Stuff and Nonsense: February 2013


Boyfriends With Girlfriends by Alex Sanchez

Ay me! for aught that I could ever read,
Could ever hear by tale or history,
The course of true love never did run smooth;

Allie has been dating Chip for two years, but lately it feels like their relationship isn't going anywhere. Does Chip love her more than she loves him? Is Allie settling for Chip? Is there something more somewhere else? Her best friend, Lance, takes her along as backup when meeting a boy, Sergio, he likes. Turns out Sergio has also brought along backup in the form of his best friend, Kimiko. Lance and Sergio hit it off. Allie and Kimiko hit it off, too. Kimiko crushes on Allie, but thinks she's out of her league. Allie feels all aflutter around Kimiko, but she has a boyfriend ... doesn't she? What about Chip? Sergio likes Lance, but doesn't want to get his heart broken again. And Lance is a virgin! Dude! Lance certainly likes Sergio, but Sergio is bi ... no-one is really bi. FML, Lance! Can Lance get over himself?

Ah, Lance. I spent so much time wanting to shake him and tell him to stop trying to screw up a good thing by fixating on ridiculous labels. He wants Sergio to be Gay. He wants Sergio to be his Committed Boyfriend. Calm down, Lance, and enjoy the flippin' moment. (Which is exactly what Allie tells him and yay for that).

Really, I loved Boyfriends With Girlfriends. It's sweet, fun romp full of teachable moments that manage not to feel hackneyed or trite even though they feel excruciatingly Real World. It probably helps that all the principal characters (yes, even Lance) are sweetly charming. It's impossible not to want them all to be happy in love, friendship, and family.

The only thing I wish the novel had done better was to have given me a little more of Chip's story. It was hard to empathize with Allie over her difficulty breaking up with Chip, because he seemed pretty much like a nonentity. On the other hand, there are already a million novels out there told from the straight male POV, so I can see why Sanchez might give Chip short shrift. (Also, I might have had a hard time caring about Chip, because I was all ♪ Allie and Kimiko sitting in a tree, K-I-SS-ING ♪)

Boyfriends With Girlfriends by Alex Sanchez (Simon & Schuster, 2011)


Time for Serious Prose: Bleak House

I feel as if I've read nothing but graphic novels and young adult fiction for the last month and my head's a bit cobweb-y. Feel the urge to sit down with some previously dreaded Literary chunkster and suck down some Serious Prose. In short, it is time to read more Dickens.

Bleak House would fill the role quite nicely, but I've avoided reading it because I worry that, just as the suit of Jarndyce vs Jarndyce dragged on in the halls of Chancery, so will the novel drag on. Also, I seriously ❤ the BBC production with Gillian Anderson as Lady Deadlock and suspect I will incessantly (and unfairly) judge the novel against the film.

However, if the novel is anything like the film, I know it will be a brilliant mess of romance, melodrama, detection. And there are all those fun character names -- Lady Dedlock, Mr. Guppy, Miss Flite, etc. And Krook (another apt name) goes up in flames! Yes. Spontaneous. Human. Combustion.

BUT! 989 pages! So. Many. Words. Maybe I should try to read Bleak House in its original twenty monthly installments? 32(ish) pages a week for twenty weeks? Definitely doable.

Anyone want to read along with me? I'll post about the first installment on March 3.
  1. 1–4
  2. 5–7
  3. 8–10
  4. 11–13
  5. 14–16
  6. 17–19
  7. 20–22
  8. 23–25
  9. 26–29
  10. 30–32
  11. 33–35
  12. 36–38
  13. 39–42
  14. 43–46
  15. 47–49
  16. 50–53
  17. 54–56
  18. 57–59
  19. & 20. 60–67 (finale was a double issue)


Adventure Time with Fionna & Cake Issue #1

I'm not very familiar with the cartoon Adventure Time -- tried to watch a few episodes, but found it simply too cracktastic for my aging brain -- and worried I wouldn't get much out of Adventure Time with Fionna & Cake as the internets seemed full of dyed-in-the-wool Adventure Time fans telling me that Fiona and Cake was full of gender-bendy awesomeness and cuteness like-minded fans would love. I worried Fiona and Cake would rely heavily on the gender-bending conceit (which only really works if you know and/or care that females Fionna & Cake are modeled after males Finn & Jake) and just be a series of in-jokes I wouldn't get.

However, I need not have worried. Fionna & Cake was simply charming. I'm sure some of the allusions or in-jokes did fly right over my head, but I don't care a whit. The story I read -- a girl named Fiona and a cat named Cake try to save some fire lions and a feral flame boy from the wicked (and totes awesome as she rides a giant jellyfish) Ice Queen -- was pretty flippin' delightful. The story is by no means resolved at the end of the issue, but the character's relationships are nicely set-up and it's impossible not to be all fangirlishly Team Fiona & Cake by the end. While I know there's no real doubt Fiona will give the Ice Queen a good "gut-thumping" and "butt-punching"over the next five issues, I still look forward to seeing it happen. Want to know what the Kitty Litter Sword is capable of, after all. (Being a pragmatist, I'd probably have gone for the Broken Bottle Sword).

Anyway, much as I enjoyed Issue #1 of Adventure Time with Fionna & Cake, I really bought it for Noelle Stevenson's (of the fabulously fun Nimona) silly backup story about sweater thieves. It was cute but frustratingly brief (Who was that multi-layered Sweater Man? Why did he want all the sweaters?) and made me long for a Cake-shaped hoodie.

Adventure Time with Fionna & Cake Issue #1 of 6 (Kaboom! 2013)


The Drops of God, Volume 1 by Tadashi Agi

Shizuku Kanzaki, the son of a renowned wine critic, turned his back on his father and his heritage years ago. Employed by a beer company, he has never drunk wine and readily proclaims ignorance of all things wine-related. Then Shizuku's father passes away, leaving behind a rather weird will and Shizuku suddenly needs to know about wine.

Shizuku must correctly identify thirteen different wines, the "Twelve Apostles" and "The Drops of God," in order to retain his father's estate. His competition? Issei Tomine, an arrogant young wine critic, recently adopted (a "paper son") by the late Yukata Kanzaki in an outrageous attempt to get his hands on Kanzaki's irreproducible wine collection. Happily, Shizuku is not without help. Trainee sommelier Miyabi Shinohara will teach him Wine In A Nutshell. Or something like that.

The Husband gave me The Drops of God, Volume 1 for Christmas, knowing I enjoy both wine and manga, and thinking this would be a sure win. And, you know, it was quite a fun read -- charming and very informative, just like Miyabi herself.

Thankfully, the manga doesn't depend on the reader knowing much about wine to enjoy it, but then there's also really no way to finish the volume without gaining a better understanding of wine. I suspect The Drops of God could get a bit tiring if you only have a half-hearted interest in wine. At best, I am a dilettante and I admit I skimmed some of the more scholarly passages. I did really enjoy the manga's use of metaphor and imagery to describe the wine -- Miyabi in a field of flowers upon tasting the first wine Shizuku decanted almost made me want to sample '85 Romanée-Conti and Shizuku seeing Queen after tasting '01 Château Mont-Pérat made me laugh (and then go look it up).

Will I go on to read Volume 2? Yes, with reservations. I want to see Shizuku and Miyabi thoroughly trounce Issei, but I could live without seeing Mr. Honma of the Italian Wines ever again. Also, the internetz tells me this series never reached completion in the US, ending at Volume 4 with a significant chronological gap between 3 and 4. Erk.

The Drops of God, Volume 1 written by Tadashi Agi & illus by Shu Okimoto (Vertical, 2011)


Manga: Chi's Sweet Home, Volume 8 by Kanata Konami

I cannot believe I haven't written about Chi's Sweet Home since March 2012. What have I been doing? Reading the wrong books, obviously.

Volume 8 opens with Chi fully recovered from her tummy upset and ready for fun. Alas, her humans are too busy to play with her and Chi takes off for the park in search of Cocchi. Cocchi is his usual bundle of grumpy swagger, but Chi's adorable hijinks keep Cocchi from being too full of himself. Anyway, we know from Volume 7 that Cocchi, for all his swagger, has a soft marshmallow center. He wants a home, too, and it's clear he genuinely cares about Chi.

Chi and Cocchi engage upon a series of misadventures culminating with Chi becoming trapped in a garden shed. She escapes The Shed of Doom only to suffer a bath at the hands of the Yamadas and then ... could it be? Yes, it is! The Cone of Shame! Ahhh! Will that teach Chi to stay out of places she doesn't belong?

It's mean, but it's impossible not to laugh as Chi bounces off everything and becomes adorably annoyed with her Elizabethan collar. It brings back very clear memories of my own cats' experiences with the collar. Oh, the wailing and general angst. Oh, the indignity. And the hilarity.

Chi’s Sweet Home: Volume 8 by Kanata Konami (Vertical, 2012)


Tell the Wolves I'm Home by Carol Rifka Brunt

She was wired into my heart. Twisted and kinked and threaded right through.

I read Tell the Wolves I'm Home just after watching the documentary We Were Here: The Aids Years in San Francisco and I think that made reading the novel much more wrenching than it needed to be. I'd just seen a man polka-dotted like a dalmatian with "gay cancer." I'd just heard a man talk about watching both his partners die and another man describe helping a friend commit suicide. It was impossible not to combine the pain of the real people I'd seen/heard with these fictional men.

Basically, I cried my way through the documentary and much of the novel. Maybe you're not as soft as me, but I'd grab a box of tissues before starting out if I were you.

Cool night air pushing in at us, and the radio buzzing out polkas about clocks, and beer, and yellow roses, and blue eyes crying. There was Toby's drowsy head on my shoulder and my open hand on his head, and the rough wood blanket that covered both of us, and the feeling of having laughed and laughed and cried until there was nothing left at all. But stillness. The best kind of stillness. That's how I remember that night. That's how I want always to remember it.

While it made me cry, it was good crying. I very much enjoyed Tell the Wolves I'm Home. Oh, yes, some of it -- especially the last bit with the painting (her mother was that good? really? after years of not painting?) -- felt a bit hokey, but the story still felt surprisingly well conceived and well polished for a first novel. It was full of pathos, yes, but I did not feel manipulated by The Terrible Sadness.  Another author might have exploited the pathetic nature of the story, turning it into something mawkish or melodramatic, but Brunt manages to avoid this. June (and her family's) reaction to events seemed real. Unfortunate, in some ways, but real.

Tell the Wolves I'm Home by Carol Rifka Brunt (Dial Press, 2012)


The Forest of Hands and Teeth by Carrie Ryan

There is a child -- a baby -- who long since kicked off her blankets. Her skin is ashen and her mouth open in a perpetual yet silent scream. She isn't old enough to roll over, to sit up, to climb. So she lies there kicking her fat legs against the footboard of the crib, eternally calling for her mother. For food.
For flesh.

I've been putting off writing about The Forest of Hands and Teeth, because I can't quite decide what I think of it. I certainly devoured the book -- usually, a strong indicator of liking -- but afterwards I was full of doubts. Oh, quite a lot of The Forest of Hands and Teeth was well-written and there were some truly beautiful, poetic passages that made me sniffle, but the love triangle left me feeling completely meh. Admittedly, I am a cranky old woman with no patience for insta-love or triangles. I am quite sure teenage-me would have been totes Team Travis.

Also, the Unconsecrated nag at me. If the Unconsecrated can pile up against a stout trapdoor and burst it open under their weight, why did they not (years and years ago) overrun Mary's village by simply piling up against the chain-link fence? If most of humanity has died or become Unconsecrated and the Unconsecrated decay into nonthreatening undead bits as time progresses, then why are there still so many Unconsecrated? I mean, the events recounted in The Forest of Hands and Teeth occur generations after the First Night and yet it's still Zombies All the Time.

I'd like to think the next book will answer my questions, but The Dead-Tossed Waves is a companion piece, not a sequel. It features some returning characters, but I don't know that they're central to the story, and it sounds like it's spinning a whole different love triangle. I'm not interested in love triangles -- I want to know more about the Unconsecrated -- so I don't know whether to go on with the series or not. Will The Dead-Tossed Waves explain the Unconsecrated or just create more confusion?

Oh, heck, if there's even the remotest chance of another undead baby I'm in.

The Forest of Hands and Teeth by Carrie Ryan (Delacorte, 2009)