Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Review: Skip Beat! vols 1-34 by Yoshiki Nakamura

Cover of Skip Beat Volume One, featuring a red-haired Japanese girl dressed in a frilly pink sleeveless top. She winks at the viewer, her left hand hand extended in a mock punch and the other poised near her ear. Dark pink ribbons writhe around both her hands.
A little more than a month ago, I toddled off to my local library and plucked SKIP BEAT! off the shelf. I’d never heard of it before, but it met my two important criteria for the comics I choose on a whim: it was the first volume in a series, and it was written and drawn by a woman1.

It changed my entire world.

Those of you who follow me on Twitter have no doubt noticed my feels-laden tweets about it all. SKIP BEAT! quickly joined the likes of SAGA, BONE, and STRANGERS IN PARADISE as one of the comics; a lovely, rare occurrence, and something to gush about from the rooftops.

Which, fair warning, is what I’m about to do, at great length and with the occasional gif from the anime or elsewhere.

But perhaps you're clueless as to what SKIP BEAT is all about. Fear not! I can explain!

Sixteen-year-old Kyoko Mogami2 follows her childhood friend and uber-crush, Sho, to Tokyo so she can help him on the road to stardom. She buys all his albums, stokes his ego by hanging his posters all over their apartment, and works two jobs so she can keep him in the manner to which he’s become accustomed (because heaven forbid Mr Big Singer Man should dip into his own pay cheque once in a while). Blinded by love, Kyoko is happy to accept a few scraps of affection from him--until she overhears his true opinion of her and realizes he’s been using her all along.

Enraged, Kyoko swears off love and vows to get revenge against Sho in his own sphere: showbiz!

Easy to say; hard to do. Kyoko soon realizes it’s tough to become famous, even if you’re willing to dress up in a chicken suit and/or join the number one talent agency’s deathly embarrassing Love Me Section, a group devoted to developing its members' loving instincts by assigning them odd jobs that let them give back to the showbiz community. Things only grow more awkward for her when she begins working with Ren Tsuruga, the agency’s top star, who takes acting very seriously and has nothing but disdain for someone with Kyoko’s motives.

The next thirty-four volumes are THE BEST THING EVER OMG.

They’re so very much THE BEST THING EVER OMG that right here, right now, for the first time in the history of the world, I’m going to write three reviews.

I think Lory, Kyoko’s boss, would be proud of me for such flamboyant excess, not to mention my deep and enduring love for all things SKIP BEAT!.

We shall begin, of course, with a Short, Gushy, Ungrammatical Review so’s you can get an at-a-glance idea of what SKIP BEAT is all about. From there, we’ll run through a List of Things You'll Find In SKIP BEAT in case you ain’t much for short, gushy, ungrammatical paragraphs. And finally, for the main event, I present to you a Sensical Review in which I gush for an ungodly number of words.

It is not for the faint of heart.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Murchie Plus Books: May 17th to 23rd

The premise: I love my dog. I love books. I combine the two by asking my tiny and adorable dog to pose with every book I read, barring the digital comics I get through Marvel Unlimited.

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

Not pictured: I followed the final volume of SKIP BEAT with the first volume of LEGENDARY STAR-LORD, a series I'd heard was rather uneven. Much to my delight, I had a marvelous time with it. It's packed with three of my favourite things: space battles, random half-siblings, and Kitty Pryde. Here's hoping Kitty gets more of a chance to kick asses in future issues. Maybe her banana costume could make another appearance, too.

I also spent some more time with CABLE & DEADPOOL last week. It's still a lot of fun, despite its problematic aspects, but I'm flagging a bit. I plan to take a break after #35, which'll bring me to the end of the second omnibus edition.

Finally, I've been working my way through the short fiction categories represented in the Hugo Voters' Packet, which dropped this week. I intend to eat least try to read everything, even if I bounce off some of the material (as has already happened in a few cases). As I write this, I've got three novellas left to sample before I head on to one of the categories that requires a book-length time commitment. I haven't decided which one it'll be; maybe Best Semiprozine.

A sleek grey poodle, Murchie, is captured in mid-sneeze. His features are blurred. He nestles within a cave composed of a red comforter and a fuzzy white blanket. Behind him lays a white Kobo with Sex Criminals Volume One's pink-toned cover on its screen. Beside it is a trade paperback copy of Sex Criminals Volume Two. Its cover is primarily blue.

Least flattering picture of Murchie ever, right? Little dude was in full-on snarly/sneezy mode when I set him up with the first two volumes of Matt Fraction and Chip Zdarsky's SEX CRIMINALS, and I elected not to make him try for a better shot somewhere down the line. Sometimes you've just gotta accept what you get for the sake of a quiet life.

SEX CRIMINALS is not about what the uninitiated among you think it's about. It's the story of Suzie and Jon, two young people who can stop time with their orgasms and who decide to use this skill to rob banks. (Because really, what else would you do with your time-stopping orgasms?) Volume One was a reread for me, and it proved just as captivating the second time through. Volume Two expands the story in some fascinating ways, taking us past the initial attraction and into the mechanics of making a relationship work. It's great stuff. Bring on Volume Three!

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Review: Wake by Elizabeth Knox

Cover of Wake, featuring an illustration of seven people of various genders and races lowering a long, wrapped bundle into a deep hole. Behind them, a blue truck holds several more wrapped bundles. A bungalow and a large hill are visible in the background.
It’s sudden. One minute, the citizens of Kahukura, a small community near the north coast of New Zealand’s South Island, are fine. The next, most of them are hell-bent on destroying their neighbours without the slightest thought for their own safety.

Fourteen people survive the experience unscathed and are subsequently trapped inside the town by a barrier that kills all technology and renders all living creatures inert. Robbed of a way to communicate with the outside world and with no idea what’s truly happened to them, this small group of survivors bands together to get each other through--provided the strain of all doesn’t tear them apart.

At first glance, WAKE seems like your standard zombie story. Violence becomes the norm in the blink of an eye, with transfer potential at the forefront of the reader’s mind as the survivors try to evade infected individuals. We’re led to believe this is Elizabeth Knox’s unique take on a story we’ve all heard before.

It’s not, of course. Knox rarely takes the expected route in any of her fiction, and WAKE is no exception. As soon as the violence dies down, it becomes clear the infected weren’t zombies. So what were they? Why were the survivors spared? And how are they meant to cope with any of it?

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

My Year With Marvel: Reading By Issue

Cover of Hawkeye Volume Three, L.A. Woman Cover of The Trial of Jean Grey, a Guardians of the Galaxy and All-New X-Men crossover

Back in the day, I read single issues of everything. I bought random comics from thrift stores and liquidation centres, and I purchased a small handful of fresh-off-the-press monthlies.

Trade collections weren’t a big thing back then, and the few that were available generally cost upwards of $30. Single issues were my only option, and I embraced them with an open heart until the sad, sad day when they became too expensive for my budget.

Thankfully, trade collections went down in price soon after. Y'all know that's how I read nowadays. I either get trade collections or I wait until an arc's worth of issues is up on Marvel Unlimited. I haven’t bought a paper single issue in well over a decade, though I do buy most of my digital comics by issue after each story arc wraps.

Trades changed my life. They taught me I don't like to wait; or rather, I prefer to wait half a year or so for a longer story than to wait a month between each piece of the puzzle. I enjoy the story more that way.

Or so I thought.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Murchie Plus Books: May 10th to 16th

The premise: I love my dog. I love books. I combine the two by photographing my dog (or one of his able stand-ins) beside every book I read, barring the digital comics I get through Marvel Unlimited.

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

Not pictured: I read a bunch more CABLE & DEADPOOL early last week, and damn is it ever entertaining. My favourite thing about it is Deadpool's disrespect for the fourth wall. My least favourite thing about it is the misogyny. I'd love to read another arc or two today, if I can swing it.

If you'd like to do the same, or if you've got your eye on another series, remember today--May 17th, 2015--is the last day you can sign up for a free, one-month Marvel Unlimited subscription.

Moving away from comics, I finally hunkered down and finished WARRIORS as part of Bout of Books. It was par for the course with anthologies; ie, I loved some stories, really liked others, found a few tedious, and elected not to finish maybe three of them.

A sleek grey poodle, Murchie, sits on an off-white sheepskin. He wears a blue and white striped t-shirt. In front of him sits a trade paperback copy of Digger. Its cover features a wombat reading a map.

Murchie got a haircut! The groomer left his muzzle a bit longer this time, so he's got an adorable, Border Terrierish thing going on. His whiskers are still visible, too, which is a nice change from the norm. I love Murchie's whiskers, but I never get to see them when he's shaved right down.

He's also been living in his wee shirt, partly because the temperature dropped last week and partially because he needs sun protection. Little dude doesn't have very much hair on his back, so he gets sunburnt.

Anyways, he helped me read the first volume of Ursula Vernon's DIGGER, a comic that was recommended to me during Women In SF&F Month. It reminded me a little of Jeff Smith's BONE, what with its stark black and white illustrations and its focus on an inhuman character stranded far from home, but I'm not completely sold on it yet. Y'all know I always give comics a couple of volumes to hook me, though, so you can bet I'll continue with the series. Here's hoping DIGGER is the next HINTERKIND or YOUNG AVENGERS.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

My Year With Marvel: Three Superheroic Considerations

Almost no one becomes a superhero on a whim. Even those who have their powers thrust upon them must think long and hard before they don a mask and take to the rooftops. Is the risk worth the gain? Does the universe really need them to take up arms?

Perhaps you’re in that situation now. You recently gained the ability to control fire with your mind, or you realized your years of fencing training have made you an unparallelled master of the art, or you discovered your parents are aliens who hid your true heritage (and its accompanying abilities) from you.

Naturally, you wonder whether you should do something about this; whether you can make a difference with the fiery bolts you shoot out of your fingers, or your skill with a blade, or the energy field your species generates. What challenges will you face? Will it be worth it?

Fear not! I can help you figure it out!

While your decision must ultimately be as personal as the superheroic journey itself, I’ve read a shit-ton of superhero comics and watched a fair measure of superhero-focused television, and I’ve noticed three distressing constants beyond the ones everyone talks about all the time (ie, the need for a costume and a secret identity and all that). You'll want to take them into account as you make your choice. Don't worry; they ain't pleasant, but you can soften their impact if you want this superhero thing badly enough.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Review: Cuckoo Song by Frances Hardinge

Cover of Cuckoo Song, featuring a pasty white china doll's head with molded hair and a crack running across one green glass eye.
Review copy provided by the publisher via NetGalley.

Frances Hardinge has been on my radar for ages now. Ana, in particular, sings her praises long and loud, while the Book Smugglers have also given her highly favourable reviews. With endorsements like that, I knew I had to get my hands on her work, so when I received an opportunity to review CUCKOO SONG in advance of its North American release, I leaped to attention.

And y’all? I’m mighty glad I did.

CUCKOO SONG takes place about five years after the end of the Great War. Thirteen-year-old Tris wakes suddenly, unsure where she is or how she’s connected to the people at her bedside. Gradually, the details come back to her. These are her parents; that’s her younger sister, Pen; this is the vacation home her family has rented; and just beyond her purview is the lake where she met with a terrible accident. It’s all plausible and familiar, but it isn’t quite right, from Tris’s initial memory loss to the ravenous hunger that plagues her to the dolls that leap to life in her presence. As Tris discovers more about her condition and the accident that led to it, she comes to realize how little of what surrounds her is truly her; and of course, she has no choice but to do something about it.

Much as I have no choice but to seek out and devour all Frances Hardinge’s novels as soon as ever I can, because CUCKOO SONG is the sort of story that might come about if Diana Wynne Jones’s books got together with Elizabeth Knox’s books and produced a gorgeously creepy bookish baby, to which K.J. Parker’s novels acted as godparent.

By which I mean: the writing is fabulous, the characterization is subtle and evocative, the setting has style to spare, the story pulls no punches, and the target audience receives full credit for their ability to understand whatever the text throws at them.