Books read, early January

Leigh Bardugo, Ninth House. This was a period of reading when I needed to spend a lot of time on the couch, so books I could dive into and not come up for air until I was done were very welcome, and this was one of them. I am a gigantic sucker for college novels, and this is very much a college novel, but it’s a college novel that has considered how much privilege informs the American college experience, it’s a college novel that is not writing about Yale as though, tra la, really anybody could have a lovely time at Yale because people get to go there at random! There is no tra la. There is a certain knowing fondness for various Yale things, as with Pamela Dean writing about Carleton/Blackstock, but with an edge to it. The magic is dark but with hope baked in. I was so glad I had this to devour when I wanted to devour something all at once.

Stephanie Burgis, Renegade Magic and Stolen Magic. These two were a completely different kind of couch read, equally appreciated. They’re the end of the series that started with Kat, Incorrigible: Regency magic, but with an adolescent protagonist, so while there are society balls, trips to Bath, weddings, those things are all around the edges of the young protagonist’s real focus, which is magic, magic, and more magic. Kat continues to be spirited, determined, and a lot of fun.

Bryan Caplan and Zach Weinersmith, Open Borders: The Science and Ethics of Immigration. This is a graphic novel about what it says on the tin. For me the graphic novel aspect didn’t add much, but I’m not a very visual person; it was reasonably well done, and if you want to read about this topic without committing an entire month of your life to a volume about it, this is a reasonable place to start.

Liliana Colanzi, Our Dead World. Short stories of the fantastic in translation from a Bolivian writer, and the title gives you a hint on their level of good cheer and optimism. They’re beautiful, but I was glad it was not a longer volume for the sake of my mood.

Andrew S. Curran, Diderot and the Art of Thinking Freely. A brisk and interesting intellectual biography of Denis Diderot and his place in French philosophy and revolutionary thought. This is very accessible and goes into his relationships with other thinkers of his era in touching but not tedious detail. If you’re at all interested in Diderot or 18th century France, this is probably a good one for you.

Mike Davis, Late Victorian Holocausts: El Nino Famines and the Making of the Third World. This book did not come to play. The author states outright that he included the contemporary photographs of the famine victims as an indictment of the colonial governments that ruled them, and his analysis makes it clear that that indictment was justified. He did clear comparisons of how the British government in India handled famines, for example, compared to how the previous Mughal governments handled comparable famines (with data to prove that yes, they were comparable). He went through the hows and whys of the horrific choices that lead to so many deaths. It was a terrifying read, but it was extremely worthwhile, because even if you have consciously rejected the just universe hypothesis, it creeps into all sorts of assumptions, and having it thoroughly stomped is very useful.

Christopher Ingraham, If You Lived Here You’d Be Home By Now: Why We Traded the Commuting Life for a Little House on the Prairie. Ingraham is mild-mannered and entertaining, and there are all sorts of things about Minnesota that he likes that I could squint at and say, oh, well sure, I guess we do that. There are other places where he utterly, utterly fails to distinguish between Minnesota and rural Minnesota, which is particularly frustrating when so do other coastal people, constantly, so hey, Christopher, thanks for telling them we don’t have varied food in Minnesota, that’s grand, I already wasn’t fighting that inaccurate stereotype. He also…is not going for depth here. This is a light book that does not particularly want to spend time on why his family has replicated a lot of cultural gender patterns, whether other family members might find that a bit less, golly gee whiz keen than he does. So it’s good for a smile, this book, but not a lot more.

Gwyneth Jones, The Buonaratti Quartet. A small volume of short alien stories. I incline to Jones’s more recent and earthly work, but it was thought-provoking about humans and relationships all the same.

T. Kingfisher, Minor Mage. I see why the author and her potential publishers disagreed about whether this was a middle-grade book or not, and I don’t think it’s the reason she stated in the notes, I think it’s that the protagonist ends up taking rather violent actions rather consistently and on-page in the ending. For most of the book, however, it could almost have been the kind of MG that is enjoyed by adults and kids alike; including the ending, I think it can still be enjoyed by a wide age range as long as you’re careful for kids who are okay with processing violence by their main characters. It’s funny and smart and has a clever protag and an armadillo. I’m glad I read it. I just also see where it fell between the cracks in traditional categories.

Sarah Kozloff, A Queen in Hiding. Discussed elsewhere.

Laurie Marks, Air Logic. Finally the conclusion to this amazing series, pulling together threads of timeline and culture and character and ways of thought. Definitely do not start here, definitely read the whole thing…but I do recommend reading the whole thing, it’s only four books, it’s complete and it’s out and it’s human and humane and complicated. I’m so glad I read this when I could have it all in a relatively short time frame. Yay this series. Yay.

Helen Mitsios, ed., Out of the Blue: New Short Fiction from Iceland. There were some very weird trends in this, lots of vacationing on beaches further south, lots of men being jerks to their partners or families…a kind of literary fiction I don’t read much of, but with an Icelandic angle. Interesting.

Erin Morgenstern, The Starless Sea. This was another college-ish literary fantasy novel, but it was completely different from Ninth House, so reading them in quick succession was actually fine for me. I felt like it was a little in love with its own imagery and could have been shorter, but on the other hand some of its imagery was pretty fun.

Abir Mukherjee, A Rising Man. I really want to find my new mystery series. This one…had a bit too much of the “obsessed with the same things everyone else is obsessed with about that period” going on (WHY do so many mystery writers find opium addiction interesting, opium addiction is so fundamentally boring to me), but on the other hand the cultural interplay of the characters in Calcutta in 1919 is interesting, having Mukherjee’s deft hand on more than one perspective is interesting, so I will probably try another one and see if he lets up on the tropey elements or takes them somewhere fresh.

David Northrup, Africa’s Discovery of Europe. This was a later period than I hoped–it was post-Moorish Spain, for example. But it focused on African perspective of encounters with European cultures, African agency in assessing those cultures, and on documentation of those perspectives in the fifteenth to nineteenth century, which is a good counter-narrative to what historians mostly focus on.

Amanda Owen, A Year in the Life of the Yorkshire Shepherdess. This does what it says on the tin. Lots of sheep, lots of children. Less of me wanting to kick her husband in the shins than her previous volume, so there’s that going for it–there’s no particular need to read the previous one, either, so if you want to skip the bit where you want to kick her husband in the shins and read about a modern woman farming sheep and children in the north of England, just go on ahead with this one.

Rebecca Roanhorse, Race to the Sun. Discussed elsewhere.

Delia Sherman and Ellen Kushner, The Fall of the Kings. Reread. I just love this so much, all its scholarly research and magic and earnest and angry and disillusioned and hopeful people and…this has always been my favorite in this entire series and I said I was rereading it for Present Writers, but mostly I was rereading it because I like to. And also because I was seeing the Mad Duke as thwarted scientist and wanted to see that ramify, and it does.

Adam Shoalts, Beyond the Trees: A Journey Alone Across Canada’s Arctic. This guy canoed solo across the Canadian Arctic. If you’ve just said, “But–but the rivers don’t do that,” then congratulations, you win a geography prize. Much of Shoalts’s canoeing was upstream. This was not a sensible thing to do by any stretch, and for me it kept falling on the side of “but why, sir, why” instead of “okay this is just random enough to be cool,” but there were enough encounters with northern fauna to keep me going.

Sherwood Smith, Time of Daughters (Book I). This is set in the same world as Sherwood’s Inda, which is my favorite of her books, but further on in the timeline, when Inda’s legend has had a chance to settle into people’s minds and change how youth and their elders think about their world. Some of the impact of that is here–sometimes in ways that would have surprised Inda and his friends. This is a piece of a larger story, still centered on responsibility and leadership as the Inda books were.

Django Wexler, City of Stone and Silence. Discussed elsewhere.

Troy L. Wiggins, DaVaun Sanders, and Brandon O’Brien, eds., Fiyah Issue 13. Another solid issue, always a pleasure, but for me the first two stories, “All That the Storm Took” by Yah Yah Scholfield and “Roots on Ya” by LH Moore were the ones that really stuck with me in the best ways.

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