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Books read, early August

Max Adams, The First Kingdom: Britain in the Age of Arthur. Subtitle appears to largely be chosen to appeal/signal to the mass audience–this is not an author who is going to try to wedge an historic Arthur in where a mythic one serves us all better. Lots of the sort of analysis Adams does best, fits well with his other books of Britain/early England.

Hanna Bervoets, We Had to Remove This Post. A Dutch novella about people who do content moderation for social media. I was frankly disappointed in this, because I’ve had friends who do this job–who burned out on this job–and the things that happened to them were far more nuanced than what Bervoets shows here. Nor does she really seem to have anything to say other than “wow this job sucks,” which: yes it does, but I was hoping for more substantive commentary and less…gratuitous description of how awful people can be, look, how awful, very awful.

Casey Blair, Royal Tea Service. The third in its series, and so far as I can tell the last–there’s a definite conclusion here in Miyara’s relationship with her family as well as the larger world and its magic. And the mysterious old lady reappears….

Chaz Brenchley, Mary Ellen–Craterean! Chapter 13 and Interlude. Kindle. Still reading the serial, even when its characters are on term break….

A. R. Capetta, The Heartbreak Bakery. A charming story of a magical baker figuring out powers and relationship stuff all at once–and also attempting to come out to family and friends as agender, which is why I carefully avoided pronouns in that sentence. Syd’s recipes appear with commentary as well as Syd’s interpersonal shenanigans. I left this book wanting to make scones.

Zoraida Cordova, Valentina Salazar is Not a Monster Hunter. She’s a monster protector, and this is a fun romp. The plot twists are only twisty if you’re in the target age range, but you know what, MG books are allowed to be mostly for MG people, and plot twists are definitely not everything. Internet friends who turn out to have cool magical [spoiler] matter a lot too.

Brian Fagan and Nadia Durrani, Climate Chaos: Lessons on Survival from Our Ancestors. Two archaeologists with the approach that humans have dealt with changing climate before and surely we can learn things from how it’s gone. The ending is a bit repetitive, but it’s still an interesting take, and not horribly long.

E. M. Forster, A Passage to India. Kindle. I am very much of two minds about this book. On the one hand, “can the colonized and the colonizer be genuine friends or will institutional/structural questions get in the way” is a very interesting question on which to center a book, especially a book of this era, and I love books that are fundamentally about friendship and people trying very hard. On the other hand, I went into this book unspoilered for anything except theme–which is how I like to read “classics,” I like to read them as books rather than institutions–and thus I was entirely unprepared for the fact that a sexual assault accusation would be plot-central and Forster would not care even a little bit about the experience of a person being sexually assaulted. Not. Even. A little. He does not even want to take a stance on whether anyone was sexually assaulted–maybe she was, maybe bitches be crazy sometimes, who could say. And that…is pretty hard to take, frankly. Having a book that both centers on and completely dismisses sexual assault is very hard to take, no matter how much I like the rest of what it’s doing, which is a lot.

Rachel E. Gross, Vagina Obscura: An Anatomical Voyage. Bacterial ecosystems! Adjacent organ structures! Intersectionality as far as the eye can see! There’s something for everyone in this book, which is reasonably brief and breezy but not so breezy as to be ridiculous. It’s an explicitly inclusive book, with respect for both those with vaginas who are women and those who are not and also a thoughtful discussion of the construction of neovaginas.

Winifred Holtby, The Land of Green Ginger. This is a much smaller book than South Riding–most things are, conceptually if not literally–but I still loved what Holtby was doing at this scale. Its heroine is a dreamer of grand dreams, a square peg in a round hole who does not let her edges get filed down, and it is both precisely observed and specifically hopeful. Just what I needed.

Fonda Lee, The Jade Setter of Janloon. Kindle. If you’ve been wondering whether you’ll like Lee’s Green Bone Saga but are not prepared to commit to a thick fantasy novel, this is the novella for you. It’s one self-contained bit of side story, prequel to the events of the series so it won’t spoil anything, but it gives a very good taste of the world.

Amy Levy, The Romance of a Shop. Kindle. This was delightful and entertaining, a 19th century novel about four sisters who are orphaned and start a photography shop to support themselves, their various fates and works. Levy was friends with Eleanor Marx, and she’s doing that New Woman thing where she’s trying to figure out things about women and work and respect and relationships. I really like that thing–especially when it has funny bits, which this does.

Naomi Mitchison, Vienna Diary 1934. Do you ever say to yourself “I wonder what it would be like if one of my nerdy leftist friends could have been in Austria at the beginning of Austrofascism”? Wonder no more, this is your book. Victor Gollancz dispatched our girl Naomi to Vienna for a couple of months to write a book directly reporting on conditions on the ground in Austria and what on earth was going on there, and she did just that, and it’s personal and heartbreaking and glorious. Remarkably few cringe moments given the era. Gosh I wish there were more like this. Mitchison also talks about her frustrations in trying and failing to get the press at large to pay attention to the conditions she was seeing on the ground–if Gollancz had not been willing to pay for the book, this material would have gone completely unpublished, because article after article was rejected while the mainstream press of the time ran wishy-washy articles infected with both-sideism rather than eyewitness reports. Take whatever lesson from that you will.

Scott Reynolds Nelson, Oceans of Grain: How American Wheat Remade the World. I strongly suspect that the subtitle was chosen to try to sell more copies to the American audience, because this book also goes substantially into the effects of Russian Empire wheat (largely Ukrainian wheat) in the era in question. Lots of chewy detail, very good stuff.

Winifred Peck, The Warrielaw Jewel. By far the slightest of the three of Peck’s books I’ve read so far. This is when people were still learning to write mystery novels–still moving from “detective story” to “novel, but with a mystery in,” and this book is part of that progression but again a fairly slight one. There’s some fairly sketchy stuff about Romany people that never crosses the line into overt narrative-supported racism per se (racist characters for sure) but still is not the good kind of uncomfortable, and also some internalized misogyny, and on the whole I think her other novels are a better choice.

Aimee Pokwatka, Self-Portrait With Nothing. Discussed elsewhere.

John W. Reid and Thomas E. Lovejoy, Ever Green: Saving Big Forests to Save the Planet. If you read a lot about forests this is unlikely to have much that’s particularly new in it, but it’s a good one to introduce to people who are interested but not particularly immersed in this topic. The authors also talk seriously about the relative benefits of many small vs. fewer large habitats, in conservation terms, which is a useful policy conversation to keep abreast of.

Christina Rossetti, Goblin Market, The Prince’s Progress, and Other Poems. Kindle. I had hopes that there would be title possibilities in this, and there were, but not for the thing I meant to be titling. (Darn.) Rossetti is that particular kind of Victorian overwrought that is very hit-and-miss for me. Her religious poetry in particular is less successful for me–and the amount of “someday I’ll be dead and you’ll be sorry” that slips through is really not to my taste. She was very thoroughly herself, though.

Margery Sharp, Harlequin House and The Foolish Gentlewoman. She is so good and I love her. There are occasional moments when colonialism has crept into her default metaphors, fair warning there. On the other hand, Sharp has a trick for writing light, fun books that turn out to have more to them than meets the eye. There was a moment of The Foolish Gentlewoman when I gasped and teared up at the character who had been given clear (and modern!) moral truths, in the middle of a fluffy confection. It’s like biting into divinity and finding out that they’ve put the really good pecans in. Sharp cares about the internal lives of people of all ages, and while not everyone in her books is trying to be a good person, the ones who are are supported by the text, and sometimes that’s such a relief.

Jason Sizemore and Lesley Conner, eds., Apex Issue 132. Kindle. Generally good issue, with Iori Kusano’s “Have Mercy, My Love, While We Wait for the Thaw” as the standout story.

Jasmine Walls, Dozerdraws, and Micah Myers, The Last Session Vol. 1: Roll for Initiative. This is a sweet story about a group of friends who met in their Gender-Sexuality Alliance in high school and started a D&D group adjusting to new adult life and their old gaming group changing. It’s not very substantial but reasonably well-done throughout.

A.C. Wise, Hooked. A sequel to Wendy, Darling, and I’d recommend that you read the first one first; this relies on reacting to its emotional impact several years on. It does more with consequences. I love second book consequences.

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