On The Bureau Chiefs’ Nightstand: June 16 2010

After a long day at work, the Bureau Chiefs like to relax in bed with books and comic books. Since there are 16 of us, our bed is 64 feet wide and our nightstand is the size of a small elephant. Here’s what is stacked up next to it.

Anna

In keeping with my general habit of not reading anything that makes me think too hard, I breezed through the first two books in Jacqueline Carey’s third Kushiel trilogy, Naamah’s Kiss and Naamah’s Curse. By now Carey’s general formula for these books is starting to feel a bit familiar. An outsider heroine is saddled with a difficult destiny. She must travel to far away lands, learning new cultures and practicing an individual brand of diplomacy. In this series the heroine is Moirim, a distant descendant of some of the characters in the previous series. One of the more interesting aspects of the Kushiel series is Carey’s worldbuilding, as the world that Morrin inhabits is a slightly different Earth with countries that practice alternate versions of familiar religions. Morrin finds plenty of adventure and love as she travels to Carey’s versions of China and India. While her formula is getting a bit worn, these were still entertaining summer reads.

I also read the sixth volume of Otomen, Aya Kanno’s comedic shoujo series about a boy named Asuka who secretly excels at feminine pursuits like cooking and sewing while maintaining his masculine facade of a stoic martial arts master. I always pick up Otomen hoping that it will be more sharply satiric about gender roles than it ends up being. This volume was particularly fluffy as it focused more on supporting characters like Yamato, a boy whose feminine appearance leads him to overcompensate by acting so stereotypically manly he becomes a caricature and the sister of one of Asuka’s friends who has a pathological hatred of flowers.

Asuka is slowly becoming more confident in his own inner nature, and there are hints that his long-absent father may soon appear. The wacky situations in this volume include Asuka tutoring Yamato about the proper way to date girls and Asuka’s impromptu performance replacing the lead singer in visual kei band. While I might wish that Otomen had more depth, it is one of the few shoujo comedy series that I’m happy to collect even though it is a little lightweight.

Dave L.

It will surprise exactly nobody that when I heard about the book Lego: A Love Story by Jonathan Bender, I immediately ordered it. It’s about a guy who decides to take the plunge into the world of AFOLs — Adult Fans of Lego. Being such a fan, the story was familiar to me; perhaps too familiar. He hits all the right moments in rediscovering Lego as an adult, but I don’t know how interesting those moments are to anyone who isn’t already a fan. (This is not a criticism; I’m saying that, as a fan, I really don’t know how much of the book’s appeal depends on that.) There’s also a nice parallel plot involving he and his wife trying to become parents (and thus “true” adults in our society) while at the same time discovering the joys of this kids toy. A light, fun read that I recommend if you have any curiosity at all about the culture of grown-up Lego builders.

Ken

I’ve taken an excursion from my usual run of nonfiction to dive into Cherie Priest’s Boneshaker, a steampunky novel of steampunk steampunkiness. I’ve been meaning to read Priest for awhile, and after hearing her interview about this book on War Rocket Ajax, it’d stuck in the back of my mind… to dislodge with urgency during an otherwise aimless trip to the bookstore. Funny how that happens.

And in Boneshaker, it’s like Priest took a checklist of steampunk fetishes and then sunk all that into a healthy appreciation for 19th century Seattle. There’s zeppelins, gas masks, zombies, mad scientists, mechanical limbs and goggles galore. None of that set dressing does much for me, perhaps because steampunk is so damn overexposed on the Internet, and God knows why. Near as I can tell steampunk is a nostalgic movement for a time that never existed and an aesthetic with no landmark work like Lord of the Rings or Blade Runner to call home. Indeed, steampunk is so ingrained in Internet culture that even the cover’s blurb uses the regrettable phrase “This book is made of irresistible.” Come on, Internet. Talk like a damn adult, would you?

OK, that aside: Boneshaker is about Briar Wilkes, who in a fantastical late-19th-century version of Seattle is with her son heir to the legacies of both her dead husband and father. Some years back her mad scientist husband invented a steam-driven drill, the titular Boneshaker, that went wild and drilled through most of Seattle. It was a seismic event that destroyed buildings and took lives, but worse, the Boneshaker shook loose a toxic gas that killed and then reanimated hundreds of people. Her father, a regular beat cop, was the one cop who sacrificed his own life to save the criminals locked up in the police station’s drunk tank. Fifteen years later, Briar and her 15-year-old son Zeke carry around that dual legacy: hero’s kin to the rabble, heirs of the terrible Boneshaker legacy to others.

And it’s pretty good. As I say, the window dressing stuff doesn’t do a lot for me, so the whole time I’m thinking I’d be getting way more out of the work if I popped an erection every time someone mentioned gas masks. It’s nice to read a competent, thoughtful action protagonist who isn’t a dude, and Priest’s attention to historical detail enriches the story’s background without flying banners that say “I did my research!” Nonetheless, I’m thinking her previous work in Southern Gothic territory will be more my bag.

Speaking of which, my next book is Flannery O’Connor’s Wise Blood. I’m pretty psyched.

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