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Books read, early May

Chaz Brenchley, Mary Ellen–Craterean! Chapters 7-12. Kindle. Catching up on another serial from Chaz, this one in the boarding school science fiction oeuvre.

Susan Burch, Committed: Remembering Native Kinship In and Beyond Institutions. Kindle. Well, this was harrowing, and also worth knowing. While the abuses of the schools US and Canadian governments forced Native/First Nations people into have been in the news lately, it’s useful not to forget that they were not the only institutional tool at hand, merely the one aimed at the youngest members of society. Burch details some of the “deviant” behavior that landed people in these institutions, including examples that highlight the cultural specificity of the assessments: mothers who allowed their children to choose their own food, for example, were incapable and probably not mentally fit. Aughhh. It was a very difficult read, but I felt like it was important to bear witness–particularly because I have (white) relatives in the town (Canton, SD) whose institution was the source of a lot of Burch’s data. She successfully centers the stories and kinships of the Native/First Nations people involved and includes copious notes on sources and methods.

Paolo Chikiamco, Alternative Alamat: Stories Inspired by Philippine Mythology. Kindle. The thing about anthologies is that there are often stories in them where the prose voice just doesn’t work for me, and that’s okay, they’re supposed to be varied, it doesn’t ruin the anthology. But I found this one entirely readable and interesting, I didn’t bounce off any of the stories, I just dove right in. Which was a particularly cool feeling because they were not, culturally speaking, tailored to me per se. So. Neat stuff.

Natalie Diaz, When My Brother Was An Aztec. This volume is largely though not completely focused on struggling with being the family member of an addict. It’s harrowing, and there are parts of it I feel like I shouldn’t look away from because it is distinctly a Native experience of that, it is not at all uncoupled from racism and colonialism. At the same time, I am still turning over in my head the fact that Diaz chose another Native group, to which she does not belong, as a metaphor for death-worship and human sacrifice as embodied by her brother’s addiction. A lot to continue pondering there.

Ruthanna Emrys, A Half-Built Garden. Discussed elsewhere.

Rachel Ferguson, A Harp in Lowndes Square. A Gothic sort of time-travelish sort of ghost-ish story, and I did not fully know where it was going at any time, and I like not knowing. Figuring out family history tangles up with figuring out what they’re going to do with their lives, and the answers are less constrained than the stereotype of a book from 1936 would indicate. There are several quite funny bits. The brief moments of stereotypical language are almost entirely uncoupled from reference to actual characters but do exist, fair warning.

Winifred Holtby, South Riding. Another English novel of the mid-1930s, but of a completely different order. If I had not read South Riding in this fortnight I might have spent more time raving about A Harp in Lowndes Square because I really did have fun reading it, but South Riding took my breath away, made me cry several times, I loved it so much, what a grand book it is. Local politics including the first female county alderman in Yorkshire (based on Holtby’s own mother, who was), taking local people and their lives quite seriously and going from local gentry down the scale to the quite poor. Holtby understands and cares about questions like whether a young woman from an overly large poor family will be able to continue her high school education in ways that…I am not used to some parts of my ancestry being directly considered by literature so thoughtfully, and sometimes I had to get up and pace and do other things because it was overwhelming how much she understood. I loved so many of the characters, even the least lovable ones. And the clear and sure and detailed dedication to local action, through actual plot…oh, I love this book, oh wow.

T. Kingfisher, Nettle and Bone. This starts quite dark so you know what you’re getting into, but I really do think it’s dark fantasy rather than horror in worldview–the characters’ agency really ends up making a difference in important ways, the universe is indifferent rather than actively hostile. And the Bonedog is so lovely really, what a nice Bonedog. It’s got some nice second-order examinations of fantasy takes on fairy tale tropes: yes, it’s all very well to notice that some of these situations are terrible for the people in them, but some of the solutions are terrible as well, and what’s to actually be done about it given the politics and powers of the world? Still quite a lot, actually, but carefully. The godmothers are my favorite non-Bonedog part here.

Selma Lagerlöf, Invisible Links. Kindle. A short story collection with some astonishingly turn-of-the-prior-century Swedish cultural references and some weird assumptions about…assumptions, actually. Minor work, a diversion when I was mostly doing other things, probably for the completist only.

H. M. Long, Temple of No God. The sequel to Hall of Smoke, and it closely follows the empires, characters, and particularly deities/magic of that book; while this is a fun fantasy novel, I do not recommend starting with it at all, it is not a complete story without the first volume in the series.

Lynne Thomas, Michael Damian Thomas, et al, eds., Uncanny Magazine Issue 46. Kindle. I make a policy of not reviewing works in which I appear, and I’m in this one.

Ovidia Yu, The Cannonball Tree Mystery. The latest in this historical mystery series–it has brought its heroine and her native Singapore up to the Japanese occupation. They’re engagingly written and fun to read, and I’m interested in the way that Yu is leaning into actively changing the setting and characters with history rather than falling into the pit of the Eternal Now that snares so many mystery writers. The series is, in fact, moving at a faster clip than history would strictly require. Which feels all to the good to me right now.

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