people (but since it's labelled as "by" Susan Kuklin, the editor, I have to wonder how many alterations she made in addition to her occasional interjections).

I'll warn you, there's some difficult stuff in here. In the three accounts I've read so far:

One guy badgers his girlfriend into dating him, then badgers her into saying she loves him during their joint interview. I think he's aiming for cute, but it comes across as creepy.

One girl stays with her boyfriend because she's sure no one else will be able to accept her transness.

Another girl goes through a lot of rough stuff in the system, including what sounds to me like sexual abuse. (She doesn't seem to consider it as such, but there's a pretty big power imbalance there.)

And that's on top of the issues many trans youth face when they come out, including unsupportive family, bullying, and transphobic school administrators. So, be aware this book may be triggering for some readers.

A sepia-toned image of Murchie lounging in a compact dog bed. His head is up and his ears are perked. Behind him is a white Kobo with Whitehall's sepia cover on its screen. The cover features a dark-haired white woman's portrait superimposed over a ship's sails.

Friends, I've become a Serial Box junkie. They're currently holding a $0.99 sale on WHITEHALL, their first non-SFF offering, and I took advantage of it to nab eps two through four after the series premiere hooked me but good. (Serial Box makes all their season premieres available for free. You, too, can download the first ep of WHITEHALL from their website!) Now I'll follow along with each episode as it appears, thanks to Serial Box's generosity to NetGalley reviewers.

This one is historical fiction focused on Catherine of Braganza, Charles II, and Barbara Palmer, Charles's mistress. The staff writers include Delia Sherman and Mary Robinette Kowal, whose work I've loved in the past, plus four other women who're new to me. That's another great thing about serials. You come to them for the authors you know, and learn of new authors you may love.

I'm totally #teamserial.

As I write this, I'm two episode in and hoping to make it three by the time you read this because it really is great. There's tons of emotional depth, lots of politicking, a wide variety of women, and quite a few dogs3.

Everything's better with a dog or four.

Next week: more serials. Hopefully a romance or two. Some stuff towards my bookish bingo card.

  1. Present tense has started to bug me over the last year or two because "had" is my least favourite word and I firmly believe it has no place in present tense narration.

    Alas, many (if not most) of the world's editors disagree with me.

  2. I love the idea of podcasts, but every hour I spend listening to a podcast is an hour I don't spend listening to an audiobook. That makes it tough for me to psych myself up for them.

  3. When I was little, my aunt and uncle had two King Charles Cavalier Spaniels named Mollie and Ollie. They were awesome, except for how I think Ollie didn't like me.


  1. I read the first issue of I HATE FAIRYLAND in a Humble Bundle and it was cute. I am curious about the whole volume at some point. Maybe it will be in a future Humble Bundle. lol I really need to check out more from Serial. My reading slump is just making that sort of stuff difficult!

    1. But you see, serials are perfect for reading slumps because you don't have to commit to them for very long! You can read an episode, then wander off and do something else without feeling like you have to read the next one right away.

  2. Elysium! I had some issues with the trans character -- there's one story where they sacrifice themself for the others, as I recall -- but I thought it was still super interesting. Would definitely read more by that author.

    Murchie is maximally adorable in these pictures, btw.

    1. I'm especially fond of his little ear flip in the indoor/outdoor shot.