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Books read, early August

Blue Balliett, The Wright 3. This is a sequel to Balliett’s Chasing Vermeer and again deals with kids, art, and codes. The characters feel just a little off from where I am, like I’m not bringing quite the right reader’s 50% to the table to make them really come alive, and I feel like Balliett is, like many die-hard Frank Lloyd Wright fans, stacking the deck considerably. But I enjoy the series anyway and will keep reading it.

Becky Cloonan, Brendan Fletcher, and Karl Kerschel, Gotham Academy Vol. 1: Welcome to Gotham Academy. Maps is the best. I like Maps. I hope that later volumes spend more time on Maps, and I will read them with that hope. The more Batman, the worse, as far as I was concerned; this angle on the Killer Croc may be noncanonical, but I liked it anyway. And Maps.

Anne Fadiman, The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down. An important book in cross-cultural medicine and probably the main (in some cases the only) exposure that Americans outside Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Merced, California, have to the existence of Hmong people. Which latter part is not at all Fadiman’s fault–quite the opposite, she is a loving chronicler of Hmong culture and very clear that she is an outsider. And yet it’s problematic for any one book–especially one a generation old–to be the sole lens on a culture. Fadiman’s research on the medical difficulties caused a particular little girl by the intersection of her immigrant family’s difficulties in a new land and that new culture’s medical establishment are extremely sympathetic and educational. I do wish that Fadiman had been less dogmatic about the chances of Hmong assimilation–there are several places I winced for all sorts of reasons. Now, and even at the time this book was published, Hmong Minnesotans of my generation are succeeding in all sorts of professions. They vary. They are our neighbors. They are “us Minnesotans” now. So when someone starts talking about how the respectful way to do medicine with Hmong people is to always have the male elder in the room and always address that male elder, I am horrified, because that practice may well have been necessary in getting the best medical care for the immediate wave of immigrants, and it would almost certainly block the best medical care for actual women I know, in ways that we owe to them NOT TO DO. So. Complicated book, interesting book, worth reading. But also worth reading beyond.

Ben Hatke, Little Robot. Discussed elsewhere.

Ian Lendler and Zack Giallongo, The Stratford Zoo Midnight Revue Presents: Romeo and Juliet. Discussed elsewhere.

Robert Levy, The Glittering World. Changeling stories very rarely feel alien to me. Changeling stories often feel alienated, usually in the way a fifteen-year-old feels alienated. This…is not that. It starts out looking like it will be that. It starts out looking like a dozen other urban fantasy novels. And Levy actually goes completely off the cliff in a number of places instead of looking out over the cliff and saying, “What a lovely view I’m so glad we came let’s open a bottle of wine mmm nice” and then driving home. It isn’t much like Adam Stemple’s two solo books structurally, but in that sense of jumping off a cliff from the ordinary urban fantasy book you began with, yeah, same deal.

Nnedi Okorafor, The Book of Phoenix. In the same universe as some of her other lovely stuff, but quite intimately in the towers, as well as in an African village and various other locations. Vivid, active, awesome. Recommended.

Paul Pope, JT Petty, and David Rubin, Battling Boy: The Fall of the House of West. Discussed elsewhere.

Terry Pratchett, A Slip of the Keyboard: Collected Nonfiction. I’d read a lot of this from various linkage, but it was entertaining anyway, a good collection to dip in and out of.

Hanna Pylvainen, We Sinners. A mosaic novel about a Laestadian family. Laestadians are the far-conservative end of Finnish Lutheranism. These are American Laestadians, and there are some things about them that will be familiar to anyone with family who fled Scandinavia for religious reasons and some things that are quite unique either personally or culturally. I feel like Pylvainen has a far better grasp on what causes people to leave than to stay–that is, she has a full range of ideas of what might cause someone to leave, but completely misses the parts of religious sentiment that are not fear and inertia. Further, none of the family members who leave seem to find a gentler (or equally repressive but different) religion, which…is not my observation about people leaving similar situations/sects. So it’s an interesting but I think very limited book.

Emma Rothschild, The Inner Life of Empires: An Eighteenth Century History. This is the microhistory of a Scottish family. Rothschild coins a new term for a family microhistory, but I don’t think that’s actually warranted; I think many microhistories have focused on that scale. It’s an interesting thing she’s doing all the same, though, because she looks at the family’s servants and slaves as much as possible as well as the biological members of the family. Empire being what it is–or more to the point, what it was–while the origins are in Scotland, the story scatters across several continents. If you like microhistories, this is your jam. I do.

John Scalzi, The End of All Things. Discussed elsewhere.

Noelle Stevenson, Grace Ellis, Brooke Allen, and Shannon Watters, Lumberjanes: Beware the Kitten Holy. I’m not a person who usually needs an identification character, but with the Lumberjanes I identify with too many of them. They’re very Girl Scouty, and I am very pro-Girl Scout. Adventure! Excitement! Varying skills and personalities! Lumberjanes hurrah.

Molly Tanzer, Vermilion. I romped through this. My fair warning is that the voice is very modern despite the 1870s setting, so if that’s the sort of thing that will constantly grate on you, this will not be your book. However, if you like Jaime Lee Moyer’s Delia’s Shadow, Vermilion may well be its older, rougher predecessor: a miner’s San Francisco, barely out of Forty-Niner days, rather than an Art Nouveau San Francisco, but you can see where the two have bones in common. And where Vermilion really shines is when its heroine takes to the mountains of Colorado to track down some seriously dark deeds. Tanzer has done research on parts of Chinese-American history that are dear to my heart and made me grin. This is a good time.

Catherynne M. Valente, The Boy Who Lost Fairyland. And this is the sort of Changeling story I mean: it’s not bad that it’s more about alienation than about anything actually alien. But it is. I feel that it is a much sadder and darker and generally less fun book than the previous ones in the series because it’s the other side of Changeling stories–it’s the earthly side mostly, not the Fairyland side–but there is more to come, and I don’t think you would want to have skipped this one.

Chris Van Allsburg, The Sweetest Fig and Two Bad Ants. I continue to sift through the library’s Van Allsburg collection, and I keep not finding the outstanding thing I am hoping one of them will be. He is obviously a very talented visual artist, and that keeps not adding up to anything amazing for stories. The Sweetest Fig had a plot that was not only predictable but abrupt, and Two Bad Ants had ants that were not that bad really, and their different view of the universe was well done but not very creative under the circumstances. Meh. Meh, I say! Meh!

Gene Luen Yang and Mike Holmes, Secret Coders. Discussed elsewhere.

Kao Kalia Yang, The Latehomecomer. This is a Hmong-American immigrant memoir. Anne Fadiman endorses it on the cover, which–see what I mean, above? It totally makes sense to have the person who is most well known for writing about the Hmong give a cover blurb: more famous person endorses less famous person, that’s how the business works. And yet it ends up with non-Hmong person validating the work of someone saying what it’s like to be Hmong, and if that doesn’t make you at least a little bit uneasy, think about it a little longer, it will. Yang does a lovely vivid job of telling her family’s story and her own, from the mountains of Laos to Minnesota. Her time with her grandmother is particularly heartfelt and touching, especially her account of Hmong funerary customs. I cried and thought a lot.

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