Books read, late June

Sophie Anderson, The Girl Who Speaks Bear. This is a fun and charming middle-grade book that draws on Russian tales to make its own new thing. If you’ve read Anderson’s previous book, The House With Chicken Legs, there will be elements of the Baba Yaga story in there that have callbacks here, but it’s more a related work than a sequel. I loved the big strong titular character, her world, and her arc.

K. Arsenault Rivera, The Warrior Moon. It was the perfect time for me to sink into a big fat fantasy novel wherein the characters’ flirtations with godhood are taken head-on. I’d recommend that you read the first two before coming to this one–there are a lot of elements here that will be far more satisfying if you’ve got the characters’ backstory. Also, there were a couple of separate threads of father/daughter relationship that made me cry–done very well. Giant wolves ftw.

Molly Brooks, Sanity and Tallulah: Field Trip. Middle grade graphic novel, second in its series, and with a much more exotic element than the first, because this one takes place on a planet. Whoa, weird! But Brooks does a really good job of cuing you in on what you’ll need to know in such a foreign environment. (Seriously, the two space station girls’ planetary adventures are so much fun.)

C.J. Cherryh, Resurgence. The latest atevi book. For the love of PETE do not read this without the others, because it is in no way an independent story, it’s just another place where she’s carved off the next bit of the ongoing story. It is alien diplomacy soap opera. I find every sentence and paragraph completely readable, but don’t think too hard about where it’s going, because it’s not going. It’s here. Only read the late part of this series if you have no attachment to plot momentum, if you want to spend the day hanging out with your alien pals while they drink tea and argue politics. Plot is a thing that rears its head only occasionally and not energetically.

Ted Chiang, Exhalation: Stories. Quite often I can appreciate what Ted Chiang is doing without particularly loving it–my response is often more mental than emotional. That was not the case for “The Life Cycle of Software Objects” in particular: I think it is my favorite thing of all of his. Thoroughly compelling.

Julie C. Day, ed., Weird Dream Society: An Anthology in Support of RAICES. Kindle. This was a very solid reprint anthology that I found enjoyable, not just virtuous for its cause. For me standout stories included “Glasswort, Ice” by Emily Cataneo, “Amanda Invades the Museum” by Michael J. DeLuca, and “And Sneer of Cold Command” by Premee Mohamed. But there’s a lot of good stuff to choose from here.

Lisa Goldstein, A Mask for the General. Reread. This book practically has, “HELLO MY AUTHOR IS A BABY BOOMER” written in all caps at the top of every page. The attitudes toward Berkeley, toward which dystopia it is we’re risking exactly, toward ephemeral wearable art…it’s very very much of its generation. Which is neither good nor bad, it just is. But wow, is it.

Hermione Lee, Virginia Woolf. Gigantic magisterial biography, generally quite good. Lee had a tangent wherein she was absolutely obsessive about what, in stage-directed detail, had happened when Woolf was sexually abused, and I could have done without that, but otherwise it was a thoughtful assessment of a literary life. And importantly to my own attitudes, it did not make the mistake of thinking either that platonic friendships or friendships conducted primarily in writing (or, y’know, both) were negligible. Which to me would have badly misunderstood both the world and Virginia Woolf. So. Interesting stuff.

Rose Macaulay, Abbots Verney. This was her first novel, and while she was still not doing what everyone else did, this was a lot closer to what everyone else was doing in 1906 than…well, yeah. Anything subsequent that I’ve read by Macaulay. Questions of honor and family and where one should and should not cut ties are central here. There are also two completely gratuitous moments of conversational antisemitism that could have been cut without changing the thrust of the story–but they weren’t, so be aware if you’re thinking of reading this, that’s an element that’s in it.

Hilary Mantel, The Mirror and the Light. The last in her Thomas Cromwell trilogy. I think one of the things Mantel does so beautifully here is give a sense of how history is not fixed while you’re living it. The flux and uncertainty of Cromwell’s world comes through so very well. I found it compelling and worth the entire long read. Probably less confusing if you start with the first one.

Ash Parsons, Girls Save the World in This One. This is 100% not my subgenre, and I sat down and read it in one go anyway. It’s ultra-contemporary in its voice (to the point where I’m not sure the slang and references will age well), and it’s about zombies. Zombies at a convention for a zombie show fandom. But it’s like Parsons sat down and was like, “What if I hit all these genre beats but…not misogyny?” And teen girl friendship was central, and that’s worth a lot of zombies to me. (Which is good, because zombie novels rarely come with just the one.)

Marge Piercy, What Are Big Girls Made Of. This is not really what I want in poetry. I see that it’s doing what it aims at, but it’s very on-the-nose. I found the series of poems dealing with the death of her brother pretty powerful, out of the whole volume.

Lara Prescott, The Secrets We Kept. A spy novel about the typing pool women and Doctor Zhivago and sexuality and friendship. I found it compelling, and it made me want to at least check out Doctor Zhivago.

Vienna C. Saari Maki, Ready to Descend: A Minnesota Iron Ore Miner in the Underground, 1908-1913. This book is awesome. Is it good? No, not really. But it’s awesome. Basically Saari Maki decided to translate her uncle’s journals from when he was a miner on the Range in the early 20th century. Lots of interesting information about life in those conditions, but also moments of hilarity (…the Finnish transliterations of the English stuff he hears the most…) and fervent, heartfelt passages about socialism that strike me as written in a particular range that changed once socialism was a flawed human system being tried by flawed humans. I’m so glad I have this book.

Simon Schama, The Story of the Jews: Finding the Words, 1000 BC – 1492 AD. The early sections of this book are particularly interesting as Schama sets archaeological evidence beside what we know of Jewish life in various Biblical eras–sort of a “yes, and” perspective about what specific Jewish people were doing. Covering an entire ethnic group including major diaspora in one volume is a feat that will inevitably lead to leaving out all sorts of things, and unfortunately much of what I wanted was in that category. There would be a single sentence, “such-and-such was a major center of Jewish life in this-or-that country,” and I’d be like, yes, that happened in the period you are covering, how did it happen, when did it happen. But still an interesting thing to do.

Ngozi Ukazu, Check, Please! Book 2: Sticks and Scones. This is a very sweet gay hockey/baking romance comic. You can read it online still I think? But I read better in print, so that’s what I did here.

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