Read in December

As usual, this post will fall somewhere between a list of links to actual posts about the books I read and a quick rundown of those books here. And, as I type this early in the month, I don't know which will be true. Also, there's a strong chance that I will not manage to cover everything before this month actually ends, since that's the way things have been going recently. But here's what I read this month, and moderately deep thoughts about those books will be available, here or elsewhere, at some point.

James Kochalka, American Elf, Book Four (12/2)

Terry Pratchett, Dodger (12/3)

Bill Willingham, et. al., Fables: Werewolves of the Heartland (12/10)

Julian Barnes, Through the Window (12/10)

Lois McMaster Bujold, Captain Vorpatril's Alliance (12/17)

Stephan Pastis, Pearls Freaks the #*%# Out (12/28)

Wow, that was a slim month, wasn't it!

Two SFF Novels Due Back at the Library Yesterday

These two books don't have a whole lot in common -- they're both novels, both SFF, both in established series by popular  authors, and probably both really bad places to begin those respective series -- but they are both overdue library books, which means I need to scribble something down quickly and get them back to minimize The Wrath of the Librarians. (Edit: Too late. They're already back now -- after an emergency library run for a school reading project that Thing 2 was supposed to have been working on for the last week -- so see if you can find the point in each write-up when I lost the book itself to check my facts in. Also, note that "yesterday" here means "Saturday.")

The Woman Who Died A Lot by Jasper Fforde

Long-running series can easily fall into a rut -- and here you can pretend that I'm pointing to your favorite example of that truism, without actually making an example of any specific authors who might take a snit -- but Fforde's "Thursday Next" books have been able to avoid that recently through the odd tactic of writing about different versions of the heroine.

The previous book, One of Our Thursdays Is Missing (see my review), focused on the fictional Thursday -- the one who "plays" the character in the novels as they were published (and ghostwritten) in the world in which Thursday is real. But Woman Who Died a Lot returns to the "real" Thursday -- the one who was the heroine of the other novels in the series, most specifically picking up the plot from 2007's First Among Sequels -- and her ongoing battles with the evil world-bestriding Goliath Corporation, usually in the person of her nemesis Jack Schitt.

Died a Lot takes place during one week in 2004 -- two years after One of Our Thursdays, in the wake of a decision to reform all of the SpecOps divisions disbanded a dozen years before. (That's all backstory -- and mostly between-book backstory, too -- so it's mostly just scene-setting for fans of the series.) Thursday interviews for the job of heading her old division -- the Literary Detectives -- but instead is hired as chief librarian of the Swindon All-You-Can-Eat at Fatso's Drink Not Included Library. (One of the slier bits of backstory is the ongoing discussion of the Stupidity Deficit -- this fictional UK has a government run by the Sensible Party, which means that all of the unexpressed stupidity backs up at useful-to-the-plot times to explode in various amusing ways. In this book, the government has taken steps to introduce carefully moderated levels of stupidity in their actions, including truly bizarre naming deals.)

But the real core of Dies a Lot is Thursday's family -- her son Friday will now no longer become the longest-serving head of the ChronoGuard, since it's been proven that no one invented their time machines and they shut down before they began; her genius daughter Tuesday is trying to perfect a technological Smite Shield to protect Swindon from the wrath of God (who has been prodded by the dominant Global Standard Deity religion to reveal himself and begin a pattern of overwhelming smitings); and her third child Jenny is completely imaginary, a false memory planted (originally in her head, later elsewhere) by Aornis Hades, a memory-controlling mnemonomorph and the second-most deadly of that clan.

Oh, and Goliath has been sending ever-more-sophisticated robotic duplicates of Thursday to learn her secrets -- which is the explanation of the title, since Thursday and her husband Landen (with occasional help from others) has been disposing of those for some time.

It all comes together in that one week -- Thursday's new job, the upcoming smiting, Friday's predicted murder of another young ChronoGuard would-have-been, and a secret Goliath plot that involves palimpsests of incredibly rare but also incredibly boring incunabula. I wouldn't dream of explaining how it all comes out: Fforde is wonderful at juggling several odd plotlines and bringing them all to a head at once, so this is a book that has to be read. The whole Thursday Next series started out as a love letter to Great Books, but it's widened since then: Dies a Lot is not just a deeply entertaining romp, but a Rube Goldberg device encompassing the whole of the literary world, with an emphasis on librarians this time around. It's a series deeply appealing to anyone who loves books and reading, which should be everyone reading this.

Captain Vorpatril's Alliance by Lois McMaster Bujold 

And this is the most recent -- though not the latest, since it's actually set earlier in time than the prior book, Cryoburn -- book in Bujold's long-running "Vorkosigan" series. It's the long-promised "Ivan book," focusing on the usual series hero's ne'er-do-well cousin (who actually isn't all that ne'er-do-well, actually; it's just that he seems that way compared with omnicompetent, manic Miles).

And it's been thoroughly chewed up and digested by the fans of the series by this point; I wouldn't at all be surprised if there were already page-by-page concordances of Alliance explaining which plots of which entire books Bujold tosses off in a sentence of dialogue.

Personally, I enjoy reading Bujold's books, but I don't feel the need to re-read the entire series before a new one so all of the references are fresh -- I also don't think Bujold deliberately writes for that audience either, but her quietly competent and all-encompassing style makes it a useful reading technique.

I've always liked Ivan better than Miles -- Miles is the kind of person I'd try very hard to avoid in real life, while Ivan is someone I could aspire to be, if I was born into the minor nobility of a far-future alien world -- so seeing him find what I must assume is the love of his life (Bujold doesn't do divorces for her viewpoint characters) was nice.

So, this is Bujold in mostly-light mode, along the lines of A Civil Campaign (though not as frivolous as that book), and it's better-balanced than the last Vorkosigan novel, 2010's Cryoburn. But the people who are likely to want to read this book probably already have. Hope you all liked it.

Moder Jord

Vid nyår brukar jag vilja se tillbaka på året som gått... Men, med tanke på så mycket som hela tiden förändras till det sämre, all girighet som kan fördärva framtiden för oss alla och våra kommande generationer, all rädsla som får många att inhumant skylla allt på de som förefaller annorlunda, allt prat om tillväxtens religion som en helig kossa...

Nej, nu vill jag bara säga: Besinna er, öppna ögonen och ta ansvar...!! Vad kan du bidra med för att förhindra att vi styr rakt åt fanders? Exakt vad tänker du göra?

Neil Young's hymn "Mother Earth" säger allt med en tydlighet som inte går att bestrida och nerven i hans elgitarr känns rakt in i märgen...

Oh, Mother Earth, with your fields of green
Once more laid down by the hungry hand
How long can you give and not receive
And feed this world ruled by greed

Oh, ball of fire, in the summer sky
Your healing light, your parade of days
Are they betrayed by the men of power
Who hold this world in their changing hands

Oh, freedom man, can you let this go
Down to the streets where the numbers grow
Respect Mother Earth and her giving ways
Or trade away our children's days

- Neil Young

Låt det nya året bli det år då vi börjar styra mot en mer hållbar framtid, med ödmjukhet och respekt inför varandra och den jord vi delar...!!

Reviewing the Mail: Week of 12/29

If I were a betting man, I'd be willing to lay down some serious moolah that today's post will be the least-trafficked "Reviewing the Mail" post of the year.; I expect everyone will be busy with other things, and not reading blogs as assiduously this Monday morning as they do other weeks.

And that's just fine with me, since I've been writing much less assiduously over this vacation week -- or not writing at all, most of the time -- so it seems only fair.

Anyway, as usual this post lists whatever came in my mail last week -- which, this time, is four manga volumes from Yen (and that means my old colleague -- we started at Wiley the same day -- Ellen Wright was working last week, even if no one else in publishing was). All are coming in January, which is looming very close. I haven't read these books yet, but here's what I can tell you about them:

The Disappearance of Nagato Yuki-chan, Vol. 3 continues a Haruhi Suzumiya side-story, with a story from series creator Nagaru Tanigawa and art by Puyo. As you know Bob, the Haruhi stories began as light novels illustrated by Noizi Ito (who is credited here for character design), and have since expanded nearly to the limits of the known universe -- besides the novels, the main manga, the TV anime, the anime movie, the audio dramas, and the videogames, there's also another manga side-story that began earlier this year and an official parody 4-koma manga. (Notice how I carefully try to hide the fact that I'm not familiar with the content of any of those media properties, since I haven't read them? Oops....)

Kaoru Mori's A Bride's Story -- an interesting historical story that follows an Englishman down the 19th century Silk Road through central Asia, with each volume covering one stop, and one young woman's journey to marriage at that location -- reaches a fourth volume with a stop at a small fishing village on the Aral Sea. The bride this time is actually twin sisters -- you're not seeing double on that cover -- Laila and Leily, who energetically seek a pair of wealthy and handsome brothers for themselves.

Yana Toboso's popular Black Butler series, about a young British lord in a world that's not quite our own, and (more importantly) his amazingly resourceful butler, Sebastian, continues into a twelfth volume. The main cast is still on the Campania, a ship hired by the Aurora Society to show off a resurrection process, but that process has gone, predictably, very wrong, and the creatures the back cover copy carefully does not call zombies are shuffling about, wreaking havoc, as the ship meanders towards a gigantic iceberg.

And last for this week is Black God, Vol. 18, the very exciting boys' manga by Korean creators Dall-Young Lim and Sung-Woo Park. (See my reviews of volumes 2, 3, 4, and 15 for more details -- this one is a lot of fun in that superpowered all-fighting mode of Bleach and Naruto.)

De bästa skivorna 2012

Här är de skivor jag uppskattat mest under det gångna året. Hoppas du hittar något som du måste utforska vidare...

Nya album:

1. Broken Fences – "Broken Fences"
- Musik som du tar till ditt hjärta utan minsta tvivel. Stämningsfullt med lågmälda akustiska gitarrer och två röster som passar varandra så ypperligt att de smälter samman. Morgan Erina och Guy Russo utgör den unga duon från Pittsburgh, de verkar blyga och osäkra, men när de tar ton så står tiden still... Du följer blint med på deras färder med klanger och röster och stämningar... Jag kapitulerar fullständigt! Läs mer!

2. Latin Quarter - "Ocean Head"
- Comeback efter 21 år. Politiskt brännheta texter, fulla av ödmjuk mänsklighet och nya kloka insikter. Frustration över världens tillstånd, men även över förlorad kärlek, men ännu finns kampviljan kvar... Musik med rytmer och melodier som känns självklara. Både Steve Skaiths och Yona Dunsfords sång är intensivt närvarande. Läs mer!

3. Dale Boyle - "Throwback"
- Varenda ton, alla ackord, varje anslag dryper av pondus och attityd. Dale Boyle sjunger med en angelägen röst, som en korsning av Bruce Springteen och Steve Earle, med samma angelägna kraft i sättet att få ur sig orden som både dessa herrar har. Inte en sekund är onödig eller ointressant. Läs mer!

4. The Deep Dark Woods – "The Place I Left Behind"
- Musikaliskt och stämningsmässigt ligger gruppen nära Great Lake Swimmers och The Band. Röstmässigt läggs stor vikt vid känslofyllda djupa röster som utstrålar en frustration med mängder av svärta i texterna, men också mycket värme... Frontfiguren och låtskrivaren Ryan Boldt har en väldigt sympastisk röst och ett sätt att dominera ljudbilden med ödmjukhet och värme, trots den ödsliga atmosfären. Läs mer!

5. Antje Duvekot – "New Siberia"
- Ändå sen jag hörde Antje Duvekot sjunga första gången så är hon speciell här hemma. En vän till John Gorka och en syster till honom musikaliskt. Ruskigt bra!

6. Gilmore & Roberts – "The Innocent Left"
- Modern folkmusik som tänjer gränser och blir helt oemotståndlig. Tredje skivan har infriat vad de två tidigare lovade...

Övriga utgåvor som är värda all uppmärksamhet:

Mark Davis – "Eliminate The Toxins"
- En sån där envis sak som växer vid varje spelning. En själslig broder till Christian Kjellvander. Avslutande akustiska "Wounded Wing" är en av årets vackraste sånger. Läs mer!

Mary Chapin Carpenter – "Ashes & Roses"
- När MCC struntar i det "snärtiga" och söker inåt, då kommer det fram en samling sånger så här bra och det blir riktigt glödande och passionerat.

Declan Sinnott - "I Love The Noise It Makes"
- En sällsynt lyhörd och inspirerad gitarrist med ett stort öra för hur det ska låta. Läs mer!

Val McCallum – "At the End of the Day"
- Ännu en gitarrist som solo-debuterar med ett lågmält men sympatiskt album.

Joel Rafael - "America Come Home"
- När Joel Rafael ibland når de höga tonerna får han nästan det tonfall som en ung Dylan en gång i tiden hade. Texterna är ofta heta, men musiken smeker behagligt. Läs mer!

Great Lake Swimmers - "New Wild Everywhere"
- Lite mer upptempo även denna gång, men med en oerhört stark lägsta-nivå. Suggestiv melankoli som kan värma den kyligaste vinterdag.

Calum & Rory Macdonald – "The Band From Rockall"
- Runrig's brödrapar har gjort det soloprojekt de länge drömt om att göra. Har klingar det Shadows-gitarrer och glädjen sipprar ur varenda ton.

Luka Bloom – "This New Morning"
- Låtskrivare av rang med mycket att säga. Mycket expressiv sångare. Klass rakt igenom.

Love Antell – "Gatorna Tillhör Oss"
- En stark skiva med tydligt "Perssons Pack"-stuk för alla "de små" i samhällets utkanter.

Gretchen Peters – "Hello Cruel World"
- Gretchen Peters gräver djupt och berör med sin sång och sina texter. Snyggt arrangerat.

The Kennedys - "Closer Than You Know"
- Kursändring i soundet och det tog några lyssningar innan den "satt", men sen...

Ad Vanderveen – "Driven by a Dream"
- Hur många bra skivor måste holländaren med kanadensiska rötter göra innan folk fattar?

Leonard Cohen - "Old Ideas"
- Den gamle har fortfarande drömmar och ser framåt...

The Civil Wars – "Barton Hollow"
- Ännu ett lågmält par med mycket att säga och som skapar suggestiv trivsel.

Rolf Carlsson - "Fina Dagar"
- Jämn och positiv skiva med starka texter och med en av årets bästa låtar: "Krig och Fred".

Kathleen Edwards – "Voyageur"
- Efter en personlig kris kommer alltid en riktigt bra skiva med djup och känsla...!

Sera Cahoone - "Deer Creek Canyon"
- Sera Cahoone har en röst och en tilltalande enkelhet jag inte kan motstå...

Show of Hands – "Wake the Union"
- Steve Knightley och Phil Beer blandar tradition och nytänkande, politik och nonsens, med en attityd och musikalitet som alltid berör och känns!


Mick Hanly & Friends - "Live"
- Mick Hanly ser ut och låter som Christy Moore, vilken han en gång ersatte i 'Moving Hearts'. Christy är därtill en av gästerna här. Mycket kompetent låtskrivare och fantastisk live-skiva!

Plainsong – "Fat Lady Singing"
- Iain Matthews, Andy Roberts, Mark Griffith och Julian Dawson inspelade på en sista turné. Plainsongs avskedsskiva visar tydligt vad vi kommer att sakna... Vilken stämsång!!

Jack Tempchin – "Live at Tales from the Tavern"
- Ännu en duktig låtsnickrare som förtjänar större uppmärksamhet.

Walkabouts – "Berlin"
- Gruppens första helt officiella live-skiva. En skiva med härliga versioner av "The Light Will Stay On" och "Nightdrive" är alltid något speciellt.

Jack Johnson & Friends - "Best Of Kokua Festival"
- Jack Johnson live med en spretig gästlista: Jackson Browne (som gör "Take It Easy" på ett nytt spännande sätt), Ben Harper, Ziggy Marley, Taj Mahal, Willie Nelson och Eddie Vedder. Det mesta blir riktigt övertygande och intressant.

Warren Haynes Band – "Live From The Moody Theatre"
- Mycket expressivt gitarrspel och en röst som försätter berg... Nästan tre timmars speltid... Warren, du är en av de största...!


Penny Nichols - "Colors of the Sun (Sings the Early Songs of Jackson Browne)"
- Jacksons gamla vän tolkar hans tidiga sångskatt och hon tillför nya infall och skapar nya associationer. Bara att konstatera: en absolut fantastisk skiva! Läs mer!

Slim Chance – "The Show Goes on"
- Ronnie Lane's gamla kompgrupp återupplivad med Alun Davies som ny sångare. De här sångerna förtjänar verkligen att spelas om och om igen!

Counting Crows "Underwater Sunshine (Or What We Did On Our Summer Vacation)"
- Adam Duritz blandar som vanligt det magiska med det alldagliga... men när de magiska ögonblicken inträffar blir det riktigt häftigt...!

Sonny Landreth – "Elemental Journey"
- Landreth har sin egen stil och "världens mest begåvade gitarrist", enligt Eric Clapton, har gjort ett helgjutet instrumentalt album. Inte oväntat, men ändå...

Jimmy Robinson - "Guitarworks"
- Robinson sjunger föredömligt på flera låtar, men detta är ändå mest gitarr-musik för mig... En pärla för gitarrister att plocka fram då inspirationen tryter. Läs mer!

Bert Jansch – "Heartbreak"
- En av Bert Jansch's mest underskattade skivor, men ett album jag alltid älskat... Nu med en extra liveskiva solo från McCabe's från samma tidsperiod. Alldeles eget och unikt!

Årets debut:
Broken Fences – "Broken Fences"
- Se ovan!

Årets Box:
Sandy Denny - "The Notes and the Words"
- De flesta demo-versioner och annat nytt från 19-CD-boxen, för alla dom som inte köpte den innan den tog slut... Sanslöst bra...!

Upptäckta alldeles för sent:
Kevin O'Regan – "Never Look Back" och "Mean Little River"
- Skulle varit i topp på förra årets lista om jag bara upptäckt dessa två skivor lite tidigare. Det är sällan man finner så otroligt bra ny musik…! Läs mer!

Denice Franke – "Gulf Coast Blue"
- Mycket duktig sångerska/gitarrist/låtskrivare med vissa Cockburn-influenser.

Säkert har jag åter glömt några, men än sen...? Det är frapperande hur Kanada tar över mer och mer som det land där det görs mest intressant musik, med en imponerande bredd och en till synes omättlig nyfikenhet.

27 minuter av pondus och attityd

Dale Boyle - "Throwback" 2012

En gång i tiden fanns det en regel att om en LP var kortare än 30 minuter skulle det sitta en klisterlapp med information om detta på konvolutet. Kanadensaren Dale Boyle har gett ut sin nya CD och den är bara 27 och en halv minut, men inte en sekund är onödig eller ointressant. Varenda ton, alla ackord, varje anslag dryper av pondus och attityd. Tio låtar som känns som om man får ovanligt mycket trots den korta speltiden.

Dale Boyle har skrivit de flesta sångerna själv, förutom Tom Petty's "Won't Back Down" och Steve Fosters gamla "Hard Times". Båda görs helt vidunderligt bra. Dale Boyle sjunger med en angelägen röst, som en korsning av Springteen och Steve Earle. Med samma angelägna kraft i sättet att få ur sig orden som både dessa herrar har. En annan höjdpunkt är duetten med Annabelle Chvostek i "You Might Come Around".

Dale Boyle's hemsida - med massor av information.
Dale Boyle på CD Baby - här kan du få smakprov på alla hans tre skivor.

Årets bästa låtar 2012

I år tänker jag även utse "Årets bästa låtar". Låtar som sticker ut och som betyder något speciellt för mig. Det är många lugna ballader här, jag vet, men de berör mig så djupt att de bara måste vara med... Alla de sex första kunde lika väl vunnit, så bra är de...

1. Al Lewis - "Lines Upon the Sand"
En helt fantastisk låt: Melodi, Text, Sång, Stämning, Budskap, allt är så bra det kan bli...
Läs mer här !

2. Great Lake Swimmers – "Think That You Might Be Wrong"
Årets bästa titel och en mycket stark text! När det "smäller till" vid uppstarten förstår jag...
Mer från gruppens besök i Stockholm !

3. Rolf Carlsson & Kristin Evegård – "Krig och Fred"
Lågmält men så ruskigt snyggt och smakfullt. Årets svenska låt.
Lite mer från bloggen

4. Thea Gilmore / Sandy Denny – "London"
Sandys text satt till musik av Thea flera år senare. Lite mer uptempo och vilken låt! Uppmärksammades vid OS-avslutningen! Mer skrev jag här !

5. The Deep Dark Woods – "The Banks of Leopold Canal"
Så magnetiskt gripande och med en ödslig stämning du inte kommer undan.
Läs mer här !

6. Mark Davis - "Wounded Wing"
Så vackert att det är omöjligt att undvika att beröras. Vilken känsla!
Här kan du lyssna ! och Här finns mer att läsa !

7-10 utan ordning:
The Girls - "Forgiveness" - Suggestivt och dynamiskt! Spännande sound!
Paper Aeroplanes - "Time to Be" - Det är hög tid att vara den du vill...
Latin Quarter - "If I Believed in God" (Reworked) - Årets återförening!
Broken Fences - "For a Long Time Coming" - Årets upptäckt!

Anmärkningsvärt att nästan hälfen av låtarna kommer från Kanada, fyra från Brittiska öarna och en från Sverige! Inte en enda från USA. Jackson Browne har ju inte gett ut sin nya
"Standing in the Breach" än, så den får väl vänta...

Det är säkert flera andra jag inte lyckats komma på just nu...
Men dessa räcker långt, mycket långt...

Det är aldrig för sent...

Declan Sinnott - "I Love The Noise It Makes"

Declan Sinnott har funnits i irländsk musik i drygt 40 års tid: Som flyhänt gitarrist, arrangör och producent åt Christy Moore och Mary Black.
I supergruppen Moving Hearts. Med tidiga Horslips. En sällsynt lyhörd och inspirerad gitarrist med ett stort öra för hur det ska låta. Han har dessutom skrivit en av de bästa låtar jag vet, "Let Somebody Know", en av musikskapandets riktigt stora ögonblick...

Vid 61 års ålder (och far till nio barn, med samma kvinna...) har han nu gjort sin första egna skiva. En lågmäld men mycket imponerande och välbalanserad produktion, fylld av mestadels egna kompositioner med ovanlig bredd. Här finns allt från visa till blues via jazz och rock. Lågmält men sprängfyllt av känsla.

Alla 12 låtar imponerar stort. "Blood Is Rushing Through These Veins" och "I See The World From Here" är så stilfulla och känslosamma att jag darrar av välbehag. Inledande "Sun Shine In" kanske till och med har lite hit-potential... Här live på Balcony TV med Vickie Keating:

En ovanligt mogen debutskiva, men Declan Sinnott är ju erfaren som få... Allt han rör vid blir så bra och inspirerande.

Och glöm inte att lyssna på Moving Hearts live-version av "Let Somebody Know"...!
Hela albumet "Live Hearts" är en suggestiv upplevelse, en resa i samspelets konst och stundens infall, sällan fångad på skiva.

Death and Death: Two Graphic Novels

These two books are both death, in very different ways. So I thought they could share a post.

Lovers' Lane by Rick Geary
Old murder cases have a complicated fascination: the usual surprise and apprehension at lives being cut short, mixed in with our own incomplete understanding of the time and place and a sense that all of those people are dead now, anyway, making the "cutting life short" argument at least very ironic. Rick Geary has been working that angle for over twenty years now, with a series of small graphic novels, each about one murder case -- first as "A Treasury of Victorian Murder," and more recently moving slightly forward in time with "A Treasury of XXth Century Murder."

(I've reviewed a number of those books over the past few years: The Case of Madeleine Smith, The Saga of the Blood Benders (here), The Saga of the Bloody Benders (ComicMix), The Lindbergh Child, Famous Players, The Terrible Axe-Man of New Orleans, The Lives of Sacco and Vanzetti (at the end of a round-up).)

Geary's approach is as painstaking as his precisely parallel shading lines: the facts of a case, meticulously researched (with a bibliography of sources) and laid out systematically, as far as anyone knows them, and the mysteries presented equally carefully, with just a hint of which explanations Geary finds more plausible. He has an eye for faces and for the details of dress -- both useful in stories about people a hundred or more years in the past who are usually depicted as either stunned or stoic.

Lovers' Lane is the story of a double murder in 1922: the Rev. Edward Hall and his equally married lover, Eleanor Mills, in New Brunswick, New Jersey. Their bodies were found one morning, posed under a tree in farmland on the outskirts of town, with their love letters scattered all around them. The obvious first suspects were the wronged families: Hall's wife, Johnson & Johnson heiress Frances (and her brother, Willie Stevens, who lives with them and has an unspecified mental disorder), and Mills's husband, the meek janitor James. Both acted suspiciously the day or the murders, but both had alibis, and both had no obvious reason to suddenly break, after months of the affair.

The bulk of Lovers' Lane covers the investigation and eventual trial, with a large cast of characters -- not just the families but the witnesses or potential witnesses, including a colorful local "Pig Woman," the police and prosecutors and coroners, all involved in a complicated case right on a country border and connected to a prominent family (and, of course, one victim was prominent himself as the minister of a major Episcopal church). There are many details, and many contradictions -- plus the usual routine ruining of evidence that always happened in those days -- but Geary skillfully presents all of this material cleanly and compellingly; he has a good story to tell, and he's going to do it right.

This is not one of the most famous cases Geary has retold -- it's from my home state, and even I hadn't heard of it before this book -- but one of the great strengths of this series is that everydayness of it. All of these murders were sensations in their days, as there's a sensational murder, somewhere, every day of this year. But sensations die in time, and what's left is the facts -- and that's what Geary will show you, with a face almost completely straight and a twinkle in his eye as he runs through the suspects and witnesses, the weapons and wounds, the alibis and lies and confusions left to history. It's a magnificent achievement, all the more because Geary makes it all seem both easy and routine.

The Song of Roland by Michel Rabagliati

Everyone dies. Every single person: the good and the bad, the ones you can't live without and the ones you can't believe are still around. Even the people that are absolutely central to your life, even the ones who leave holes that can't be filled. One of those people is Roland Beaulieu, the stepfather of "Paul," Michel Rabagliati's self-insert character in the series of graphic novels based on his life.

All of the other books have been titled around Paul -- see my reviews of Paul Has a Summer Job, Paul Moves Out, and Paul Goes Fishing -- but this one is The Song of Roland; it's the story of an older man and his big family. (Three daughters, three sons-in-law, five grandkids.) He's a particular man in a particular place -- a retired supermarket executive and Quebecois who loves his province and country but complains when his children are too loudly in favor of independence. When Song of Roland begins, he has the traditional house in the country, where the whole family gathers for summers and holidays, but it's turning into suburb and Roland is feeling too far from his family (his "rabbits," as he calls them), so he moves to a condo in the middle of this story.

Song of Roland isn't a plot-driven story; it's about the times spent with family over the course of a few specific years -- and the memories and stories told at those times of older holidays and summers, of childhoods and early lives and other people who aren't there this year, or at all. Like the other Paul books, it's from Paul's point-of-view, but it's less focused on his life and graphic-arts career: this is Roland's story.

Song focuses down as it goes, beginning with one summer, moving on to the next year, and then tightening the pace of events, first to months and then, near the end, to days. And everyone knows how it must end; Roland is terminally ill with pancreatic cancer, and he goes from being strong and central to first a complaining, crabby patient, then a man at peace with his fate, and, finally, just a body in a bed, working his way out of the world heartbreakingly slowly.

Rabagliati takes a leap with Song of Roland, in telling a story that isn't about him (or his fictional stand-in), but that widens out that fictional world. His UPA-ish clean lines and minimalist but expressive faces move the story along, with humor (even slapstick) where appropriate but a growing deep sadness and acceptance as the book rolls towards its end. His prior books were lovely, sweet stories, but Song of Roland is something more resonant and wide, the story of one man's death and all of the lives he touched and made and enriched.

Reviewing the Mail: Week of 12/22

For those of you who wouldn't be offended by it, best wishes for a Merry Christmas. (For those who would be offended by it, my heartiest wishes for a heaping pile of coal wherever it would be least pleasant.)

There was mail this week, and so I'll tell you about it -- as usual, these are all books that came compliments of their publishers, with the hope/expectation that I would review them. But I can't manage to review everything I see -- some week, it feels like I can't review any of them -- so I write about them all this way, to give whatever tiny bit of publicity I can muster to all of them. I haven't read any of these books yet, so what I'm going to tell you is probably, but not necessarily, entirely correct. Just assume anything that you don't like is a case of me getting it wrong -- all of these book are most likely the Platonic ideal of the book like that in your head, and so you should check them out right now.

Luck of the Draw is Piers Anthony's 36th Xanth novel, about an 80-year-old man who finds himself magically transported to Xanth and into a young body -- and I suppose one can take that as Anthony's own wish-fulfillment (he's 78, himself), if one wants to. It's a hardcover from Tor, officially on-sale today.

I also have three paperbacks from the fine folks at DAW, all publishing in January in the popular mass-market format:
  •  Touch of the Demon, third in Diana Rowland's urban fantasy series about cop/demon summoner Kara Gillian -- who, this time, finds herself summoned by a demon.
  • Throne of the Crescent Moon is the first novel by Saladin Ahmed, a secondary world fantasy novel set in an Arabian Nights-inspired world, which I've been planning to read for some time now. (So maybe this more portable edition will help get that done.)
  • And Skirmish, the fourth book in Michelle West's epic fantasy "House War" series (which will, I note, be followed by Battle and War).
I have one lonely manga volume this week -- Atsushi Ohkubo's Soul Eater, Vol. 12 -- but that's just fine, since this is a fun, energetic battling-witches series that my two sons are particularly enjoying. (I've reviewed the first and eighth volumes of this series.) It's coming from Yen Press in January.

Also from Yen in January is Book Girl and the Undine Who Bore a Moonflower, sixth in the light novel series by Mizuki Nomura about some kind of supernatural creature (head of a high school literature, she can only read stories by actually eating them) and the obligatory mousy boy who does whatever she wants. As I said, these are light novels -- short books with a lot of illustrations (in this case, by Miho Takeoka) rather than manga proper, but I expect people who like manga for the characters and Japanese cultural tropes will find a lot to enjoy here as well.

Farseed, the middle novel in Pamela Sargent's long-gestating "Seed" trilogy -- between 1982's Earthseed and 2010's Seed Seeker -- is getting re-released in a trade paperback edition, with a hopeful cover quote comparing it to Hunger Games. (Which, since it's from The Hollywood Reporter, is probably shorthand for "Hey! This is another SF novel for young readers, and it's really darn good!") The Seed trilogy seems to be in the manner of a generational saga, with each book taking up the story of a new (young) generation of settlers on a dangerous alien world. The new edition of Farseed will be coming from Tor on January 8th.

Also from Tor is the new novel from John C. Wright, The Hermetic Millennia, hitting stores in hardcover today. It continues the story from Wright's last novel, Count to a Trillion, focusing on "Menelaus Illation Montrose -- gunslinger, idealist, and posthuman genius" who puts himself into coldsleep because a nasty alien race will be coming to audit humanity in eight thousand years. (Some people might want to act ahead of that event; ol' Mene wants to be well-rested when it happens.)

And last for this week is a novel publishing today from Tor's fraternal twin, Forge -- Dinosaur Thunder by James F. David. It's the third in a series -- the first two are Footprints of Thunder and Thunder of Time -- in which the aftershocks from nuclear tests in the '50s and '60s hit earth with a "Time Quilt" that transported huge chunks of the Cretaceous to modern Earth (and, presumably, vice versa). This is a thriller rather than a SF novel, which means complaining about the plausibility of that premise is entirely besides the point -- there's also some backstory about ecoterrorists using orgonic energy to blast an Aztec temple to the moon in a failed attempt to make a more comprehensive 'Time Quilt," so clearly the point here is big stakes, crazy action, and not so much science that your friends at CalTech would like.