Books read, late December

Chaz Brenchley, Mary Ellen–Craterean! Chapters 5 and 6. Kindle. The Martian boarding school adventure rattles breathlessly on.

Sarwat Chadda, City of the Plague God. Discussed elsewhere.

Roland Enos, The Age of Wood: Our Most Useful Material and the Construction of Civilization. Enos is coming at this from a biomechanical perspective, which is really interesting. He goes into the physical and chemical details of wood’s reactions to various inputs, and also into how humans biomechanically interact with some of them, and there are all sorts of technologies along the way, literally all sorts. He is very much a wood booster, but it’s okay, so am I.

Rebecca Giggs, Fathoms: The World in the Whale. Whales and their ecosystems. Do you like whales? Of course you do, and so do I, and so does Rebecca Giggs. Not everyone she writes about does, be forewarned, but it’s still a lovely book.

A. Kendra Greene, The Museum of Whales You Will Never See, and Other Excursions to Iceland’s Most Unusual Museums. In addition to thoughts about whales, penises, and other Icelandic museum specifics, this very short volume is thoughtful about museums and collections and how and why we do them.

Barbara Hambly, House of the Patriarch. The latest Benjamin January novel takes our hero to the religious revival movements of western New York in the years before the Civil War. The constant awareness of Ben’s peril makes all of these pretty tense, but it’s short and not more tense than you’d expect for that setting. I feel like Hambly choosing to range within the setting available to her is a good thing, overall, even though there’s a lot more she could still do with New Orleans; I feel like it’s part of her trying not to get into too much of a rut with these but to deliberately explore different aspects of the theme and setting.

Nina Kiriki Hoffman, The Thread That Binds the Bones. Reread. This is very much id fiction. “We have to get married right away upon meeting each other! Never mind why! Also we are both amazingly magically gifted and I can instantly sift through your family and sort good from bad and neutralize your bad relatives!” I mean. If you want that, it is very that. Wish fulfillment and all. And sometimes people very much do want that. I didn’t remember quite how much it was that, though.

Kathleen Jamie, The Overhaul. These are beautiful local nature poems and personal poems, and I just love her. More please. (Her “local” is Scotland.)

Helen Jukes, A Honeybee Heart Has Five Openings. This title sounds like it goes with a very metaphorical, lyrical short story collection full of little lapidary stories that make you gasp. In fact it is about bees. It is a memoir of this author’s beekeeping. And it is very straightforward, it is not particularly lyrical. But if you’d like a person who finds solidity in her life through bees, this is that book.

Guy Gavriel Kay, The Darkest Road. Reread. The last of the Fionavar Tapestry, and I 100% do not recommend reading it without the first two, although I know someone who tried going without the first one. It is high-contrast and mythic and thoroughly itself.

Madeleine L’Engle, The Summer of the Great-Grandmother. Reread. Oh, this was terrible. Oh my God it was so terrible. She keeps telling stories of her father and her husband being just terrible and she does not seem to know that they’re terrible. And then she gets to the point where she’s trying to justify her Southern plantation-owning ancestors as somehow seeing their slaves as doing honorable work because they referred to them as servants. Aaaaagh. Like, the story about how her alcoholic father was rude to waiters and this was a sign that he was awesome and her mother just didn’t understand was bad enough, but then when she got into slavery and the parts that she is literally not the person able to forgive these people…aaaaaagh. Oh Madeleine no.

C.S. Malerich, The Factory Witches of Lowell. A lovely novella that is about what the title tells you: labor movement plus witchcraft in the mills, hurrah, this was so much fun, I want more like this.

Sarah Moss, Signs for Lost Children. This is a sequel, and frankly I think you will do much better if you read Bodies of Light first; it actually gives weight to some of the consequences that are playing out in this book. I feel like this is one of the most elliptical books I’ve ever read. So many important, crucial things happen off the page, between scenes, and must be inferred. I also frankly found only one of the two viewpoint characters, Allie, to be interesting. I wanted to care about the lighthouse builder visiting Japan, but I really didn’t. Ah well. Still a topic and type of book I don’t see enough of.

Carla Nappi, The Monkey and the Inkpot: Natural History and Its Transformations in Early Modern China. An interesting short book that deals with how we know things and how various cultures have approached that and how a shift in it works.

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