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Books read, early June

Ben Aaronovitch, Amongst Our Weapons. This book actually made me laugh out loud once, which is very rare for me–funny books get a smile or a silent chuckle–but not with the Monty Python reference that was obviously coming for the whole book. (One might even say: I expected it.) The arc plot is arcing very, very slowly. Is it still on the charming side of charming vs. annoying? Yes…ish…but for heaven’s sake don’t start with this one. Don’t start at all if you don’t have patience for arc plot. I fear that any moment Peter may spend a trilogy getting his apartment back. (That’s a CJ Cherryh joke. Sorry. Well. Not that sorry.)

Hanna Alkaf, Queen of the Tiles. YA Scrabble mystery set in Malaysia. It is not better than that thumbnail description, but also it is not worse–if you’re in the market for a very, very Scrabble-y book about teenagers figuring out their lives, here you go.

Betsy Aoki, Breakpoint. A collection of poems by a poet (and friend!) whose work I have liked in scattered venues. When it’s all assembled it’s amazing how much Betsy has to say about, among other things, being a woman in tech. Good stuff, looking forward to whatever comes next.

Lisa Brooks, Our Beloved Kin: A New History of King Philip’s War. And by “new” we mean “takes into account Native peoples basically at all.” Brooks pulls in a lot of first-person sources from the time that were not necessarily written in English or respected or taken in context by English settlers. She’s able to point out a lot of sources of misunderstandings (and some outright bad faith actions) knowing about both–in several cases all–of the cultures involved. And when she has short vivid passages of fictionalized perspective, it does not annoy me the way it often does when nonfiction writers do that. Upsetting but only appropriately so, really well done.

CSE Cooney, Saint Death’s Daughter. The kind of dark whimsy that Claire does so well, and it is paced perfectly for a long novel, with each section giving the characters something different than the previous ones in a way that kept the whole length fresh. Lovely and a joy to read even in its darker moments.

Christopher Fry, The Boy With a Cart. Reread. This is a quite competent play about the life of a very obscure saint, but I find myself at a loss for who would ever want to put such a thing on or why, unless it was the village where he lived for some festival, I guess. What an odd thing to want to do, though, and how very unlike Hild. Welp.

Jo Harkin, Tell Me an Ending. This is a literary science fiction novel about editing memories, and it juggles several different point of view characters with different angles on the process. The juggling is quite skillful for most of the book, and I found it engrossing. The end is a little too wrapped up for my tastes, but this is not a fatal flaw, and I still recommend this, particularly to science fiction fans who might not have come across it because it may be shelved in “fiction” rather than “science fiction.”

Sarah Orne Jewett, Strangers and Wayfarers. Kindle. A collection of short stories. Not recommended except for the completist: while in her better work (including some stories of this collection) Jewett focuses on the people of Maine, the people she knows best, here she tries her hand farther afield–including Irish immigrants and formerly enslaved Black Southerners. The dialect is painful; her ideas of what their worldviews might be, worse.

Mary Robinette Kowal, The Spare Man. Discussed elsewhere.

Casey McQuiston, One Last Stop. A time-traveling subway lesbian romance, but not a very generic one–McQuiston’s placement of the beats of this plot are her own and do not align with either romance or time-travel SF. And that’s as it should be, because this is primarily a novel of character and relationship. (Also it is fun.)

Eddie Robson, Drunk on All Your Strange New Words. Discussed elsewhere.

Margery Sharp, The Stone of Chastity. This book came out in 1940, trying to distract the British reader from the WWII woes surrounding them. It is a frothy, light village comedy centered on folklore that promises that a particular stone will make the unchaste lose their footing. Sharp’s view of chastity and relationships is a quite modern one, and the humor here tends to be gentle rather than eviscerating of people’s foibles and assumptions.

Walter R. Tschinkel, Ant Architecture: The Wonder, Beauty, and Science of Underground Nests. What a delight. Tschinkel dives into experiment design in this book, telling the reader not only how he figured out ant nest structures but how he figured out how to figure them out. It’s lavishly illustrated and has a very thoughtful relationship with its subjects. Loved it.

Jing Tsu, Kingdom of Characters: the Language Evolution That Made China Modern. Lots of interesting nerdery about dealing with Chinese characters for things like typewriters, computers, indexing, etc. Very useful for those interested in the subject, possibly still edifying for those with no prior interest.

HKF van Nierop, The Nobility of Holland: From Knights to Regents, 1500-1650. This, on the other hand, is really more for people who have an interest in Dutch social history of the period. What does nobility mean, how do you maintain it, what is it even doing there and how is it changing: interesting stuff, but addressed in a highly context-specific fashion rather than a general one.

Jessie L. Weston, trans., Morien. Kindle. This is a 13th century Dutch romance (not in the people kissing sense, in the people jousting sense), translated by someone from the turn of the 20th century. It’s very clearly written by someone who has seen a Black person and does not expect most of their readership to have done so, because it is eagerly expressing the very concept of Black people to what it expects is an ignorant audience, carefully explaining that the titular hero is neither deformed nor ugly, just dark-skinned. For a modern reader there’s a certain wide-eyed weirdness to this experience, but on the other hand, Morien (even his name is basically “that dude who’s a Moor”) gets to be THE MOST AWESOMEST HERO EVER AND GAWAIN LOVES HIM AND LANCELOT LOVES HIM AND SPOCK LOVES HIM–wait, that’s something else. But seriously, this is the fanfic impulse in action, with a Black Arthurian knight, and it’s short, and it’s kind of fun.

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