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Books read, early April

Daniel Abraham, Age of Ash. You can count on Abraham to write a sentence and a paragraph. He is solidly a good writer on the level of: can this man write. Answer: yes. The central fantasy conceit of the magic around this tyrant–why the secrecy? tyrants get away with all kinds of stuff–is not my favorite of his. It doesn’t have the luminous brilliance of the Long Price series or the–well, the banking. It does not have the quirkiness of the Dagger and the Coin, let’s say. It’s very readable, but I hope that it gets more direction in the next book.

Max Adams, The Viking Wars: War and Peace in King Alfred’s Britain, 789-955. Adams has a very clear bias toward written sources when it comes to Vikings that is less present when it comes to the English–that is, he’s stronger on archaeology as a source in England (or even Scotland and nearby isles). Which is fair enough, that’s his period. It means that there were a few places early on where I quibbled before settling into the part of the book that was solidly about the early English and enjoying that very much. I intend to read more of his work.

Katherine Addison, The Grief of Stones. Discussed elsewhere.

Kelly Barnhill, When Women Were Dragons. Discussed elsewhere.

Neil Clarke, Xia Jia, and Regina Kanyu Wang, eds., New Voices in Chinese Science Fiction. Kindle. This was a lovely anthology, and it started with my favorite story in it, putting me in a good mood for the whole thing. That was Shuang Chimu’s “My Family and Other Evolving Animals,” which was very consciously and deliberately the modern Chinese science fiction version of Gerald Durrell, which is a thing I definitely needed and some of you are now crying out in delight that you need too, and some are saying “what who” but that’s okay. The point is: cross-culturally really lovely, what a fun collection.

Christopher Fry, The Lady’s Not for Burning. Reread. One of the things I noticed about Fry on this reread, 25 years after I first read it, is that he has so many good lines but not one-liners, not things that are easily going to wind up in quote files, because they’re good lines in context, you have to back up at least a few lines and often half the play to really savor why they’re good. I’d hedge this around with content warnings if you have or have had someone suicidal in your life, but they all get through it in the end–I feel fine about that spoiler, it’s a play from the ’40s. They all get through it in the end. Yes.

Sarah Gailey, Just Like Home. Discussed elsewhere.

James Gleick, ed., The Best of American Science Writing 2000. Reread. When we reshelved the science section, I could see this collection of essays on the shelf and think: do I still want this twenty years later? and the answer is: not really. But the reason for that answer is interesting to me, it’s not that everything in it was ephemeral, it’s that more than half of what was included is now in books I’ve read (and often own) in other forms. A lot of the stuff that was considered the best science writing was not the writing that was conveying science news to people when they most needed it but the stuff that was slower, almost more novelistic. And on a certain level that makes sense, that’s what people tend to mean by good writing. But also it’s a good reminder that we might mean some other things by “good writing” that we…really don’t tend to. And in science writing in particular, that has social consequences.

Angelica Gorodischer, Jaguar’s Tomb. Experimental and harrowing–a bit less harrowing for being more experimental. Three chunks of novel each written by the subject of its predecessor. Gorodischer’s attempt to deal with those who disappeared during the Dirty War in Argentina, not something easy to face head-on or in fact at all. Circling it, coming around in different ways, made sense. Glad I read it, but oof.

Sarah Orne Jewett, The Queen’s Twin and Other Stories. Kindle. Very short collection of very short stories from the late 19th century. These are slices of Maine country life with heavy dialect. It was apparently phoneticized Irish person fortnight in the land of me. Not my favorite of her work, but I do love her old Maine ladies.

Jennifer C. McElwain, Marlene Hill Donnelly, and Ian J. Glasspool, Tropical Arctic: Lost Plants, Future Climates, and the Discovery of Ancient Greenland. Archaeological exploration and reconstruction of Greenland. I particularly love that there is a person who takes the shapes made by leaves in these fossil imprints and makes models of them out of foil and other materials to try to figure out how the leaves would have hung and moved in wind, because fossilization is a flattening process and leaves rarely just sit flat in life.

Foz Meadows, A Strange and Stubborn Endurance. Discussed elsewhere.

L. M. Montgomery, Jane of Lantern Hill, Pat of Silver Bush, and Mistress Pat. Rereads. I had been confusing these–it’s not Jane who loves a house to her own detriment, it’s Pat. Ah well, it had been more than thirty years since I’d read any of them. Jane is merely mediocre late-period Montgomery–not terrible, but pride is the only thing that ever comes between people in love, and everything can always be fixed by moving to PEI. Yyyyeah. The Pat books–this is the full conservatism of late Montgomery coming to the fore, and I do mean little-c conservative–“never change anything ever” could be Pat’s motto, and it seems to be one Montgomery is reasonably in sympathy with. One of Pat’s horrible sister-in-law’s sins is wanting to have a different picture hung on the wall than has always been hung on the wall. THE FIEND. HOW DARES. The entire plot arc, if you can call it that, is completely unsatisfying to me: Pat hangs around, something horrible happens but no one is hurt, she goes to hang around somewhere else without, so far as I can tell, anyone changing notably in the process. (Pride…once again seems to be the only thing…maybe? or something? Unclear.) Mistress Pat is also a very weird book because it was written into the near future at the time–it came out in 1935 and each year of the book is labeled “Year 1” and so on through “Year 11”–and in Year 1, 20-year-old Pat says she remembers the Armistice (of the Great War) when she was 5. So she was born in 1914. So year 1 is 1934, the book came out in 1935, and Montgomery blithely wrote years 3-11 on a speculative basis. Which is fine, it’s not like anything notable could happen in 1936-1945 anyway, it’ll probably be just like she…ima…gin…ed….it…..oh dear. But there’s actually something meta-appropriate about that, because of Pat’s “never change anything ever” motto: the real world might have been having World War II, but Silver Bush is not actually on PEI, it’s in Brigadoon, where Irish servants tell tall tales with their exaggerated brogues and the worst thing that ever happens is that your brother runs away to sea where the Germans will probably NO THERE ARE NO GERMANS NEVER MIND. And your sister leaves to be a missionary in China in about 1943, I expect that’ll be fine. Um. No, but it’s still worse than that, because in 1935 she already had reason to know that the Prairie Provinces were having the Dust Bowl–the Depression wasn’t as bad in the Maritimes because their economy was already terrible but having Pat’s father blithely be like “maybe I’ll go west, nah, I like ol’ PEI the best because everyone does” is callousness that Montgomery actually could have seen and fixed. She just…didn’t. Anyway I have literally never liked these books, and I now have the perspective to give them away with a clear conscience, hurrah.

Meridel Newton, The Future, Second by Second. Discussed elsewhere.

Suzanne Palmer, The Scavenger Door. The third of the Fergus Ferguson books, poking around looking for alien artifacts and getting himself into trouble again–with a cast of friendly aliens and less-friendly aliens and way-less-friendly humans and yeah, okay, some of the humans are friendly too I guess. A lot of Earth time in this one! So that’s eccentric, Earth is weird! But don’t worry, Fergus is going further out there than just Earth….

Sarah Prineas, Asking for Trouble. Second in its series of shapeshifter MG SF, Trouble has his motley weird family and friends, but some of them need help finding their own families–and he still doesn’t entirely know where he came from. And also there are mysterious things at the edge of the galaxy? Uh oh. This is the book where he unravels all of that. Frankly I don’t like the ending, but not in a scream-and-cry-hate-this way, just…meh. But the rest of the book is fun.

Katharine Schellman, Last Call at the Nightingale. Discussed elsewhere.

Tess Sharpe, The Girls I’ve Been. A cracklingly fast-paced YA thriller about a teenage girl caught up in a bank robbery, forced to use con artist skills she set aside when she escaped her mother for a better life. Melodramatic? Sure, but not more so than your average crime thriller, and this one is far more compassionate about the victims of the crimes involved. I also loved how the protagonist had deep dark secrets and was bisexual, but being bisexual was not one of her deep dark secrets. Solid on friendships, clear view of family and agency. Very glad I heard of this one.

Jesse Q. Sutanto, Four Aunties and a Wedding. The sequel to the delightful Dial A for Aunties, and for me it did not reach the pitch of helpless laughter that the first one did, but it was still a fun book when I needed one. In this one, Meddy is getting married, with the invaluable help of her aunts and her mother. In England. While preventing a Mafia assassination. Um.

Claire Tomalin, The Young H. G. Wells: Changing the World. Shorter than I expected because Tomalin was very straightforward about her interest in Wells cutting off more or less at midlife; I respect that a lot more than if she had pretended it was a comprehensive biography and then done a bad job on his later life. I love Tomalin’s ability to simultaneously sympathize with the aims of her subjects and see the fallout of their behavior for those around them. Interesting person, made me more interested in the Fabians around him, such is life.

Patrice Vecchione and Alyssa Raymond, eds., Ink Knows No Borders: Poems of the Immigrant and Refugee Experience. These poems are very directly about what they’re about, and that…is not my favorite kind of poetry, necessarily. There were still a few that I loved, but for the most part this was a very on-the-nose collection that made me want to give immigrant and refugee poets a collection in which they could write poems about chewing gum or owls or anything else they wanted.

Ocean Vuong, Time Is a Mother. These poems aren’t all about his mother’s death directly, but the entire volume is woven through with it. There’s one that made me weep with its simplicity and intensity of cataloging the shape of the end of a life, parent and child. When my father died, one of my friends who also grieves through poetry recommended several volumes–Tennyson, Donald Hall. This would be a worthy addition to that list.

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