Sunday, July 31, 2016

Murchie Plus Books: July 24th to 30th

The premise: I want to share my adorable dog with the world, so I make him pose beside everything I read (barring single-issue comics). Some weeks he's okay with this. Some weeks he isn't.

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 ventured into the Age of Apocalypse and got so involved with it that I ended up ignoring everything else on my reading list until I'd finished.

A ginger cat with white paws and a white belly curls up against a white Kobo with Monstress's cover on its screen. The cover features a long-haired girl of Asian descent, twisted to look at something over her left shoulder. An airy, abstract golden structure rises behind her.

Ollie kindly posed with Marjorie Liu and Sana Takada's MONSTRESS so Murchie wouldn't have to. His resemblance to Master Ren is a complete coincidence, but a welcome one.

I planned to sleep the world away last Sunday morning, but Murchie refused to settle. I spent a solid hour trying to persuade him it was all right to go back to sleep, then grabbed my Kobo and took him downstairs.

Where he promptly fell asleep on his cow-shaped pillow. Dogs, bro.

At least Murchie's restlessness let me get an early start on Day Two of the 24 In 48 Readathon. I'm working on a review of MONSTRESS, so for now I'll say no more than that the story intrigued me and Takada's artwork is breathtaking (with the caveat that there's a lot of violence herein and it may be triggering for some readers).

Oh, and I'm thrilled Image gave me the single issues for review because it meant I got to read the letters pages. Y'all know I love a good letters page.

A fuzzy grey poodle, Murchie, lays his chin atop a white Kobo with Whitehall Episode 8's cover on its screen. The cover features a person firing an arrow into the air against a varigated beige background.

I continued the readathon with a trip into the Restoration. Y'all know WHITEHALL has quickly become my favourite thing, and episode 8, written by Madeleine Robins, did nothing to change that. This serial is gloriously wallowsome, and I think that's because it's also deeply personal. Like the historical TV shows that've cropped up on HBO and Showtime over the last ten or fifteen years, WHITEHALL is interested in exploring real historical figures' everyday concerns. That often means delving into courtly intrigues, but there's also a strong focus on the emotional stakes that drive these people to behave as they do. Like I said last week, Barbara Palmer interests me because she's positioned as your standard Vengeful Female Villain character but her motivations extend beyond jealousy and malice. Even when she moves against Catherine (whom I for one am rooting for), she does so for the most human of reasons. It's always possible to understand her, even when we wish she'd proceed differently.

That's true of all the other characters, too, though I'm not as kindly disposed to everyone as I am to Barbara. This particular episode more firmly cements Charles's illegitimate son Jamie, the newly-created Duke of Monmouth, as a villainous figure. Jamie, like Barbara, acts to preserve and enhance his place at court. Unlike Barbara, he's vicious and cruel about it. I'm frightened for his new wife and eager to read on so I can learn what happens when he drops his big revelation.

A Funko Pop of Rose Tyler lies beside a white Kobo with the cover of Bookburners Season Two, Episode Six on its screen. The red cover features a stylized illustration of a woman in a blue dress browsing a market.

Meet Tiny Rose, a birthday gift from my lovely friend Kristina. Murchie needed another break because keeping someone company during a two-day readathon is super tiring.

I had a marvellous time with BOOKBURNERS S2E6, as expected. With "Incognita," Max Gladstone sends Grace and Liam off to Shanghai to track down a lead that might help Team Three fix the Orb. This is a fraught proposition for both characters, seeing as how they've got a fair amount of baggage waiting for them in China. Grace hasn't been back to Shanghai since her former teammates shipped her out of there in a crate, so her homecoming involves lots of old memories, some compare-and-contrast exercises, and a side quest to discover how the people she was once so close to ended up. Liam, in contrast, has no idea what to expect from the ex who awaits him there, seeing as how all his previous contact with her happened while he was possessed. They've both got a lot of feeling out to do.

All this happens within a really cool setting, of course: a magical market hidden away within Shanghai. The locations are one of my favourite things about this particular serial. Team Three travels all over the world, from American Hallowe'en towns to magical markets to their own physically impossible basement. I'm always excited to see where they end up next and what new supernatural threats they encounter there.

(And you guysssss, the jacket copy for the next episode makes it sound like they're headed for my home turf. I can't wait.)

A trade paperback copy of Half-Blood Blues stands upright, so close to the camera that it takes up at least two thirds of the frame. The cover illustration is a record with the title printed on a burgundy centre circle. Behind the book, Murchie stands on a black leather couch, his face twisted into three quarter profile.

Esi Edugyan's HALF-BLOOD BLUES has been on my radar foreverrrrrr, making it the obvious choice when I needed a Booker Shortlist title for my bookish bingo card. And within twenty pages, I loved it so much I was terrified to read on in case it betrayed me.

Because the last litfic I felt this way about? Was BOY, SNOW, BIRD.

I will never stop being mad at BOY, SNOW, BIRD.

So yeah, I didn't exactly shy away from the chance to take a break from HALF-BLOOD BLUES while I devoured Age of Apocalypse. I ain't even sorry about that. I've got enough room in my heart for Booker-shortlisted novels and mid-90s comics events.

Then I returned to it, and so far it's been a snap to sink back into. I hope to finish it today.

Murchie lies on a cow-shaped pillow, his head raised and his paws crossed in front of him. Beside him is a white-bordered iPod with Babel-17's mainly black cover on its screen. In the centre of the black cover is a square turned on its point to make a diamond. A woman's face is just barely visible inside it. Murchie is quite blurry

Murchie has reached the point in his hair growth cycle where my phone struggles to focus on him. Booooooo. I normally get around this by using my iPod to photograph him, but that's impossible when it comes to audiobooks for obvious reasons.

Anyways, my first two attempts to read Samuel R. Delany were spectacular failures. I out-and-out hated THE JEWELS OF APTOR and I bailed on THE FALL OF THE TOWERS because I could tell I was trending towards hatred and I wanted to save myself the frustration. The guy's a Legend of Science Fiction, though, so I figured I'd give him another try to wow me.

And hey, Hoopla had BABEL-17! Which won the Nebula!

I... didn't hate it. I don't think I'd have hated it even if I'd finished it. I don't think I'd have liked it either, though, which is why I drifted away from it it a third of the way through. It's tough to stick with an audiobook you feel nothing for, especially when you've had such poor experiences with the author's previous work.

However, it turns out BABEL-17 is a much older novel than I realized. For some reason I thought it dropped in the late 70s or so, when in fact it was published in 1966. 60s SFF and I have a rocky relationship at the best of times.

What do y'all think? Should I give Delany another go with something more recent, or is he simply not the writer for me?

A close in shot of a white iPod with Juba's red cover on its screen. The iPod takes up a litle more than half the shot, with Murchie's fuzzy face visible behind and to the right of it.

BABEL-17 didn't work out, Scribd got grumpy about downloading the entire file for the Haruki Murakami novel I wanted to try next, and I was totally out of Hoopla credits1 for the month. I needed something else to listen to, and Sync delivered in the form of JUBA! by Walter Dean Myers. It's one of this week's freebies, and you can nab it yourself through to 7am Eastern on August 4th if you are so inclined.

JUBA! was much more my scene. It's about a young black dancer determined to make a name for himself in 1840s New York, and it reminded me a lot of Terry Pratchett's DODGER even though the plots are nothing alike. Both books are about disadvantaged young people who get help from (or are hindered by) adults within their own community, and who brush up against Charles Dickens in their quest for greatness.

It's very much a How Stuff Works book, too; my fave. As he navigates showbiz, Master Juba learns how to organize a damned good stage show, examines how audiences relate to dance, and considers the theatrical scene in the mid-19th-century. While he himself is a pretty upbeat guy, he encounters some pretty durned upsetting stuff along the way, including demands that he perform in blackface to fit the white northern viewer's perception of what black people look like.

The overall course of the book is also a lot darker than I expected. At first glance this is a Talented Kid Makes Good story, but that narrative only applies until a certain point. Shit gets very real at an utterly heartbreaking pace.

Juba's an actual historical figure (something I didn't realize until a fair ways into the novel), and you can google him if you don't mind spoilers for history. You'll see what I'm talking about.

The book is still great, and I think stories like this are as important as the ones where everything ends with sunshine and puppy-dogs, but don't expect to emerge unscathed.

Next week: Mira Grant, more serials, and I dunno what else. These days, I can't seem to read more than one non-audio novel per week.

  1. My library scaled back their Hoopla subscription from ten items per patron per month to five. I used to use all ten on music and audiobooks, so it's been an adjustment.


  1. I hope to get to HALF-BLOOD BLUES in August. :)

    1. I'm gonna be touting this one far and wide over the next few months. It was wonderful, wonderful, wonderful.

  2. Muuuuuurch. That picture of him with his face tucked around Whitehall is absolutely the cutest.

    As for Samuel Delany, I went off him a bit when he said that people simply didn't understand NAMBLA and what it was trying to do. And honestly, my luck's been so bad with Classic Science Fiction Writers that I'm starting to accept that not only is Samuel Delany not for me, most Classic Science Fiction is likewise not for me. Sad.

    1. I had to google NAMBLA, and now I'm like O_O.

      I've also found that most Classic Science Fiction ain't my thing. I had so many bad experiences with it in my youth that I swore off SF entirely for about a decade because I thought the entire genre was ideas-over-people. I'm glad I gave it another chance, though, and I do occasionally peek at the classics in case something grabs me.