Mar. 16th, 2017

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The vertigo is bad and I am reading a lot right now. I’m also bouncing off a lot of library books–more books than I read this fortnight. Yikes. That’s a lot of nope.


Megan Abbott, Die a Little. If you liked LA Confidential but were interested in a female viewpoint of the same noir setting and tropes, this is the book for you. It turns out that I was. I have limited tolerance for noir this dark, but on the other hand it’s a short book, so by the time you’re thinking, come on, somebody be a decent human being and not screwed over for it, the book is over.


Pénélope Bagieu, California Dreamin’: Cass Elliot Before The Mamas and the Papas. Discussed elsewhere.


Nancy Marie Brown, Ivory Vikings: The Mystery of the Most Famous Chessmen in the World and the Woman Who Made Them. The title is a bit overblown, but the prose isn’t really–she’s looking into how we can tell how old these ivory carvings are, how we can tell where they’re from. Margret the Adroit is a pretty cool historical figure, regardless of how many of the Lewis chessmen she made, and while this goes into a lot of Northern history I already knew, there were interesting tidbits all the same.


Stephen Budiansky, The Bloody Shirt: Terror After Appomattox. This is the very tip of the iceberg that is white supremacist terrorism and its propaganda in America. It’s a good start, knowing more about the Reconstruction and the horrible ways people behaved in it. It’s good context especially for rebutting certain threads of current politico-historical argument. But it seriously is just the very beginning of this topic.


Zoraida Cordova, Labyrinth Lost. Vivid, engaging YA fantasy that draws on Mexican and Central American cultures for its mythos but also for its characters’ cultural backgrounds. There was more than one place where Cordova dodged an obvious plot convention in favor of something more interesting. I liked this a lot and will look forward to whatever she wants to write next.


Lara Elena Donnelly, Amberlough. Did you want a version of The Fall of the Kings that’s set in a Weimar-equivalent rather than earlier? Because here it is. This isn’t a plot ripoff of that book, just one that reminded me of it in how it handled secondary world details. Flawed characters struggling and doing various versions of their best. Recommended.


Thoraiya Dyer, Crossroads of Canopy. I really wanted to love this book, but it didn’t do very much with the forest setting. Also, the difficulty with a “person who learned better” plot is that then you have to spend the entire book with someone who has not yet learned better, and some of those are far more obnoxious than others. This protag was jealous and entitled about things she had no particular reason to be, and if you’ve spent time around someone like that in real life, you may be less inclined to do so in fiction.


Brendan Fletcher, Adam Archer, and Sandra Hope, Gotham Academy Volume 3: Yearbook. This was a disappointment. Lots of little two- or four-page stories, many of them callbacks to other comics series or plotlines that I honestly don’t care about. Choppy, highly varied in art quality, do not want. Hoping that they snap out of it for the next one.


Nicola Griffith, Always. Reread. A great conclusion to a trilogy I love. It is that rare dual-stranded book, one where both strands draw me in equally, and as a result I kept succumbing to “just one more chapter” syndrome even though I had already read it and knew how it turned out. This is a book that shows that putting a lot of your own particular interests into a book can be perfectly great if you do it well enough, and your darlings should not always be murdered: there is a lot of didactic stuff about self-defense and a lot of personal stuff about adjusting to an MS diagnosis, and it is all good. Griffith is one of those authors where reading one of her books makes me want to read all of them, every time.


Reginald Hill, Midnight Fugue and The Price of Butcher’s Meat. Rereads. This is the very end of the Dalziel and Pascoe series, but it was not written as a definitive endpoint–this is just how far Hill got before he died. The Price of Butcher’s Meat tried a stylistic thing with emails that didn’t really work for me, but I enjoyed the characterization. I also particularly enjoyed Dalziel’s late-series arc over both of these volumes and only wish there was more of it. (Do not approve. Am not resigned.) I wrote my post about the order of reading this series, and you should unsurprisingly not start with the last two. But I still love these two books. And one of the things that a long series with a large cast can do is focus on some characters for awhile, then on others. These did not have much of Wieldy, and I expect that that would have started to get to Hill and he would have come up with something for Wieldy again soon, but–well, time and entropy.


Cassandra Khaw, Hammers on Bone. I think Ruthanna Emrys has done me wrong. I read her forthcoming Winter Tide in manuscript and thought, oh, perhaps I like Lovecraftiana when it’s feminist and well-written. And no, I don’t, I really don’t. I mean, I don’t hate Hammers on Bone–it was vivid and spooky and doing clever things with noir prose. But the general impulse that Lovecraftiana–even well-written feminist Lovecraftiana–is not my jam is one that I should stick with.


Stephen Kimber, Loyalists and Layabouts: The Rapid Rise and Faster Fall of Shelburne, Nova Scotia, 1783-1792. A small piece of British Loyalist history on both sides of the northern border. Several baffling moments–well-explained by Stephen Kimber, just baffling that people really did the thing described. Reasonably short, not a far-reaching history of the Loyalists’ fates but interesting for what it was doing.


Ursula LeGuin, The Complete Orsinia. Every once in awhile you read a book that is just exactly the book for you at that moment, and possibly would have been no matter when you read it. Malafrena was one of those books for me. It hit my Ruritanian buttons (like Hav and The Glory of the Empire) and my 19th century politics buttons and my university story buttons (yes, The Fall of the Kings again, I should just give up and reread that). It was done just like the 19th century novels I love best, but with a focus like the speculative fiction I love best, and with a self-awareness about the conventions it was using. I don’t love everything LeGuin has ever written, but the ones I love, I love unreservedly, and this was one. The rest of this volume, the short stories and poems set in Orsinia, varied considerably in how much I liked them, but I was glad to have them because they went with Malafrena.


Kelly Link and Gavin J. Grant, eds., Steampunk! An interesting array of stories from this sub-genre, trying not to be samey in setting. Standouts included Ysabeau Wilce’s “Hand in Glove,” Kelly Link’s “The Summer People” (although wow did I not think of that as steampunk the first time I read it…or now actually…), and MT Anderson’s “The Oracle Engine.”


Ben MacIntyre, A Spy Among Friends: Kim Philby and the Great Betrayal. This focused on Kim Philby’s personal treatment of the people around him, and as such it got more and more depressing as it went on. Kim Philby: a terrible person to have close to you! Good to know. Not necessarily that much fun to find out in detail. Uff da.


Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Chronicle of a Death Foretold. Well-written, told interestingly backward, with the misogyny baked way in so there is really no way around what a toxic view of humanity is inherent to this story. I’m not sorry I read it, and I won’t be reading it again.


John McWhorter, Words on the Move: Why English Won’t–and Can’t–Sit Still (Like, Literally). McWhorter is talking a lot about linguistic change over the entire lifetime of the English language, not just the vowel shift back in the day but usage alterations in the last 50 years. Brief, breezy, interesting.


Ada Palmer, Seven Surrenders. Discussed elsewhere.


Phyllis Rose, The Shelf: Adventures in Extreme Reading. Rose read the LEQ-LES shelf of the New York Society Library, and this is the chronicle of that reading and what she thought about while doing it. Stunt reading! I identify strongly with stunt readers, says the woman who just finished her reread of a 23-book series specifically to talk about optimal ordering of it. This is about as long as a book like this could be without getting tedious, and there are places where I wonder who she thinks the audience for it is. (Seriously, someone who is reading about stunt-reading and does not know about gender discrepancy in publishing: who. But on the other hand she doesn’t seem to notice that her shelf is all-white, so…sometimes an interesting experiment in perceptual gaps also.) On the other hand, her prose is hilarious in spots, and I went and added a couple of things to my list from her discussion–though none of them from the LEQ-LES shelf.


Justin Schmidt, The Sting of the Wild: The Story of the Man Who Got Stung for Science. Ants, bees, wasps. Schmidt writes about all of them and their stings. The appendix at the end of the book uses vivid descriptive prose comparisons to discuss the experience of being stung by nearly a hundred insects, as well as ranking them on a 1-4 pain scale. I found this fascinating and great. It is all about insect stings, however, and if that is not your thing it may be really really not your thing, so judge accordingly. “Maybe it won’t be very much about–” Nope. It really, really is.


Dean A. Strang, Worse Than the Devil: Anarchists, Clarence Darrow, and Justice in a Time of Terror. Covering a trial of Italian immigrants in Milwaukee early in the twentieth century. Interesting and unfortunately timely in its examination of how easy it is to categorize people one considers “other” in ways that don’t necessarily reflect their views and actions. Justice eventually done, mostly, sort of, a bit. This is almost certainly not the most vivid writing you will find on this topic–at least I hope it isn’t–stay tuned, I will be trying to find out–so odds are this is more a book for people with a topical interest than for general readers looking for good nonfiction.


Malachy Tallack, Sixty Degrees North: Around the World in Search of Home. Tallack is from Shetland, and he went around the world writing about each of the places he encountered at this latitude, Fort Smith and St. Petersburg and all of them. There’s some self-exploration but not enough to make me want him to shut up, and there’s a lot about fascinating northern places. I am this book’s target audience. I probably would be within the target audience for a travel narrative about some other latitude or longitude line too, but not as strongly as I am for this one.


Lynne Thomas, Michael Damian Thomas, and Michi Trota, Uncanny Magazine Issue 14. Kindle. The good part of reading a magazine on my Kindle is that I get to every single story. The bad part is that I do so over a long enough interval that I don’t always remember which stories (essays, poems) were in that issue as opposed to something else I read online. I’m pretty sure this is the one with Maria Dahvana Headley fondly and carefully taking apart Poe, which I liked.


Ed Yong, I Contain Multitudes: The Microbes Within Us and a Grander View of Life. Lots of fun exploration of microbiota for humans but also other animals. If you’re a parent or would-be parent who is a worrier, maybe don’t read this right now, but if you’re more in the “nerd out about everything” mode, the sections on establishing infant microbiota are fascinating. There is so much more to find out here. It is not just about carpenter ants using their own butt acidity. Although there is that too, which, yay.




Originally published at Novel Gazing Redux

July 2017

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