Monday, January 27, 2014

Reviewing the Mail: Week of 1/25

There's a bunch of varied, interesting books this week, so I'll waste less time up front here. As always, these are things that arrived on my doorstep over the past week -- more often than not, covered with snow, because that's the kind of week it's been -- and I haven't read any of them yet. But I actually requested a couple of them, and was happily surprised to see another, so some of them should turn into reviews here eventually.

Until then, though, here's what I can tell you about the stack of book-shaped objects sitting to my left hand:

The Screaming Staircase is the first in a new series (I believe officially middle-grade rather than YA, for those who carefully track such things) called "Lockwood & Co." by the fine writer Jonathan Stroud. (See my review of his novel The Ring of Solomon, which is a decent follow-up to a great trilogy.) This one is set in a London where spirits and ghosts have suddenly started appearing -- worse, they're usually unpleasant and hostile. And the only ones who can see and get rid of them are teenagers -- which sounds slightly on-the-nose for the target audience to me, but I'll let it slide. I'm not clear if this is set in the present day or not, but I'll find out when I read it. The Screaming Staircase was published in hardcover back in September by the fine folks at Disney/Hyperion, and a second book, The Whispering Skull, is due to follow it this September.

Now I have a cluster of manga, and I'll start that off with BTOOOM!, Vol. 5, the latest in Junya Inoue's Battle Royale-with-bombs story. I reviewed the first volume last May, but haven't kept up with ti since: it looks like a decent shonen story, but I'm really not thrilled with massively iterated versions of "The Most Dangerous Game" these days. But, if you are, this one is out right now from Yen Press.

Also from Yen, and in a series I'm still hoping to take a run at, is Is This a Zombie?, Vol. 7, credited to Sacchi with character design by Kobuichi and Muririn and "original" by Shinichi Kimura. (That's because, like so many things Japanese that make it to our shores, this started as something else: a series of light novels, in this case.) As I understand it, this is a harem manga -- one generally goofy guy surrounded by a whole bunch of vastly smarter and more accomplished women, who end up naked and/or in compromising positions around him because that's the genre expectation. In this case, the goofy guy is a reanimated "zombie" -- which I think just means here that he was dead, and now is not -- and the women are necromancers and otherwise powerfully magic. This is also available right now, as are the first six volumes, for those interested.

The Flowers of Evil, Volume 8 is another manga series that I hope to read, even as the volumes keep piling up. This one is by Shuzo Oshimi, published by Vertical, and, as far as I can see, is just a series of comics stories, with no multi-media extensions or pretensions. (And I do appreciate that.) It's about a couple of odd Japanese teenagers and their unhealthy relationship -- I wonder if it's anything like the unsettling Sundome by Kazuto Okada, which I liked and was creeped out by almost equally when that was being translated and published in the US a few years ago. Anyway, this is manga towards the arty, literary end, which I appreciate and want to see more of.

Also from Vertical this month is Wolfsmund, Vol. 3by Mitsuhisa Kuji, which I don't think I've seen before. There's no explanation of the plot or characters on this volume -- the only descriptive copy, besides a couple of laudatory quotes, is "The bailiff sweats. The rebellion is on." -- but it seems to be set in medieval Europe, among professional soldiers. And I would not be surprised if werewolves figure into it somewhere.

I was happily surprised to see Terry Pratchett's new Discworld novel, Raising Steam, show up this week: I don't recall getting his books for review before, though it's possible Nation or Dodger came directly to me. (Who can remember perfectly clearly the provenance of every book he's read? Only the man who hasn't read enough books.) This is another Moist von Lipwig book -- I wonder if Pratchett still chuckles about that name quietly to himself, or if it's begun to pall even with him -- in which the man of the modern age gets a new responsibility in rapidly-industrializing Discworld, which I believe is that world's first steam railroad. (It's definitely a steam-powered something; that's clear.) The Moist books have been one of the better sub-series of Discworld -- perhaps not as cutting and strong as the Night Watch books, but very close behind -- so all indications are good for this one. It's a hardcover from Doubleday (on my side of the pond, at least) coming March 18th, with an announced first printing of 200,000.

Allen Steele's new novel is an alternate history, V-S Day, and yet another novel about how it would be totally awesome if the Conquest of Space happened earlier and more spectacularly than it actually did. (There's a particular large coterie of SF readers and particularly SF writers who find this catnip: the story of the strong-thewed WASPy American thrusting his silvery spaceship into the unknown and making it his own. Most of them are older than me, and I keep hoping the tide will eventually ebb, but it's taking a long time.) In this particular case, it's 1941 and there's a space race between Wernher von Braun for the Nazis and Robert Goddard on the side of good and right. Who! Will! Win! V-S Day is an Ace hardcover, on sale the 4th of February.

David Edison's first novel is The Waking Engine, a Tor hardcover arriving February 11. It's an afterlife fantasy that early quotes compare to China Mieville, set in a universe where the dead awake as versions of themselves on a million worlds, living and dying over again until they reach The City Unspoken, where a true death can be finally found. Or that's how it used to be: now that gateway is unreliable, and the Dying are clogging up that final city. And a newly dead man named Cooper, just awoken from our world after his first death, may be the one who can solve that problem.

Turning to more frivolous things, the latest collection of stories from the Simpsons comics is out from Harper as Simpsons Comics Shake-Up. Like all things Simpsons, it's credited on the cover just to Matt Groening, but it contains comics work by John Costanza, Mike DeCarlo, Ian Boothby, Dan Davis, Phil Ortiz, and many more. It officially hits stores on February 4th.

Also from Harper -- the Harper Design imprint, to be precise -- is Louis Bou's We Are Indie Toys!, a full-color look at the world of artisanal resin toys, hand-crafted in small batches and sold to hipsters everywhere. (Sorry: the h-word just slipped out. Must be that fellow on the cover.) The book covers both the big names in the current scene and details of how to get started designing and making your own resin toys. And it's available everywhere on February 25th.

Last for this week is a memoir in cartoons by longtime New Yorker cartoon editor Bob Mankoff, titled after his most famous cartoon: How About Never--Is Never Good for You? It's full of cartoons by Mankoff and his New Yorker compatriots, with Mankoff's story running around that in prose. How could I resist? It will be a hardcover from Henry Holt in March.

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