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Review copy provided by First Second Books.

Ben Hatke is a favorite of mine, and I was excited to get this sequel to last year's Mighty Jack. I darted through it--it's definitely a page-turner, following the cliffhanger ending of the first volume into strange new spaces full of goblins and giants and creatures who live in pipes. Jack and his friend Lilly are out to save his mute little sister Maddy from who knows what fate--although we soon find out, and it's pretty gruesome.

Along the way they get separated. Jack has to whack things with his sword, bravely and boldly. Lilly has to actually figure things out, stick up for herself, and also whack things with her sword. But Jack's name is on the cover, so even the dragon tells Jack he has saved the day when Lilly does some A+ prime grade day-saving.

Also Maddy speaks a crucial word at a crucial moment. I feel like having a mute character who did cool stuff was entirely fine, and having a character who speaks for plot convenience when the author feels it's RULLY IMPORTANT is really less fine. Maddy goes from opinionated and nonverbal to rescue-bait. I know that Jack is going to be protective of his little sister, but I am considerably less thrilled with how much the disabled girl (intersectionally here; both elements) has basically one moment of agency in a plot where she's the object.

It's not the worst example of this stuff out there. It just could have been better. There's room for more here, and I hope Hatke takes the opportunities to do more with these characters, particularly with the girls, rather than taking the path of least resistance.

Please consider using our link to buy Mighty Jack and the Goblin King from Amazon.
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Review copy provided by the author, who is also a personal friend. Also the title is a Fire and Hemlock reference, which, come on, how can that not bias a reviewer.

If you've read any of Brennan's work before, there are through-lines to it: anthropology, history/quasi-history, and adventure fantasy. These are clearly visible in this short story collection, although the adventure fantasy is the smallest strain in this bunch. I think it's in some ways hardest to write something that feels like adventure fantasy and still has plot at this length. In any case, if you haven't read Brennan's work before, that's the place where this collection is least representative of the spread of what she's doing.

Other than that, there is quite a lot of what Brennan does. There are bits with faeries and bits with odd artifacts, stories of self-discovery and stories of community relationship. There are funny bits and deathly serious bits. There's a lot of range here.

What there is not--and this was important for me the day I read this book, and it may well be important for you--is a lot of gratuitously depressing or cruel material. The characters are not all sweetness and light--some of them are basically no sweetness and light--but what this collection is unlikely to do is leave you numbed and helpless in the face of an uncaring world. I feel like when I ask for things that are not staggeringly depressing, people think I want books in which the teddy bears have their picnic, and this is not one of those. This is just...balanced. Sometimes we can use some balance.

Please consider using our link to buy Maps to Nowhere from Amazon.
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Susann Cokal, The Kingdom of Little Wounds. The author of this book apparently described it to people as "a fairy tale of syphilis," and this is pretty accurate. It's also about mercury poisoning, madness, and abuse (both sexual and non-sexual). And a Ruritanian Scandinavian/Nordic kingdom. It's really well-written. It's really grueling and horrible. I recommend it. I recommend it very, very selectively. If you're not going to be put off by something like 500 pages of the above, with very little relief from any other topic whatsoever, then rock on with this book.

Curtis Craddock, An Alchemy of Masques and Mirrors. Discussed elsewhere.

Barbara Demick, Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea. I was not hitting good luck with the cheerful books this August. Demick did a lot of interviews with people who had escaped, a lot of stuff about everyday life, personal experiences, some stuff about starvation and terror but in the context of just getting by, school uniforms and trying to cook what you have and trying to have a job you don't totally hate and...human things. Utterly, utterly human things. It's worthwhile not to look away from this kind of reporting...for some of us, some of the time. It's okay for you to choose whether this is going to be one of the horrible bits of knowledge you're going to endure right away, right now.

Sarah Gailey, River of Teeth. An alternate history novella with hippos in the lower Mississippi. Diverse on the axes of gender and race. Hippos are hippos, not anthropomorphized, and while they have been domesticated, they are not notably sweet. Nor are they notably mean-spirited in all cases. They're, well, hippos. Sometimes bad things happen to characters, but it's not a crapsack world where nobody cares about anybody. I had fun with this.

Leslie Jamison, The Empathy Exams. This is an essay collection whose jacket copy talked up the author's job as an actress teaching med students patient empathy. Only the first of the essays touched on that, and it only in very shallow terms. The rest of the essays were much more random-essay-collection fare about her travels to various places and what she hopes to have learned from their inhabitants, what she is thinking about herself and society and the world. Given the title I feel that I am failing a bit when I say: this did not strike me as an outstanding collection of its type. It was fine. I am not sorry I read it; I cannot particularly commend it to you as more insightful than another randomly selected set of essays that managed best when focused on their own author.

N.K. Jemisin, The Fifth Season. The worldbuilding in this is just outstanding. There is so much geology. I don't know when I've seen so much passionate geology in worldbuilding. I think never. I can see why this series is winning so many awards, because it has both physical and social ramifications. It is just plain impeccable. The social ramifications are substantially on the front of "fractal implications of the structures of oppression," which means that it can be a horrifying thing to read over and over again. The characters' interpersonal relationships have only small positive moments punctuating long stretches of grief, despair--not horror as a genre, but horror in how humans treat other humans. Brilliantly done--but another one to time very carefully.

Simo Laakkonen, Richard Tucker, and Timo Vuorisalo, eds., The Long Shadows: A Global Environmental History of the Second World War. This is an academic volume of essays, of the sort where each chapter takes a different focus and is by a different author or authors. So there will be a bit about Hawaii and the Pacific, a bit about the Arctic, and so on. I found that a few too many of the chapters equated ecology a bit too strongly with managed environment for my tastes--farms and managed forests are important but are not by any means the only systems to consider--but on the other hand I do want them considered, I want the impact on them considered. And most of the contributors appeared to be Finnish and Canadian, giving the overall authorial voice a cool tone outside the superpower assumptions that was beautiful, great, well-done.

Leena Likitalo, The Five Daughters of the Moon. Exquisitely done worldbuilding, based on the last days of the tsar. I'm not sure I understand the decision to make this into a novella duology with a cliffhanger in the middle instead of, y'know, a novel. But I was invested enough in some of the characters (and all of the worldbuilding, amber and machinery and all) to pick up the next when it comes out.

Josh MacIvor-Andersen, ed., Rooted: The Best New Arboreal Nonfiction. The pieces vary quite a lot here, from things I would classify as prose poems to more standard essays. Also in length. Not a lot of it was directly about trees either scientifically or more poetically. It was mostly about people in tree-adjacent ways. That surprised me, but it was still interesting. There was a bunch of stuff about religion, a bunch about families and relationships, a little bit about was quite an interesting mix. (And I was only half-joking with a friend about doing a Best New Arboreal Fiction. That would actually be more than tree-adjacent, I would hope.)

Anton Treuer, Warrior Nation: A History of the Red Lake Ojibwe. This was actually really very positive for a people who have been through quite a lot. And the structural trick for writing an uplifting book about a nation of people who have had a lot of oppressive crap dumped on them without whitewashing the oppressive crap appears to be focusing on positive community leadership. Not every book can be like that, but this book is like that, and I think it's quite good for it to be like that. I'm glad I read this. I'm glad it exists. Recommended if you have even a little interest in this topic.

Phoebe Wagner and Bronte Christopher Wieland, eds., Sunvault: Stories of Solarpunk and Eco-Speculation. Mismatch of writer and reader expectations is a well-known phenomenon, and it's generally a good idea not to write a bad review of a book that is not bad but merely not what was expected. I do want to flag, though, this specific thing: for me there is a difference between something that's labeled optimistic and something that's labeled optimistic ecological science fiction. When almost none of the SF chosen is SF that connects in a solid speculative way to the present--when it's not anywhere we can see a path to get from here--the optimism feels less optimistic to me in a way that it wouldn't if the stories had not been labeled ecological SF or eco-speculation or even solarpunk. It actually ends up feeling pessimistic: as though to get an optimistic emotional tone we have to have a complete departure from this reality, which I don't think is the case, and I don't think is at all the position of the editors or the authors. And it's the sort of thing that an anthology can fall into without clear intent, if solicited authors deliver stories with a particular bent. So: setting that consideration aside, I felt that A.C. Wise's story was a clear stand-out, and I also felt that Lavie Tidhar executed very well. I also particularly enjoyed poems by Chloe N. Clark (both!), Sara Norja, and Brandon O'Brien.

Caroline Yoachim, Seven Wonders of a Once and Future World. This collection has both breadth and depth, in both ideas and tone. Seriously one of the best collections I've read in years. I can't call out favorite stories because there are just too many of them. It's funny, it's serious, it's fantasy, it's science fiction, it's got everything. You really want this collection. Highly recommended.
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Review copy provided by Tor Books.

This book both swashes and buckles. It has an actual no-kidding Musketeer, although the king he serves is not quite King Louis, and the country he's from is not quite France. There's fencing, fighting, torture, revenge, true love...though not of the romantic sort...there are airships, there are lots of different kinds of magic, and just when you think you've got a good handle on how many kinds of magic, there's another kind of magic.

There is a protagonist who is a girl who likes math a heck of a lot and has learned to cope with a disability pretty darn well, and then has to re-learn around different parameters. The main point of reviews is to alert people to what kind of book it is, and I realize that that sentence right there had neon signs flashing "MY JAM" for some of you. And for a few more of you: there's a heck of a lot of loyalty to friends and not a heck of a lot of loyalty to blood relations who don't deserve it, and the people who save the day are not always the obvious people, and there are disguises and tricks and double-crosses and plots.

I did not find myself deeply engaged with any of the characters. But I didn't have to be; it moved along, it never left me yawning, it was doing the thing it was doing, and that doesn't have to be everything. This is book one of a series, but there's significant resolution at the end of the volume; plenty of room for more in this universe, but also not the feeling of "wait, shouldn't there be more words here?" at the end.
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Pat Cadigan, Patterns. Reread. One of the strange things about keeping a booklog is that you can discover that you had the urge to read the same book exactly eighteen years apart. In that time, these stories have gone from mildly dated to tales from another era. Unfortunately for my tastes, nobody seems to like each other very much in them–they’re well done but not done in a direction I really recommend.

Paul Gruchow, Worlds Within a World: Reflections on Visits to Minnesota Scientific and Natural Area Preserves. This is a tiny, unprepossessing volume of essays and photographs. Gruchow has just the sort of observations I love in nature writing: a mixture of ideas new to me and phenomena identified that I had seen but not known for what they are. Plants, birds, rocks…all sorts of good stuff. The library has a bunch of his other books, and I will almost certainly read more.

Lyanda Lynn Haupt, The Urban Bestiary: Encountering the Everyday Wild. Haupt wants us to think about how we are living in and shaping an ecosystem even if it’s not a “natural” ecosystem. She speaks up for the moles and coyotes in ways that sound sensible and healthy to me. I enjoyed this a lot.

Gwyneth Jones, Rainbow Bridge. Reread. Kind of an anticlimax to the series, I’m afraid. I still enjoyed it on a page by page level, but the conclusion is not very interestingly conclusive. Further, there are places where ten years have really taken us quite a ways down the road to speaking respectfully to and about each other. We do our best with what we know at the time, and when we know better, we do better. It’s clear to me that, for example, the trans characters in this are meant to be fully realized people…but I think that they would be portrayed very differently now. (Also I am really annoyed with the trope of “glamorous beautiful woman looks completely like she did before five seconds after pregnancy,” and it’s pretty bad in this one. Don’t do this, people.)

Mike Lawrence, Star Scouts. Discussed elsewhere.

Ken Liu, The Wall of Storms. A fascinating meander through this world. People (like myself!) who were annoyed with the lack of female representation in the first volume in this series will find a wealth of characters here, different backgrounds and tastes, roles and ideas. There is quite a lot of machination, so if you like machination, here you are. It also goes farther and deeper into the world Liu created–inspired by Polynesian islands and Chinese epics but with each influencing the other to be something new. If I had one complaint, it’s that manipulation appears to always work; everyone has a button that other people can press at will.

Joel Mokyr, A Culture of Growth: The Origins of the Modern Economy. This is an intellectual history attempting to figure out what ideas led to the economic situation in Europe 1500-1700. It’s dense and dry, interesting if you’re interested in the topic but not really of general appeal.

Iain Pears, Arcadia. Science fictionish fantasyish tome with time travel and alternate worlds and quite a lot to say to portal fantasy. For me at least one of the levels of “more plot tangles” didn’t actually contribute very much to the whole, but neither did I find them unpleasant to read. Some self-indulgent writery stuff about the Nature Of Story.

Terry Pratchett, Wintersmith. Reread. I love the Tiffany Aching books. I love winter. So when I first read this one, I was over the moon for it. I still like it quite a lot, but I’m not experiencing it as quite so much head and shoulders over the others as I did before, for whatever reason. Still: the worldview makes me so happy.

Erica L. Satifka, Stay Crazy. This is a book that attempts to write about people with schizophrenia (including the protagonist) in ways that are not just compassionate but human: the protag is allowed to be prickly, grumpy, and often a jerk to the people around her, rather than the “suffering saint” or “dangerous animal” pitfalls of portraying mental illness. It is also a very wry book about aliens and American consumerism. I’ve seen it compared to Philip K. Dick, but it was a lot more intimate voice, a lot more personal POV than I recall Dick being.

Robert Sherrod, History of Marine Corps Aviation in World War II. This is one of the last of my grandpa’s books still on my pile, and it was surprisingly great. I don’t usually have a keen interest in the topic, but Sherrod handled it masterfully. Also: this book came out in the early 1950s, basically as soon as the Japanese information was available and the American information was declassified. You can tell that Sherrod was in the mode of writing it as the information came to him. And yet–he does not use any ethnic slurs in authorial voice. He repeatedly and explicitly acknowledges the contributes of Marine Corps women. I can easily see why my grandfather kept this book on hand all those years and enjoyed it, because it reads like Sherrod was just Grandpa’s sort of Marine.

Rebecca Solnit, Encyclopedia of Trouble and Spaciousness. An essay collection about travel and current events. There’s not a clear geographic focus in this, nor an ideological throughline, and I enjoyed the episodic nature of it.

John Strausbaugh, City of Sedition: The History of New York During the Civil War. Lots of New York politics of the time, some of the “here is a famous individual and what they were doing while other people were shooting at each other” school of history. It wanders enough that I’d mostly recommend it to New York history buffs and Civil War buffs, but it was a pleasant enough read for me, and I am neither.

Angela Thirkell, Three Houses. A memoir of growing up Edward Burne-Jones’s granddaughter and Rudyard Kipling’s cousin. Thirkell is not, I learn elsewhere, completely a reliable narrator, but I loved her approach to writing about her grandfather. And I loved Burne-Jones better through his granddaughter’s eyes.

Maria Turtschaninoff, Maresi. A feminist YA fantasy that was somewhat reminiscent of The Brothers Lionheart and somewhat reminiscent of The Steerswoman. (That may not be where she’s going with it, but it’s where my mind went.) This is why we should have more things in translation, so I can have books like this. It was all too short. There is a sequel. It is not out yet. Harumph.

Ellen Wayland-Smith, Oneida: From Free Love Utopia to the Well-Set Table. Wayland-Smith is the descendant of people from the Oneida colony, and she’s remarkably personal/casual about phrases like “my great-grandmother the sexual dynamo.” The nineteenth century is, like the rest of the world, weirder than we tend to imagine. And this is an interesting little weird piece of it.

A.C. Wise, The Ultra Fabulous Glitter Squadron Saves the World Again. This is pulpy in the very best way. Costumes described lovingly, relationships and acceptance and chosen family the focus of it all. With, oh yes, occasional mad science, aliens, etc. I’m not squarely in the middle of the audience for this, but I could still have fun with it, and I bet some of you can too.

Ibi Zoboi, American Street. This was lovely. It’s an own-voices immigrant tale about a Haitian girl finding a new life with her cousins in Detroit and figuring out how she can help her detained mother. There are magic realist elements to this story. It is not a happy perky tale, but it’s not hopeless either. I loved the voice, the family life…basically the whole thing. Recommended.

Originally published at Novel Gazing Redux

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Review copy provided by First Second Books.

Some kids’ books are really everybody books, but we call them kids’ books because they’re the first ones kids can read on their own. And other kids’ books lose some of their charm and appeal with exposure. This is the latter kind.

Star Scouts is the same plot as basically every scouting camp story: kid at camp competes with mean kid, both learn lessons about themselves, mean kid turns out to have at least one teamwork moment beneath mean façade, everyone wins (but really mostly the protagonist). The trappings of this version are jetpacks, robotics, and transporters rather than tents, forests, and canoes, but there are no unexpected twists. None whatsoever. And lots and lots of fart jokes, butt jokes, etc.

I like my socialization not to be gender segregated, and I did as a kid, so the integrated nature of Star Scouts feels like it should be cool. Instead…instead a little Earth girl leaves an all-girl organization that is entirely focused on makeup, pop songs, and boys to join a male-headed troop that gets to build and learn. At least this time she’s not the token girl…but there’s basically no redeeming value in the all-female organization; it is clearly supposed to be vapid and horrible and generally worse in every way. Considering what a great experience I had with Girl Scouts and with an all-female 4H troop, and how often “girl stuff” is mapped to “stupid stuff” in nerd circles, do not pass go, do not collect etc., this leaves a slightly sour taste in my mouth. But there’s nothing actually wrong with this graphic novel, and the protagonist is Indian-American, so I’m sure there are some people who will be happy to find representation even in a very formulaic story. Maybe especially then: kids of color are allowed typical kid stories, too. Even when it’s hard to argue against awesome kid stories instead.

Please consider using our link to buy Star Scouts from Amazon.

Originally published at Novel Gazing Redux

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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

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I am a great fan of Reginald Hill’s Dalziel and Pascoe mystery series. It is perhaps the only series I have read as an adult on a more or less completely random basis, grabbing things from the library as they became available, filling in with purchases what the library did not have. That was the first time. I went back and reread them recently for pleasure but also specifically so I could write this post and be clear on how to recommend reading them. I group the books into four rough categories as starting places. I had a bad experience with a friend who insisted on starting with the first one despite my repeated comments that it would not show what was special about the series, and sure enough, he declared it fine but not special and declined to read any further. I would have kicked him in the shins for that, but not getting to read On Beulah Height is punishment enough for one person, and he has brought it on himself. Still: do not let his fate be yours.

Please note that I actually consider them all worth reading–when I say “for the completist,” I include myself in that–but not all equally worth reading, and certainly not all good entry points. The numbers are their series order both in publication and in internal chronology, with one exception to the latter. I know that some people have an allergy to reading out of order, but really, it’s worth it here. And also if you are not committed to reading a 23-volume series in its entirety, who can blame you? But this is not like the series where the author got their best work out of the way immediately, not at all, and while there is continuity, it’s episodic as mystery series often are. You’ll figure it out. There’s incluing.

I realize as I am finishing this post that I have forgotten to mention: they are funny. No one told me the Aubrey/Maturin series was funny, and so it took me five years longer to read it than it otherwise would have. So: in addition to their other virtues, these are funny, but not in the mode of Humorous Fiction Har Har Har. No, the funny bits are organic. They’re funny like things really are funny, not like a forced jokeyness.

Best Places to Start

Bones and Silence (#11): Really hits his stride here. Also Wield consistently plays more of a role, which is good because Wield and also because the more Hill is clear that Peter Pascoe needs help to carry a book, the better. Dalziel mostly does it, but Wield, Ellie, and the later junior cops help a lot.

Recalled to Life (#13): Good mid-period D&P. This is why this series.

Arms and the Women (#17): This is where I started, and I commend it to you for that purpose. I picked it up at random, having heard that this author/series were good, and I’m not sure I could have done better. All the characterization, all the reference and structural games are here. If you reread it after reading the rest, you will find callbacks to very early books and also to more recent ones, but that in no way damages it on a first read; they are integrated entirely smoothly if you’re coming up on them as new information. Really, I’m willing to give props to the other two in this category, but: start with Arms and the Women.

Pretty Good Starting Points

Exit Lines (#8): Hill has started to play with reference and structure here, and it’s late enough in the series that he has also got Dalziel much more developed as a character.

Child’s Play (#9): One of the most suspenseful books I have ever read, particularly if you have not read later volumes in the series. Even if you have, it’s…well, look, I found it incredibly gripping even knowing how something had to turn out. Without that, yikes, try not to tear the pages as you clutch them.

The Wood Beyond (#15): Leans a bit on previous characterization for a starting point. Still interesting, layered, referential, well-characterized: having all the virtues of this series.

On Beulah Height (#16): Possibly the best mystery novel written since the death of Dorothy Sayers. I only don’t recommend it as a best place to start because you will get more out of it if you have one or two of the others under your belt for emotional freight/impact,  but get to this as soon as possible. One of the best reasons to start reading any of this series is to get to On Beulah Height. But you will want to know who these people are to each other, and particularly if you have not encountered Yorkshire dialect before, you will get more of the emotional impact of some key moments if you have had other books in the series teaching you the rhythms and weights of it.

Midnight Fugue (#23): I waffled on the placement of this: is the very last book really only second tier as a place to start? I think so, actually; the relationships are important but fairly well spelled out, and you’ll have spoilers for specific events but I think probably in the direction to make them intriguing rather than boring. It was not written as a definitive ending to the series; far from it. So…you only know how it ends, not how it ends, if that makes sense. But still: you could do worse.

Okay But Not Ideal

An April Shroud (#4): This is where Hill figures out how to do Dalziel’s interiority. Still much closer to standard form and content of the genre, but starting to feel out the characterization better. If you are absolutely set on starting very early in this series, this is the earliest you should possibly consider. I still don’t recommend it, but.

A Killing Kindness (#6): If this is what you can find first, it’s better than not reading them at all.

Deadheads (#7): Looser, more fun, structurally out of the ordinary for its genre.

Underworld (#10): Same idea as Killing Kindness: not bad if that’s what you’ve got

Pictures of Perfection (#14): Slight and gimmicky and still past the point where Hill really got himself sorted as an author, so perfectly charming to read.

Dialogues of the Dead (#18) and Death’s Jest Book (#19): These are really one story. You can start with the two of them as one story and get a very nerdy wordy mystery. Bad ideas include: a) starting with Dialogues of the Dead with no access to Death’s Jest Book to read very shortly thereafter, and b) starting with Death’s Jest Book at all. Treat them as a unit; this is a situation where they are only split because they would be too long otherwise. The only reason I don’t rate them higher is that there is a recurring character I am not that keen on, but on the other hand that may be less annoying if you’re encountering him for the first time.

For Heaven’s Sake Don’t Start Here

A Clubbable Woman (#1)

An Advancement of Learning (#2)

Ruling Passion (#3): For the first three, Hill has not yet figured out how to do Dalziel’s interiority, so while he clearly knows that Dalziel is smarter than people give him credit for, the characterization is not nearly as strong as it will later be. Nor is there as much

structural invention, playing with form and reference, etc.–things that are strong points of the series later. These read like standard British mystery novels of their time. Which is not a terrible thing to be but is a terrible way to get a feeling for the strengths of this series.

A Pinch of Snuff (#5): Despite having figured out Dalziel’s interiority more, this is not yet the strongly inventive/referential later part of the series…and it’s pretty objectionable in several ways for our time, not to mention the ways it intended to be distasteful on purpose in its own time.

Asking for the Moon (#12): This is a short story collection, and mystery short stories are very hard to make satisfying. Also Hill had no idea how long he would stay alive and keep writing these books, and the semi-science fictional aspect of one of these tales does not weather well–nor does its vision of Dalziel and Pascoe’s future relationship, compared to how he actually developed it. This is for the completist only.

Good Morning, Midnight (#20): Not entirely believable in its Dalziel characterization and focusing on giving backstory for that character whom you don’t have any reason to care about if you’re just starting. A fine enough book, just not a standout or a good introduction.

Death Comes for the Fat Man (#21) (Known in the UK as The Death of Dalziel): Do not start a series whose appeal is substantially in Andy Dalziel with a book with very little Andy Dalziel in it. This is the most Pascoey a book has been in quite a few, and as such: fill this in later when you’re already engaged with the characters.

The Price of Butcher’s Meat (#22) (Known in the UK as A Cure for All Diseases, which is a better title in general and for this book in specific): The stylistic experimentation in the first third of this book is via a young woman’s emails, and Hill signals that they are emails

largely by leaving out all apostrophes. I like the character–I like seeing more of her later not in email perspective–but this is an experiment that does not work well and is front-loaded in the book, so if you start with it, you are likely to give up completely. And miss

out thereby.

Originally published at Novel Gazing Redux

mrissa: (reading)

Review copy provided by Tor Books.

I really wanted to love this book. The author is not a close friend of mine, but she is a close friend of many of my friends, and I generally consider her to be a person of goodwill, someone who’s likely to try interesting things. I had a couple of main issues with Seven Surrenders that prevented me from really loving it, though.

First, the gender stuff. Seven Surrenders gives a fuller view than Too Like the Lightning of what exactly is going on with the treatment of gender in the society depicted and in the narrative chosen to depict it–but that fuller treatment comes at the very end of the book, after hundreds of pages of gender essentialism and…um. There is only one openly nonbinary character, and that person is assigned the pronoun “it” after their genitals are revealed to be a particular intersex configuration. (There are complicating factors to this choice, but not, I think, complicating enough.) Do I think that Ada Palmer would call an nb person “it”? Absolutely not, never. But choosing this language for the narrator to use in this context seems like it has a reasonable chance of feeling like a slap to people for whom this issue is far more personal than it is to me, so…the combination leaves me feeling like I, personally, see what she was trying to do and where it went wrong, but I’m not at all sure I would recommend that someone for whom our own culture’s current treatment of gender issues is a fresher wound.

Second, the book split. As I understand it, Too Like the Lightning and Seven Surrenders were originally conceived of as one book and were split for the purposes of publication. I sympathize with both halves of this: telling an 800-page story is no less valid than telling an 8-page story or an 80-page story. Stories come in different sizes. And yet an 800-page book changes printing a lot–and changes lugging the book around–and changes who is willing to even give it a try. However…for me, what that meant was that TLTL did not have an entirely satisfying ending, and SS started with a hundred pages of people tormenting each other. Without the momentum and balance of the rest of the story immediately preceding it, I had a hard time wanting to start with that much nastiness unbalanced by other elements.

Eventually the balance does get restored, though these are not, I should be clear, books about nice people who have picnics and perhaps walk through a garden from time to time. After a moment of melodrama that I just did not care about in the middle of the book, the through-thread reasserts itself enough to put the melodrama into context, and the larger world politics get their urgency back with a vengeance.

My recommendation is that if you’re interested in this series, you should read SS as soon as possible after TLTL to make it as close to the originally intended reading experience as possible. My understanding is that there are two more books to come, and there’s a lot of potential in the ideas here–and Ada told me in an interview last spring that some of the particular cultural institutions of this world will get more attention in later volumes. I’m looking forward to that part. There are still flying cars here, but this bit is mostly interpersonal machinations that also happen to be political machinations. I stuck around for the bit where they got political, and that didn’t disappoint me. But there’s still a really big canvas left to work with here, and I’ll be interested to see where Ada goes with it.

Please consider using our link to buy Seven Surrenders from Amazon.

Originally published at Novel Gazing Redux

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Review copy provided by First Second Books.

I love Cass Elliot’s voice. I didn’t know much more about her than you can get from knowing all the words to “Creeque Alley.” The subtitle of this book isn’t quite true–there’s a little bit of The Mamas and the Papas in this narrative. I think what Bagieu mostly means to say is that she doesn’t intend to go into Cass’s later life and death. And there’s no reason she should have to. With a quirky project like a graphic novel biography of a singer, I don’t think there’s any commitment to one thing that it absolutely has to be.

This energetically drawn comic takes us from Ellen Cohen’s earliest childhood through her career’s breakthrough as Cass Elliot of The Mamas and the Papas. Bagieu chooses not to idealize her subject, giving us a Cass who worries her parents, uses quite a lot of drugs, falls in love with people who don’t love her back, and sometimes gets on people’s nerves. In short, even though she is drawing cartoons, she gives us a full-fledged person. Cass’s irrepressible personality shines through more fully when we’re allowed to see her setbacks, her grief, her vivid mode of living.

Also if you’re like me you will be humming for a fortnight after reading this.

Please consider using our link to buy California Dreamin’: Cass Elliot Before The Mamas and the Papas from Amazon.

Originally published at Novel Gazing Redux

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Michael Brotherton, ed., Science Fiction by Scientists. I make a policy of not reviewing books I’m in–I think it’s tacky–so I will simply note: this exists, I am in it, I read it.

A. S. Byatt, Peacock and Vine: On William Morris and Mariano Fortuny. This book is more a lavishly illustrated single essay, comparing and contrasting these two artists and craftsmen. We get some satisfying thundery cranky William Morris letter quotes along the way, and a few of Byatt’s thoughts about creating things. Over before you can get tired of it.

Kevin Coval, Quraysh Ali Lansana, and Nate Marshall, eds., The BreakBeat Poets: New American Poetry in the Age of Hip-Hop. In the introduction, the editors note that people who are not steeped in hip-hop culture will have several of the references in these poems go right past them, and I can verify this to be true, as I am not, in fact, steeped in hip-hop culture. But that’s not a reason not to read the book. Not every poem is like that, and trying to hear rhythms in the language and references in the mind that aren’t the same ones I would use is an interesting exercise.

Sesshu Foster, Atomik Aztex. This was hallucinatory and weird, and I’m glad I read it. One of the worlds in it is a world in which the Aztec Empire defeated the Spanish; the other is this world, in a meat-packing plant. Foster uses orthographic choices (less successful for me) and prose style choices (totally effective for me, especially the long walls of prose with no breaks, weirdly enough) to give an immersive effect of switching worlds within the protag’s own mind. What a strange book.

Reginald Hill, Death Comes for the Fat Man. Reread. This is part of my ongoing desultory chronological reread of the Dalziel and Pascoe series. This is one of my least favorites, as it is almost all Peter Pascoe, and Peter Pascoe is the least interesting character in the series to my way of thinking. Hill still manages to give us an interesting book centered on him, but gosh do I want more Dalziel back, more Wield, more Novello, more Ellie, more…not Peter, basically. I have hopes of reading the last few in this series in short order and then doing a post about reading order, because chronological is absolutely the wrong way to read this the first time through (but not bad the second). We’ll see.

Richard Hudelson and Carl Ross, By the Ore Docks: A Working People’s History of Duluth. Good: this book goes into white ethnicity in serious detail but does not neglect the non-white people who live and have lived in Duluth. It is a modern enough look that religious minorities and women also have places in this book as in fact they do in Duluth’s labor history, so good. Bad or at least weird: this is a history of only Duluth. Not the Iron Range, not the North Shore, not the shipping industry on the Great Lakes…and not Duluth as having a place in any of those. Not Duluth as a regional center. Just Duluth. If you think it’s pretty weird to try to write about labor in Duluth without shipping and timber, holy crud are you ever right. I’d really like to think that this book is therefore a starting but not a stopping point for knowing more about labor and class in northern Minnesota, but it’s a specialized enough topic that who knows what I’ll find. It wasn’t even a very long book, either. They could have gone out so far as Cloquet without making it a bugcrusher. (Sorry, at least half of you cannot hear my indignant Minnesota accent saying, “they could have gone out so far as Cloquet” in your heads, but the rest of you are probably snickering.)

James McGrath Morris, Eye on the Struggle: Ethel Payne, the First Lady of the Black Press. I knew nothing about Ethel Payne or Black journalism in the middle of the last century when I picked up this book. It is smoothly readable and very interesting but focuses pretty narrowly on Payne herself, with only peripheral mentions of other Black journalists and publications. Neat person, interesting to read about, but again the threads of “I want more” keep coming through.

Lola Robles, Monteverde: Memoirs of an Interstellar Linguist. I am a sucker for SF about alien cultures, and this is substantially descriptions of alien cultures. By the time you might think “should we have more plot to this,” it’s over, so–fast novella, definite positive buttons pressed for me and probably for some of you too. Lawrence Schimel translated it from Spanish in a way that preserved the headlong quality of the prose. All hail translators and the publishers willing to pay them.

Nisi Shawl, Filter House. This is strong and willing to go dark but not so dark that it puts my wimpy self off. I particularly appreciated the Detroit threads through the stories, having visited that part of Michigan a bit now and reading more about the Lake States as a region.

Rebecca Solnit, Men Explain Things To Me. Explorations of communications gone wrong. I suspect that a great many people argue with the title rather than Solnit’s actual arguments. This is a series of interesting essays, another one that is short enough that by the time you could start to get tired, it’s over.

Henry David Thoreau, A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers. Kindle. Part of an ongoing conversation with a friend about nature writing past and present. The two of us put together were not half so impressed with Thoreau as Thoreau was with himself. You can pull some great lines out of this, but it takes some serious sifting. It’s fascinating to watch how Thoreau feels he needs to justify the endeavor of nature writing with classical references, and modern nature writers feel they need to justify the endeavor of nature writing with Thoreau. Still, more of interest in an ongoing study/conversation than generally recommended. To put it mildly.

A. C. Wise, The Kissing Booth Girl and Other Stories. Lyrical and gorgeous, relationships beautifully done. I always feel nervous about the prospect of putting previously unpublished stories in a collection whenever I think of doing it myself, but Wise’s previously unpublished selections are gems I would have hated to miss.

Originally published at Novel Gazing Redux

mrissa: (reading)

Review copy provided by First Second Books.

Delia Bean’s entomology-packed plans for her summer at her uncle’s estate take a surprising turn for her (less surprising for those of us who know the title of the story she’s in) when her uncle turns out to be a time traveler who founded a museum of all the times of Earth, past and future. He’s looking for interns and Delia fits the bill: intelligent, curious, determined. The other candidates for the internship are from different eras in history, including a girl from 200 years into Japan’s future, a Neanderthal boy, and an ancient Roman who is still weirded out that they keep calling it ancient.

Delia still gets to do some entomology, but she has to dodge dinosaurs to do it. She also finds other strengths she didn’t know she had. An adult reader might well suspect them–the character arc is not very twisty or surprising, but that doesn’t mean that its messages of curiosity and teamwork are unsatisfying.

This is the beginning of a series of kids’ comics, and the time museum and its related time travel set up tons of potential adventures for Delia and her friends, with one-offs and arc plot both possible. It’s a romp through space and time, aimed at kids but not offensive to adult sensibilities.

Please consider using our link to buy The Time Museum from Amazon.

Originally published at Novel Gazing Redux

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Douglas Brinkley, The Quiet World: Saving Alaska’s Wilderness Kingdom, 1879-1960. This is a large, magisterial volume on nature and its protection. Brinkley is a modern enough writer to make serious attempts at including women in his assessment of what happened, and with good reason–several women were seriously important in this fight in divergent ways. He didn’t do quite as well with Native people; Native Alaskan groups are quite often treated as monoliths, with no particular individuals having any particular opinions or actions or influence. So–not a good place to stop learning about this topic, but a pretty good place to start.

A.S. Byatt, The Djinn in the Nightingale’s Eye. Reread. I remembered loving these stories the first time I read them, and I did the second time as well. Two are excerpts from Possession, which I had not read the first time I read this volume; two are tiny fairy tales in the same vein, and the last is a novella of great depth and interest, a middle-aged woman’s relationship with a power of fire and air–a fantasy story rather than a fairy tale proper. I noticed Byatt dealing with the Blitz and the evacuation of London children again–she did this in one of the stories of Sugar and Other Stories, I think?–and that felt like a very familiar thing for a writer to be doing, returning again and again to myth to deal with the hard things in one’s past. Highly recommended.

Tracy Chevalier, Remarkable Creatures. I really shouldn’t look a gift novel about Mary Anning in the mouth. But…look, there are not that many working-class heroines of science. Mary Anning, fossil hunter, is very thoroughly one of them. And Chevalier…gives her a fictional older, middle-class woman for a mentor, and that relationship is the heart of the book. I am usually really happy with mentorship relationships at the heart of a book, but in this case it felt like the same thing that so often happens with scientists who are outside the stereotype of who can become scientists: their prowess is attributed to other people. Chevalier even gives one of Anning’s major discoveries to her brother, which, I mean, come on, this is textbook stuff. On the other hand…on the other hand I expect most of the audience for this book knows nothing about Mary Anning, and now they do a bit, so yay that. (The other book with the same title looks interesting. -ed) (And in fact it is!–MKL)

Anne de Courcy, The Fishing Fleet: Husband-Hunting in the Raj. This is a good book to read a single chapter of, so if you’re interested in any of the chapters for research, by all means, do that. Taken as a whole it is repetitive, and its focus is skewed toward the very, very late end of the period considered–because that’s where the easy research is. Which is great if you’re interested in specific case studies of British women who married men who were in some way serving the British Empire’s governmental, commerce, or military interests in the early 20th century, but less so if you’re interested in broader questions of how these institutions functioned in general. Not one of de Courcy’s best.

Michael J. De Luca, Scott H. Andrews, Erin Hoffman, Jason S. Ridler, and Justin Howe, The Homeless Moon 3 and The Homeless Moon 4. Two more chapbooks by a group of friends. (Again available for free. -ed) One of them has a sub-genre theme (steampunk) and the other is stories in a shared universe. While I would have been reasonably happy to read more of these chapbooks, the progression from an unthemed chapbook to a shared universe seems like it has a natural endpoint here, as writers working together on a project like this could go. It’s also kind of neat to see people growing as writers in ways that you can’t always–or not always consciously–if you’re reading a story here and a story there and not always in sequence. Everyone was doing more by the fourth one than they were in the first one. So yay.

Victoria Finlay, The Brilliant History of Color in Art. This is a lovely coffee-table book about pigment. Finlay has another book (Color: A Natural History of the Palette) that is denser, more prose and more depth, and frankly I like that one better. But this one is not just a lighter version of the same thing. It touches on slightly different anecdotes in the history of art and science, and that’s fun. And sometimes can be shared with people who aren’t committed enough to read a longer prose work.

Stefan Grabinski, The Dark Domain. Early twentieth century dark fantasy short stories from a Polish writer I had never read. Gosh, people were frightened of their own brains in the early twentieth century. The call was pretty much always coming from inside the house. Which is not a bad thing, just a direction to be noted, as people’s tolerance for darkness/horror often varies depending on type.

John Haines, The Stars, the Snow, the Fire: Twenty-Five Years in the Alaska Wilderness. Reread. This was an accidental reread–I picked it up on a whim and just kept going. Haines has some really lyrical nature writing here, and his relationships with snow and dogs make me particularly happy. Also it’s short, so if you fall into it, you can fall back out again without devoting too much of your reading time to it.

Kij Johnson, The Dream-Quest of Vellitt Boe. This is a feminist Lovecraftian novella, which is not usually my jam, but there is a big one of my buttons to press here, which is: the Gaudy Night button. Early stages of female higher education: yes please give me more. There is a lot of wandering around doing quest stuff (well, it says so on the tin, I am not surprised) and exploring and contextualizing. Which was fine, but the university life was what got me interested here, and I wished for more of it.

Ellen Klages, Passing Strange. Another novella, this one with a 1940 San Francisco setting, focusing on the lesbian community of that time. There were a few places where it felt like it was referencing a larger body of work that to the best of my knowledge is not published, but it was still smoothly written, well-characterized, unique, interesting, and short. (Another piece of fiction with an interesting nonfiction book of the same title. -ed)

Jill Lepore, Joe Gould’s Teeth. Speaking of short books, I only finished this one because it was short, and I have the feeling Jill Lepore feels the same way. (I could be wrong.) She researched would-be historian and revolutionary of the field of history Joe Gould, who was friends with Ezra Pound and E. E. Cummings and all sorts of other Modern poets, and what turned up is that Joe Gould was a fairly nasty person but not in an interesting way. Ezra Pound, not an excellent judge of character: news at 11. Gould hassled, annoyed, and harassed (for criminal definitions of harassed) members of the Harlem Renaissance who were ten times more interesting than he was. Jill Lepore being herself, she was utterly willing to call this out for what it is. But…it still left me feeling like there was no good reason to be reading about him instead of the Harlem Renaissance, except that I was 75% of the way through this very short volume. I’d recommend literally anything else Lepore has done over this book, unless you’re desperately interested in the peripheries of Modernism or the Harlem Renaissance.

Robert Massie, Catherine the Great: Portrait of a Woman. A giant book with some missed opportunities because of blind spots. Massie does not seem to have spotted that Catherine’s public acknowledgment of her lovers was entirely different than that of, say, Charles II of England, because she was a woman. So there’s this fascinating difference in Russian imperial culture that he ignores or, worse, misconstrues as typical of the rest of Europe. The first half of this, before Catherine takes the throne, is still pretty great, fluidly written, very novelistic. The second half is more back and forth, focusing chapters thematically rather than temporally…which in some ways makes sense, but it leaves you reading about the reaction of someone whose death was covered in the previous chapter. Still recommended, but only when you have a big chunk of time and patience.

Terry Pratchett, A Hat Full of Sky. Reread. The last time I read this book my grandfather was still alive, so the crucial scene relating to Tiffany’s grandmother’s place was merely well-done rather than completely wrenching. I love these books so much, even when they make me cry.

Michael Schumacher, November’s Fury: The Deadly Great Lakes Hurricane of 1913. The past was a dangerous place. This is full of pictures of ships, most of which went down in this storm or at least struggled mightily. It is short and to the point, so if you’re interested in natural disasters, the Great Lakes, or the history of shipping in the US, you’ve come to the right place. Other than that probably give it a miss.

Delia Sherman, The Evil Wizard Smallbone. This is not going to be known as Delia Sherman’s best book, but it’s entirely readable and entertaining. Young would-be magician and cranky mentor, several interesting supporting characters. The beats fall where you’d expect them to, but that’s okay.

Trenton Lee Stewart, The Secret Keepers. Kids’ adventure SF, very much a page-turner. Strange gadgets! Mysterious oppressors! Worried parents whose worries do not prevent adventures! I liked The Mysterious Benedict Society, and I like this. It’s much in the same vein.

Ian Tyrrell, Crisis of the Wasteful Nation: Empire and Conservation in Theodore Roosevelt’s America. A thoughtful analysis of the rhetoric and attitudes of empire and how they interacted with the early conservation movement. Very clear-eyed on the buttons pushed to get the cause supported, for better and worse. The writing style is very academic, and so are the concerns therein, but not inaccessibly so.

Jane Yolen and Adam Stemple, The Seelie King’s War. The conclusion of this trilogy–this volume is very nearly all exciting climax and tying the threads from previous volumes back together. Don’t start here, start with The Hostage Prince. Full of faerie magic and stubbornness.

Originally published at Novel Gazing Redux

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Mishell Baker, Borderline. Do you ever do the thing where you get in your head that a book is something utterly different than what it was? For some reason I thought this was going to be near-future SF. There is no good reason for this; none of the jacket copy says so, because it isn’t. What it is, is urban fantasy, quite good urban fantasy in a number of ways. First, it doesn’t do the mushy thing that urban fantasy does where it’s “urban” but has no features of any actual city. This book is set in really for sure Los Angeles. It is very specifically LA, and a very specific part and experience of LA at that. Second, Baker uses borderline personality disorder to examine and refract some tropes of the genre in ways that delight me. The scene where the heroine has a big deal of telling everyone what she thinks of them: that has causes, and it has consequences, it is not the kind of wish fulfillment that that scene so often is. There is carefully followed worldbuilding here, there is a main character who is a person, not a diagnosis, but whose diagnosis informs her character intimately…there’s a lot to like, and I’m eager for the sequel. (What a relief, since I like Mishell, but that’s never a guarantee of anything.)

Steven Brust and Skyler White, The Skill of Our Hands. Discussed elsewhere.

Lois McMaster Bujold, Penric’s Mission. Kindle. Pen and his demon continue to wander around the world of The Curse of Chalion, using lifetimes worth of knowledge to improve matters for the people around them–and sometimes, crucially, themself. Themselves. Whichever applies when one entity is entirely housed in another. These are fun, and this is a fun one of these. It’s not what I’d choose to introduce people to Lois’s work, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have its own value.

Stephanie Burgis, Congress of Secrets. I had just been reading about the Congress of Vienna, and up pops this fantasy novel set there. It is a fantasy that crosses over quite a lot with its romance genre–there are some misunderstandings and relationship developments that are squarely inspired by that genre–but for many of you that’s a happy thing. The Congress of Vienna is the sort of thing that takes a great deal of work to make sense of, so the addition of magic actually doesn’t make things any more confusing and possibly less so.

Michael J. DeLuca, Jason S. Ridler, Scott H. Andrews, Erin Hoffman, and Justin Howe, Homeless Moon: Imaginary Places. A chapbook put out ages ago by five friends, of whom I now know three. Far-ranging weirdness. Good fun in different directions. Cool thing to do. (And available as a free PDF. -ed)

Anatole France, Bee: The Princess of the Dwarfs. Kindle. I have been thinking about how the late 19th century and early 20th century constructed their version of fantasy, and this was another data point for that. It feels to me like a lot of pre-Tolkien, pre-Mirrlees, pre-Dunsany writers were more interested in lush description of fantastical scenes than in characters that, well, did much of anything. Some of this is that many of them are consciously–self-consciously–telling a children’s story, but what that means for the era can get pretty precious. None of the characters who would seem to be primary characters learn or accomplish anything of note. But gosh, they were pretty. Okay then.

Justina Ireland and Troy L. Wiggins, eds., Fiyah Issue 1. Kindle. What a great way to start off a magazine. Malon Edwards’s story “Long Time Lurker, First Time Bomber,” in particular, as an opener: whew, wow. The insight of old ladies as a science fictional exposition device, with attention to the cultural norms between them and their individual personalities: yes please, more of this.

Bela K. Kiraly, Hungary in the Late Eighteenth Century: The Decline of Enlightened Despotism. If you’ve ever wondered about the Hungarian noble system, wow, here you go. Complicated, bizarre way of running a society, and Kiraly lays it out for you in detail, with charts: what percentage of people were this kind of aristocrat, what percent had that kind of education. It’s a solid place to put your feet when you’re looking at the Habsburgs and going, “What? What?”

Richard Manning, Grassland. Focused specifically on the grasslands of North America as natural habitats and human usage detracting from same. Manning has lots of interesting stuff to cover here but occasionally veers into habitat exceptionalism regarding grasslands as opposed to forests, deserts, etc. and overstates points that could have been made reasonably. Still, if you’re interested in wilderness environments, having a bit of analysis about grasslands and how great they are is no bad thing.

George O’Connor, Olympians: Artemis, Wild Goddess of the Hunt. Discussed elsewhere.

Dominik Parisien and Navah Wolfe, eds., The Starlit Wood: New Fairy Tales. Retold fairy tales are by now a genre standard, and this book is a clear indication of why. There’s a rich vein still to be mined here, and a fresh editorial team is sometimes a great way to get the best out of authors who have touched on this sort of thing before–or who haven’t and need a nudge in the right direction. My favorites were Genevieve Valentine’s “Familiaris,” Theodora Goss’s “The Other Thea,” Sofia Samatar’s “The Tale of Mahliya and Mauhub and the White-Footed Gazelle,” and Kat Howard’s “Reflected,” but really there’s quite a lot to dig into here.

Luke Pearson, Hilda and the Stone Forest. A book on the line between graphic novel and long picture book–or perhaps it’s just a graphic novel that’s aimed at a youngish audience. Hilda continues to have wild adventures with the secret magical creatures near her home. This time her mom gets involved–not entirely voluntarily–and their relationship is beautifully done. It would work as a starting point, but there are more before this, and they’re also lovely.

Baruch Sterman with Judy Taubes Sterman, The Rarest Blue: The Remarkable Story of an Ancient Color Lost to History and Rediscovered. This is about a very particular blue dye that is religiously significant to some groups of Jewish people. If you’re interested in history of dyes and pigments or history of religion, this is one of the places where they overlap. Human beings are pretty odd ducks. If you read this book and don’t say, “What? What?” at several points, you’re more jaded than I.

Colson Whitehead, The Underground Railroad. This is wrenching and great. It follows the arc of a young woman’s life from slavery in the Deep South onward, and it does not romanticize social relationships in any particular. It’s beautifully written. I’m so glad I read it. I’m also so glad I’m not permanently reading it, because it’s a lot to take in.

Walter Jon Williams, Impersonations. The latest Praxis story, following the consequences of the earlier trilogy. I think you could pick up everything you need to know, but the emotional weight of why you should care feels like it’s dependent on Dread Empire’s Fall etc., so you might as well start there if you have the chance.

Originally published at Novel Gazing Redux

mrissa: (reading)

Review copy provided by First Second Books.

In the afterword to this graphic novel, George O’Connor notes that Artemis is one of his favorites, that when he was planning the Olympians series, he deliberately saved some of the ones he likes best for later so he’d have something to look forward to. Artemis is one of my favorite Olympians, too, so I’m glad to see her treated reasonably well.

Reasonably well–within the bounds of what’s mythologically available. Because Artemis is not a nice goddess. She’s not a happy huggy goddess. (Unlike the rest of the Olympians, right? Um.) So if you’re thinking of giving these books to small people–to any size people really–make sure they’re okay with sudden death and being ripped apart and shot and generally slaughtered. Because that will show up a lot, what with Niobe and Actaeon and all the rest.

My one complaint in this is that I didn’t imagine Artemis in a silver minidress and ankle-strap heels. But the dogs are nice. I do like the dogs.

Please consider using our link to buy Olympians: Artemis from Amazon.

Originally published at Novel Gazing Redux

mrissa: (reading)

Review copy provided by Tor Books. Also the authors are friends of mine.

This is the sequel to The Incrementalists. While it refreshes you a bit on who is who and what is what–enough that you don’t have to reread the first volume recently or have a crackerjack memory to get it, but in my estimation not enough to start here. The character relationships are key, and the character relationships have a lot of their resonance starting in the previous volume. What’s the deal with Ren and Phil? why does everybody keep trying to stifle Irina? It starts earlier than this volume to make a lot of emotional sense.

This is a series about a secret group of immortals changing things in small ways–incrementally–behind the scenes of history. And this book in particular focuses a lot on the concept of making things worse to make them better. When does that work? When is it a terrible idea? This book takes that on using various scales, personal, internationally ideological, state and national scales in between.

There are a few missteps (if no one in my house gets what you’re going for with a Negro Leagues [baseball] analogy, probably you can’t bet on that line working with a ton of other people), but they’re small caveats with a core of the book intact. One of the great reliefs of the Incrementalist series is that the characters all want to make the world better. They disagree on how, and there is no overarching authority to tell them how to use their subtle powers and version of immortality to make it all work out right. There is no one answer. But they keep working on it. Maybe you need something like that right now.

Please consider using our link to buy The Skill of Our Hands from Amazon.

Originally published at Novel Gazing Redux

mrissa: (reading)

Dale Carpenter, Flagrant Conduct: The Story of Lawrence v. Texas: How a Bedroom Arrest Decriminalized Gay Americans. One of the things that’s interesting about this book is that it looks like Carpenter started writing it pretty much right away–so it was possible to interview almost everyone involved with the case at least once, directly and in person. So Carpenter could ask the police officers involved in the case specific questions about their attitudes toward gay men, toward queer people in general, toward various social institutions and ideas. And did. This was a good reminder that we sometimes want our landmark social cases to be “perfect” test cases, but sometimes the reality is much messier–and that’s okay.

D. G. Compton, The Continuous Katherine Mortenhoe. A seventies science fiction novel about mortality (goes well with Marta Randall’s Islands!) and the surveillance society. The characters in it steadfastly refuse to be nice and calm and docile. They are prickly and angry and flailing. But not mean-spirited. They thrash around a lot trying to figure out how to have the lives they want–and in some cases the deaths they want–within what their culture has made available. Worth the time it takes to read (fairly short).

Frederic S. Durbin, A Green and Ancient Light. This feels like the sort of fantasy novel about a young boy and one summer that was his magical turning point that we don’t see as often as we used to. In this case his grandmother was a very strong presence and my favorite character. I wanted more sense of the woods–there was a lot of sense of human artifacts in the woods but not very much wildness of them–but village life was compelling and the magic plot was interesting, and I do in fact like this sort of fantasy novel.

Danielle Dutton, Margaret the First. A very short novel about Margaret Cavendish. Did not go as deep as I would like but was still a sympathetic portrait of a thoroughgoing outsider.

Paul Freedman, Out of the East: Spices and the Medieval Imagination. Thoroughly debunks the “spices were popular to cover the taste of spoiled meat” trope. The word “imagination” is key in the title: the author delves into how spices were presented, what they signified and how their signifiers changed, what people thought about what they were eating or just observing. Interesting stuff.

Barbara Hambly, Drinking Gourd. The latest Benjamin January murder mystery continues to explore how race, slavery, freedom, and violence affect relationships. Quite often I advise people not to start late in a series. This time I’d actually say, what the heck, go for it. You’ll figure it out, it’ll be human and compelling, you can go back and read the others and it’ll be fine.

Maria Dahvana Headley, Aerie. This is the sequel to Magonia, which I fell into one afternoon and did not come out until I was done. The same was true of Aerie. These books are some of the most page-turning books I have come across in a long time. I think it’s because I’m so invested in the central relationships. The worldbuilding is fun, the action plot is fun, but at the end of the day my heart is with the protag’s relationship with her best friend/boyfriend and with the protag’s relationship with her sister. Bird people in secret sky lairs? additional worldbuilding into other aspects of secret culture I will not spoiler here? sure yes why not just more of Aza’s interactions with the people she loves.

Mark Kurlansky, Paper: Paging Through History. This is partly a history of paper and partly Kurlansky’s attempt to make a single point over and over and over again. That point is that technology does not drive social change, it follows it. Might it be more complex than that? Might one piece of technology follow some social change and drive others? Might something have more than one effect, not all of which are foreseeable at the time? APPARENTLY  NOT, Kurlansky wishes us to know. It is ALL ONE DIRECTION DAMMIT. So…yeah. That was a thing. It’s a lovely physical object with paper that’s nice to touch. There was interesting stuff about paper and papermaking, although there were also huge gaps on that topic–when did butcher paper start as a thing, for example? You’d never know from this book. Because Kurlansky is too busy telling us about THE NATURE OF ALL TECHNOLOGY ALWAYS. Thanks, Kurlansky! Sigh.

Tea Obreht, The Tiger’s Wife. This book opens with a grandfather who keeps a volume of Kipling in his pocket. I am there for that. Basically any of the rest of you who want to write me books with Kipling-reading grandparents: you follow that urge, it will serve me well. This is also a book about war and recovery, violence and its aftermath, families, and all sorts of interesting things, done in a Balkan magical realist mode. But even without those things I’d have stayed on for the grandpa.

Malka Older, Infomocracy. This book opened feeling to me like the sort of thing Cory Doctorow or Neal Stephenson would have written if they’d started their careers in this decade instead of previous ones. It started out feeling rather standard post-cyberpunk–well-done standard post-cyberpunk, but still. Then we hit a disaster response and it was a different–and much better–book, vivid and engaging–and the world it’s engaging with is our actual complex world, not a cartoon of it. Yay. More.

Mary Rickert, You Have Never Been Here. A lot of dark fantasy is Halloween dark, moaning winds and the creak of newly bare branches, a bit self-conscious about how dark it is. This Mary Rickert collection is Midwinter dark. It is bleak and chilled. It is either the perfect thing to read in the dark of the year or something you should safe for July, depending on where you are in your life.

Julia Rios and Alisa Krasnostein, eds., Year’s Best Young Adult Speculative Fiction 2015. I make a policy of not reviewing books I’m in. So: this exists! I’m in it! I read it! There ya go.

Phyllis Rose, Parallel Lives: Five Victorian Marriages. I loved this. It looked at the shapes of five very different sets of Victorians, all of them literary, and how they made their relationships work in the face of various challenges–or didn’t. I would love more of this sort of thing. Also I came out of it feeling like giving George Eliot a hug and inviting her to coffee.

Jason Shiga, Bookhunter. Fast, fun, cute read about secret book protection agency. Not a lot of depth and did not take me long, but entertained me while I was there.

Rebecca Solnit, A Book of Migrations. This is Solnit musing about her travels as an American of partially Irish ancestry in Ireland. She doesn’t stick to describing her travel experiences, roaming wherever she pleases in the history of Ireland or in fact the rest of the world. She has a modicum of self-awareness about Americans in Ireland and Irish-Americans, so I said to an Irish friend that it probably wouldn’t annoy them in the same way as standard American Irish tourism, but it might well annoy them in a refreshing and different way. I’m not Irish, I can’t tell for sure. It didn’t really annoy me, but it’s not the Solnit I’d recommend starting with, of what I’ve read so far.

The American Scandinavian Foundation, Scandia: Important Early Maps of the Northern Regions and Maps and Charts of Norway. What it says on the tin. Lots of neat misconceptions about what exactly was up there in all that snow anyway. Is it an archipelago of islands? is it basically a linear peninsula out from…somewhere? Much confusion in early mapmaking, many guesses, cool to see what they were.

Ka Vang, Shoua and the Northern Lights Dragon. While the beginning exposition is a little clunky here, the characterization and setting are worth it. It’s a middle-grade book about a young Hmong girl whose family traditions leave her out because she’s a girl–until she does some awesome magical stuff that explodes her elders’ assumptions. What I particularly liked about this book is that everyone was human even when they were wrong. Characters who could easily have been caricatures were full-fledged people, understandable even when flawed, which is a lot to ask of something as long as most adult books are, and this was not that length. So there’s a lot packed into a small number of pages here. Especially useful if you’re looking for books for Minnesota kids that actually reflect the Minnesota they live in, but worth the time otherwise too.

Originally published at Novel Gazing Redux

mrissa: (reading)

I was traveling, and I have had a cold, and also it is for some reason A Very Novella Christmas. So…lo these many things read.

Michal Ajvaz, The Other City. This is a short Czech surrealist novel. It’s very, very much about Prague–very detailed about Prague along with its stained-glass surrealist imagery–but the strange thing is that it was written in the early ’90s and did not contain even a hint of the dissolution of Czechoslovakia into the Czech and Slovak Republics in the very year this book was published. That was not only practically but as far as I could tell thematically absent. Which for me was an interesting statement on how creative brains work, which is to say, not always as one might expect.

Miguel Angel Asturias, The President. Beautifully written account of life under the titular dictator. It was censored at the time of its writing. There’s a lot of how evil flows downhill in this, a lot of how the people in the middle of an oppressive system end up complicit. Like a lot of books of the early 20th century, it is not at all sensitive to disabled and mentally ill people as people rather than symbols, so heads up on that front.

Charles S. Brant and Jim Whitewolf, The Autobiography of a Kiowa Apache Indian. Whitewolf talks to Brant about his childhood, his life, the traditions of his people as he knows them. This is not trying to be anything like comprehensive about all Kiowa Apaches, but it’s not as deeply personal as a solo-written memoir would be. Brant’s commentary sometimes feels extremely off to me (this is a book from the middle of the twentieth century, and Brant is not more culturally understanding/enlightened than you would expect of his time), but Whitewolf’s character continues to shine through the snarky footnotes. He is not in some way an idealized noble Indian figure, nor is he the stereotype Brant alludes to of a supposedly-dissolute people. He’s just some guy, some guy that you can easily believe is someone’s uncle, who tells you about how things were when he was a kid, what his family and their neighbors used to do and what they still do now, and Brant can’t ruin that.

Marie Brennan, Cold-Forged Flame. Adventure fantasy that I stuck with despite main character amnesia. I have often complained that the failure mode of novellas is to have the worldbuilding of a novel and the payoff of a short story, but while the novellas I read this month mostly followed the pattern of being worldbuilding-heavy, I wouldn’t describe it as failure for these specific cases.

Paul Cornell, Witches of Lychford. The characterization of this was sharp and individual. It was an urban fantasy with what seems like it should be a standard urban fantasy plot (faceless corporation interrupts structure of village life for nefarious magical purposes and with nefarious magical consequences), but the characters are so individual that this is not a problem…and when I ask myself for actual examples of other stories that do this, they are not abundant. I particularly like the inclusion of a vicar as one of the titular women; this is a varied and matter-of-fact treatment of faith and organized religion that we don’t see often enough.

Michael J. DeLuca, ed., Reckoning Issue 1. Kindle. I’m in this, and I don’t review things I’m in–too much potential for tackiness. However, I will say that several individual pieces got mentioned in my year-end favorites, and when they’re available on the internet I’ll link to them.

S.B. Divya, Run Time. Another worldbuilding-heavy novella that did not turn out to suffer unduly from that balance. This one is near-future adventure-racing SF. If you miss EcoChallenge since adventure racing went all reality TV, this is for you. The plot twists are not very twisty, but they don’t have to be; there’s a diverse cast doing adventure-racing SF, and there are several of you who will want that if you don’t have it already.

Elizabeth Dodd, Horizon’s Lens: My Time on the Turning World. Essays on nature and place. Dodd’s lens has some beautiful views from it, and some extremely quirky personal ones. I’ve gotten a lot more interested in personal essay/memoir lately, so expect more of this.

Jean d’Ormesson, The Glory of the Empire: A Novel, A History. Oh, what a weird book, oh, what a weird book. This is one of the rare places where the “a novel” style subtitles are really called for, because the format of this book is that it is a history of a place that never existed. It is written exactly like a history of the era it covers–I read a lot of history, so I know–and if you are prone to Clausewitz and Liddell Hart jokes, the footnotes are hysterically funny. If you don’t like reading history, for heaven’s sake don’t read this, it’s like that but nonexistent. The introduction may be daunting for genre-familiar readers, since the person writing it seems to be going, “OMG Alternate history! can you say ‘alternate history,’ children?”, but the book is better than that, the book is doing things with the stories we tell ourselves in different contexts, how we talk to each other and what’s given priority, what is this fiction endeavor anyway. Highly but narrowly recommended.

Barbara Ehrenreich, Dancing in the Streets: A History of Collective Joy. Public festivals, dancing mania, carnival, all sorts of expressions of group positivity. Interesting angle from which to take on various parts of history. I kept making wry faces at the fact that historians are divided on whether carnival-esque festivals are necessary for authoritarian regimes to keep the people blowing off steam or harmful for authoritarian regimes by allowing a place to conspire and invert the status quo. It can be both, people! It can totally be both, that can be part of how authoritarian regimes do not work well. Nothing on this earth guarantees that things that are necessary will not also be harmful to the entity that needs them.

Zetta Elliott, The Phoenix on Barkley Street. This was a chapter book, the stage before middle grade, so it was extremely brief and it did not attempt much in the way of nuance. City kids and their phoenix attempt to clean up a place where they can hang out safely. Probably you know some kids who could use some magic that doesn’t look like it’s just for dominant cultural groups; here’s some.

Dorothy Heydt/Katharine Blake, The Interior Life. Kindle. In the introduction, Heydt/Blake (each name appears on my Kindle file once) notes that this book came out in 1990 “and promptly went back in again.” I can see why, and not because it’s worthless. It’s an interesting example of the domestic fantasy subgenre/superset/whatever it is. And yet the part of the novel that takes place in our world is deeply confused about time. I am the same age as the oldest children in the book, and…this is not the world I grew up in. It’s the world somewhere between half a generation and a generation older. Except with enough computer details that you really can’t just say, oh, fine, yes, it’s 1965-75, onward. The crossover between the two worlds is handled interestingly, and I cared deeply about the mundane details of this world–I loved the fact that fantasy was a positive force and not a negative one–but the weird handling of the sexual harassment subplot made it very clear to me that this came out the year before the Clarence Thomas confirmation hearings. So I find this book to be worth reading, I care deeply about the characters, it’s not quite like anything else…but I can see why the mass market of 1990 did not fall upon it with glad cries, and I’m glad that we have ebooks now so that the mass market doesn’t have to in order for it to be available. (Unfortunately it seems to have become unavailable again. -ed)

Rachel Ignotofsky, Women in Science: 50 Fearless Pioneers Who Changed the World. This is a book primarily intended for a young audience. It’s lavishly illustrated and does not always choose “the usual suspects” for its subjects. These fifty women vary considerably in nationality, race/ethnicity, and religion–and in what fields they represent. A great resource to inspire kids. (I do wish that the woman who used a wheelchair had been pictured in it, but at least Ignotofsky was clear that she had disabilities and worked through/around them.)

Emmi Itäranta, The Weaver. I’m always interested in whether people do something very like their first novel for their second or very different. This felt very different to me, much closer to the mainstream of stories that get told in speculative fiction (in this case fantasy). It was a fun novel with cool worldbuilding elements, not nearly as special as Memory of Water but not everything has to be.

Kelly Link and Gavin J. Grant, eds., Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet, Issue 35. Kindle. A lot of this was deep into weird-for-its-own-sake. “The History of Harrabash” by James Warner was fun to read in conjunction with The Glory of the Empire (I read them on the same day), since the Warner story is a much lighter, younger voice on the teaching and learning of history even when it doesn’t exist. Jack Larsen’s “The Equipoise With Lentils” was I think the most successful for me at being unabashedly surreal and still keeping my interest.

Foz Meadows, An Accident of Stars. This felt so very very much like a big fat portal fantasy of my early teens. It’s exactly like the best of the sort of thing I was reading daily in junior high…except without the worry that the suck fairy will have visited it with attitudes about race, gender, or sexuality that now feel like a slap in the face. Portal fantasy: probably you miss it, here is one, it’s not a jerk to people, go.

Emma Newman, After Atlas. This is set in the same universe as Planetfall but is not a direct sequel to it, and I think that’s to Newman’s credit. After Atlas is aiming at a completely different thing, rather than trying to replicate the appeal of the earlier book. I’m glad of that. It’s a procedural with the future tech worked in rather than ignored or only showcased when it was convenient for the author. The ending was not as abrupt as Planetfall‘s, but it does make the “very abrupt ending, several interesting questions unresolved” thing look like a pattern rather than a fluke.

Marta Randall, Islands. Kindle. I had not even heard of Marta Randall, and I know a lot about SF of ages past. Turns out she was the first woman VP of SFWA and also the first woman president of same. And she wrote this and some other novels that I also downloaded to my Kindle, and it was definitely worth reading. It felt far more modern than most of what was presented to me as “classics of ’70s SF” when I was a teenager. I wonder how much sexism played a part in it not joining their ranks, how much it was random midlist blues, and how much it was that SF was hurtling toward cyberpunk while Randall was musing about mortality, relationship, and environment. I think one of the things that was particularly appealing to me is that Randall reached for connection and understanding of others’ viewpoints. But scuba-diving sunken Hawaii was pretty cool as a set of images, too.

Rebecca Solnit, River of Shadows: Eadweard Muybridge and the Technological Wild West. This was full of interesting tidbits that didn’t quite come together into the whole Solnit hoped it would be, in my view. Muybridge was extremely eccentric, and the times surrounding him no less so; lots of fodder for an interesting book here. But it felt to me like there was perhaps one or two steps of bringing things together missing between this book and a really great one. I’m still interested in Solnit’s work and looking forward to reading more of it, but this was not as good as A Paradise Built in Hell.

Fran Wilde, A Jewel and Her Lapidary. Worldbuilding-heavy novellas for the win. This one was also adventure fantasy, very vividly built, with relationships central to the plot.

Connie Willis, Fire Watch. Reread. I have been revisiting some of the old short story collections we have around here to see how they stand up. In this case: not well. The older I get, the more Willis’s time travelers seem implausibly foolish, the less they seem entertaining. Everything reads just a bit flat, all the emotions primary colors and very little nuance. I am a little worried about revisiting the longer works of hers I remember enjoying, in this light.

Kai Ashante Wilson, A Taste of Honey. You’d think with all the worldbuilding-heavy novellas I read this fortnight, they would start to run together, but they were all quite distinct–Wilson’s worldbuilding continues to be like no one else’s. This was a fantasy love story, tinged with melancholy but not depressing, the plot leaving room for the characters and their world to be the focus.

Peter Wohlleben, The Hidden Life of Trees: What They Feel, How They Communicate: Discoveries From a Secret World. Forest health and tree tidbits. Stuff about how trees exist in community, how they share nutrients through the fungal network around their roots, other cool arboreal things. Yay trees.

Originally published at Novel Gazing Redux

mrissa: (reading)

On my list of things to do in 2017: keep better track of which stories I liked in anthologies, not readily linkable. There are a few on this list from things I read on my Kindle once I thought of that, but not many, and while I went through my book posts trying to spot the anthologies that came out this year and the stories I liked in them, I am tired and have a cold and probably missed some. And again: this list makes no pretense at being comprehensive, nor is it the N best for your award-nominating needs. I care about getting short stories into brains; that is what this is for, and secondarily to pat people on the back and say go team. I have not read all of any one thing, and I have not read some of everything. I have just read some things and liked them. Here they are.

Das Steingeschopf, by G. V. Anderson (Strange Horizons)

Palingenesis, by Megan Arkenberg (Shimmer)

Blood Reckonings, by Alec Austin (BCS)

The Paper Sword, by Alec Austin (Hidden Youth)

The Spy Who Never Grew Up, by Sarah Rees Brennan (Uncanny)

The Signal Birds, by Octavia Cade (Liminal)

Mortal Eyes, by Ann Chatham (BCS)

A Dead Djinn in Cairo, by P. Djeli Clark (

A Hundred and Seventy Storms, by Aliette de Bodard (Uncanny)

Anon and the Antlers, by Michael J. DeLuca (Orthogonal)

Asleep in the Traces, by Michael J. DeLuca (Middle Planet)

Binaries, by S. B. Divya (Lightspeed: PoC Destroy SF)

Written in the Book of the Woods, by L.J. Geoffrion (Reckoning)

Big Thrull and the Askin Man, by Max Gladstone (Uncanny)

A Name to Ashes, by Jaymee Goh (Hidden Youth)

Civitas Sylvatica, by Cae Hawksmoor (Reckoning)

The Stone Garden, by C. A. Hawksmoor (Beneath Ceaseless Skies)

The Virgin Played Bass, by Maria Dahvana Headley (Uncanny)

Transition, by Erin Hoffman (Reckoning) (a poem, not a story)

Plague Winter, by Emily Houk (Reckoning)

My Grandmother’s Bones, by S. L. Huang (Daily SF)

Spirit of Home, by Jose Pablo Iriarte (Motherboard)

The Night Bazaar for Women Becoming Reptiles, by Rachael K. Jones (BCS)

Zombies in Winter, by Naomi Kritzer (Persistent Visions)

The True and Otherworldly Origins of the Name Calamity Jane, by Jordan Kurella (BCS)

Foxfire, Foxfire, by Yoon Ha Lee (BCS)

Where She Went, by Linden A. Lewis (BCS)

The Governess With a Mechanical Womb, by Leena Likitalo (Clarkesworld)

A New Home, by Karin Lowachee (Lightspeed: PoC Destroy SF)

Contra Gravitatem (Vita Genevievis), by Arkady Martine (Lackington’s)

“Fear Death by Water,” by Arkady Martine (Unlikely Story)

Skills to Keep the Devil in His Place, by Lia Swope Mitchell (Shimmer)

In His Own Image, by E. C. Myers (Hidden Youth)

Hundreds, by Mari Ness (Daily SF)

The Middle Child’s Practical Guide to Surviving a Fairy Tale, by Mari Ness (Fireside)

A Citizen’s Guide to the Kingdom of Heaven, by Josh Pearce (Orthogonal)

The Sweetest Skill, by Tony Pi (BCS)

Left the Century to Sit Unmoved, by Sarah Pinsker (Strange Horizons)

Recalled to Service, by Alter S. Reiss (

Playing Prometheus, by Frances Rowat (Persistent Visions)

Once I, Rose, by Merc Rustad (Daily Science Fiction)

Blue Flowers: Fragments, by Sofia Samatar (Uncanny) (This also may be a poem. Or not. As you will. It is a thing I like.)

The Right Sort of Monsters, by Kelly Sandoval (Strange Horizons)

As Long as It Takes to Make the World, by Gabriela Santiago (Lightspeed: PoC Destroy SF)

Three Alternate Histories, by Kate Schapira (Reckoning)

Today I Am Paul, by Martin L. Shoemaker (Clarkesworld)

Listen, by Karin Tidbeck (

Only Their Shining Beauty Was Left, by Fran Wilde (Shimmer)

Foreign Tongues, by John Wiswell (Flash Fiction Online)

Project Daffodil, by Sylvia Spruck Wrigley (Nature Futures)

Exquisite Corpse, by Caroline M. Yoachim (Daily SF)

Originally published at Novel Gazing Redux

mrissa: (reading)

Daniel Abraham, The Spider’s War. The end of its series. Too much abusive boyfriend, not enough banking. Seriously. It felt like Abraham started out doing cool things with banking, and then the banker did not get to use her banking skills in the climax of the book basically at all. She got to use metaphors for them, which were her feminine wiles. This did not thrill me. Also, the person she was forced to use feminine wiles on was incredibly distasteful to her and me, and I totally get what Abraham was doing with the portrayal of a Nice Guy TM wreaking havoc without really understanding why what he was doing was not okay, but that didn’t mean I enjoyed spending any time with him in fiction, either in his perspective or the perspectives of those around him. I really loved the series that started with A Shadow in Summer, and every project Abraham does is quite different from the others, so I’m glad this series has found its resolution so we can see what other themes and tropes he feels like playing with.

Chaz Brenchley, Three Twins at Crater School Chapters 20 & 21. Kindle. I know, I keep saying I am terrible at reading serials, but the thing is we’ve got to the point in the book that’s jam-packed with plot. Each chapter is fairly short–think kids’ book chapters, that’s the model Chaz is using–and yet things! keep! happening! So if I’m in line at the post office and need something on my Kindle, I can find out what. And I am such a sucker for school stories.

Avner Cohen, The Worst-Kept Secret: Israel’s Bargain with the Bomb. Cohen apparently has another book about Israel’s development of the bomb. This one was about Israeli attitudes and discussion practices around nuclear weapons. I found it mildly intellectually interesting and not the least bit emotionally engaging. Probably falls in the category of “if you have a particular interest in this topic but not otherwise.”

Charles de Lint, Waifs and Strays. Reread. One of the problems of collecting an author’s stories around a particular theme is that it can feel repetitive or expose weakness. In this case de Lint’s sense of teenage dialog is a serious weakness. I have found some of his work compelling, but this is just not a collection of his best stuff. Start somewhere else if you’re curious about de Lint.

A. M. Dellamonica, The Nature of a Pirate. Discussed elsewhere.

Bradley Denton, Buddy Holly Is Alive and Well on Ganymede. Reread. I am really curious about how this reads to someone who wasn’t living on the prairie in the late ’80s/early ’90s. Denton’s sense of prairie, of that part of middle America, is literally incomparable. I have no idea what other author even tries to get across that sense of the world, especially in the late 20th century. The music references were fun, the gonzo sf conceit continues to be better than I would have assumed without reading other Denton, but it’s the dust of the middle and southern plains that I really love in Denton’s work.

Maria Emilia Paz, Strategy, Security, and Spies: Mexico and the US as Allies in World War II. I really like having specific references about parts of the world wars that were not the obvious theaters, books that make clear the ways in which it was a world war. Paz has a keen sense of where each country was clueless about the other’s perceptions and motivations here–particularly the fact that the US no longer thought of itself as an invading power that had taken some Mexican land (on the “that was a long time ago” front) but Mexico really did perceive it that way and have several diplomatic needs accordingly. Interesting stuff, and brief enough not to become tedious.

Benjamin Rosenbaum, The Ant King and Other Stories. Reread. Rosenbaum’s stories are clever (sometimes the failure mode of clever), and I really like the other cities section. (I am a sucker for that.) The stories I liked best outside that section tended to be the least wry, to feel the least like they were smirking at their own characters. And I do love the off-the-wall surreal moments. That’s what I keep this collection around for.

Noelle Stevenson, Shannon Watters, Kat Leyh, Brooke Allen, and Carolyn Nowak, Lumberjanes: Band Together. The thing about Lumberjanes is that every new thing feels natural but you can’t see them coming. “Oh, mermaid music festival, sure,” is a thing that makes emotional sense in context, and it was fun, and we got a little more Roanoke cabin backstory along the way. Not clearly a major advancement in plot, but a fun, fast read.

Lynne Thomas, Michael Thomas, and Michi Trota, eds., Uncanny Magazine Issue 13. Kindle. I really liked the Sofia Samatar prose poem or whatever it was (I don’t have to know what it was! it was a thing I liked!), and the nonfiction of this issue was particularly strong, to the point where I am tempted to call it a service to the community. The stories were all quite readable but just barely not into the “favorites” category for me, although Amal’s thing was close, thoughtful and personal and wrenching and why not a favorite again? Hmm. Maybe I just needed to sit with it for awhile.

Adam Zamoyski, Rites of Peace: The Fall of Napoleon and the Congress of Vienna. This goes into a lot of detail about the Congress of Vienna, which apparently lasted for quite some time. Zamoyski is interested in the personalities as well as the policies, so it’s a fairly engaging read, but if you pick it up on the wrong day it will replicate the “gahhhh will this never ennnnnd” feeling experienced by so many of the people involved. And suddenly there’s Napoleon! and then not! So really: pretty accurate emotionally as well as detailed in facts.

Originally published at Novel Gazing Redux

September 2017

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