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Books read, early March

Elizabeth Bear, Ancestral Night. I read this space opera in draft and loved it then. I love it now. And not just for the Mantis Cop! Although: Mantis Cop. Seriously there is fun with space travel, there is fun with alien species, there is, most importantly, fun with the human brain! How do we become civilized people, what alters free will and what is a means of asserting it…there are some huge questions in this book, and also loving chosen family, and also quite a lot of vacuum along the way. Highly recommended.

Mary Beard, How Do We Look and Women and Power: A Manifesto. Both of these books are Beard’s generalist side, turning her extensive knowledge of history to wider questions. They’re not going to revolutionize ideas about art and gaze or about women, but they’re solid works, the sort of thing that helps bolster reasonable views. She has the lovely skill–not all that common in a Classicist or Classical historian in my experience–of being able to write without assuming that Rome is the world’s eternal center, which makes things 1000% more readable for me. I’d previously read her book about Pompeii but will pursue more.

H.W. Brands, Heirs of the Founders: The Epic Rivalry of Henry Clay, John Calhoun, and Daniel Webster, the Second Generation of American Giants. This book was a bit disappointing for me. It did what it said on the tin, sort of; the epic part was lacking. But I felt that there was less of the zany context of the era than I was really hoping and more focus on these three dudes, most of whom should have been kicked sharply in the shins. There are better books about the early Republic out there.

Zen Cho, The True Queen. Light and frothy and fun. Some of the plot twists are visible from space, and yet it’s experiencing the specific way that Cho writes them that provides the joy. Recognizes that pre-20th century England was the center of a global empire and not an ethnic monoculture, and used that fact as the basis for a glorious romp.

Louise Erdrich, The Birchbark House. Children’s historical novel about a young Ojibwa girl. It is mostly bright and suffused with light, but there are moments where history makes the shadows in this child’s life very deep indeed.

Meg Frank and Julia Rios, eds., Hope in This Timeline. This is a beautiful collection of hopeful stories from Fireside. I had read them already, but having a copy to shelve makes me very happy.

Tessa Gratton, The Strange Maid. This is the second book in a deeply weird series about Norse gods. It is the right kind of deeply weird; I am so fond and so pleased and I cannot wait to get the third one. Also it’s the kind of series that doesn’t just do more of the same but goes into different ideas and places and perspectives. Yay for this Valkyrie book.

Larry Hammer, These Things Called Dreams: The Poems of Ono no Komachi. Discussed elsewhere.

Kate Heartfield, Alice Payne Rides. Discussed elsewhere.

Carlos Hernandez, Sal and Gabi Break the Universe. What a lovely way to spend a snow day. I bounced around full of joy at the adventures of Sal and Gabi. Which are not always joyful adventures! There’s some deep stuff going on here! But it’s fun, it’s funny, it’s serious, it’s full of parallel universes, and the protags and their families and friends are immensely charming. I loved Carlos’s collection of short work for adults. This MG novel won my heart in a totally different–and very much similar–way. Highly recommended.

Kelly Jones, Are You Ready to Hatch an Unusual Chicken? This is the sequel to the previous chicken superpower book, and I love them so much, they make me so happy, I am all in on whatever Kelly Jones wants to do next, because: yay super chickens.

T. Kingfisher, Swordheart. This was funny and adventurous and very sharp about problems with our world while also taking on genre tropes. I laughed and gasped and enjoyed the heck out of this. More.

Sonya Taaffe, Forget the Sleepless Shores. These stories remind me of a certain era of Elizabeth Hand stories in their beautiful prose, but with somewhat different roots. The ones that drew on Jewish sources were my favorite, but honestly there’s not a badly-written piece in here.

Natasha Trethewey, Domestic Work. Poems about everyday life, mostly not in the poet’s immediate present but in her past, through photos of her family and thoughts about what that past has meant. Also some beautiful poems on the line between domestic and nature poetry. I’m very glad I read these.

Anne Ursu, The Lost Girl. A book about sisterhood, about making space for other people and finding what you want to do with your own space, about friends and stubbornness and saving each other. What a fierce book this is. Yay.

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