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Books read, late July

Samit Basu, The City Inside. This is a really engaging book that takes on all sorts of ideas about livestreaming and social media forms of entertainment–what they do to our relationships and the world around us. The Delhi in this book is extrapolated into the near-future with loving but clear eyes–not an ideal but a place actual people do and will live, beautifully drawn.

Elizabeth Bear, The Origin of Storms. Will I sound too much like a marketing document if I call this the triumphant conclusion of this series? Still and all: it is. Dragons in various forms, diplomacy and betrayal, a sentient fountain pen and a Really Good Doggo, all the things you’ve come to love in this series, brought together for the conclusion, hurrah. (Or maybe you haven’t come to love it yet. If not, don’t start here, the others are still in print!)

Casey Blair, Tea Set and Match. Second in the Tea Princess series, the structure is not quite as strong as the first one simply because the fun Casey decided to have (GBBO/other reality competition show analog) wasn’t smoothed into the fantasy world quite as well. The characters are still endearing, their adventures engaging, but I’d start with the first one here too.

Stephanie Burgis, Touchstones: A Collection. Kindle. This is a collection that really shows Steph’s range, from sweet to dark and all sorts of things in between. I’d read some of these stories before, but it’s nice to have them collected–and I definitely hadn’t managed to find all of them.

John Cardina, The Lives of Weeds: Opportunism, Resistance, Folly. This is structured to use several botanical examples to illustrate larger points about how humans attempt to control the plants in our environments–and how those attempts can backfire hugely. It’s a very US-centric book, but I think it should be clear which of the principles apply elsewhere (which is most of them).

Becky Chambers, A Prayer for the Crown-Shy. Mosscap and Sibling Dex have returned to human lands, to a flood of interest neither of them is quite sure how to process. Their relationship continues to be tender and inquisitive. Less tea than you might hope, but more robot. I would once again start with the first one here, but if you liked the first one I think you’ll like this one too.

Marq De Villiers, The Longbow, the Schooner, and the Violin: Wood and Human Achievement. This is one of those books that made me think, well, congrats to De Villiers for managing to get a book deal for putting together sections about things he’s interested in, fair play to you, sir, may we all have the same. Interesting details here, although toward the end there are some places where his detail-orientation collides with big picture questions like climate change in ways that didn’t work ideally for me.

Jehanne Dubrow and Lindsay Lusby, eds., The Book of Scented Things: 100 Contemporary Poems About Perfume. So…there are several ways to come up with a multiple-poet collection. You can select poems from an open call! You can solicit pre-existing poems you’ve enjoyed! You can do all sorts of stuff. In this case the editors sent scent to poets who had agreed to write them a poem inspired by each scent. I feel–I may be wrong–that this gets a much broader range of poems than if the poems are selected rather than the poets. What I discovered about myself: I was much more interested in the less literal takes on this challenge. Okay.

Barbara Hambly, Death and Hard Cider. The latest Benjamin January mystery is set during the chaos of the 1840 election, which is frankly a neglected period for historical novels. Tippecanoe and Tyler too, lots of campaigning, lots of politics–even if this was an election you usually saw a lot of, having a free man of color in 1840 New Orleans as the viewpoint character would not be standard for what this genre has been, and Hambly really leaned into that. The range of historical issues she’s willing to take on is part of what keeps this series fresh.

Guy Gavriel Kay, All the Seas of the World. This was only a few of the seas of the world, but I liked it anyway. It’s Kay doing the secondary world history that he does best, and I found it immersive and lovely. Would I start here? Probably not ideally, but maybe, probably it’d be fine. This set of books has few linear sequels, and this is not one of them.

Harry Kemelman, Friday the Rabbi Slept Late. A ’60s mystery that is very, very much of its time. There were places I could watch Kemelman using the opportunity to educate Gentile readers about Judaism: what’s going on here, which I’m sure was (and still is, in some ways) valuable–but not at the expense of mystery story. Went very fast.

C.S. Lewis, Poems. There’s a reason Lewis was not a famous poet in his lifetime. More than one. He has the confidence in knowing the rules of poetry that comes of the kind of education he had, but it turns out that rules are a rather small part of poetry. Lewis actively, on the page not by implication, advocates for having what he calls the Stock Responses–the emotional reactions that your culture tells you are the right ones to have–and he is both smug and resentful about other poets who do not have those responses. Also, for people who argue about whether he was really a misogynist or not, with various positions about Susan, I refer you to the poem in which he’s really mad that he’s attracted to some lady because she is definitely not all that. (No, seriously. That’s the poem.) Or rather, I do not refer you to that poem, it is very, very skippable. Frankly I read the second half of this book in train wreck mode.

Ada Limon, The Hurting Kind. This is a very solid poetry collection, but it’s not my favorite of hers–just a different set of ideas and references than the previous work, which is great but didn’t hit quite as dead center with me. Still enthusiastic about whatever she does next.

Premee Mohamed, The Annual Migration of Clouds. Climate change and plagues and…not nearly as dark or upsetting as I feared it might be. Life after the apocalypse, friendship and family after the apocalypse. I had not braced myself for the sweetness.

Winifred Peck, The Warrielaw Jewel. A mystery from 1933. She was still finding her stride in this one, and she spends some time talking about how in the years when this book was set we didn’t yet know how to treat…what she means is developmentally disabled people, but it turns out they still did not know how to treat them in 1933. (Guess my feelings about whether we’re particularly great at it now, just guess.) So I would recommend either of the other two books of hers I’ve read above this one–it’s not ill-intentioned, but she’s very early in her novelist game and also in the Anglophone world’s development of genre mystery.

Aden Polydoros, The City Beautiful. A very gay, very Jewish, very fantastical visit to turn of the last century Chicago. Sometimes really grim but also beautifully vivid.

Kelly Robson, High Times in Low Parliament. This was a romp through a fairy government with a bit of an edge, giving humans a hard look through a side of whimsy.

DaVaun Sanders et al, eds., Fiyah Issue 23. Kindle. Two standout stories in this issue were Lina Monroe’s “The Usual Way” and A.M. Barrie’s “Just Desserts.” I remain glad to subscribe.

Warsan Shire, Bless the Daughter Raised By A Voice in Her Head. These poems are mostly about Shire’s immigrant experience and her relationships with other members of her community. There is a combination of kindness and clear sight that I find very appealing.

Edward Struzik, Swamplands: Tundra Beavers, Quaking Bogs, and the Improbable World of Peat. (The Improbable World of Peat is my next theme park.) So much interesting swamp stuff. I enjoyed this a lot, and if you like this general kind of natural history, this should fill a great “swamps and wetlands” niche.

E. Catherine Tobler et al, ed., The Deadlands Issue 15. Kindle. Beautiful issue. My favorite story was Leah Bobet’s “Sunday in the Park with Hank,” but I also recommend Amanda Downum’s column. I know I say that a lot, but this time I feel like it’s not just interesting but also important.

Elizabeth Van Duine, Paper and Knife. This is a collection of images of papercuttings, sent to me by a friend who knows I like to do that myself. My only complaint with this volume is that the kind of photography they used for the book sometimes makes it hard to see that you’re looking at a papercutting rather than a print of some sort.

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