Cocaine Blues

Monday, November 25, 2013

Cocaine Blues
Kerry Greenwood, 1989

Premise: When Colonel and Mrs. Andrews ask Phryne Fisher to check in on their daughter, who they fear is in danger from her husband, she takes the opportunity to try her hand at being a Lady Detective. It's 1927, and Phryne may have found her calling.

Oh, I love finding a new series to enjoy. I heard about this series because someone recommended the new television adaptation (now on Netflix!). I found it a quick and delightful read.

Phryne is pragmatic in all things, including matters of the heart. She's multitalented and possibly an example of a female “hero”. By this I mean a Holmes, a Bond. One of those characters, sadly almost universally men, who can be practically perfect in every way, yet never are accused of being uninteresting. (I hope you are now picturing Batman dressed as Mary Poppins. If you weren’t before, you’re welcome.)

The book is full of interesting characters, mostly women, and archly humorous turns of phrase. There's archaic Australian slang to learn, and a great range of vocabulary. I adore a book that can teach me a new word.

The word for today is epicene.

It's a short book, an average length for this type of mystery. The plot was intriguing, the twists exciting, even if the ending was never really in doubt.

By turns aspirational and inspirational, I found reading this great fun.

5 Stars - An Awesome Book

Catwoman Volume 2: No Easy Way Down

Monday, November 18, 2013

Catwoman Volume 2: No Easy Way Down
Ed Brubaker, Cameron Stewart
compilation 2013, original issues 2002-2003

Premise: Follows on from Volume 1. Selina’s made an impression on the Gotham underworld… that’s not always a good thing. She learns the hard way that doing nice things for Gotham City will only get you beaten back down. Collects Catwoman #10-24 and Catwoman: Secret Files and Origins #1.

“One thing I’ll never get used to about the past is that it’s never really over...Just when you think that your history is done--locked away, forgotten...It rears its ugly head to remind you that no matter how fast you are, you can never escape yourself.”

This thick volume starts off with a couple warm-up one-story issues illuminating aspects of Selina’s personality and technique, then dives into a multi-layered epic tying back to the events of Volume one and other parts of Selina’s history. But don’t worry if you’re new, you’ll pick up all the context you need along the way.

The art is every bit as kinetic and delicately paced as the first volume. But here the noir tone takes a harsher, darker turn. Selina’s enemies have a head-start, and their revenge is brutal. This story pushed buttons I didn’t know I had, and one particularly horrific part still gives me the occasional nightmare. Despite that experience, though, the writing is so brilliant that I read it again. Besides, I think screwing me up emotionally for days, despite not being fun, is at least the mark of effective writing.

After the five-part story “Relentless” that forms the heart of the plot, what follows is the three-part “No Easy Way Down”. This is aftermath, switching to a sparer art style that focuses on moments and surreal emotion, with each character trying and failing to deal with recent events. I love that this series gave these emotional developments room to breathe, without rushing on to the next thing. Following that is another five-part story arc: “Wild Ride”, in which Holly and Selina take a road trip, trying to move past their troubles. It’s full of guest stars, action and humor, but never becomes quite light and fluffy.

This is one of those stories that’s like a punch to the gut in a satisfying way.

The back of the book has a few short pieces that take place before/during/after the main storyline and give a bit of background, if you want it.

A really solid story, and a huge book, definitely worth the price.

5 Stars - An Awesome Book

The Darwath Trilogy

Monday, November 11, 2013

The Darwath Trilogy
Barbara Hambly
The Time of the Dark (1982), The Walls of Air (1983), The Armies of Daylight (1983)

Premise: Gil dreams. She dreams of a haunted city, full of people in clothes she doesn’t recognize, not even from her historical scholarship. She dreams of a king, and a wizard and an infant prince. She dreams of the Dark which besieges them. And then the dreams are no longer dreams…

It was very odd, reading this after reading Hambly’s later series which starts with The Silent Tower. There are a lot of parallels between the two books. Both focus on a person or persons drawn from California into a fantasy world, who have to learn to survive there and decide what they want to do next, whether it’s get home above all else or help the people where they end up. However, while I wouldn’t read them back-to-back, there are enough differences as well to make both series worth reading.

I loved the variety of characters here, the range of plausible perspectives and beliefs. This series is very much about fate, and more so about vocation. It’s very much about doing the things one feels called to do, whether that’s study swordplay or fall in love, and doing them with everything you have.

The skill with prose and tone is really what I keep going back to Hambly for. She does an amazing job writing characters in situations I accept in a totally understated way. I love understated emotion in a world seemingly tilted towards melodrama. I like Gil’s grit and quiet passion; Rudy (another traveler from America) and how his surface flippancy hides a person who wishes he were less shallow.

The action is gripping, the world interesting, the tension unrelenting for much of the second and third books. The ending is…. fine. The excellent writing helps it land better than the actual plot perhaps deserves, although it might be a case of a plot that’s been done more than once now, but was more groundbreaking in 1983.

A side note: the formatting on these e-books is much MUCH better than the last few I had from Open Road Media, so maybe they’ve gotten a handle on their production issues. I do love getting backlist books on my Kindle.

4 Stars - Very Good Books.

Captain Marvel Volume 2: Down

Monday, November 4, 2013

Captain Marvel Volume 2: Down
Kelly Sue DeConnick, Christopher Sebela, Dexter Soy, Filipe Andrade, 2012

Premise: Collects Captain Marvel #7-12. Carol Danvers is still reeling a bit from her time-travel escapades, but she’s ready to help out her friend Monica Rambeau to determine what’s causing ships to go missing off of New Orleans. Later, are her own powers failing her, or is something more complicated going on?

I read the first arc of the new Captain Marvel series in issues, and I liked it well enough, but decided to wait for trade for the next part. I’m glad I ended up picking it up, both because it was great to read all at once, and because it’s easier to review and recommend in trade than issues.

In this volume, I feel that this book is really hitting its stride. The balance between drama, snark and realism is well-tuned and the character relationships both build on decades of continuity and are easy for me to understand, whether or not I have context. The art isn’t my favorite style, but it generally works pretty well. Cameos by other big guns in the Marvel U are well placed, but don’t take over.

The combination of humor and action in a world full of colorful characters is really what I come to comics for. Throw in a powerhouse like Carol Danvers who you so easily care about - she’s brusque and prickly and snarky and tired and still making it up as she goes along after all this time - and you’ve got yourself a winner.

4 Stars - A Very Good Book