Sunday, May 29, 2016

Murchie Plus Books: May 22nd to 28th

The premise: I love my dog and I love books, so I smush 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.

Not pictured: I finally sat down and wrote about UNCANNY X-MEN #126-150, freeing me up to read some more of the series. Whee!

I also started a couple of serial fiction projects I'll tell you about in June as part of a planned spotlight on Serial Box Publishing.

A fuzzy grey poodle, Murchie, lies in a massive beige dog bed in a gazebo. Beside him is a trade paperback copy of The Kingdom of Gods. Its blue-tinged cover features a massive palace hovering slightly above a stormy ocean, seemingly supported by a red burst of magic. An indistinct face hovers behind it.

I'd planned to alternate between N.K. Jemisin novels and review copies, but that quickly fell apart. I only managed to pause between THE HUNDRED THOUSAND KINGDOMS and THE BROKEN KINGDOMS because I had to wait for the library to reopen (Wednesdays being their admin days), and when I finished THE BROKEN KINGDOMS I realized I wanted nothing so much as to start THE KINGDOM OF GODS straight away.

So I did.

And it floored me.

I mean, I loved the first two books, but this one grabbed hold of me in another way entirely. I sank straight into it and never willingly put it down. I devoured thirty-page chapters without a care for how long they took, then decided I could read just one (or two) more of 'em before I turned my attention to some other pressing matter. Like exercise, or sleep, or whatever.

I knew right away it was gonna be a 4-star book. By the midpoint, I strongly suspected it was a rare 4.5er. Right near the end, I recognized it was one of those books I'd rate 4.5 stars for the time being, with the understanding I'd surely bump it up to 5 stars once I'd reread it. Then I realized that was silly, and I might as well cut out a step and give it 5 stars right off the bat.

Now I've gotta decide whether I want to write about these books. I made some attempt at discussing THE HUNDRED THOUSAND KINGDOMS and THE BROKEN KINGDOMS six years ago, and I'm pretty sure I failed at it. (I especially didn't know how to talk about THE BROKEN KINGDOMS. I wrestled with it for days and am scared to look for my old review.) My present self is much better at admitting I simply don't want to dissect my reaction to every book I loved, but I'm not sure if that's actually the case here. I'm right on the line between, "I want to say more about why I loved THE KINGDOM OF GODS so much" and, "I'd rather keep this on the inside, just for me."

Maybe I want to write something about that impulse instead...

Whichever side I come down on, I want y'all to know these books are extremely queer, and this one is the most overtly queer of the lot. That made me very happy.

You should know, too, that I bought my own copy right away; something I almost never do. I enjoyed finishing this series so much that I wanted to give N.K. Jemisin some royalties, so I popped on to Kobo in search of the Inheritance sequel novella. Along the way, I noticed the series omnibus was only $9.99; a tempting deal indeed, especially since it included the novella I was after. Three novels and one novella for $10 is excellent value for money, so I went ahead and bought it.

(It's even cheaper on US Kindle, if you swing that way.)

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

An Uncanny Readthrough: #51-66

A single, page-wide comics panel that bleeds into the next one along its bottom edge. It depicts Magneto, a white-haired white man crowing in glee against a green background. The dialogue reads, 'It's almost TOO rich... too fraught with BLACK HUMOR! The high-flying Angel... on his way to do battle with his fellow X-Men and Ka-Zar... and hardly suspecting that the one he seeks to protect is... MAGNETO!'
Sneaky, Magneto. Very sneaky. From UNCANNY X-MEN #63.

Welcome to Part III of my UNCANNY X-MEN read-through. This segment covers #51-66, published between 1968 and 1970. Neal Adams draws the book from #56 to #64, while Don Heck, Werner Roth, Barry Smith, and Sal Buscema all climb on board for anywhere from a single issue to a two- or three-issue run. Arnold Drake writes until #55, when Roy Thomas once again takes the reins. Dennis O’Neil and Linda Fite also contribute a single script each, with Fite being the first woman to write or draw the X-Men.

I'm pleased to report this chunk of story is considerably more engaging than the last one I covered, and it’s all down to the art.

When I was a young person who bought every single back issue my thrift shop could offer me, I was continually amazed at the people who wrote in to the letters pages to say they were only into comics for the art. Yes, the art was a vitally important component of the work, but surely the overall story--the blend of art and script--was the very point.

Now I get it. While thirteen-year-old me would’ve been thrilled with these overall stories, thirty-two-year-old me found them rather silly (albeit in a fun way) but with some truly breathtaking artwork. I read them far more quickly than anything that came before because I got so caught up in Neal Adams’s dynamic layouts and dramatic sense of body language.

It hit me hard as a contemporary reader, used to contemporary artistic conceits but exposed to a massive number of early- and mid-60s grids in the recent past. I can well imagine how it felt to readers who’d been raised to see these cluttered grids as the only possible option.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Murchie Plus Books: May 15th to 21st

The premise: I make my dog pose with every book I read. Sometimes he cooperates. Sometimes he refuses to keep his head still. It's a crapshoot, basically.

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

Not pictured: I read another volume of PARADISE KISS and forgot to photograph it before I took it back to the library. It's likely to be my last one for a while, since someone appears to have stolen the rest of the series. Grrrr. Here's hoping my library purchases the rest of the reissues good and soon so the whole city can once again dig in.

A fuzzy grey poodle, Murchie, lies with his front paws dangling off a sheep-shaped pillow. His head is twisted to peer over the top of a white Kobo with the cover of The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms on its screen. The yellow-toned cover features a massive city perched atop a thing column. An indistinct figure with wild hair hovers in the background.

I thought I was doing a pretty great job of maintaining my readerly momentum in a post-Raven Cycle world, but it turns out I only managed to delay the slump for a single week. When it set in, it set in hard. I started and drifted away from four other books before I finally settled on THE HUNDRED THOUSAND KINGDOMS by N.K. Jemisin.

This one's a reread, tugged off the library's ereserve so I can finally finally finally finish the series, and I knew going in that it was exactly what I felt like. Epic. Personal. Twisty. Packed with foreshadowing and difficult choices and plenty of jaw about identity.

Even here, though, I struggled to love it the way I did the first time. I was well into the second half before I transitioned from, "This is really good, and I remember how much I loved it the first time1" to, "I loooooooove this it's so wonderful here's what I'm doing with the next hour of my life wheeeeeeeeee."

Bloody post-awesome-book reading slumps sap the joy out of everything.

I did get there in the end, though; and in the process, I realized I'm craving the hell out of epic fantasy right now. After further reflection, I decided this is partly down to how much I enjoyed the back half of THE HUNDRED THOUSAND KINGDOMS and partly because I made my last charge into the Wheel of Time around this time last year. Now my subconscious is all, "Yes, good, we must read epic fantasy in late spring and early summer. This will be our new thing."

Okay, subconscious. Whatever you say.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Review: The Raven King by Maggie Stiefvater

Cover of The Raven King, featuring the stormy blue silhouette of an Irish Elk surrounded by ravens in flight.
I attempted to review the first three books of the Raven Cycle, with varying degrees of success, so I figure I ought to make an effort with the finale as well. Preserve some continuity and all that.

Plus, THE RAVEN KING forced me to expand my Top 12 list into a Top 161. It’s serious between us, y’all, and I’d like to mark the occasion.

At the same time, though, this was a 6-star read. 5 stars is my “I loved it to the point of incoherence and/or verbosity” rating. 6 stars dials the incoherence angle right the hell up, especially when we’re talking about a highly anticipated finale I really, really don’t want to spoil for y’all.

So we’re taking the Short, Gushy, Ungrammatical route, with the understanding that I might imply some stuff about the other three books but I won’t get all, “OMG LEMME DESCRIBE THIS EXTREMELY VITAL SCENE” on you.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Murchie Plus Books: May 8th to 14th

The premise: I make my cutie-pie dog pose with every book I read. Sometimes I take pity on him and rope in a Special Guest Star so he can have a break.

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: heaps more UNCANNY X-MEN, of course. (I'm not so cruel as to make Murchie pose with every single issue comic I read.) I managed to get the second readthrough post up this week--a small miracle!--and I've got two more drafted and ready for the annoying bits, like finding images and verifying issue numbers.

I also started leupagus's new fic last week and forgot to tell y'all about it. It hasn't hooked me as hard as to the sky without wings (which is still in my Top 4 Things I've Read In 2016), but I'm looking forward to updates.

A fuzzy grey poodle, Murchie, lays in profile with his paws loose in front of him. Behind him is a white Kobo with So Right's pink cover on its screen. The cover features a stemmed glass filled with blue, yellow, and pink cotton candy.

You know, the Scribd changes haven't affected me anything like as much as I expected them to. What with my Raven Cycle reread, my library pile, and the Scribd books-in-progress I've been reading over the last few months, I've accumulated the maximum nine credits you're allowed to let pile up.

Oops.

I had to spend at least three of those credits by today, and I figured Rebekah Weatherspoon's latest novella was the absolute best way to use the first of them. I shelled out and dove into SO RIGHT, which is a direct sequel to SO SWEET. If you enjoyed that earlier story, you absolutely want to read it. If you haven't read SO SWEET yet, get on that.

SO SWEET was a getting-together book; SO RIGHT is a staying-together book. Weatherspoon tackles the challenges her characters face as they translate their initial attraction into an enduring partnership. There's plenty of emotional resonance, lots of heat, and a fabulous amount of honesty and respect. It all feels down to earth, even though a large part of the plot involves the hero taking ownership of an NBA franchise.

I assume this's the last story focused on Kayla and Michael, but I hope Weatherspoon writes about some of the side characters. I'd love a novella all about Daniella, Kayla's trans business partner.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

An Uncanny Readthrough: #26-50

A single comics panel. A white-haired white man, Quicksilver, grabs the shoulder of Magneto, a white man wearing a red and blue superhero outfit with a helmet. Quicksilver says, 'Wait! Surely the master of all mutants would not stoop to so low an act as cold-blooded murder!' Magneto replies, 'What? You dare to disput the decision of Magneto?'
Never dispute the decision of Magneto! From UNCANNY X-MEN #44

Welcome to Part II of my slow-ass quest to read UNCANNY X-MEN in its entirety, twenty-five issues at at time. You can find Part I here, if you missed it, but rest assured this blog series, like the X-Men, works in any order you choose to read it. I do talk about some X-tropes and recurring characters, though, so a prior familiarity with the X-Men will stand you in good stead.

Be aware, too, that there are tons of inconsequential spoilers below.

By this point, X-MEN (as it’s still officially titled) is well and truly a monthly book. Roy Thomas scripts the main story through to #43. Gary Friedrich takes over from #44-46, while Arnold Drake takes up the task from #47 on. Werner Roth draws and co-plots the book through to #35, with Don Heck succeeding him from #38 to #44, when he begins laying out Roth’s pencils. Backup stories and occasional single issues are drawn and co-plotted by Jack Sparling, John Tarataglione, Ross Andru, and George Tuska. Artist Jim Steranko comes on board with #50 and introduces a whole new visual syntax for the X-Men, as discussed below.

So far as the stories themselves go, this is a relatively uneventful period. Yes, things happen. Yes, the X-Men go on scads of adventures. Thing is, few of them are enduring adventures; things that’re destined to crop up time and again over the next fifty years and become absolute staples of the team’s mythos.

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Murchie Plus Books: May 1st to 7th

The premise: my dog is super cute, so I make him pose with every book I read. Sometimes he's fine with this and sometimes it vexes him terribly.

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

Not pictured: I made good progress with UNCANNY X-MEN. Whee!

A fuzzy grey poodle, Murchie, lays on a brown cushion with his left paw tucked under him and his right paw stretched right out in front. Alongside and at a slight angle to the extended paw is a white Kobo with Blue Lily, Lily Blue's cover on its screen. The cover features the blue and green silhouette of a spikey-haired girl surrounded by vines and other growing things.

I finished THE DREAM THIEVES on Sunday morning and promptly began BLUE LILY, LILY BLUE. Then I went to a play on Monday and couldn't snatch even a little bit of prose-reading time. Woe!

I helped offset the disappointment by downloading the audiobook for this one, too, so I could keep reading it while I walked to the library on Tuesday (and found twenty-seven four- and five-leaf clovers along the way, because that's how I roll). And I blew through it as quick as ever I could from there.

I spent a goodly portion of this reread thinking about how much I love Blue. Y'all know Ronan is my favourite, but Blue is my other favourite, to the point where I'm pretty sure she'd be on the Highly Exclusive List if I didn't dither about this stuff for ages and ages. She's sensible and creative and disinclined to take crap. She loves trees and dogs. Adam thinks of her and Ronan as two brands of the same thing1, something I missed the first time through and that hit me so hard this time that I decided not to analyze my love for her any further, just as I'm disinterested in analyzing my love for Ronan.

Sometimes you love a character so much that you want to expound upon that love in a public sphere. Sometimes you love a character so much you want to let that love live unquestioned inside your own head. You know?

But yeah, I find I'm also disinterested in saying much more about this one, except that there were times when it felt like my own soul. Again, I tried to write about it after the first time I read it (mostly because Jenny was like, "Dude, when are you gonna write about it?" ), and I'll refer you there if you wanna hear about how I feel things for Adam Parrish and I think Mitsubishi is an adorable world. Please note my revised stance on the Blue-as-List-material issue. Sometimes Past Memory makes terrible mistakes.

I still think Mitsubishi is an adorable word. Not that we hear it often here. I should've mentioned it when I reread THE DREAM THIEVES instead.