Monday, August 31, 2015

Reviewing the Mail: Week of 8/29

This blog might be in low-content mode lately, but there's one thing you can rely on: every Monday, I'll post a list of the books that publishers sent me during the prior week.

Unfortunately, that relies on publishers actually sending me things, and that doesn't always happen. (Perhaps because I'm reviewing fewer of those books recently -- I know I would look askance at me as a media outlet right now.)

This week is thus a scratch: there are no books to write about, and so this post is short, pointless, and superfluous.

And over.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Incoming Books: Last Friday

I'm neglecting this blog horribly, but if there's one thing I can still do, it's post lightly-annotated lists of books once in a while! (No, that really isn't much.)

As I wrote last week, I went to the Strand last Friday, and these were the books I got then. They're all recommended in the sense that I spent my own money on them, though in most cases I obviously haven't read them.

The Old Devils is one of the Kingsley Amis books everyone says is great -- along with Lucky Jim, which I read a long time ago and didn't click with -- so I'm giving Amis pere another chance. (I've been reading Amis fils since London Fields, and thought pretty much everything he did in the 20th century was brilliant and since then not always so.) This is the one about a bunch of rural middle-aged people thrown into a tizzy by a returning couple known of old, and the pub they frequent.

Started Early, Took My Dog is the fourth novel by Kate Atkinson with Jackson Brodie in it, after Case Histories and One Good Turn and When Will There Be Good News? (Brodie is, or at least was at the time of the first book, a private investigator, but these books aren't PI mysteries in any normal way, nor does Brodie act like a fictional detective much at all.) I've read the first two -- links above lead to my reviews, such as they are -- and they're both excellent multi-threaded social novels, which were glommed onto by the mystery-reading audience because they also have murders in them somewhere. (And good for mystery readers for that: any community that claims great novels for their genre, even on relatively thin evidence, is a healthy community.)

Exquisite Corpse is a graphic novel by French illustrator (and graphic novelist, obviously) Penelope Bagieu, about a feckless young woman who wanders into an explosive literary secret. This has gotten some good reviews, and it's from First Second, an outfit with so-far dependably good taste.

Borderline is a really old pulpy Lawrence Block novel brought back by the masters of pulp at Hard Case Crime -- and I mean "pulp" and "pulpy" in only the best ways -- and I intermittently think I'm going to collect all of Block's books. (I have a lot of them, but he has even more. He's a quick writer who's been working a long time.)

Collected Fictions is that big Jorge Luis Borges book that made such a big splash longer ago than I want to check. I had copies of it and the matching volumes (Essays, I think, and maybe one of Poetry, too?) back before the flood, but had only dipped into them. (I've read Borges here and there, but never ran right through the big book.)

Someone recommended Kai Lung's Golden Hoursmany years ago -- or maybe just Ernest Bramah's Kai Lung books in general -- but I'd never actually bought one. But those public-domain wizards at Dover reissued this one some time this century, so now I have a shot at actually reading it. These are Orientalist short stories from around a hundred years ago, and I suspect they are not inoffensive, at least to some audiences.

Nancy Is Happy collects all of Ernie Bushmiller's daily minimalist newspaper-strip masterpieces from 1943 to 1945. And what more needs to be said than that!

Two more of George Macdonald Fraser's books about the 19th century's greatest rogue, Harry Flashman: Royal Flashand Flashman in the Great Game. It's definitely Quixotic of me to think I'll have time to read the whole series through, but I seem to be heading in that direction. So now the only question is whether to do in in the order Fraser wrote them or according to internal chronology?

The Beast of Chicago is one of the middle books in Rick Gear's long-running "Treasury of Victorian Murder" series, focusing on the first known serial killer, the infamous H.H. Holmes of Chicago World's Fair fame. I'm still rebuilding this series post-flood, and maybe I'll read all of these through once I get them all -- though that will be easier, since they're all pretty short graphic novels.

I think I'm going to read through John Le Carre's spy novels -- at least the Smiley ones -- in order, more or less. But I found a copy of Our Kind of Traitor(from 2010, and not a Smiley book) in the classy new Penguin look, and I figured what harm could come from having another Le Carre around the house?

I want to read more books by Stewart O'Nan, because everything I've read by him has been exceptional and deeply powerful -- from A Prayer for the Dying to The Speed Queen to something relatively light like Last Night at the Lobster -- but I find an O'Nan mood doesn't hit often enough. But I keep grabbing his books as I find them -- this time A World Away, a family-saga-esque novel about WWII that he wrote in the late '90s.

You Don't Say is a new collection, with a bunch of shorter comics from Nate Powell -- author of the amazing Swallow Me Whole and the only slightly less amazing Any Empire -- and I don't know how much it overlaps with the older Powell collection Sounds of Your Name, if any. But Nate Powell is great and worth checking out, either way.

And last is Amazing Facts and Beyond!, a collection of supposedly true facts by the also supposedly real Leon Beyond -- something like The Straight Dope in comics form, if Cecil Adams was more of a performance art piece -- by Dan Zettwoch and Kevin Huizenga. I've looked at this a few times, mostly because I like Huizenga's work, and finally pulled the trigger -- it looks like it pushes a lot of my buttons (fake facts, baroquely complex art layouts, and so on).

Monday, August 24, 2015

Reviewing the Mail: Week of 8/22

Hello, Hello, Hello.

I'm back once more with a quick listing of books that arrived at my house this past week -- as always, I haven't read them at this point, and don't promise that anything I write here about them is perfectly true. (I try to be accurate, but a book is not always exactly what it seems.) This time, I've got two: both hardcovers coming from Tor (in the USA, where I am) in early September.

Dragon Heart is a new secondary world fantasy novel from Cecelia Holland, who was long best-known in genre circles for her 1970s SF novel Floating Worlds, but has been writing historical fiction that sometimes shades into fantasy for five decades now. This one has a dragon on the cover and in the title; it doesn't shade so much as dive boldly in. There's a small kingdom being subsumed by an expanding empire, a mute princess, her strong-willed mother the Queen, and, of course, that dragon, who will upend everyone's plans.

The other book is The Sleeping King, which is set in the world of the Dragon Quest live-action role-playing game and co-written by romantic thriller writer (and long-time LARPer) Cindy Dees with the creator of that game, Bill Flippin. The story is epic fantasy plot #5: the evil invaders came some time back, putting humans and elves and all of the usual other races under their jackbooted heel, but there's a powerful king hidden somewhere, and, if the Good Guys can just wake him, the villains will be kicked out and the reign of goodness and law will begin.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Incoming Books: sometime around 8/20

I bought books twice last week -- a shipment of graphic novels came in from my long-time buds at Midtown Comics, who had a 40% off sale (always a good way to get me to put in a big order), and then I made it to the Strand on Friday after realizing that was my last possible Friday to do so [1]. I'm not going to get to all of that in this post, but I think I can run through the box of comics-related stuff. So I'll do that, and try to post about the other clump in a day or two. These are in alphabetical order by author, since that's the way normal people organize books most of the time. (And here I'm scowling at all of the comics shops that shelve by publisher or title or both or in some arcane fashion known only to the local neckbeards.)

Eddie Campbell's other great solo series (the one that isn't Alec) is getting collected again, in two big books that match the format of Alec: The Years Have Pants. First up is Bacchus Omnibus, Vol. 1, and of course I had to get it. (I had all of the previous, Campbell-published collections, but lost them in the flood.)

Displacement is a new travel/memoirish thing from Lucy Knisley, who seems to be developing a new genre out of those pieces. (She goes somewhere, usually with part of her family, and turns the results into comics -- see An Age of License and French Milk and, less fitting that description, Relish.) This time out, I believe it's a cruise with her grandparents. Knisley draws lovely little watercolors and is much more insightful than someone I still think of as being super-young should be: she's not a navel-gazing memoirist, but more like the classic travel writers: going to interesting places with interesting people to find things to say.

Another piece of the massive wall of Hellboy-verse comics came out: AAbe Sapien Vol. 6: A Darkness So Great, written by creator Mike Mignola with Scott Allie and drawn by (in turn) Max and Sebastian Fiumara. And I'm still along for the ride.

Speaking of along for the ride, there's finally a hardcover of Miracleman Book 3: Olympus, the climax of the definitive mid-80s superhero deconstruction by "The Original Writer" Alan Moore and the artistic collaborators who can't be listed on the cover because Moore is a grumpy self-important crank with a mania to erase his credit from anything he did and doesn't utterly love thirty years later. (Showing Alan Moore still has some things to learn about the human condition.) This is the bloody, horrible part of this particular story, and I haven't revisited it for twenty years -- I hope it holds up to the memory.

Speaking of '80s revisionist superheroes, also along for the ride is Zenith: Phase Three from Grant Morrison and Steve Yeowell. As I recall, the last time this was reprinted -- also a good twenty years ago -- phase three was hard to find and phase four didn't make it, so I'm not clear how much of this I actually read. This time out, I'm planning to get the fourth book and just read them all straight through -- see of that works.

I almost bought Margaux Motin's But I Really Wanted to Be an Anthropologist the first time I saw it, last year, but didn't. Now I have: she has a wonderfully expressive line and what looks like a new angle on some very typically feminine concerns: family, fashion, shoes, career, friends. (And this is from Self-Made Hero, the British comics-publishing outfit that hasn't steered me wrong yet.)

There is a third volume of Young Lovecraft, the webcomic (originally in Spanish, of all things) by Bartolo Torres and Jose Oliver, and now I have it. (See my reviews of the first and second collections.)

I'll follow Roger Langridge nearly anywhere, so I grabbed Popeye, Vol. 1, collecting the first four issues of the new series, which Langridge wrote. (Art is by a bunch of people, including Tom The Blot Neely.) No one else quite did Popeye like, or as well as, his creator E.C. Segar, but that doesn't mean other Popeye stories can't be good in their own way.

And then there's The Complete Peanuts: 1991-1992, famously entirely by Charles M. Schulz. I've gotten a bit behind on the last books in this reprint series, but I might be able to catch up by the big finish (which is coming very soon, I think).

Dash Shaw's most recent book -- I think; he's very prolific -- is the slim graphic novel Doctors, which I'd been vaguely thinking about buying for a while., Now I have it, and I'll probably read it soon.

And last is Matt Wagner's Grendel Omnibus Volume 4: Prime, finishing up the reprint project of the original "run" of his Grendel stories. (It was from three companies over more than a dozen years under a number of different titles, but it was a thing that existed and then ended, so I guess it counts as a run. But I do wish Wagner would write new Grendel stories that aren't about that boring psychopath Hunter Rose.)

[1] Did I mention the new job has summer hours? It does. And it's very weird that I had to get out of publishing to get them.