Sunday, January 15, 2017

Murchie Plus Books: January 1st to 14th

I make my tiny dog pose with everything I read, barring single issue comics. Lately, it's been easiest to corner him in bed first thing in the morning. Little dude loves a blanket cave.

The photos go live on Instagram as I edit them and usually appear here in digest form every Sunday, with descriptive alt tags and additional commentary. I missed last Sunday because 2017 started off on a low note: Murchie got sick right after New Years, then my grandma had a bad fall, then I got a nasty (and long-lasting) flu mutation mere days later. Neither Murchito nor I was good for much last weekend, so I'll cover two weeks' reading today.

A fuzzy grey poodle, Murchie, curls up beside a white Kobo so only the top of his silver head and a flash of his darker muzzle are visible. The Kobo's screen holds the cover of Finding X, which features the title in fuscia over drawn swirls of blue hair.

FINDING X by Miles Tan [Amazon | Scribd] had the potential to be adorable. Carlisle (pronounced car-lees-lee, not car-lyle) has been wary of romance ever since her seven-year relationship ended, but she's almost more intrigued than taken aback when she meets blue-haired Matteo, a charming scientist. Their evolving relationship is mostly very sweet and friendly, with both parties making an effort to overcoming their reservations and connect.

Trouble is, Matteo treats Carlisle as an experiment to be solved rather than a person who makes her own choices. He keeps a notebook in which he tracks the results of his quest to discover the best ways to make her happy, some of which involve charting her daily routine and lying in wait for her so he can try his next gambit. At one point, he gushes about how he schedules a date on a rainy day so she'll have to accept a ride from him. Tan's aiming for "sweet but bumbling scientist doesn't quite know how to conduct a romance," but it comes across as "stalker targets lady and proceeds to worm his way into her life in unwelcome ways."

Scientific approaches to romance can work on the page, with Nicola Yoon's THE SUN IS ALSO A STAR being a recent example, but Matteo's experiments are a dealbreaker for me because he never cuts Carlisle in on them. Their relationship becomes something he's doing to her, not something they're working on together. I dearly wish Tan had reworked this aspect of it all, or nixed it entirely.

Murchie, head raised and paws stretched out before him, lies next to a white Kobo with the cover of In Midnight's Shadow on its screen. The cover features a red-tinged photo of a twisting subway tunnel with the title superimposed over it in white.

I've been curious about T. Frohock's LOS NEFILIM novellas [Amazon | Scribd] for a while now, so I figured I'd give 'em a peek before my Scribd subscription expired. (They're currently part of the uncredited selection.) Excellent choice. The three novellas--IN MIDNIGHT'S SHADOW, WITHOUT LIGHT OR GUIDE, and THE SECOND DEATH--take place in early 1930s Barcelona and focus on a group of angel-born beings who prosecute their angelic forbears interests on earth. Diago, who's part angel and part demon rather than part angel and part human, has always held himself aloof from the politics of Los Nefilim, but he has no choice but to get involved when an angel kidnaps his husband, Miquel, and demands Diago sacrifice a child to a demon in order to get him back.

I gulped down all three novellas as quick as ever I could. I wanted to know everything about these characters and their world, and I had a fabulous time sorting out how their systems work. Frohock doesn't give many answers. Instead, she lets the reader parse it all out for themselves, planting little clues to each relationship and social structure just when a body's most liable to want them. My favourite.

THE SECOND DEATH does work as an end point, but I feel like Frohock's left enough dangly bits to justify at least one more cycle as Los Nefilim move towards the Spanish Civil War and World War II. I dearly hope there'll be more stories about these characters.

A white iPod lies on a puzzle of brightly coloured hot air balloons in flight. It has the cover of Catalyst on its screen, featuring a dark image of the Death Star. A bluetooth speaker shaped like a Star Destroyer hovers over the iPod.

Alas, it didn't work out between me and THE KILLING MOON by N.K. Jemisin. I made it about 240 pages in (going by my print copy) before I admitted I didn't care about it the way I wanted to. It was a tough call to make, given how much I've loved all Jemisin's other novels, but I decided to put it aside.

I chose CATALYST by James Luceno [Amazon | Scribd Audio] as its replacement, since I wanted to explore more Star Wars audios while I could. The production values were just as high here as with the previous books I've listened to, and I enjoyed the chance to meet some of the characters from ROGUE ONE before I see the movie (yes, I know, I'm behind), but it often feels like more of a fill-in-the-blanks offering than a story arc and the pacing suffers for it. I enjoyed it very much but I didn't love it the way I've loved the others.

One surprise: I dunno why, but it never occurred to me that Tarkin might have a first name. He does! Like a regular person! It's Wilhuff, which I had to google because apparently knowing Tarkin's got a first name and remembering what that first name is don't always go hand in hand.

Murchie curls up in a red blanket cave beside a white Kobo with the cover of Daughter of Mystery on its screen. The cover features a red velvet drape across the bottom left hand corner, partway framing a pile of books, a rose, and a candle.

I spent a Scribd credit on DAUGHTER OF MYSTERY by Heather Rose Jones [Amazon | Scribd] months ago because the bit I sampled reminded me of Ellen Kushner wrapped up with Elizabeth Willey; a toothsome combination indeed. Jones's Alpennia novels take place in a fictional European country sometime in the early to mid 19th century. This first one focuses on Barbara, a young woman who's been trained as a duelist and bodyguard, and Margerit, a would-be scholar who's recently inherited an unexpected fortune and must now figure out how to outmaneuver the guardians who believe she should marry instead of attending university.

I fear I pushed it into my reading queue at the wrong time. I tackled it now rather than later because, as previously stated, my Scribd membership ends this weekend and I've decided not to renew it right now. (Scribd is wonderful and I've loved having it these last few years, but I often feel pressured to choose books from there instead of reading from my library or my own shelves.) So I settled in with it, and enjoyed what I read very much, and had made it less than halfway through after several days of reading.

I took a small break to see if I'd feel a pressing need to continue before my membership ended, and alas I did not. DAUGHTER OF MYSTERY is pleasant and beautifully executed, but it's not the sort of must-read-more-oh-god-oh-god fiction I've hankered after so far in 2017.

The sad thing is, I know I will want to return to it someday, and I'll be out of luck. Sigh. I wonder if my library would add it to their e-reserve if I asked very nicely? Or if I'll still have access to it when I reactivate Scribd down the line?

Murchie sprawls

Then I sampled a few things to see what did fit my mood, and finally lit upon FRECKLES by Amy Lane [Amazon | Scribd]. The opening chapters were so adorable that I didn't hesitate to shell out a credit and spend a solid couple of hours with it on the first day of my most inconvenient illness.

Because it's the CUTEST BOOK EVER OMG.

As is so often the case with the really awesome books, I started to write a mini review for y'all and soon realized I was edging towards 500 words. FRECKLES will have a post of its own in the near future, but for now I need you to know it's my first 5-star book of 2017. I'll be reccing it far and wide.

Murchie pokes his head out of his red blanket cave. At an angle in front of him is a white Kobo with Poison Kiss's cover on it. The cover features a dark-haired young woman with bright green eyes and a pink streak in her hair. She looks to be either white or Indigenous.

I've seen quite a few people rave about Ana Mardoll's books on Twitter, so I sampled POISON KISS [Amazon | Scribd] next. At first brush, I thought Mardoll's prose was too ornate for my current mood, but by the end of the opening chapter I was hooked. Rose has been pressed into service as a Nightshade in a faerie court, forced to kill her mistress's enemies with poisoned kisses. When she and a fellow servant escape, they find themselves in modern day Texas and must adjust to life in the real world--a tough task that gets a whole lot harder when a silver boy bursts through a portal in their parking lot.

The resulting book is thoughtful, exciting, and inclusive. There are tons of queer characters, a clear effort to represent people of many different backgrounds, lots of How Stuff Works, meditations on mythology and folklore, and enough action to keep everything rolling along at a decent clip. I'll definitely be checking out more of Mardoll's work.

Murchie, dressed in a red t-shirt with green trim, curls up on a red tapestry comforter. At an angle beside him is a white Kobo with the cover of A Death at the Dionysus Club on it. The cover features two dark-haired men in evening dress, one seated and one standing. Swirls of green mist surround them.

A DEATH AT THE DIONYSUS CLUB by Melissa Scott and Amy Griswold [Amazon | Scribd] was the book I most wanted to read before my Scribd membership ended, so I quit denying myself and dove in. It's the second installment in the authors' Julian Lynes and Ned Mathey series, in which a private investigator and a metaphysician solve crimes in a magic-drenched alternate London. I got off to a slow start because I first cracked it open on the day my flu kicked into high gear (and kicked my ass for a solid twenty-four hours), but once I was in I couldn't put it down. It's wallowsome and exciting, with lots of great magic and fascinating character dynamics. I hope the authors write another mystery with these characters somewhere down the line.

Murchie lies on a cow-shaped pillow, his head raised and his ears perked. He wears his red shirt. On the pillow beside him is a white iPod with the cover of The Singer's Gun on it. The cover features a domed island silhouetted against a grey sky.

THE SINGER'S GUN [Amazon | Scribd] has renewed my determination to read everything Emily St John Mandel publishes. She's frightfully good at imbuing seemingly everyday scenes with so many layers that they hit the reader right in the solar plexus; maybe not right away, but definitely down the line, when it becomes obvious what all that meant. This particular offering is general fiction, rather than science fiction like STATION ELEVEN, and it delves deep into personal expectations, the politics of crime, and the moments of genuine connection that can make or break relationships.

Yep. Definitely gonna read some more Mandel in the near future. I only wish I had access to the rest of her work on audio.

Murchie lies tucked up in bed. Behind him is a white Kobo with Machine's pale yellow cover on it. It features a pale man with long, grey-streaked hair and pointed ears. He wears a black vaguely Victorian suit with a high-collared shirt and a black necktie.

K.Z. Snow's MACHINE [Amazon | Scribd] was next on my list of things I spent credits on months ago and really ought to read. It's the final volume of her Mongrel Trilogy, and it serves as a sort of a capstone for the characters' journey. I enjoyed getting to see them all one last time, but despite the dire conundrums they face here the book felt a bit slight for reasons I can't quite articulate. The first installment, MONGREL, is still my clear favourite.

I want to mention, again, that these books are notable in that one of the main characters is bipolar, and his medicine is explicitly framed as a good thing that helps him lead the life he wants. That's not something I've seen much of in fiction of any genre, let alone in secondary world fantasy.

Murchie peeks out from behind a white Kobo with the cover of Under the Rushes on it. The sepia cover features a white man wearing a bowler hat and a dark suit with an elaboratly fluffled white cravat. Smoke stacks rise into the sky above his shoulder, while the title appears against faded yellow bricks below him.

Okay, so, I also started to tell you about Amy Lane's UNDER THE RUSHES [Amazon | Scribd] in brief, but once again I churned out 450 words without even trying, and with plenty more to say.

Guess it's getting its own post, too.

What you need to know right now is, it's totally amazing and completely different from FRECKLES. FRECKLES was the cutest book ever; UNDER THE RUSHES needs trigger warnings for, like, everything because it's dark, dark, dark.

Murchie sprawls on his side with his front paws extended. He wears his red t-shirt. In front of him at an angle is a white Kobo with the cover of Truth in the Dark on its screen. A shirtless young white man lies on his side facing the viewer while a shadowy figure holds a glowing lantern above him.

I wanted to squeeze in one last Amy Lane title while I still had Scribd, so I combed through all her novella offerings and sampled TRUTH IN THE DARK [Amazon | Scribd]. And it BLEW MY MIND. It's a fairy tale that straddles the line between sweet and dark, and I've learned my lesson: I won't even try to write about it in brief. I'm working on a full (albeit short) review that I hope to share with you in the near future.

It's my second 5-star read of 2017 (UNDER THE RUSHES having been a 4.5-er).


  1. Well, your reading year is off to an excellent start if you all ready have two 5 star reads!

  2. I'm glad your reading year has been better than mine this year. Only one book has blown me out of the water so far, out of seven. I'll have to look into Freckles!

    1. I'm gonna be reccing it to everyone because it's so adorable! It's an especially good pick for an animal-lover like yourself.

  3. GOOD TO KNOW about The Killing Moon. I started it recentlyish and wasn't getting on with it, so I put it aside for later. I wanted to read it and the sequel now and save her most recent series for when all three books would come out so that I could experience it as a completed story arc, you know? So I'll try again, and if I'm still not getting along with it, I'll just accept that that one isn't for me.

    I want to try out Ana Mardoll this year! I've followed her on Twitter for a while, and I think she's super sensible and nuanced in the way she talks about feminism and disability and mental illness and a heap of other things. Like she seems aware that people are people and will make mistakes, while also being frank about the harm those mistakes can do, and I like seeing both of those things talked about together. Cause they are both true and it's disingenuous to ignore one side or the other (yet people do it all the time).

    1. Someone (I want to say it was Jodi?) told me the second Dreamblood novel is amazing, but of course that doesn't matter if I can't click with the first one. Sigh. I feel like such a failure for not loving it. I'm allowed to put one aside if I've loved seven others, right? That's okay?

      I think you're gonna have a great time with Ana Mardoll's fiction. I'm excited to read more from her.