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Books read, late May

Engin Akyurek, The Hippodrome of Constantinople. Kindle. It sure is about what it says on the tin. Do you want to know more about the Hippodrome? the one in Constantinople? This will tell you.

Risto Alapuro, State and Revolution in Finland. This is one of those cases where I learned at least as much about what other places did not have/do as what Finland did, here, by contrast. I kept saying aloud, “Oh gosh, I guess they didn’t do that other places!” Which is also useful to know, and depending on what you’ve spent your time on will probably not be your response, depending on what you know about 20th century nation formation. It’s clarifying either way.

Angeline Boulley, Warrior Girl Unearthed. This was a not-very-closely-related sequel to The Firekeeper’s Daughter, and the protag of that volume is the auntie of this one. Its protagonist, Perry, is fierce and prickly, and she’s having to deal with all kinds of problems, from getting access to a family vehicle back after a teeny tiny little incident to classmates and neighbors going missing. She’s also started to be interested in returning artefacts and bones from her tribe to their own land, bringing ancestors home, but it feels like each step toward that goal is thwarted, each adult throwing up obstacles–even in her own tribe, even in her own family. The tension within Perry’s own heart and in her relationships makes for a really good story–and one that builds on The Firekeeper’s Daughter without following its details too closely.

Giulia Calvi, The World in Dress: Costume Books Across Italy, Europe, and the East. Kindle. An examination of how 16th century people used expanded print capabilities to explore how other people looked and lived across the world. I did not expect this to start with the plates that introduced 16th century Italians to the concept of far-north Scandinavian and Sámi peoples, which was, frankly, amazing. Some of the places where people were attempting to illustrate things they had only heard described in prose were hilarious. There were also glorious and frankly political illustrations of dress in various Ottoman provinces of the time, and much more for such a short monograph.

Jinwoo Chong, Flux. A time loop novel that hits a lot of the same tropes that are very common in the genre but with a queer, biracial protagonist whose intersecting identities do matter to the plot. How much they matter vs. how much the extremely common tropes do will depend on the reader, I think.

Robertson Davies, The Manticore. I honestly don’t know why I enjoyed this book. Its protagonist was loathsome and hardly anything happened. I guarantee that if I’d read it twenty years ago it would have made me very angry. And yet I found it hard to put down, and I’m really interested in where Davies is going with this trilogy, as the relationships of these people will go. The protagonist is telling his life to a psychologist, which is not the format of the third book, as I understand it–so we’ll see what is.

William Elliot Griffis, Swiss Fairy Tales. Kindle. I downloaded this for free when I was noodling around on Gutenberg, and I can’t really recommend that you do the same. It’s one of those turn of the last century books for children where the author felt perfectly free to mingle his own fiction with Swiss tradition and label the whole thing Swiss tradition, so you can’t use it as a source about Swiss folk belief, but also it’s not particularly interesting fiction. I finished it basically as a “he said WHAT next” trainwreck. I’m still going to cherish it for its completely out-of-left-field assertion that the Swiss loved Queen Anne (of England) because she loved yodeling. I mean, sure, she might have, why not. Audience or performer? we will never know.

Balli Kaur Jaswal, The Unlikely Adventures of the Shergill Sisters. Three Sikh sisters are sent on pilgrimage with their mother’s ashes as her final wish to bring them together and in accordance with her own religious beliefs. This works…about as well as you might expect, with fights and secrets revealed at every turn. It is not as unlikely as one might hope, but it’s generally pretty heart-warming–not to the outstanding level of Jaswal’s other books, but a reasonably fun read, albeit with a few genuinely difficult issues addressed.

R. F. Kuang, Yellowface. Late May was loathsome protagonist time around here, I guess, because this was a doozy. It was absolutely beautifully written, and the gap between Juniper’s self-concept and the rest of the world is jaw-dropping. Not a nice book but wow, what a good one.

Ann Leckie, Ancillary Justice and Ancillary Sword. Rereads. I wanted to be able to talk intelligently about the Presger Translator in my 4th Street panel on translators and POV, and so I just reread the whole series, not all of it before the month turned over. I really still do love the Presger Translator, particularly the line, “We are not cousins any more.” (If you know, you know.) Also I kept saying to T, “Well, I’ve gotten to the part where Seivarden is a mess.”

Caroline Stevermer, Magic Below Stairs. Reread. This is also 4th Street programming preparation, and I still am a little wobbly on the ending but really like the beginning and middle.

Noel Streatfeild, Parson’s Nine. Kindle. This is my first adult Streatfeild, and wow, wow, fascinating, wow. It’s in some ways extremely like her children’s books–there are entire sections that could be lifted whole and plunked down in one of her children’s books, probably Family Shoes as that’s the one about a clergy family–and you can see where she chooses where to stop telling the story to make it suitable for children. The story doesn’t last long enough that you’d expect the dog to die unless it was a Horrible Children’s Book Dog Death–the dog has a full long life here, and then it dies, and also WWI breaks out. Yeah. This is not a book that pulls any punches. I would say “this is not your great-grandmother’s Noel Streatfeild novel,” but it totally is, this is from 1932, this is a book that reminds you that expressions about previous generations that way are often wrong. It is very clear about how people coped with the Great War and its aftermath, and exactly how pure sexual purity of the time was not, and how a person of sincere religious faith can, without meaning to, drive children in the opposite direction. It was a bit messy in structure, and the very ending was a bit done, but I was really into it anyway, I’d much rather have her being honest about what happens to the suffragist governess in prison and what narsty things the twins really saw behind the woodpile and…still care about them in that all-right-then carrying-on Streatfeild way where multiple people get to have their own deal. I will definitely read more of her adult stuff.

Nghi Vo, Mammoths at the Gates. Discussed elsewhere.

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