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Books read, early June

Zen Cho, Black Water Sister. An American woman goes to Malaysia with her parents and meets her grandmother. Who is dead. And learns a lot about her family, local gods, herself, and where she wants to be going with all this. This was delightful. Highly recommended.

Roshani Chokshi, A Crown of Wishes. Chokshi’s second novel and the last of hers I’ve gotten around to reading. There’s a darker feel here to the magical elements she’s brought to play in some of her other work, but two people still have to learn to trust each other and find their happy ending through tournaments and poisons and other stuff that’s much more fun to read about than to live.

Nino Cipri, Defekt. A sequel to Finna and along very similar lines: funny-horror-SF Ikea commentary. A quick good time at the edges of what I usually like in terms of its horror elements.

Dashiell Hammett, Red Harvest. The title kind of tells you what he’s doing here: people are gonna get killed. And killed and killed, wow, so killed. There’s a reason his later novels are more famous, because the structure here is just wild, but the sentences are all very very Hammett.

Graci Kim, The Last Fallen Star. Charming middle-grade fantasy about an adoptee figuring out her powers and her place in the world. Very centered on Korean-American LA in a way that was interesting and fun. I continue to love what Rick Riordan is doing with this line of books and the different authors whose voices get highlighted here.

Arthur C. Parker, Seneca Myths and Folk Tales. Parker was telling these stories from his own memory and interactions with his own friends and family members, and it has a certain feel of…drawing you into the cultural assumptions along with him. It’s the kind of compilation you got a lot in the early twentieth century, so it has that kind of writing, but in a very matter-of-fact voice, like, of course the person turned into a porcupine then, that’s what would happen! I enjoyed this.

Sarah Prineas, Trouble in the Stars. A light tale of shapeshifting alien kid. Since I just drafted one of those, I wanted to see if it was anything like mine, and the answer is, wow, no, could not be more different. Yay! This one has all sorts of different spacefaring aliens, not all of whom get along even a little bit in the early part of the book. Good times.

Taylor Jenkins Reid, The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo. The twist ending did not feel very twisty to me because I think a lot about story structure, but I enjoyed the relationships and how they unfolded, particularly in the early part of the book, and if you like thinking about Old Hollywood vs. new journalism, this is an interesting one.

J. C. Rudkin, Cthulhu: A Love Story. Discussed elsewhere.

Dorothy Sayers, Gaudy Night, Murder Must Advertise, and The Nine Tailors. Rereads. It’s striking to me, on this reread, how much it looks like Sayers no longer wanted to write about murder after introducing Harriet Vane to the series. She still did it–it’s a murder mystery series, and the pressure from her publisher was intense. But she also found ways to do other things, and to make even the books that were clearly about murder also about other things. I like all of these. These are some of my favorites of the series. (I still maintain that if you’re going to read only one, it should be Bellona Club. Several of my friends suggest Murder Must Advertise works fine that way, but I think a major part of its appeal is the contrast of who Peter is pretending to be–who he might have been–with who he really is.) But I do wonder what it might have been like if she had been encouraged to wander off and written whatever novels appealed to her, what their structure might have looked like. Or whether it would have looked like this after all, since this was the structure she knew best.

Robin R. Wang, Images of Women in Chinese Thought and Culture: Writings from the Pre-Qin Period through the Song Dynasty. I don’t recommend this. Two reasons: one, this is the sort of book that goes with a particular course being taught by a particular professor, that they happen to have gotten published in book form. (It was a hand-me-down to me that was a gift to someone else.) There are loads of other things at least as good written about women in China over this two thousand year period; I can see the shape of the coursework around it, but even when it was published this was not a particularly special selection. But what’s worse is that this is an area in which fifteen years of scholarship have made a huge difference in how such a selection would be curated. Almost none of this work is by women, and its skew is very much in a particular direction. Several of the notes use identical language to that justifying basically every patriarchal culture–“oh but it’s fine that the women had huge restrictions because in this culture the family was valued“–check the literature, they literally say it about every single one, and what if…that kind of justification was not our job? what if we were observing rather than justifying? what if the role of this kind of book was to observe a diversity of thought (this book does not do that) and role in a gigantic empire over an immense span of time rather than to give a fairly narrowly curated view? Anyway you’ll want something else, this is not notably good commentary or selection.

Cynthia Zhang, After the Dragons. Discussed elsewhere.

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