Books read, early May

Lois McMaster Bujold, The Curse of Chalion. Reread. This is for a panel I’m doing for virtual Fourth Street this year, “Choosing What Matters: Concepts of Heroism in The Curse of Chalion,” so I’m going to save most of my thoughts for the panel–I hope you’ll join us! But what I will say is: Lois is one of the people who grows most as a writer, year over year, in this whole damn genre. She grows and grows, and the way you can see it all the time if you keep reading her is amazing.

Roshani Chokshi, Aru Shah and the City of Gold. I love this series. It is so much fun. Don’t start here, start at the beginning. (This is the fourth one.) I got to this one after my younger godchild did, so I could squee on the family Discord about the marmots and other choice sections without fear of spoilers, and it was lovely. I am so happy every time there is more of Aru and Mini and their friends. (I am a huge Mini partisan.)

Pamela Dean, Tam Lin. Reread. Beloved every time I read it, but this time was for a project that is not yet public, so I’ll mostly save the thoughts for that context.

Elizabeth Enright, The Saturdays. Reread. This was not the success that some of the other rereads this fortnight were. Specifically, a lot less of the book was “kids running around having independent adventures” than I remembered–that was the part I liked, so I think this was an example of the reader’s 50% being 80% for kids’ books (more on which in a bit), while there were lots of other kind of weird elements that I sort of skimmed over as a kid because I didn’t understand what they were doing there. And now I understand that mostly what they’re doing there are things like: reinforcing nasty stereotypes about Roma people solely to provide an adult character with a colorful past. Uh. Wow. Not really great, no longer really worth it. Sigh.

Siân Evans, Maiden Voyages: Magnificent Ocean Liners and the Women Who Traveled and Worked Aboard Them. Discussed elsewhere.

Elizabeth Fair, A Winter Away. This was a nice, light book in which a young woman gets a job setting an old man’s library to rights and generally serving as his secretary, and various amusing things ensue. She lives with her cousin and her cousin’s companion, and it’s one of those midcentury books where nobody actually says BECAUSE THEY ARE LESBIANS WHO LESB but basically yes, they are nice middle-aged lesbians who take in a young cousin while she is finding her way in the world, which she does.

Elizabeth Lim, Six Crimson Cranes. Discussed elsewhere.

Ada Limón, Bright Dead Things and The Carrying. The latter was the one I read first, and it knocked me over completely in the best possible way. It deals unflinchingly with having vertigo, with wanting a child and not having one, with all sorts of horribly difficult things and also mundane things and beautiful things. I want to read all her work. I love this. I was so happy that I had gotten both volumes from the library at once so I didn’t have to wait even a minute between finishing The Carrying and starting Bright Dead Things, and if these two are an indication, she is still getting better. Wow.

Dorothy Sayers, Clouds of Witness and Whose Body?. Rereads. A friend’s discussion of Antisemitism and depictions of Antisemitism in these books finally pushed me over the edge into the reread I’d been toying with all pandemic, and they are just what I wanted this week. Bunter remains the best. These two are fine enough for what they are, but they’re a lead-up to my actual favorites.

Noel Streatfeild, Ballet Shoes and Traveling Shoes. Rereads. The bits about ocean liners, above, made me think happily of the bits in Traveling Shoes where they’re sitting in Myra and Ethel’s cabin talking about various family things, which turn out to be entirely in my own head. A friend has suggested that I may have conflated with another Streatfeild; I’ll check. But there was a lot of reader’s 50% here too. On the other hand, there’s a staggering amount of stuff that I took for granted when I read and reread these as a kid–the way that there’s a ton of dancing with basically no fat-shaming, for example, or the way that there are women with a startling variety of professions and that everyone, absolutely everyone, takes it for granted that it is entirely needed for girls to be prepared to earn their livings. Look: there is a woman with a math PhD in Ballet Shoes. I took it for granted as a kid. But there she is, and she always was, I just…didn’t know how extraordinary that was on the first twenty-million times through. There are some very weird things that Streatfeild completely does not understand (ballet dancers do not have beautiful magical feet; ballet dancers are not a magical species apart from other people who have no need to learn about learning or humility) but in general they were still interesting and fun and the suck fairy had been at them remarkably little. (I still wish Petrova, dear awesome Petrova, had gotten an actual first name. Poor Petrova.)

Jesse Q. Sutanto, Dial A for Aunties. This was just what I needed the day after my second vaccine. I had no energy, and I just curled up in bed and read about the antics of this wedding catering family and was relieved to the point of tears when they had the good kind of pear at a really crucial emotional moment. And I giggled a lot. A lot.

Lynne Thomas, Michael Damian Thomas, et al, eds., Uncanny Magazine Issue 40. Kindle. Another very satisfying issue, with standout stories from Fran Wilde and Rachel Swirsky.

Kate Wilhelm, Defense for the Devil. Reread. It was very strange to read this in close proximity to a friend’s actual mystery manuscript (which is a category I don’t discuss in these posts), because this, a published piece of prose by a writer who taught writing for decades, felt more like a manuscript to me. Is this because the field has moved on so much in the intervening years? (But then Sayers. So perhaps not.) Is this because Defense for the Devil was a lesser work of Wilhelm’s? I’m not sure, and I feel a little uneasy about finding out, because I remember enjoying the Barbara Holloway mysteries, and yet a lot of things about this felt rushed to me–the characterization, the prose, the balance of what was shown and what summarized–and I could immediately tell how I would write the critique for this promising piece if I was handed it in draft. But it wasn’t a draft, and it had so much scaffolding, so many places where the writer did not trust the reader to feel or think or draw the desired conclusions without joggling their elbow without the authorial voice saying, “he was right,” sometimes literally. Rereading this at a time when I was repeatedly interrupted by life rather than racing through it all in a go didn’t help…but very few people can rely on reading books in even two or three gulps. So. We’ll see about the rest of this series, when I can face it.

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