Books read, early August

Claire Beams, We Show What We Have Learned and Other Stories. Weird literary stories, a bit like a further-north Karen Russell. I enjoyed this and am glad that I have more Beams on request at the library.

Lois McMaster Bujold, The Physicians of Vilnoc. Kindle. So this is another Penric and Desdemona novella, hooray!…except this one is a plague story. Really really a plague story. So, uh. Maybe save that for a day when you’re up for it, if you’re reading this series.

Neil Clarke, ed., Galactic Empires. This table of contents confuses me. It reads like someone took a 20-year-old table of contents edited by someone entirely other than Neil Clarke and tacked a few new stars on it, and that’s how the stories themselves tend to read too. Happy to see Aliette de Bodard and Ann Leckie and Yoon Ha Lee in here, but most of the rest of the volume did not excite me.

Robert Darnton, Mesmerism and the End of the Enlightenment in France. Science! It is frequently interestingly wrong! Even more so before people had very clear ideas about what it was and what they should want it for! I like books about the social consequences of wrong science, and this is a good one of those.

Penelope Fitzgerald, The Bookshop. This is the story of a woman who wants to run a bookshop in a small town that does not particularly want a bookshop. It’s not very long, novella length I’d guess, and…I don’t know, it just left me cold. I didn’t feel like either the protag or her neighbors were particularly sharply characterized, so the Perfidy Of Human Nature plot just sort of sat there for me.

Kathleen Jennings, Flyaway. Australian Gothic? Modern fairy tale? Whatever you’re labeling this genre, its mix of magic, memory, and control is extremely compelling.

Vylar Kaftan, Her Silhouette, Drawn in Water. I haven’t seen a lot of telepath liberation stories in the last few years, but I think Kaftan must have grown up enjoying many of the same ones as I did. The twist in this one was not particularly twisty for me, but the characters were strong.

T. Kingfisher, Bryony and Roses and Summer in Orcus and The Hollow Places. (The last discussed elsewhere.) The first is a Beauty and the Beast story, the second a children’s quest fantasy grown up a bit, and I devoured them both. Lots of elements not seen all the time in fantasy, very engaging voice. Yay.

Nilah Magruder, MFK. Interesting first volume of a graphic novel that…I’m not sure where it’s going, but I’m interested in the setting and characters, and sometimes being unsure is good.

Tehlor Kay Mejia, We Set the Dark On Fire. This is a shape of dystopia I often dislike, and yet I liked this one. Strict categories of women, literal walls enforcing the figurative ones, frenemies thrown together…not really my sort of thing. Except: revolution and friendship and warmth, yes, okay, definitely my sort of thing.

Naomi Mitchison, The Conquered. Historical novel of the Gauls in the time of Vercingetorix, coming under Roman rule. The chapter headings make it clear that she’s also talking about English-colonized Ireland. Her earliest novel and not where I would start with Mitchison but still a good read, a reasonable place to continue.

Abir Mukherjee, Smoke and Ashes. Another colonial Calcutta mystery. At the end there is a hint that Mukherjee will not be content to wallow in his protagonist’s addictions, which is a relief to me, since I have always been more interested in the politics of the setting, and also I like mystery series where the detectives are not completely stagnant throughout. So I will likely keep on with this when the new one comes in at the library. Colonial Calcutta politics! Just the sort of thing I like in a murder mystery.

H.G. Parry, A Declaration of the Rights of Magicians. Okay, how bothered are you when a fantasy alternate history is basically identical to our history even with major well-known magic changes in the timeline? If the answer is that you are quite bothered, you would like magic to matter even a little if the author is going to put it in a book, this is not the book for you. If you’re happy to run along the surface of a story with magic and vampires and the French Revolution and the Haitian Revolution and also Pitt the Younger and William Wilberforce, this is exactly that book. I spent a lot of it wishing to see more of the Haitian characters. Ah well.

Ann Patchett, The Dutch House. Another family novel, this one around a beautiful house and making one’s way in the world and the dislocation that can come of remarriage/stepfamily. That last bit had several uncomfortable pieces for me given my own family history, but still a compulsively readable book.

Julie Schumacher, Dear Committee Members. A satirical epistolary about campus life, with a dark bite at the end. The protagonist is not cursed with the burden of self-awareness, and the entire book (again, I’d estimate novella length?) is his letters and emails and…attempts to fill out a few forms. There are some quite funny bits here.

Mariko Tamaki and Brooklyn Allen, The Lumberjanes BEASTiary. I am not the target audience for this. I found it when I was looking to see what Lumberjanes I had missed out on (see below), and, well, now I have not missed out on it. But it’s the kind of supplemental unplotty book that they put out for kids that doesn’t add much to a series unless you are 10 years old and wildly desperate for Lumberjanes content, which, yes, definitely a valid group, just not my current group.

Tade Thompson, The Survival of Molly Southbourne. Very definitely a sequel and not really a stand-alone one, about the fate of a formerly murderous clone. Interesting and in some weird ways hopeful, but read the very bloody first volume first. (Not that this is without its gore.)

Sylvia Townsend Warner, Kingdoms of Elfin. A collection of short stories from a fey and self-contained sense of the magical. Should be much more available and canonical (if anything is) than it has been.

Shannon Watters, Kat Leyh, Ayme Sotuyo, Dozerdraws, et al, Lumberjanes: Jackalope Springs Eternal, Lumberjanes: Time After Crime, Lumberjanes: Indoor Recess, and Lumberjanes: X Marks the Spot. I began to sympathize with the people who are dedicated enough to comics to have a pull list, because apparently four actual volumes of Lumberjanes came out while I wasn’t looking, plus two more that are on their way. Oops. Unfortunately, reading them all in a group makes it clear how glacially the arc plot is moving. Fortunately, they’re still charming and focused on friendship to the max.

Rebecca West, The Fountain Overflows. I knew within the first few pages that this was just the thing I wanted to read at that moment, and it was. It’s an early twentieth century family story where the children and parents are extremely themselves and it’s funny in parts and compelling throughout and full of places where the reader can see things the narrator can’t and oh I loved this.

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