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Books read, early July

Maya Angelou, The Complete Collected Poems of Maya Angelou. I think there is a certain groove to reading complete collected works of poetry. You have to know that you’re watching somebody grow as an artist and a person–more so in some cases than in others, but this one, oh, watching the first tentative poems grow into the mature outpourings, it’s a bit like tracing the Mississippi downstream. I had taken some of these poems a bit for granted, but having them placed in context with the other poems that led to them and followed them was amazing and well worth the time.

Mary Hunter Austin, A Woman of Genius. Kindle. So this is a weird book, it is a fictionalized autobiography of a woman who came from a small town in middle America to become an actress in the late 19th century, and all the ways in which it was weird and hard for her to be a woman trying to do something of her own when people did not expect that. She wrote it in 1912, and it has all the melodramatic fervor about Talent and Gift that that era produced, but at the same time, if you’ve been a square peg in a round hole, if you’ve been a tall poppy, this is an extremely vivid and sympathetic book. Unfortunately it is marred by certain sadly predictable racial/ethnic attitudes, but these elements don’t take much of the book’s time.

James Baldwin, Go Tell It On the Mountain. A brilliant family story, a deeps-of-the-South-and-out story, a Black story, a queer story, a weirdly modern story. I’m so glad I read this, I recommend it.

Chaz Brenchley, Mary Ellen–Craterean! Chapters 3 & 4. Forward! Onward! Hijinks! Light fun!

Stephanie Burgis, Fine Deceptions. Kindle. This is the latest in its series and the longest, but it never drags–the blossoming romance of mad scientists is just what I needed, fun and fast-paced and funny.

Ally Carter, Winterborne Home for Vengeance and Valor. The plot arc here is quite predictable but watching the kids get there is still fun. This is a lost heir plot and a plucky orphan plot and it is clearly the beginning of the series. And there are nerdy little friends having adventures, and I wanted that, and I bet some of you could do with some of that right now too.

Sarah Caudwell, Thus Was Adonis Murdered and The Shortest Way to Hades. Rereads. These are charming and witty and hold up extremely well since last I read them. I picked up the one and immediately had to read the other too; if I had the last two in the series in my house I would have immediately read them as well. They are murder mysteries that are almost entirely voice. (I also think that they are the first thing I ever read where the protagonist’s gender was successfully obfuscated; I read Hilary Tamar as nonbinary, and that is not an accidental headcanon, that fits entirely with Caudwell’s text.)

Yong Chen, Chinese San Francisco, 1850-1943. Chen wants to situate Chinatown and its environs as a firmly trans-Pacific community in opposition to some historians who tried to treat it as an outpost of China, and I think this is entirely successful, and also in parts extremely interesting.

Aliette de Bodard, Of Dragons, Feasts, and Murders. What a relief this was, having it show up just when I was not feeling good (don’t worry, it’s fine). This is a holiday story, but this time it’s Tet rather than Christmas, and going home for Tet is…a very fraught thing for this dragon and fallen angel pair. So much fun.

Sarah Gailey, When We Were Magic. I’m really pleased that there are more fantasy novels coming out that center teen girl friendships. I am a huge sucker for friendship books in whatever genders, but having teen girls treated with respect on their own terms warms my heart. Like Hannah Abigail Clarke’s The Scapegracers, this one sees teenage girls clearly, their mistakes and gaps in knowledge but also their capacity for caring, ferocity, and so much more. I did feel that When We Were Magic could have done with a little more in the way of consequences for some of the stuff–or at least underlining what the consequences it had actually meant–but on the whole I enjoyed it a lot.

T. Kingfisher, Paladin’s Grace. Kindle. Another fluffy fun fantasy romance about adult people with baggage. One of the two protagonists is a perfumer, which means that her worldview is one of the only sensible ones ever in fantasy, focused on how people smell yes good that is life.

Rosemary Kirstein, The Lost Steersman and The Language of Power. Rereads. The Marta Randall novel I read further down the alphabet reminded me a bit of these, so I decided to finish rereading the series. This was a great decision and my only regret is that books 5 and 6 are not out yet, but at least I know Rosemary’s writing them now. The focus on knowledge, investigation, and kindness is exactly what I needed in a science fiction novel. I did end up feeling weird about being bilaterally symmetrical, but that’ll happen from time to time.

Seanan McGuire, Come Tumbling Down. The latest in her series of portal fantasy novellas, goes back to previous worlds and characters, definitely not a stand-alone but another installation in the larger story.

Marta Randall, Mapping Winter. Kindle. People trying to do good within a corrupt system. This is fantasy, but it reminds me, as I said above, of the Steerswoman books, the tech level, the exploratory feeling, the entire social structure. This is a compliment. I am looking forward to the sequel.

Iona Datt Sharma, ed. Consolation Songs. I make a policy of not reviewing anthologies I’m in, and I’m in this one.

Jo Walton, Or What You Will. Discussed elsewhere.

W.B. Yeats, Poems and Seven Poems and a Fragment. Kindle. The one that says poems is mostly plays, and there’s a poem about some of my response in a previous entry. Yeats is doing things with Irish mythologies that are more intellectually interesting than emotionally resonant for me, but they are intellectually interesting…and these were on my Kindle when I desperately and immediately needed a diversion. (Ideally next fortnight’s book post will be less like that….)

Jill Ahlberg Yohe and Teri Greeves, eds., Hearts of Our People: Native Women Artists. This is an exhibit book from a beautiful, varied, and in places surprising exhibition at Minneapolis Institute of Art. I went to talks around this exhibition, and I’m glad there are essays and photos to showcase it, because it’s good and needed work.

Jane Yolen, ed., Nebula Awards Showcase 2018. I’d already read a lot of this because of keeping up in the field in general, but the few I had not encountered yet were worth the time, and I’m glad they’re doing these volumes.

Steven J. Zipperstein, Pogrom: Kishinev and the Tilt of History. This account of a massive early 20th century pogrom and the social fallout thereafter was good and useful history to know and also incredibly difficult to read.

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