Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Review: Truth In the Dark by Amy Lane

Cover of Truth In the Dark. Burgundy bands with the publisher's name and the book's title on them frame a picture of a dark-haired, shirtless white man lying on his side to face the viewer, a red silk blanket draped over his lower half. A man with a lion's head holds a lantern over him.
Ooh, friends, I’m so in love with Amy Lane’s work. Not only does she write fabulous stories, but she’s got a hell of a narrative range. To date, I’ve read two of her sweet contemporary romances, one dark-as-hell SF offering, and TRUTH IN THE DARK [Amazon | Scribd], a fairy tale that straddles the line between these two extremes.

Naef, a young woodworker, has been tormented all his life because of his appearance, and he’s raised a prickly set of defenses against future hurt. The only people he’ll allow close to him are his sister and his mother. When said sister hesitates to marry her true love because it would mean leaving Naef on his own, her suitor proposes a solution to settle her fears. Naef will spend a year as companion to the suitor’s cousin, freeing his sister from worry while introducing Naef to an unusual community where he can start fresh.

The cousin in question turns out to be a man cursed with the shape of an anthropomorphic lion and saddled with the improbable name Aerie-Smith. Aerie-Smith’s got an island full of subjects whose animal forms are more confining than his own, and he promises Naef a home for a year if he’ll end his stint as companion by performing one regrettable act will not only secure Naef’s family’s future but also free everyone from their curse.

The resulting story is part “Beauty and the Beast,” part “East of the Sun, West of the Moon.” And I cried so damned hard.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Review: Under the Rushes by Amy Lane

Cover of Under the Rushes. A white man wearing a top hat, a dark coat, and a poofy cravat glares at the reader against a sepia-toned backdrop that superimposes bricks and clockwork over a cityscape rife with smoke stacks.
Going by the cover, I expected Amy Lane’s UNDER THE RUSHES [Amazon | Scribd] to be historical fantasy. Much to my surprise and delight, it's actually science fiction set on a distant world where the colonists have lost some of their founders’ technological prowess and redeveloped what remains into a system with a vaguely steampunk aesthetic. It has a lot in common with the baroque SF I always hope to stumble across, in which science fictional elements operate within an elaborate, highly stratified society.

A lot, but not everything. Because this isn’t just far-future SF: it’s a superhero novel!

Dorjan's been in martial disgrace ever since he took a civilian’s tip to heart and tried to prevent his province from starting a pointless war. Ten years on, he spends his days carefully steering the provincial leadership in his guise as Doltish and Disinterested Forum Master and his nights protecting the capital city as the Nyx, an armoured warrior who champions the most vulnerable elements of society. He's alone in this endeavour save for his genius inventor friend, Areau, who was tortured after his own disgrace and now demands soul-crushing things from Dorjan following each mission. Just as the pressure of dealing with Areau’s addictions becomes too much for Dorjan, he finds a solution in the form of two grateful rescuees--one of whom is the very boy who first alerted him to the corruption in his government, all grown up and determined to take an active role in the Nyx's endeavours.

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Murchie Plus Books: The End

A square photo of a fluffy, scruffy grey poodle held in a red-haired white person's arms. The dog has bright eyes and a very black nose, both of which stand out against his silver hair. His fluffy cheeks are a bit dirty.

Every Sunday for the last two and a half years, I’ve shared pictures of my beloved dog, Murchie, posed with everything I read that week.

Last Sunday night, Murchie didn’t sleep. He couldn’t stay still, he didn’t want anything I offered him, and he was obviously confused. Over the last couple of years this had become a frequent nighttime routine on account of a bowel issue and something that looked an awful lot like doggie dementia.

All through January, he had two or three bad days for every one where he was his usual spunky self.

My parents and I took him to the vet at lunch on Monday. She gave him a checkup, listened to everything he’s been through recently, and told us that while she could perform some more tests she couldn’t guarantee any further treatment would help him. It’d been a while since his medicines eased his suffering in any appreciable way.

None of us wanted to say goodbye to him, but we didn’t want him to suffer anymore, either.

I’m grateful I got to hold him while the sedative took effect. I felt him relax in my arms, the way he used to before sleep became so difficult for him. I laid him on the exam table and stroked his head while the vet administered the final injection. It was awful, but he had loved ones with him the whole time and that made a terrible day a little easier to bear.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Murchie Plus Books: January 22nd to 28th

I make my dog pose beside everything I read, barring single issue comics. Some weeks he’s a star and some weeks he refuses to keep his head still.

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.

Last week’s Not Pictured selections included the usual number of X-Men comics. They feel horribly relevant right now.

A fuzzy grey poodle, Murchie, sits on a burgundy carpet beside a hardcover copy of Deceptive. He’s only a little taller than the book. His head is turned away from it. The book’s orange and blue cover features a blonde white girl standing atop the title, which hovers diagonally above a cityscape.

I love it when I ask the library to buy a book and they order a bunch of copies that a bunch of other patrons check out as soon as they're available. Guess I wasn't the only one eager to see how Ciere's story continued.

Emily Lloyd-Jones's DECEPTIVE [Amazon] is the sequel to ILLUSIVE, a book I sought out because I saw it recced on Twitter as X-Men meets Oceans 11 and I love both those things. It was an accurate comp, and it fits this book, too, with the caveat that DECEPTIVE's got a lot more stuff on the fed side of the equation. While it took me a little bit to readjust to this the world after my time away, I was hard into the book by the end and was sorry to say goodbye to all the characters.

So sorry, in fact, that I popped right onto Lloyd-Jones's website to see if there was any chance of a third book somewhere down the line. Alas, she's got ILLUSIVE and DECEPTIVE tagged as a duology. While it's easy to read Ciere's storyline as concluded (with enough dangly bits that she could enjoy more adventures down the line), I feel like both Devon and Daniel have a middle book thing going on. Shit gets dark for them, and the ending puts them in position for the traditional third book Lightening Of Burdens. It's not the worst possible conclusion to their storylines, but I'm still sad we'll never get to see where they go from here.

Friday, January 27, 2017

Review: Freckles by Amy Lane

Cover of Freckles, featuring a brown and white Shih Tzu puppy standing in a cardboard box. Her ears and perked and her tail is up. Stylized snowflakes fall down the pale blue and purple backdrop behind her.
Warning: FRECKLES [Amazon | Scribd] is quite possibly the cutest book ever. You will squee.

Carter's boyfriend just dumped him and the head of his law firm has got him working on a case that’s legally sound but morally reprehensible. He needs something positive in his life, and he gets it in the form of a tiny, fluffy puppy a kid hoists on him in a parking lot. Carter has no idea what to do with a puppy (if Freckles even is a dog and not a hamster, as her size suggests), so he rushes straight to the nearest pet store with a veterinarian attached and has the good fortune to meet Sandy, a vet tech who's willing to give the occasional cute, dog-loving lawyer some after hours help with the whole pet ownership thing.

Their relationship is sweet and mutually supportive, but it's the dog angle that sold me on this nominally holiday romance. (The Thanksgiving and Christmas bits are light enough that you can read this any time of year, as I did.) Freckles is a tiny Shih Tzu/Chihuahua cross, and I recognized so much of what Carter goes through as he adjusts to dog ownership and strives to be a good caregiver for her. I've had dogs all my life, barring an eighteen-month dogless stint when I was very young, but my wee Murchie is the first dog who's really been mine. He decided I was his person mere hours after we met, despite family plans to the contrary, and I spent a certain amount of time freaking out about how I was now responsible for this 2.5-pound fluffball who was brand new to the world and correspondingly lacking in common sense. I wanted to do right by him, and I was terrified he'd get sat on or stepped on or otherwise injured during one of his exploratory forays into the great unknown1.

I still worry he'll get sat on or stepped on, especially since he's a bit too inclined to trust people will notice he's there and work around him. That's a dangerous attitude to adopt when you're still only 3.5 pounds and you're the same colour as the kitchen floor, y'know?

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Murchie Plus Books: January 15th to 21st

I make my dog pose with everything I read, barring single issue comics. When he isn't up to this challenge, I call upon stand-ins.

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. Sometimes life intervenes and they go up on Tuesday instead.

Last week’s Not Pictured selections included lots and lots and lots of X-Men comics. I hit UNCANNY #475, then zipped back in time to tackle some one-shots, Annual issues, and miniseries I’d missed. I also reread DEADLY GENESIS, which made a lot more sense with hundreds of issues of X-Men under my belt. It reaffirmed my belief that Professor X is the worst, too. Seriously, the dude may talk about building a happy world for everyone, but he’s way too quick to mess with peoples’ heads when it suits his purposes.

Mindwiping people is not appropriate behavior, Professor X. Not now, not ever.

A large-headed Funko Pop bobblehead of Baby Groot stands next to a white Kobo, propped upright in its grey case. The screen holds the cover of Food For Thought, which features a small black cat against a slurry of handwritten, sepia-toned pages.

I loved TRUTH IN THE DARK so much that I decided to squeeze in one last Amy Lane book before my Scribd membership ended. I combed through the catalogue in search of novellas and finally settled on FOOD FOR THOUGHT [Amazon | Scribd], in which Emmett, a closeted gay guy who longs for a family, learns families are a lot more variable than his life to date has led him to believe. When his sorta-adoptive mom gives him an old family cookbook, he gains some clarity by preparing one of the recipes with his neighbour/best friend/uber-crush.

The resulting novella is mostly very sweet, with moments of remembered sadness and one deeply upsetting incident involving Emmett's girlfriend, with whom he does not part ways before he embarks on his quest for clarity. I teared up.

A word of warning: the novella is much shorter than its presentation leads one to believe. The last 28% of it is ads for Lane's other books.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Marginalized Genders Reading List: 2016 Edition

Square header featuring two images above a central white strip that reads 136 Authors From Marginalized Genders. The upper image is of a young black woman looking at a notebook as she sits on set of wooden stairs in a brick-lined room. The lower image shows a woman's pale hands holding a champagne phone and a mustard-coloured zippered pouch.

At the start of 2016, Renay of Lady Business issued herself a challenge to read work by 100 different women authors and artists over the course of the year. I liked this challenge so much that I took it up myself, with a slight adjustment to include nonbinary, genderfluid, and agender authors as well.

I counted everyone whose work was at least novelette-length for prose or issue-length for comics, and my year-end reading list looks like this, in alphabetical order: