Sunday, September 4, 2016

Murchie Plus Books: August 28th to September 3rd

The premise: my dog's really cute, so I make him pose beside everything I read (barring single issue comics). This becomes a hell of a lot harder when he's near the fuzzy end of his hair growth cycle and his beard gains sentience.

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: less UNCANNY X-MEN than I would've liked, unfortunately. I found it hard to squeeze in prose reading time last week, and comics fell by the wayside. I did manage to start NEW MUTANTS, though, so I've got that to look forward to over the next couple of weeks.

I bought this little Cavalier King Charles Spaniel for my aunt and figured it'd be appropriate to pose him beside WHITEHALL, seeing as how Charles's dogs are a constant presence throughout the serial. Isn't he adorable? I almost wanted to keep him, but my aunt was so glad to get him that I can't regret my decision to give him up.

Moving on to the main event: episode 13 marks the WHITEHALL season finale. If you've missed all my previous gushing on the subject, be aware WHITEHALL is a weekly serial set at the court of Charles II. This season spans just under two years and focuses on Charles and Catherine of Braganza's marriage, with plenty of other courtly drama in the mix. It's my favourite, and I want all the historical readers among you to give it a go now the whole thing is available. You can try the first episode for free on the Serial Box website, and if you download their iOS app you'll also have access to the audio edition.

This final episode takes place entirely at the theatre; one of my favourite venues, in fiction and in life. In deference to the setting, writers Liz Duffy Adams (who is herself a playwright) and Delia Sherman amp up the theatrical feel. The action zips back and forth between several key players in such a way that I could easily imagine it staged with spotlights and shadows to draw our attention from one group of characters to the next. It's an effective and immersive setup.

It also offers reader and character alike a welcome chance to take stock of how far everyone, especially Catherine, has come. There's some delicious drama, including one major crisis in the making, but for the most part the characters settle into their current lives and reflect on everything that's happened in as organic and timely a manner as one could wish. It's a "let's check in on everyone" episode, but it never lags or feels forced. I adored it, and teared up as I reached the end.

I'm gonna miss these characters a lot.

A fuzzy grey poodle, Murchie, curls up in an outdoor dog bed beside a white Kobo with the cover of the November/December 2013 issue of Fantasy & Science Fiction on its screen. The cover features a golden factory built out of eyeless faces.

I let all my magazine subscriptions lapse a while back because as much as I love short fiction, I'm terrible at reading magazines. Case in point: it's September 2016, and I've only just finished the November/December 2013 issue of THE MAGAZINE OF FANTASY & SCIENCE FICTION.

If you want the truth, I'd have procrastinated on it for even longer if I hadn't needed a literary magazine for the final square of my Books On the Nightstand Bingo card. Which, I'll have you know, I finished with two days to spare! Go me!

This issue of F&SF reminded me of how much I enjoy magazines, too, so I'll try to read the next one before its three-year anniversary rolls around.

A large-headed Funko Pop bobblehead of Finn from Star Wars stands next to a white iPod with Hammered's cover on its screen. The cover features a sword-wielding redheaded man silhouetted against a blue and yellow light source.

Murchie's hair is currently so wild and wooly that my phone's camera refuses to focus on him, so I've given up on trying to pose him with audiobooks. He'll return to his usual role after his next haircut.

HAMMERED was my favourite of the first three Iron Druid Chronicles during my premiere outing with the series, and I loved it all over again this time. It's got lots of action, lots of mythology, lots of clever tricks that solve immediate problems but have huge repercussions down the line, and a bunch of shorter stories nested within the larger narrative. I listened to it in just a couple of days, thanks to two long walks, a multi-meal cooking session, and a morning spent designing a toy sheep.

Oberon is still my favourite, too. And hey, no sooner had I finished the cooking session than a wolfhound puppy walked past my house! A WOLFHOUND PUPPY! She was already very large, and very gangly, and kinda goofy on account of being a puppy. I hope I see her again.

Murchie stands outside, his head twisted back and his nose raised high in the air. In front of him, propped upright, is a hardcover copy of The Devourers. Its cover features a long-haired person of Indian descent surrounded by leaves and bones.

Well. This is awkward.

When I first started Murchie Plus Books, I tried to photograph wee Murchito with everything as soon as I'd cracked the first page. These days, I feel so bad about pinning him down (and about showing y'all things I end up abandoning pretty quickly) that I usually wait until I've made it a fair ways into the book.

I do sometimes stockpile photos for soon-TBR titles, though, if I can catch Murchie doing something cute. I then share them when I'm poised to begin something I'm pretty sure I'll stick with, or when I've read a chapter or two.

I found Murchie sunbathing by the fence last Sunday and took a bunch of pictures of him with THE DEVOURERS by Indra Das. I started the book over lunch on Monday, shared the least terrible picture, and promptly discovered I was not in the right mood for a serious, literary werewolf novel.

I'm gonna resist the impulse to justify that. I'll read THE DEVOURERS eventually, when I feel like a book in this vein.

And here's Murchie with it anyways, since Instagram's already seen him.

Murchie hovers beside a white Kobo with the cover of All's Fair In Blog and War on its screen. The purple cover features a stylized drawing of two people silhouetted outside a ruined cathedral.

Chrissie Peria's ALL'S FAIR IN BLOG AND WAR is yet another romance I learned about on Twitter and immediately added to my Scribd library. Five, a Filipina travel blogger, is thrilled when the Macau Tourism Board offers to fly her out there on their dime as part of a four-person familiarization tour. It'd be the perfect arrangement if Jesse, her assigned travel buddy, weren't such an arrogant arsehole.

No bonus points for guessing Five changes her opinion on Jesse. Their romance is fun and sweet, and Peria quickly establishes that their conflict arises from a misunderstanding, not from Jesse actually being a terrible person. Five's enthusiasm for travel in general and for Macau in particular shines through at every turn, too, making this as much a travelogue as a romance. I had a blast with it, and I've already added her follow-up release to my library along with everything her writing group has produced (via a list helpfully included in the back of this volume).

One downside: Peria often slips between past tense and present, sometimes within a single sentence. It's distracting, but this is only the first longer Filipino work I've read so I'm not 100% sure she is changing tenses from her standpoint. Are there different contraction conventions in Filipino English than in Canadian English? In some instances, it seems possible Peria's using -'s, as a contraction for "was" as well as "is." Can anyone weigh in?

Murchie stands on a very green patch of grass, slightly behind a trade paperback copy of Song of Blood & Stone. Its pink cover features a young black woman whose silhouette encases a gleaming city with a tower at its heart.

And sometimes I snatch books from the library's New & Noted section simply because they have gorgeous covers.

In this case, it paid off big time. L. Penelope's SONG OF BLOOD & STONE is exactly the sort of fantasy I like to see. It's set in a secondary world with roughly a 1920s level of technology. Things like electricity, cars, and landline phones are all present and accounted for in large urban centres, but they may be out of reach for poorer folks and they're rare in rural areas. The societies that utilize these tools have their own distinct flavours and come complete with an earth-based magic system, a couple of powerful (and eternal) rulers, and a ton of racial tension that impacts the heroine, Jasminda, from the first page on up.

Jasminda is explicitly dark-skinned, and it seems to me like Penelope doesn't say anything to definitely indicate the rest of her countrymen are white. Jasminda finds their skin tone "less vibrant," many of them have amber eyes, and there's at least one blonde person in the mix, but none of those things are absolute white person indicators so I'm gonna go ahead and read the whole cast as people of colour from differing ethnic backgrounds. Because white-as-default sucks, yes?

I'll be recommending this one pretty widely, too. Some of the scene transitions are a bit jarring, but the characters and their world are so engaging that I'm perfectly willing to overlook that. I hope I can squeeze the sequel in soon, too.

A large-headed Funko Pop bobblehead of Rey from Star Wars stands outdoors beside a white iPod with Paint the Wind's cover on it. The cover features a galloping white and chestnut paint horse.

Pam Muñoz Ryan is fast becoming one of my favourite authors. She puts her protagonists in terrible situations, then examines how their lives intersect with a myriad of important issues as they strive to make things better for themselves and for others. In PAINT THE WIND's case, Maya is essentially a prisoner in thrall to her emotionally abusive grandmother, until a change in her circumstances lets her meet her dead mother's family. Ryan looks at how life under her grandmother's roof shapes Maya's conduct towards others; the lies she tells, the excuses she makes, and the ways she wields kindness or cruelty against her extended family. It's powerful and beautifully done.

If I'd read this when I was a kid, there's a strong chance it'd have become my favourite book ever on account of the horses that link Maya to her mother. As it stands, Adult Me had a hell of a time staying dry-eyed around its intense emotions and strong focus on family. I love love love how Ryan's books search for answers instead of simply laying blame, too. To date, every book of hers I've tackled explains vile behavior and urges sympathy without excusing anyone's actions; an important thing indeed, and not something I often encountered in the kids' books I read when I was a kid.

Those of y'all with a taste for excellent kidlit should read her. ECHO is my favourite, but I've also loved PAINT THE WIND, THE DREAMER, and ESPERANZA RISING.

A Funko Pop Bobblehead of BB-8 from Star Wars appears against a red and tan background, beside a white iPod with Tricked's cover on it. The cover features a white hand outstretched to fire purple flames at the viewer.

MOAR OBERON! (And other people, too. But mostly Oberon.)

I revisited the first three Iron Druid novels via Audible, but I switched to Scribd for this one. Going down to 1.5x speed has been an adjustment, to say the least. Why don't all audiobook providers have 2x as an option? Whyyyyyyyyy?

Story wise, I fear I currently feel much the same about this one as I did about HEXED; which is to say, it's okay but I'm not super duper into it. I'm only about a quarter of the way in as I write this, though, so perhaps that'll change.

I read last week's episode of BOOKBURNERS on my phone so I could more easily tote it around with me. As you can see, Murchie was rather taken aback by the situation, but I found the new venue most convenient as I roamed the streets in search of adventure.

Episode 11, written by Andrea Phillips, picks up right where Episode 10 left off. Last time around, we had an insiders' perspective on a town taken over by the Network. This time, Team Three ventures in and discovers exactly what's changed since the the spell kicked in. And it's a doozy as their two overarching goals--contain the magic and save the townsfolk--begin to seem mutually exclusive.

It's one of those instances where everyone is well aware of how easily they could worsen the situation. They can make educated guesses about how the Network's magic operates and what they should do to counteract it, but they might destroy the world if they guess wrong. Phillips splits the team in two, then ramps up the tension as each group learns things that cast the other's well-intentioned actions into question. Because sometimes, even the best intentions aren't enough to counteract the sort of magic that rewrites the very fabric of the world.

I'm beginning to wonder if and how the whole team will survive this season. Ulp.

Next week: some comics. Probably some more Filipina novellas. Maybe a review copy or two, if I can get my reading mojo back.


  1. Some good stuff on there. You are further in your Hearne reread than I am with my plan to read the whole series this year... I started off well, but then reading slump happened. :(

    1. :( TRICKED was really good once I got into the swing of it.

  2. No judgment here for not reading The Devourers. After an initial period of interest in it, I read a few reviews about its violent/rape content and decided not to ever read it. Not my jam I am afraid. (Unless it is totally blameless of containing rape scenes and I am mixing it up with some other tremendously violent werewolf book, which! Always possible!)

    Will you get a picture of the wolfhound puppy if you see it again? I would like to see a wolfhound puppy!

    1. Everything I heard about THE DEVOURERS was in the realm of generalize, pre-release buzz. Now I'm gonna have to do some more research before I borrow it again.

      I have sad news regarding the wolfhound puppy: my parents met him (I misgendered him; my bad) and learned he's actually a two-year-old Great Dane/Standard Poodle cross whom everyone mistakes for an Irish wolfhound. I still hope I see him again, though, because he was an awesome dog either way.