Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Review: The Girls at the Kingfisher Club by Genevieve Valentine

Cover art for The Girls At the Kingfisher Club, featuring a pale-skinned woman with bobbed blonde hair. She wears a fur-trimmed dress and a long string of pearls. The image crops away her eyes so she's only visible from the nose to about her waist.
Don’t you just love it when you read five 5-star books in a row? And don’t you love it even more when it happens at the very beginning of the year?

I mean, this is the first time it’s actually happened to me, seeing as how I’m picky as all hell, but I could get used to it real easy.

The first four 5-star reads were, of course, volumes one through four of SAGA, which we talked about last week. This week I shall do my best to say cogent (yet enthusiastic) things about THE GIRLS AT THE KINGFISHER CLUB, Genevieve Valentine’s non-magical retelling of “The Twelve Dancing Princesses.”

Valentine transports the story to 1920s New York, where Jo Hamilton does everything in her power to help her eleven younger sisters lead a halfway decent life. It’s far from easy, given how their social climber of a father confines his daughters to the upper floors of his town house lest anyone see how terribly he failed in his quest for an heir. The girls aren't allowed visitors. They can't go out. They can't even purchase anything beyond the bare necessities, all ordered via catalogue and so guaranteed to disappoint upon arrival.

In a moment of desperation, Jo breaks her father's rules and takes the eldest among them out for a secret night of dancing in the city’s speakeasies--a practice that soon becomes both ritual and rite of passage as more of the sisters grow old enough for such outings. The nighttime excursions let the sheltered girls dance, drink, and meet people from outside their father’s suffocating home, keeping the despair from overwhelming them.

But when Mr Hamilton decides it’s past time he offloaded his enormous brood onto the right sorts of husbands (read: people just like him), Jo must find a new way to keep her sisters safe.

OH MY GOD.

No; seriously; OH MY GOD.

Some books, you know straight off the bat they’re something special. Cautious, picky-as-hell reader that I am, I was desperately in love with THE GIRLS FROM THE KINGFISHER CLUB by page twenty. It’s the sort of story that reaches out to you with an invitation not only to explore the beauty of the night clubs and the thrill of each dance but also to bear witness to the suffocating pain of a life lived largely behind closed doors.

It's an irresistible combination: gorgeous and dark, flashy and empathetic, and entirely up my alley.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Murchie Plus Books: January 18th to 24th

The premise: I love my dog. I love books. I bring the two together by photographing my tiny, sweetie-pie dog with every book I read, barring the digital comics I get through Marvel Unlimited. Last week, that was lots and lots of X-Men.

Why did it take me so long to dive back into the X-Men? I love the X-Men.

I also elected not to photograph the issues of FIRESIDE MAGAZINE I whipped through, seeing as how each one was pretty short and I don't like to bother Murchie more than I absolutely have to. (That's why I take so many pictures of him laying down, if you've been wondering. I try to take his preferences into account, and he does love a good sleep.)

The photos: go live on Instagram as I take them (or, more accurately, as I edit them) and appear here in digest form every Sunday.

A sleek grey poodle, Murchie, lays in a blanket nest. Before him sits a trade paperback copy of Fortune's Pawn with a woman's helmet-clad face on its cover.
I finally finished an entire novel, and I loved it! Hurray!

I read FORTUNE'S PAWN, the first book in Rachel Bach's Paradox Trilogy, so I could participate in Anastasia's new #SFFWomen Book Club. The first Twitter discussion takes place today (Sunday the 25th) at 4pm PST/7pm EST, with a blog discussion happening all this week. If you've read the book, you should considering chiming in.

I requested the next two from the library before I'd even hit the halfway mark with this one, but I've gotta earn the right to read 'em by knocking a few more books off la TBR. Hopefully that won't take too long now I've rediscovered my novel-reading mojo.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Comics and Me: A Brief History

Cover art for Wendy the Good Little Witch 95
My parents are road trip people. Every summer, they'd pack me into the car and drive, drive, drive.

Tiny Memory was a poor traveller even with a massive dose of Dramamine in the mix, so my mother distracted me with goodie bags she'd dole out a piece at a time. Small games, magic pen activity pads, plastic toys, and books all worked their way into the back seat at regular intervals lest I complain about my boredom or decide I needed to puke. (Tiny Memory almost always needed to puke.) And every once in a while, we'd stop at a gas station for the ultimate prize: comics.

I read those comics over and over again. Casper, Wendy, Yogi Bear, Richie Rich, and Archie became an abiding force in my life. When I got old enough to warrant an allowance, I used it to buy back issues from the thrift shop and the mouldering used bookstores we dipped into on less prize-laden vacations. I even bought current issues of ARCHIE from the grocery store (comic shops weren’t on my radar yet). I was halfway delighted and halfway pissed of to discover how many of them featured the exact same scripts as my vintage copies, albeit with updated artwork.

I can barely remember a time when comics weren't a part of my life; when I wasn't reading them or hoping to read them good and soon.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Review: Saga, vols 1-4 by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples

Cover of Saga volume one Cover of Saga volume 2

It’s past time we talked about SAGA.

I mean, if you’ve ever asked me for comics recs, I’ve either told you to read it or squeed with you if you'd already done so. SAGA is currently the comic, by which I mean it's the latest comic to sweep into my life and bowl me over. Y’all know I read (and rave about) a lot of the things, but it’s rare for me to get deeply, all-consumingly excited about one. So when another of the comics1 lands in my lap, it kick things up a notch. I wander around in a comics-addled daze for anywhere from a month to several years. I tell everyone about this wonderful, glorious text. I push it like it’s my job. And sooner or later, the people around me start to listen.

SAGA isn’t just a comic. It’s the comic, and you need to read it.

What’s it about, the uninitiated among you ask?

The war between the winged citizens of Landfall and the horned people of its moon, Wreath, has raged on for as long as anyone can remember, and boy is it ever bloody. Since the destruction of one celestial body would mean the destruction of both, each side has called for a sorta-truce on their home turf and instead taken the fight to various other moons, planets, comets, and what-have-yous throughout the galaxy.

You can imagine how much this thrills the rest of the galaxy.

Marko, a soldier from Wreath, grows so sick of the constant fighting that he turns himself in to Landfallian forces as a conscientious objector. He expects to live out the rest of his short life in a prison camp, but his prospects change when Alana, a winged soldier with pacifistic ideas of her own, is assigned to guard him. They connect; Alana busts Marko out of jail; they go on the run; they get married; and, most importantly, they have a winged, horned baby named Hazel.

Neither Landfall nor Wreath can allow Hazel’s existence to become public knowledge, so both sides contract an assortment of freelancers, soldiers, and governmental officials to kill the couple and recover the proof of their illicit affair. It doesn't go particularly well for anyone..

Anyone except the reader, that is, because the resulting story is amazing.

No, seriously. Amazing.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Murchie Plus Books: January 11th to 17th

The premise: I love my dog. I love books. I bring the two together by posing my (often unwilling) dog beside every book I read, barring the digital comics I get through Marvel Unlimited. That was a diverse bunch last week: some LOCKJAW AND THE PET AVENGERS, some ALL-NEW X-MEN, and some RUNAWAYS/YOUNG AVENGERS.

On the non-Marvel front, I also caught up on BtVS S10. I elected not to photograph Murchie alongside it because I have digital single issues and none of them look anything like the trade covers. Plus I was both sick and disinclined to bug Murchie.

The photos: go live on Instagram as I take them and appear here in digest form every Sunday.

A fuzzy grey poodle, Murchie, presses his face close to the camera. Behind him sits a white Kobo with the cover of Rat Queens on its screen.

Please forgive me for choosing a picture that only hints at the cover of RAT QUEENS, Kurtis J. Wiebe and outgoing artist Roc Upchurch's comic about a band of female adventurers. Murchie's fluffy face was too much to resist.

The comic, too, proved tough to tear myself away from. I should have a proper review for you in the near(ish) future.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Favourite Characters of 2014, Part II

Yesterday I shared 28 of my favourite literary characters from 2014. Today I'm back with 28 more fine fictional folks.

In more or less the order I encountered them, they are:

Cover art for Prosperity by Alexis Hall, featuring a young black man brandishing a hand of cards. Cover art for Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor, featuring a pale-skinned young woman wearing a blue feathered mask.

Crystal of the Inhumans, from various Inhumans comics by various writers and artists - Maybe I love Crystal so much because she's always there to provide an alternate perspective when things get out of hand. Or maybe I love how she works hard to build something with Ronan even though their marriage starts off as pure politics. Maybe it's just because Lockjaw likes her so very, very much, and I trust Lockjaw's judgment.

Lockjaw of the Inhumans, from various Inhumans comics by various writers and artists - he's a ginormous teleporting doggie. Talk about an obvious choice.

Dil from PROSPERITY and LIBERTY & OTHER STORIES by Alexis Hall - Dil has the best narrative voice around, y'all. He's got an opinion on everything, and he's gonna tell it to you in the most elaborate, round-about way possible.

Byron Kae from PROSPERITY and LIBERTY & OTHER STORIES by Alexis Hall - I want only good things for Byron Kae. ONLY GOOD THINGS, DO YOU HEAR ME????

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Favourite Characters of 2014, Part I

I used to do yearly round-ups where I'd talk about the best (read: my favourite) literary characters I encountered in a given year, be they old favourites or new flames. It was fun, but it took forever and I got bogged down on, like, justifying my opinion and stuff, so I let it slide.

I did encounter a great many wonderful characters in 2014, though, so I figure it's about time for a revival.

These aren't necessarily my favourite literary characters of all time, and they don't necessarily appear in my favourite books of 2014. They are, however, the characters who captured my imagination last year; the characters who made me want things on their behalf; the characters who refused to be ignored.

Y'all should make an effort to meet them your own selves.

In more or less the order I encountered them, they are:

Jewel Markess ATerafin from Michelle West's Averalaan universe - West has created many a fascinating character (not all of whom I've met yet; I'm reading this series so damned slow), but Jewel is the one I really clicked with. She's got her chosen family, and she's going to protect the hell out of them no matter what. I love her for it.

Medrault from THE WINTER PRINCE by Elizabeth Wein - the first in a long, long line of characters dealing with trauma. (2014 was my Year of Fictional Trauma.) I spent an entire book with him, but it wasn't until the very last page that I began to figure him out.

FitzChivalry Farseer from Robin Hobb's Realm of the Elderlings series - as I approached my massive Robin Hobb Reread/Catch-Up in preparation for FOOL'S ASSASSIN, I found myself most excited about considering Fitz again. Really delving into him, you know? Psychologically and stuff? It was every bit as good as I expected it to be, so I had no choice but to add him to my (Highly Exclusive) List of Favourite Literary Characters.