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Books read, late November

Maurice Druon, The Iron King. French historical fiction. Very much of the Batman Villain school of historical fiction (you know: the good guys are physically apparent, and so are the bad guys), but still adventurous and fun.

Doris Kearns Goodwin, The Bully Pulpit: Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, and the Golden Age of Journalism. This was a quite long book, and yet I still felt like it needed to be longer in order to address its subject properly. The stuff about early 20th century journalism was much better covered in the beginning of the book than at the end, and the lives and interactions of Roosevelt and Taft after their falling out were not really very well covered. There was still a lot of interest in this book, though, and one of its chief results was making me a huge Nellie Herron Taft fan. I am firmly convinced that if not for her stroke, we would remember the Taft presidency radically differently. Fascinating, awesome woman.

Daniel Walker Howe, What Hath God Wrought: The Transformation of America, 1815-1848. This was another gigantic piece of nonfiction from the library, and I loved it. I gnashed my teeth a great deal, but not at the historian. It was full of all sorts of tidbits about different aspects of life, not just a “presidents and great landowners” sort of history, and also Howe is clear about the difference between “Americans” doing x, y, or z and a particular demographic of Americans doing x, y, or z. Oh, but don’t believe They Might Be Giants: Martin Van Buren was in no sense an abolitionist. I don’t know why they said that. Scansion is no excuse. (James K. Polk did a bunch of the stuff in the song. But Van Buren, no.)

Ross King, The Judgment of Paris: The Revolutionary Decade That Gave the World Impressionism. If you already know a bit about 19th century French art–which apparently I do–this will not be very edifying. If not, it covers the lead-in to Impressionism, which is an interesting bit of art history. I had hoped it would be a bit deeper, though.

Alethea Kontis, Hero. Yep, it’s settled: I will keep reading these fairy-tale mashups as long as Alethea wants to keep writing them. The Woodcutter family is fun.

Eve LaPlante, Marmee and Louisa: The Untold Story of Louisa May Alcott and Her Mother. I did not actually need to despise Bronson Alcott more than I previously did, and yet oh. OH. WHAT AN UTTER HEEL. Most things written about him are written by people who sympathize with him at least enough to write about him. LaPlante, on the other hand, was writing about the wife he mistreated. Abba Alcott was a fascinating person, influential and connected in her own right, and despite the angrification at Bronson, this was a really cool book.

George R. R. Martin and Gardner Dozois, eds., Dangerous Women. Discussed elsewhere.

Kenneth Oppel, This Dark Endeavor. I should not have liked this book. It was in several key ways eye-rollingly awful. It’s a prequel to Frankenstein, and it’s from the perspective of a teenage Victor, who is not, it turns out, improved by pubescent thinking. And there are bits and pieces of shout-outs to the original that fall completely flat. And nonetheless I found myself continuing with reading it, enjoying it, and even planning to read the sequel. Go figure.

Emily Pohl-Weary, Not Your Ordinary Wolf Girl. This ended abruptly, like the first two-thirds of a novel, and also the plot followed pretty standard werewolf narratives, so…the title felt particularly unfortunate. I enjoyed reading it, though, and it looks to me like a promising sign about Pohl-Weary’s later work.

Ruth Rendell, No Man’s Nightingale. Latest Wexford mystery, and I really like how the retired Inspector continues to age, how he has different strengths and weaknesses than the younger characters. I would not recommend starting here, though, as most libraries will have some earlier volumes that will give more context to the characters.

Ian Tregillis, Something More Than Night. Discussed elsewhere.

Gene Luen Yang, Boxers and Saints. A pair of graphic novels about the Boxer Rebellion, from opposing and overlapping Chinese perspectives. The sort of thing I look at and think, “When I was my godkids’ age, they just plain didn’t have anything like this.” Neither of the two comes first; they are companions rather than one a sequel.

Roger Zelazny, A Dark Traveling. Novelette. If you’re in the mood for Zelazny and not so much for First Person Asshole, this fits the bill admirably. Teenage cross-world traveling with enough mythical/legendary elements to fill an entire trilogy of modern urban fantasy/paranormal romance; very much a precursor to that sort of thing.

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