Monday, March 30, 2020

Reviewing the Mail: Week of 3/28/20

So I think these two books have been in my hands for at least a week and maybe longer. Apologies to the fine publishing companies responsible for them (and for getting them into my hands), but I've been even more busy/distracted than usual the past little while.

(I've said to a couple of people that this pandemic has a severely asymmetrical affect on different people -- a lot of people have nothing to do, but a substantial group have vastly more to do. Obviously, medical personnel are in Category Two, but so are lots of attorneys, tax professionals, and risk-management/compliance folks, all of whom are the folks my company supports. So we're a bit busy, too. If you happen to be in one of those buckets, we have a global COVID-19 resource page with lots of free resources for your profession to help you navigate it for yourself and your business and/or clients. Hope it helps; hope you and your operations make it through this relatively unscathed.)

Anyway: books! They came in the mail!

I haven't looked at them, since I haven't picked up a book to read, um, this year? Maybe longer.

Catch-22 is on the corner of my desk mocking me right now, and the book I thought would be next off to the side and would be mocking me if it weren't under my Vassar alumnae magazine and so decently hidden. Some day I will read books again. These may even be the ones. Anyway, that ritual debasement out of the way, here we go...

The Immortal Conquistador is a standalone short fantasy novel (maybe novella? it's 184 pages in a 5 1/2 x 8 1/4 paperback format with reasonably sized type, so it might sneak it right around 40k words, and I'm not about to do a cast-off on it right now) by Carrie Vaughn, set in the world of her Kitty Norville books. (Which I where I point out I still have four of those -- not even including the last two -- sitting on my shelf to be read, even though the series has been dormant for five years now.)

Conquistador is about the vampire Rick, the five hundred year-old ex-conquistador (hence the title) originally known as Ricardo de Avila. It's not clear if this is his life story -- the whole "who he is and how he came to be!" thing -- or if it's a modern story in which he's the main character. It's available right now, in paperback form, from the fine people at Tachyon Publications. (Whose base in San Francisco I would have called one of the epicenters of the current pandemic in the US a couple of weeks ago, before my much-too-competitive NYC area muscled up to the top of the chart.)

The other book is entirely different: Goldie Vance: The Hotel Whodunit by Lilliam Rivera, which apparently is based on a comics series by Hope Larson and Brittney Williams. Goldie herself is an amateur teen detective, of the kind we've seen so many of over the years, based in the Crossed Palms resort in Florida, where her father is the manager. It's a middle-grade novel, and I suspect the comics series is pitched as the kind of "all-ages" book that kids actually do read, maybe more than the usual comic-shop crowd.

My guess is that Goldie is set in the modern day, but the plot of this novel has a major studio filming a big monster movie on Crossed Palms premises, so it may be a more interesting version of the modern day. This is the first Goldie novel, but I imagine the hope is that there will be many more; middle-grade readers love to fill up a shelf with the same thing and the publishers love to accommodate them. It's from Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, and was officially on sale March 17th.

Also: Goldie is biracial and some variety of queer, which will be a positive for a lot of those middle-grade readers (among others), and possibly a negative for people whose reaction will cause the rest of us to judge them. Just so you know, in case you have either of those reactions.

(Note that I'm giving links to that big hegemonic Internet bookstore, since I always do. But, given circumstances in the world, I'd actually recommend going to IndieBound instead and seeing if your local is doing mail-order and/or delivery/pick-up. It's tough out there right now for small business, so support the ones you want to still be around when we stop sheltering in place.)

Monday, February 24, 2020

Reviewing the Mail: Week of 2/22/20

Oh, don't even ask.

But I do have a few new books to mention this week!

Two of them came in the mail -- in a mailer heavily battered and repacked by someone claiming the unlikely name of "Nixie Sorter" and admitting there may have been other things, possibly wondrous and valuable things, in that package originally that were now irretrievably lost -- and one more was a book I just bought, perhaps because I still think of myself as someone who actually reads books. (Which I am not, at the moment.)

The two books in the mail both came from the Night Shade arm of Skyhorse, and I have to admit that I have no idea who the editorial staff is there these days, despite once knowing people on both sides of that equation quite well. (Well, I'm pretty sure Tony Lyons is still running Skyhorse, so hi to both him and whoever he hired to edit SFF for him.) Both are advance proofs; both are publishing in June; both will be hardcovers. And the two books are very different in nearly every way, which is nice for the field and for the health of the Night Shade program.

First up alphabetically (and in the package as repacked by the estimable Nixie) is Neal Asher's The Human, third in his current series "Rise of the Jain." Asher writes zippy, exciting space-opera adventure, and as I recall his super-science is generally on this side of the plausible line. (He's British, you know. No idea if that has anything to do with anything, but don't we colonials usually grant anyone with even the loutiest British Isles accent the benefit of the doubt?)

And then we have a book that's fantasy rather than sf, old rather than new -- The Best of Jules de Grandin by Seabury Quinn, a new collection edited by George Vanderburgh (who also edited Night Shade's previous five-volume collection of the complete de Grandin). Quinn is the great forgotten Weird Tales writer -- if you know the original Weird Tales at all, you think of Lovecraft and Howard first, maybe Clark Ashton Smith next, maybe August Derleth if you're a masochist. Quinn, in those days, was actually more consistently popular than any of those [1], and his work has been occasionally re-discovered since then, only to fall into obscurity again and again. de Grandin is his most famous character, an occult detective based in Harrisonville, NJ, whose stories were told in the Sherlock Holmes manner by his assistant, Dr. Samuel Trowbridge. I have to admit that I've never read Quinn, but having a nice new collection of twenty of the best stories of his most famous character definitely moves him up the list. Maybe it would for you as well?

And last is The Eye of Mongombo, the first third of a long-thought-dead comics series by Doug Gray. Eye was originally supposed to be a twelve-issue comics series from Fantagraphics; it started in mid-1989 and ran for seven issues before Gray quietly walked away. Last year, he popped back up with a Kickstarter to finally finish it off -- the project didn't hit its goals but he went forward anyway, and this first volume is now available via Lulu. (If you're reading this in the future, Grey intends to get the book onto the usual bookselling platforms, so you could check there as well. I bought a copy almost as soon as he announced it.) Eye is a wacky adventure comic about a two-fisted Indiana Jones type (Cliff Carlson) who was turned into a duck and thrown headlong into the usual high-adventure chase for a mysterious artifact in South America. I liked it a lot the first time around, and I have an obvious interest in people who were in an interesting creative field, disappeared for a while, and then came back.

[1] Though, frankly, if I had to bet, the most popular creator for Weird Tales was Margaret Brundage...who was not a writer at all.

Saturday, January 25, 2020

Metaphorical Love

Here's a song I'm liking a lot recently. I gather from the comments on this YouTube version that the singer/songwriter, Kate Davis, has been playing it different ways for years, but this is the first time I've heard her stuff.

I am a sucker for tricky, sneaky metaphors, and I love that about this song. But she also sings it compellingly, and lets the song do its own thing without getting in its way.

The video is oddly more impactful than just listening to the song -- visuals are pretty simple, but it really leans into the heart of the metaphor.

Anyway, here's "Open Heart" by Kate Davis. I gather it's on her new record, Trophy.

Monday, January 13, 2020

Reviewing the Mail: Week of 1/11/19

Most of this stuff came in last week, but you may have noticed by now that this blog is in extremely low-content mode. (You may also have guessed that I've been neglecting it.) But I did get the following books recently, and I wanted to mention them.

One came in from a publisher -- bless their hearts! I have no idea why I'm still on anyone's publicity lists at this point -- and three were purchases from Fantagraphic's big Cyber Monday sale that were delayed in transit to me for various reasons.


Hilo, Vol. 6: All the Pieces Fit is the latest in the young-readers graphic-novel series by Judd Winick, who probably wishes people like me wouldn't still think of him as "that guy from an early reality show, you know, the one whose gay friend later died". Hilo is the kid with glowy hands on the cover: he's a robot superhero, more or less, and he's been chasing the Big Bad (Razorwark! a very appropriately Big Bad name) for five books now. This is promised to be the big finale. I read the first book a few years back, and buried a quick note about it in a long post covering everything I read for two months. All the Pieces Fit is a hardcover from Random House Books for Young Readers, on sale February 4.

Fantagraphics Sale:

Free Shit is a collection of a minicomic Charles Burns has done for shows and festivals for years -- and maybe just made up to send to friends -- with sketches and little drawings and random stuff. (Doesn't seem to have any story content, as you'd expect from a sketchbook.) This book collects the first twenty-five issues.

Reincarnation Stories is the new graphic novel from Kim Deitch, which means two things: it's going to be largely about some oddball corner of the entertainment world in the early 20th century, and Kim Deitch is going to be a major character in what seems to be a fictional, even fantastical, story. In this case, it's all about how he is -- or may be -- the reincarnation of minor (fictional) Hollywood figure Sid Pincus, and how that's manifested throughout his life. Reviews have been great, and Deitch is a master, so I'm looking forward to it.

And last is Tonta, the latest collection of stories from the current incarnation of Love & Rockets by Jaime Hernandez. (As opposed to the latest collection of stories from the current incarnation of Love & Rockets by his brother Gilbert, which I'd have to check to figure out which book that was). It's about The Frogmouth's goofy half-sister, the one Jaime draws with the face he previously reserved only for old ladies, though I think she's just supposed to be a not-conventionally-attractive teenager. (Jaime, for all his skill and ability, has not spent much time drawing people who are not conventionally attractive. Like, hardly any time.)

Friday, January 03, 2020

Quote of the Week: Retail Politics

"Normally, officeholders in a state like Texas have differed from eminent public servants in the federal government  primarily in the way some social scientists claim that lower-class Americans differ from those Americans who have arrived in the middle class -- an inability to defer reward. A commissioner of an important federal regulatory agency is content to live on his government salary, secure in the knowledge that his next job may be as a highly paid executive or counsel in the industry he has been regulating. Distinguished Washington lawyers who serve as deputy secretaries of one department or another are ordinarily not given large retainers to use their influence until after they resign their posts. In some states, though, it is understood that such patience is too much to ask of a poor frail human being who happens to find himself governor."
 - Calvin Trillin, "Reformer," originally published 1972 in The New Yorker, available in Trillin on Texas, p.174

Wednesday, January 01, 2020

Favorite Books of 2019

So this is not going to go the way it used to.

Typically, I have a long explanation up front -- see last year for a type specimen -- about how I do this, and why there are twelve books, and then list one top book for each month along with a few other things worth mentioning.

But there are several months in 2019 where I didn't finish a single book: 2019 has been a massive outlier in my reading life (and, I hope, not the new normal). So that style simply won't work.

To be more specific, I only read 44 books in 2019. That's not just down from 2018's record-breaking 433, it's less than a third of the previous low, 2017's 139. I just don't have a regular time or place for reading actual books in my life now, and it shows.

I started typing this thinking that I would end up with a shorter list -- four or five books, maybe -- of recent things I read this year and can recommend. But I also almost completely stopped reading new books as the year went on, instead trying ever-more-powerful re-reads and classics to try to jump-start my reading enthusiasm (current candidate: Catch-22).

So that shorter list would actually be the first three things I read, back in January -- Neil Gaiman's Norse Mythology, Charles Stross's The Labyrinth Index, and Steve Erickson's Shadowbahn. And that seems more than a little pointless.

In the end, I do not have a list of favorite books that I read in 2019. In fact, I'd like to forget the way I was reading in 2019, along with a lot of other things about 2019, as quickly as possible.

(Also: in past years I would do another first-of-the-year post linking back to the first and last posts of the prior year. Since I've also been posting vastly less often this year, I'm not going to do that at all.)

I have no idea how 2020 will go. I'm coming to think I need some kind of structure in my reading life, as I did in 2018 (when I had basically the same physical set-up and working life as 2019). And "do this every day" clearly works well for me. But the book-a-day metric tends to push me to often-junky graphic novels and manga, which isn't what I want. So I may need to set a page goal: we'll see.

Anyway. I hope 2019 was less frustrating for you (in this way, at least) than it was for me. And best wishes for a better 2020.

Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Reviewing the Mail: Week of 12/28

Normally, since I missed yesterday for lazy-on-vacation reasons, I'd just roll these books over to next week. But next week is an entirely different year, and I'm also trying to procrastinate slightly less these days.

So enjoy this unprecedented Tuesday edition of Reviewing the Mail!

This time out, I have two books that came in the mail, in radically different genres, and four graphic novels that I bought for myself so that The Wife could give them to me for Christmas. (It's not the most surprising way to get gifts, but it can't be beaten for receiving things you actually want.)

From the Mail:

Peter Watts is an Angry Sentient Tumor is a collection of "revenge fantasies and essays" by the title character/individual/writer. I think it's just a quirkier take on the standard "fiction writer's random nonfiction works" book, but it could, I suppose, be a themed series of very detailed murder plots against people he hates. (That would be out of character for a Canadian, I suppose. Probably isn't.) From a quick glance at the intro, it looks like these pieces originally appeared on Watts's blog over the past decade and a half or so. And now they're all in this book, which was published by Tachyon in November.

Real Pigeons Fight Crime by Andrew McDonald and Ben Wood is one of those pseudo-graphic-novel thingies -- lots of illustrations on each page, with dynamic art that has some sequential elements but isn't laid out as panels, and typeset text running around and between that art -- for younger readers that are so popular these days. It is, as you might guess, about talking pigeons, and I gather that they do fight crime. It's also the first in a series: Eat Danger and Nest Hard are promised as forthcoming. It's coming from Random House Books for Young Readers in January 7, and it looks like a hoot for a certain kind of younger reader (or maybe a no-longer-younger reader, I won't judge).

Pressies (No, the other kind of pressies!):

Maria M. by Gilbert Hernandez -- the full noir story, originally promised as two volumes but eventually (after the first volume was published, and I bought it, and it sat on my shelf for several years waiting for the end so I could read the whole thing) published as one book this past year. I think this is part of his "fictional movies from the world of Palomar" series, or maybe an even weirder variation on that: it may be the movie Killer made about Maria, or an alternate version of that movie without Killer. I dunno; I'll have to read it.

O Josephine! is the latest collection of comics stories by Jason, the Norwegian cartoonist who is nearly impossible to Google. It has four roughly album-length stories in its hundred and eighty pages, three of which seem to be his usual fiction and one the non-fictional story of a walk he took in Ireland (either a follow-up or warm-up to his book On the Camino).

How I Tried to Be a Good Person is a big fat graphic memoir by Austrian cartoonist Ulli Lust, and so basically a sequel to Today Is the Last Day of the Rest of Your Life, covering a polyamorous love triangle she was involved with some time ago -- the book seems to be vague about exactly when, but I'd guess late '80s or early '90s given that Last Day took in place in 1984, when she was 17.

And last is Glen Ganges in: The River at Night by Kevin Huizenga, which includes the title character's name in the title as if it were a Batman comic when it is in fact about as far from a Batman comic as it is possible to be. (And that is a good thing.) Huizenga is thoughtful and philosophical and grounded and deeply human, and this book has gotten great reviews -- I'm looking forward to it.