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Books read, late September

Melissa Albert, The Hazel Wood. This is an urban fantasy with very strong metafictional roots, fairy tales and meta-fairy tales, and also it’s a YA with the emotional life of its teenage protagonist done well and suited to her circumstances. I stumbled on this one without hearing anything about it, and I’m glad I did.

Jeanne Birdsall, The Penderwicks at Last. It feels to me like Birdsall has spent this entire series trying to tell the sort of children’s family narrative that was common for kids’ books a couple generations ago, but without the sexism. This is what happens when you write a late-series book where The Oldest Sisters Are Now Getting Married! but you’re trying to undermine some cultural tropes about that. It isn’t entirely successful on that front, but it’s a fascinating thing to watch through that lens. And there are sweet entertaining family moments as in the rest of the series. And lots of dogs.

Ruthanna Emrys, Deep Roots. I read this in beta and liked it then; it has only gotten better. It continues Ruthanna’s series that is treating Lovecraft as an unreliable narrator about things like the racial worth of various persons, and taking on those narratives from an entirely different worldview. Still filled with very alien aliens, things rugose and squamous, but…differently so, and better. Yay.

Patricia Fara, A Lab of One’s Own: Science and Suffrage in the First World War. This was fascinating and infuriating in about the proportions you’d expect, but the crucial bit is that it was the subject matter, not the author, infuriating me. Lots of work here about what kind of science is valued and valorized, what kind of contributions to history matter.

John M. Ford, Heat of Fusion and Other Stories. Reread. Some of these stories just hit so hard, no matter how many times I read them. I fall in love with “Chromatic Aberration” and “Erase/Record/Play” over and over and over again. I also see the places where Mike was leaving us messages we would need after he was gone, and that’s…hard and wonderful.

Ben Goldfarb, Eager: The Surprising, Secret Life of Beavers and Why They Matter. This was wonderful. Hilarious in parts, harrowing in parts–I remember now why I read tree books when I need to relax and not just nature books, because good heavens have humans killed a lot of beavers over the years, and often for terrible reasons. But there is a lot to be hopeful about in this book, and also there are funny stories, and I’m so glad I read it. (Beavers and their contributions to watershed health: wow, wow, wow.)

Kate Heartfield, Alice Payne Arrives. This is a time travel book with some quirks (do not expect historical accuracy to be a focus–things are diverging a lot), but it definitely doesn’t assume that people are the same through all sorts of historical changes and that the same people are always fated to be important. Which I appreciated. It’s also the school of novella that is telling the beginning of a story rather than a complete story, so–more story for those who are interested, not a complete arc for sticklers for that.

Jan Marsh, Pre-Raphaelite Sisterhood. A fairly early (1980s) volume about the women of the Pre-Raphaelite movement, among books on that subject matter; I know this subject matter has been covered since, and parts of this book are…very much of their time. However, the author is sympathetic…as long as you’re not one of the people she feels doesn’t deserve sympathy, specifically the men who were jackasses to the women in this book…and compulsively readable. If you already want to kick John Ruskin in the shins, buckle in.

V. E. Schwab, Vengeful. Discussed elsewhere.

Dana Simpson, Phoebe and Her Unicorn in the Magic Storm and Unicorn of Many Hats. I caught up on this series and giggled my way through it. I don’t actually like the long plot arc stuff as well as the shorter plot arc stuff for this comic strip, but that’s okay, even the longer plot arc in Phoebe and Her Unicorn in the Magic Storm was still fun and had good moments. It was a time for Marigold Heavenly Nostrils, that’s what I have to say about that.

Tracy K. Smith, Wade in the Water. This was less science fictional than Life on Mars but equally compelling poetry, definitely will be worth keeping up on her new work.

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