Thursday, June 30, 2016

The Boy Who Lost Fairyland by Catherynne M. Valente

The fourth of Valente's Fairyland books, after The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making, The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland and Led the Revels There, and The Girl Who Soared Over Fairyland and Cut the Moon in Two, switches focus from September, a Kansas girl from the early interwar years, and instead shows us Hawthorn, a troll stolen away from Fairyland to be a changeling in Chicago at around the same time September was going the other way.

The Boy Who Lost Fairyland felt shorter than the September books, and also spent a lot of time getting going: it opens with Hawthorn as a tot and the switch, and continues with a couple of chapters of his schooldays in the mundane world before he finally connects (years later) with another changeling and finally finds his way back to Fairyland. As is typical for Valente's books, Fairyland is in bad shape, with a bad ruler, and the people are suffering. Hawthorn needs to find the Rebel Alliance equivalent, join up, and then go off to find the one person who can make Fairyland better again. And I wouldn't dream of telling you who that is.

It's episodic, like all of the books in this series, and the biggest draws are Valente's inventive ideas and her sly narrative asides. Hawthorn, I'm afraid, is even more of a lump than September was in the first book, but deep characterization has never been the point of these books. The next book is supposedly the last one, so perhaps Valente is tiring of the world -- there's a feeling in this book that may be the case.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Giant Days, Vol. 1 by John Allison and Lissa Treiman

This series does not necessarily have to be connected to Allison's webcomics, if the reader doesn't know of that connection. One of the three main characters -- gothy center-of-all-drama Esther De Groot -- was a major character in Allison's strip Scarygoround, but Giant Days is a mildly alternate version of that Esther, who went off to college in about 2004 from that strip and landed in college in about 2013 in these comics stories. (That's one long road trip on the way to school!) And this comic is set entirely at college so far, with no excursions back to the Tackleford of Allison's webcomics, and I don't expect there to be any.

Giant Days is about three female friends: Esther, tightly wound Susan, and happy-go-lucky Daisy. Allison is amazingly good (particularly for a man) at writing about young women and their friendships and daily life -- Giant Days is all about the small moments in life that don't feel small at the time. These three freshmen at an unnamed UK university study (or don't), have crushes and dates and boyfriends and friends who are boys, get angry and happy, and just talk to each other. It's the moments they'll remember fondly ten or forty years from now, presented cleanly and with truth, the story of three specific women and their lives.

Allison is joined here by Lissa Treiman on art -- he draws his own webcomics -- and she has a great energy and vigor that works well with his story. (But don't get too used to her; she's only on this series for these stories and the first two issues of the next collection.) Look, I'm clearly in the tank for Allison, but this series is a lot of fun -- particularly for young women, who don't get to see people like themselves in comics all that much.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

The Road to Little Dribbling by Bill Bryson

I've been reading Bill Bryson's books for years now, even though I seem to be slowly souring on them. (I originally picked up his books about language, which I later learned might be more popular than authoritative, which is reasonable and not all that surprising. And I liked his travel books from the '90s and early aughts, though I've never gone back to any of them to see if modern-me would like them as much.) The last few, I've expressed a desire to see him go back to travel books, to get out into the real world and interact with people rather than writing a book out of his own head up in his study.

Well, The Road to Little Dribbling is a travel book, but Bryson doesn't actually interact with people all that much. I suspect he may be a lot like me -- not all that fond of people at the best of times -- and seems to prefer to get on with things himself rather than chatting with the locals. But that does tend to make a travel book less interesting.

Anyway, this is a "sequel" to Notes from a Small Island, Bryson's farewell love-letter to the UK (mostly England) from the mid-90s. At that point, he'd been living in England for over twenty years -- married a local girl, had a couple of kids, the whole lot -- but was taking them all back to the US, where he expected he'd spend the rest of his life. So Small Island was a tour of all of the things Bryson loved about the UK, and consequently became a big bestseller there, because people love being told how wonderful they are, and was only slightly less successful in the more Anglophile book-buying bits of America. But Bryson moved back to the UK maybe a decade later, and has been there ever since. And Little Dribbling is thus the "all the stuff I used to like is gone, you rotten younger generations you" book that inevitably must follow the "all of this stuff is wonderful" book.

I may be exaggerating slightly. But Little Dribbling is a grumpy book, in which an isolated Bryson wanders around the country and looks for things that aren't there anymore and is thus made unhappy again. (He also, I should admit, finds many things -- mostly very old ones made out of various kinds of stone -- that are still there. But he does not show any great fondness for the actual British people he meets, as contrasted with his retrospective view of the kinds of upstanding yeomanlike Britishers that used to populate this blessed isle.) So it's not as much fun as Small Island was, and Bryson is not as entertaining in his bile as someone like Paul Theroux is -- and also aims his ire at much smaller, almost stereotypically "rotten younger generations" targets, which makes this book seem like Bryson is auditioning for a new role as Colonel Blimp.

Little Dribbling is amusing and funny in fits and spurts, but the mean-spiritedness and more-in-sadness-than-in-anger tone tend to run it down and make it less entertaining than it could be. But if you think that the UK is going to the dogs, this could be exactly the book you want.

Monday, June 27, 2016

Reviewing the Mail: Week of 6/25

Hey! It's Monday again. Why don't you take a look at these possibly-wonderful books?

They all arrived in my mailbox over the past week, so I haven't read any of them at this moment. But one of them may be your favorite book of the year! (Or maybe not.) I'll present them in the order I have them stacked, which roughly correlates to their size.

Nichijou: My Ordinary Life, Vol. 3 continues the manga series by Keiichi Awawi. It looks like a somewhat surreal kids-in-school series -- one of the early stories in this volume seems to be about a girl chasing her detached hands (?!) -- and I don't know any more about it than that. This is from Vertical (as the next few books will be), and is available now.

To the Abandoned Sacred Beasts, Vol. 1 starts a new series by a manga-ka billed as Maybe (not sure if that's supposed to be the English word, or just a transliteration of a Japanese name). It seems to be very vaguely inspired by the US Civil War, only in this world the North was massively outnumbered and so only won by using super-powerful magical soldiers called Incarnates. But now it's after the war, and reintegrating giant murder machines into society is going about as well as it usually does.

Then there's Ninja Slayer, Vol. 5: One Minute Before the Tanuki, which has a uniquely odd version of the brokeback pose on its cover. (Is she playing Twister?) This is scripted by Yoshiaki Tabata and drawn by Yuki Fogo from an original work (maybe a novel?) by Bradley Bond and Philip Ninj@ Morzez...and it's all about totally sweet ninjas flipping out and killing lots of people, as far as I can tell. I am not kidding as much as you think I might be.

And the last book from Vertical for this week's list is Hajime Segawa's Tokyo ESP, Vol. 5. This is a somewhat more mainstream version of the book above, with battles and superpowers and angsty teens and interpersonal drama and the fate of the world and all that stuff.

First cousin to manga is the light novel, and I have one of those, too: Kagerou Daze IV: The Missing Children, latest in the series by Jin (Shizen No Teki-P), with illustrations by Sidu. This is from Yen Press, and I'm really not sure what the story is about: there's a group of young misfits, but I'm not sure if they're mutants (espers, aliens, demons, yokai) or just disaffected kids, or exactly what kind of society they've found/made. My advice would be to look up the first book, which is my general advice for any series.

Ben Hatke, creator of Zita the Spacegirl, is back with a new graphic novel for people shorter than me [1] in Mighty Jack. [2] This one is about a boy named Jack (naturally), his autistic younger sister Maddy, and the giant bizarre garden that grows in their backyard after Jack trades his mom's car keys for some magic seeds. (Many of you will notice a certain similarity there with a fable or two.)

I also have a real-io trulio novel -- not light or anything -- from the fine folks at Night Shade: Na'amen Gobert Tilahun's [3] The Root. This one looks to have elements in common with teen dystopias, but it doesn't seem to be specifically aimed at teens: our hero is an ex-teen star who is both a secret descendant of the gods and on the run from a trans-dimensional secret government force. He's also both gay and black, if the back cover description and front cover art are to be believed, so this is a good choice for anyone trying to read about more diverse protagonists. It's subtitled "A Novel of The Wrath & Athenaeum," which implies there will be more of 'em, and it's a trade paperback already in stores right now.

And last for this week is a collection of comics: Simpsons Comics Colossal Compendium, Volume Four, which is by a whole bunch of people and only has Matt Groening's name on the cover. (Despite the fact that it's really, really doubtful that Groening had anything to do with it other than nominal oversight.) There's no page numbers or table of contents, but it looks to be around 200 pages of Simpsons comics, originally published in fourteen different issues of variously-titled comics from the folks at Bongo. This particular book emanates from the house of Harper and Collins, and hits stores on July 5th.

[1] I'm almost 6'3", so that includes a wide swath of people.

[2] No relation to the old Japanese TV show, as far as I can see.

[3] He wins name of the week in a walk-off, and probably will take the whole year. That is an awesomely unique name.

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Salvage and Demolition by Tim Powers

Powers is not particularly prolific. But, over the last decade or so, he does seem to come out with a novella or two vaguely related to his most recent novel -- perhaps reworked sections that didn't fit, or early abandoned/superseded versions of his premise, or maybe just something else he worked on while the big book was stuck somewhere. (I don't know his writing process; I just read the things.) And so Salvage and Demolition, a novella-as-book, came out two-and-a-bit years before his novel Medusa's Web, and then I read both of them, not entirely deliberately, within a month and a half.

Salvage is a time-travel story -- well, really more of a time-slip story, in which a man from the modern world is pulled back to the 1950s through some artifacts he discovers, bouncing between the two times over the course of the story, and gets caught up with a woman then and an apocalyptic cult existent in both times. I don't want to say much more, not least because the book went back to the library two months ago. It's tight and precise and lovely and has a perfect bittersweet ending. And it is a novella, of only about 21k words. So you should just read it. You should just read any Powers books, but the shorter ones take even less time.

(And, to my first point, the time-slip mechanism is very similar, but not identical, to the one in Medusa's Web, so Salvage does feel like a cousin or small sibling to the larger novel. Reading the two in close succession is recommended.)

Monday, June 20, 2016

Reviewing the Mail: Week of 6/18

Hey! It's Monday again. As usual, I list the books that arrived in the prior week from the hard-working publicists of Big Book, in hopes some of you will love some of them and take them to your bosoms forever.

(I also have a few things I bought this past week, which I'm shoving in here because I'm already writing about books. There will be a clear separator, for those of you who are persnickety about such things.)

Wolf's Empire: Gladiator is what looks to be the first in an oddball soft-SF series by actress Claudia Christian and a guy whose name sounds like a law firm, Morgan Grant Buchanan. (I'm trying not to assume that Buchanan did all of the hard work, but that tends to be the assumption when a celebrity emits a book-shaped object written with a co-author.) It's set in one of those utterly implausible universes -- the Roman Empire never fell! it now rules a Galactic Empire! a plucky noblewoman (who could potentially be played by Claudia Christian in the TV version) has to become a gladiator to avenge the wrongs done to her family! she's cast into slavery and forced to fight alongside the men she wants to kill! -- that I'm afraid I just can't take seriously at this point in my life. If you can, this is a Tor hardcover that will be officially published on June 28.

The other review copy I have this week is a manga volume from Kaori Yuki: Alice in Murderland, Vol. 4. It's another of the inexplicable rush of manga loosely -- generally very loosely -- based on Lewis Carroll that have been making their way across the Pacific lately. (I have no idea if this is an actual manga trend, or if US editors are cherry-picking the few Alice-based manga because US audiences love them -- either would be weird, and either is possible.) As I understand it, the nine children of a powerful and rich family must battle each other to the death before the eldest turns twenty, for no immediately plausible reason. Our heroine is the youngest daughter, aided by a murderous alternate personality. One suspects this family could do with a lot of intensive therapy, in some very well-guarded and secure facility far away from collateral casualties. But they'll probably just slaughter each other in inventive ways instead.

Clear Separator

Love Fights, Vol. 1 is the first half of a 2003 story by Andi Watson about superheroes in love. Andi Watson had a great stretch of really wonderful comics from the mid-90s through very recently -- I'm waffling only because I haven't seen as much of his stuff recently, though I don't expect he suddenly turned into Frank Miller -- all humanist and lovely and full of real people with real lives and relationships. I had a big shelf of Watson before the flood, and I'm building it back up as I can.

Sunny, Vol. 4 is the most recent (I think) book in the slice-of-life manga series by Taiyo Matsumoto. (See my reviews of volumes one and two.) This series is deep and real and full of very closely observed damaged kids; it's a masterpiece of world comics.

Little Star is another Andi Watson book; this one complete in one volume. Blah blah blah Andi Watson is awesome. Like I said before.

The 4-Fisted Misadventures of TUG & buster, Vol. 1 is a Marc Hempel book from the dark (or maybe light; depends on your point of view) days of the late '90s, and was his creator-owned follow-up to the Gregory books, which I recently re-read. The book has a big "1" on the spine, but I don't think there were any more TUG & buster stories...though I'd be happy to find out I'm wrong.

And then there's B.P.R.D.: Hell on Earth, Vol. 12, from Mike Mignola and his crew. I don't have volume 11 yet, but that's OK: I tend to read these Hellboy-universe books in a big clump over a week or two, so I'll probably wait to have another two or three of these, maybe an Abe Sapien, and probably the back half of Hellboy in Hell. So I'm in no hurry.

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Return With Us to the Halcyon Days of March!

I've just (finally!) posted the list of books I read in March, with words that vaguely resemble reviews following each title.

Should you wish to read those words, go here.

This is all.