Sunday, August 28, 2016

Murchie Plus Books: August 21st to 27th

The premise: I love my dog. I love books. I bring the two together by making my dog pose with every book I read.

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. You can also click to embiggen them, if you so wish.

Not pictured: sooooooooooo many X-Men comics. My interest waned a bit during the Onslaught crossover event, but I got my mojo back in a big way last week. I tore through a ton of UNCANNY and X-MEN, and plus the first Wolverine miniseries. (I decided to backtrack and read everything, because apparently I need the X-Men to take over my life for another year.)

I also finished TELL YOU WHAT: GREAT NEW ZEALAND NONFICTION 2016 all in a rush because Scribd emailed me to say the publisher planned to remove it from their catalogue in two days' time. Eep! Luckily, the remaining essays were every bit as wonderful as the ones I'd already read and I had no trouble staying focused on it. I can't recommend this anthology highly enjoy, though I fear it'll be tough for non-kiwis to find going forward; it's also gone from Freading, and I'm not sure what sort of non-antipodean distribution Auckland University Press has. At least the Kindle edition is under $10.

A fuzzy grey poodle, Murchie, stands on a patch of grass and squints up at the camera. Four volumes of A Silent Voice are arranged around him in a fan.

The person who borrowed volume three of A SILENT VOICE before I could nab it off the shelf returned it early, just as I hoped they would, and last Sunday I settled in to binge on what I thought were the final four volumes.

I had myself a glorious, heartwrenching time of it, only to discover a "continued in volume seven" caption at the bottom of what appeared to be the Robin-McKinley-esque final panel. Horrors! I've asked the library to buy the actual finale, and I dearly hope they do so quickly.

This is yet another series I'll be recommending to every sighted person going forward--with a hefty trigger warning, since it deals with bullying, ableism, and suicide. Oima is concerned with how people of all ages behave when they don't have the tools to view their peers as people, and while I wouldn't say she provides a roadmap to greater understanding she definitely encourages reader and character alike to consider the wider implications of their actions. There are no easy answers or step-by-step programs here; just an opportunity to reflect and perhaps gain some impetus to dismantle social systems that encourage prejudice. And it's all wrapped up in an amazing, emotionally-charged story.

Be prepared for a major cliffhanger at the end of volume five, too. If you've become invested in the series, don't even think of proceeding without volume six on hand. I'm serious. I'd planned to finish the series over breakfast on Monday, but Oima made it absolutely impossible for me to quit.

Murchie rests his chin on a white Kobo and stares straight into the camera. His face obscures most of the book cover on the Kobo's screen, but the title Wicked As She Wants is visible, superimposed over some large clockwork lit in red.

I feel like Murchie takes especially good photos with Delilah S. Dawson's books. For those who require further evidence, let me present the time he crossed his wee paws beside WICKED AS THEY COME.

I was really looking forward to WICKED AS SHE WANTS, the same-world-new-characters sequel to Dawson's debut, but I haven't quite clicked with it and I'm not sure why. I certainly appreciate how she's expanded her Blud world via her native-yet-sheltered narrator. I've enjoyed watching said narrator's reactions to the Earthly transplants who cross her path, and I admire the growth potential for everyone involved. And yet, I've been reading the book since Sunday because I keep drifting away from it.

That was partly because I really did have to finish TELL YOU WHAT before I lost access to it forever, but I can't blame it all on the anthology.

I think I find the central romance less organic than the one in WICKED AS THEY COME. I dunno. To be honest, I'd have bailed on it already if I hadn't enjoyed Dawson's first book so much, and if I didn't want to try the rest of the series. Since both those things are true, I'll just pick away at it until I've finished.

Of course I got stuck on a novel during Bout of Books (which I've joined in slapdash fashion, mostly by Instagramming things and occasionally tweeting reading lists). At least I got through lots of comics and some audiobooks.

Murchie lies alongside a trade paperback copy of Archie Volume One. Its cover features a redhaired white boy climbing out of a car, a huge grin on his face.



So, Tiny Memory was really into Archie, because it was fun and cool and readily available at local newsstands and via the thrift shop. Then Teenage Memory got really into the X-Men and Star Wars and stopped reading Archie because the aforementioned titles sucked up the whole comics budget.

Then Fiona Staples was like, "Hey, they're rebooting Archie for the modern era and I'm gonna draw the first few issues" and One Year(ish) Ago Memory got this head rush because OMG FIONA STAPLES1.

Then comiXology included the first issue in their December freebie promotion and offered to sell Nine Months Ago Memory #2 for $0.99, and I fell totally in love with the comic's new direction.

Because writer Mark Waid has Archie break the fourth wall! Which is MY FAVOURITE THING! And also, Fiona Staples's art is every bit as wonderful as we all knew it would be.

Archie back issues are a hell of a lot more expensive now than they were when I was a kid, though, so I waited for the trade after my cheap preview. Obviously my wait is over, and the first arc is wonderful! Waid and Staples (who's succeeded by Anne Wu for one issue, then Veronica Fish for the final two in this opening number) deliver all the Archie goodness I loved when I was a kid, updated for the modern era. The book feels fresh and familiar; the best of both worlds.

It's still all-ages, too, so you can give it to your kid without worrying they'll encounter anything too "edgy." That's RIVERDALE's job.

And y'all know I'm gonna watch the hell out of RIVERDALE, because I've got plenty of room in my heart for contemporary yet familiar Archie and edgy "let's take bets on which beloved character has a Secret Baby and/or a mother who's a crime lord" Archie.

Murchie lies in a fuzzy white dog bed, slightly to one side of a Kobo with Whitehall Episode 12's cover on its screen. The cover features a stone castle tower against a sepia-toned sky.

It's become harder and harder to talk about WHITEHALL as we zip towards the season finale, since I don't want to spoil things for people who've chosen not to comb through the historical record for details (as I mostly have). A big part of me just wants to type out a big block of exclamation marks and leave it at that, because I love this serial and I think there's a good chance you'll love it, too.


But yeah, I guess y'all might want to hear a few reasons I love it? So you can make an informed decision?

The basics, if you're new here or if you missed the point at which I fell in love and have been confused as hell this whole time: WHITEHALL is a weekly serial set in 1660s England, during the Restoration of the monarchy. It begins when Catherine de Braganza arrives to marry Charles II and traces their evolving relationship over the next couple of years, with plenty of drama involving the rest of their court as well. It's intense and personal and very, very wallowsome.

Episode 12, written by Madeleine Robins, deals with aftermath. Catherine and Charles are both processing the personal and political happenings from Episode 11, with the added pressure of enduring a private loss in the public eye. There's a wonderful tension between them, and between the pair of them and the courtiers who all have an opinion on what should happen next. And as this battle of wills plays out, floods force many of Whitehall's inhabitants to relocate to higher ground; a neat metaphor.

We're almost finished the season now, so Robins takes the opportunity to smoothly integrate a few (fabulous) scenes where people demonstrate how much Catherine has come to mean to them. My heart soared. I'm such a sucker for characters who win people over just by being themselves (see also: Maia from THE GOBLIN EMPEROR by Katherine Addison).

I can't wait to see what Catherine's planning for her big appearance in the season finale. I didn't read it immediately so I could save my commentary for next week, when it'll be available to you, but I don't doubt I'll have read it by the time you read this. You should be able to find my quick take on Instagram and/or Litsy (my username is xicanti), if you're curious.

You should be aware, too, that every published episode of WHITEHALL is included in the 50% off sale Kobo's got on until the 29th--and if you're new to Kobo, you get a $5 account credit to use on your first purchase. So if you sign up for Kobo and enter promo code 50READ at checkout, you can get the whole serial minus the finale for $6 if you're in the US or $9 if you're in Canada. That's an awesome deal.

And the first episode is free no matter what, either through Kobo or on Serial Box.

Murchie curls up close to a white iPod with Hexed's yellow-toned cover on its screen. The cover features a redhaired white man wielding a sword.

While I enjoyed Kevin Hearne's HOUNDED even more the second time through, I must confess I didn't like HEXED quite as much. It was still fun, but I think I'd have struggled with it a bit if I'd revisited it in print instead of listening to the audiobook.

Murchie and I still agree Oberon is the best, though. We're Team Oberon.

Murchie, dressed in a red t-shirt with green trim, peeks out from around the first Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service omnibus. The book's brown paper cover features stylized, dismembered body parts with identifying captions attached to each.

Yes, Murchie's wearing Christmas colours. He's a dog. He doesn't care.

I plucked Eiji Otsuka and Housui Yamazaki's KUROSAGI CORPSE DELIVERY SERVICE off the library shelf on a whim almost a month back. I'd never heard of it before, but I needed a new series to tide me over while I waited for A SILENT VOICE to make its way to me.

Obviously it took me a while to actually sit down with it, and even now I'm taking it slower than I normally would because this series is both excellent and gruesome. The story follows five Buddhist university graduates whose skills don't quite fit the job postings at their local employment centre. After a volunteer outing convinces them they're uniquely qualified to liaise with the dead, they decide to form the Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service to track down displaced corpses and hopefully make a living at giving the formerly living the closure they need to bid their mortal remains goodbye.

I normally find explicit content warnings like the one attached to the omnibus's front cover of little use to me, but KUROSAGI absolutely earns its sticker. This manga needs a trigger warning for just about everything. Within the first three chapters, the characters have encountered incestual necrophilia, an old lady who was locked in a house shrine and left to starve to death, and a serial killer who offers his victims free haircuts but instead relieves them of their limbs. Manga's structure makes it pretty durned hard to skim past the images, so you may wish to proceed with caution.

If you can handle the imagery, though, there's some great storytelling here.

A green-tinged photo of Murchie lying beside a trade paperback copy of Green Arrow Year One with a portrait of the titular character on the cover.

Thirteen or fourteen years ago, I read and loved QUIVER by Kevin Smith and Phil Hester, then never picked up another Green Arrow comic because sometimes I suck at following through (and because my library didn't obligingly shelve any where I was likely to run across them).

Much more recently, I saw Andy Diggle and Jock's GREEN ARROW: YEAR ONE recced on Panels (I think? Now I can't find the post) and immediately opened my library's catalogue to search for it because I never get tired of reimagined origin stories. No dice. I shrugged and forgot about it until last week, when the library obligingly shelved their newish copy right where I was likely to run across it (ie, in my local branch's comics section).

I'm gonna have to make sure I don't let too much time elapse between this and my next literary encounter with Oliver Queen, because it turns out I'm two for two with awesome Green Arrow comics. Diggle's script and Jock's art blend seamlessly to deliver an exciting, fast paced story about a guy who finally gets it. Ollie's transformation from dissolute playboy to wannabe hero happens over relatively few panels, but Diggle and Jock absolutely convinced me he'd done the work that'd make it stick.

Which Green Arrow trade should I read next, aside from THE LONGBOW HUNTERS? (I know everyone likes that one, but somebody stole my library's only copy). Is the New 52 series worth exploring?

Murchie stands in profile in front of a white Kobo with Bookrners S 2 E 10's cover on its screen. It features a stylized illustration of a girl looking into a mirror, only to discover her face has reformed itself.

And now, BOOKBURNERS! (Plus a poodle whose facial hair has taken over.)

Episode 10, written by Brian Slattery, feels like the beginning of the grande dénouement. The Network makes a move that sets the Orb off like nothing ever has before, and Team Three's subsequent dash to the scene of the crime puts them in even greater conflict with one another as they continue to disagree on the role magic should play in their work. It ain't the setup the characters might've hoped for going into such an important confrontation, but it's catnip for the drama-hungry reader.

This episode left me thinking about the role magical spaces have played this season. Right from the premiere on up, Team Three has grappled with possessed towns, laboratories where the laws of physics don't apply, conferences dedicated to expanding the participants' magical knowledge, markets tucked into creases in the fabric of reality, and time-displaced communities in both the real and virtual worlds. It's an interesting shift from last season's focus on personal possession, and one I'll be paying especial attention to as Team Three ventures into their latest possessed town in the next episode.

Which I'll probably be reading today, since in TV terms Ep 10 is the first act of what'll be at least a two-parter and I've gotta know what happens next.

Also, the Kobo sale I mentioned in regards to WHITEHALL also applies to BOOKBURNERS, and to Serial Box's omnibus editions of the first three offerings (BOOKBURNERS S1, TREMONTAINE, and THE WITCH WHO CAME IN FROM THE COLD). Y'know, if you want to up your awesome serial fiction consumption.

A large-headed Funko Pop of Rey from Star Wars stands next to a white iPod with Esperanza Rising's cover on its screen. The cover features a Mexican girl wearing a yellow dress. She floats into the air, arms stretched out behind her.

I swear, Pam Muñoz Ryan has a direct line to my emotions. I listened to ESPERANZA RISING during a loooooooong walk yesterday afternoon, and there were a few times where I seriously thought I was gonna start crying in the street.

Ryan based the story on her grandmother, a formerly wealthy Mexican woman who came to California to work on a company farm after her family lost everything. Like her real-life counterpart, Esperanza weathers massive changes that force her to unpack many different levels of privilege as she adjusts to her new life. She grapples with workers' rights, parental loss, class issues, and pervasive racism over the course of a difficult, eventful year. It's excellent.

Next week: more manga! The final book for my bookish bingo card (for real this time)! More Kevin Hearne! Murchie's fluffball face pressed up against everything!

  1. I once dreamed I was at library event with Fiona Staples, and I'd brought along a five-leaf clover to giver her as a token of my admiration. Only I was so intimidated that I just knew I'd mess up and say something phenomenally terrible if I actually talked to her, so I kept the clover tucked away in my bag and lurked around the edges instead.

    If I ever do meet her for real, I'll make sure I bring a five-leaf clover or three along.


  1. You read so much and I am still not really reading anything. Jealous. Hopefully September will go better for me! I have to decide if I am keeping Scribd because my suspension will be ending.

    1. The serials make it look like I read a lot more than I do! If it weren't for audiobooks, I wouldn't have added any prose novels to my reading list this week.

  2. I am confident I would say something idiotic to any writer/artist I met who I admired, and I wouldn't even have the benefit of a unique extra-leaf-clovers-finding talent to show myself off to best advantage. Best I not meet anyone whose work I like, I think.

    1. I once said terrible, pretentious things to Maureen Johnson, and the memory haunts me to this day.

  3. Goodness gracious, Murchie's really pulled out all the stops for this edition of Murchie Plus Books. He's such a teddy bear in so many of these shots!

    I too joined Bout of Books in slapdash fashion and didn't manage to get a *whole* load of reading done, but it was better than nothing. I'm hoping that Jenna's Take Back Your Shelves RAT will go better this weekend.

    I never thought I'd say that serialized fiction set in 17th century England would sound appealing to me, but it sort of does.

    1. I can't even with Murchie's currently teddy bear aesthetic. His face is SO FLUFFY, and his little feet poke out of his t-shirts in the puffiest, sweetest way.

      You should definitely sample WHITEHALL. It's the best!