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Books read, early August

Daniel Abraham, Blade of Dream. Second in its series, more tightly focused than the first and more conventional, in some ways more successful in terms of pulling me in but less structurally interesting. I find myself not knowing where the third one is going, which is a place I like to be. But for heaven’s sake don’t start here.

Christopher Hill, The World Turned Upside Down: Radical Ideas During the English Revolution. Hill does an excellent job of not assuming inevitability: knowing what we do of which groups survived does not mean that they “had to” be the surviving groups. Absolutely full of Quakers, Diggers, Levelers, all the sort of thing you’d want, and I do want, and I’m glad to have it.

Eleanor Janega, The Once and Future Sex: Going Medieval on Women’s Roles in Society. This actually disappointed me a bit. It spent quite a lot of time on theories of the body that I already knew–which you might not, and if so, go nuts, this is the book for you–and not nearly as much time on work and social organization as I had hoped. The chapter on work was brief and fairly general, which felt to me like the exact opposite of what was called for to overturn assumptions about medieval women’s roles in society. Ah well.

Elizabeth Lim, Her Radiant Curse. Discussed elsewhere.

Anna Neima, The Utopians: Six Attempts to Build the Perfect Society. This is about utopian societies after WWI and the effects of that war on people’s theories of what a better world would look like. That makes it basically catnip for me. I also appreciated Neima’s willingness to go around the world to look at communities in different regions, not just one country or continent–especially as they interrelate in this period. Good stuff.

Noel Streatfeild, Saplings. Another of the books that has a surface-happy ending whose entire point is that it is really, really not happy. This one is about how war, in this case the Second World War, terribly damages children even when they’re on the “home front” rather than the front lines. It’s beautifully observed and well-characterized and terribly sad, and it further cements my belief that part of Theatre Shoes is not as it seems. (This is for adults.)

Stephan Talty, Agent Garbo: The Brilliant, Eccentric Secret Agent Who Tricked Hitler and Saved D-Day. Briskly written and interesting work about a Spanish man who basically forced his way into being a double agent. Not terribly long.

Adrian Tchaikovsky, City of Last Chances. I have a gift for picking up grimdark I might otherwise like at the worst personal moments. Tchaikovsky does some really good worldbuilding with the gods of this world and with passing the story from character to character in a way that almost reminded me of Yourcenar (but without the coin), but he also writes some very successfully dark scenes, so be braced for picking it up on the right day.

Brenda Ueland, Strength to Your Sword Arm: Selected Writings. Ueland was more a newspaper opinion columnist than an essayist, and that was very clear from the depth or lack thereof in these writings. Sometimes it was charming to see how she presented social elements that now wouldn’t have to be explained; some ideas aged much worse than others. (Seriously, just…do not propose corrective rape of people whose opinions you disagree with. Just. Don’t. Not charming. Not okay.)

Izzy Wasserstein, All the Hometowns You Can’t Stay Away From. A fun and varied SFF collection, some of which I’d enjoyed previously and some of which was new to me, glad to have it all in one place.

Katy Watson, The Three Dahlias. Three actresses who have played/are playing the same iconic detective are in a country house for a convention of her fans when murder strikes, and everyone is–of course–a suspect. They must use the skills they’ve learned from playing her onscreen to solve the case before one of them gets blamed. This was light and charming, but for me it ended up spreading the characterization a little too thin among a few too many characters, not leaving me with a strong sense of any one of them, including the one who eventually turned out to be the killer. I would probably read another if there was a sequel, but probably from the library rather than purchasing it.

Richard Wilbur, Collected Poems, 1943-2004. A lot of “collected poems” volumes start at the beginning and you get to watch the poet get better, and this did the opposite, and…it turns out I like that better? I don’t necessarily think that the latest work is the best work, but when someone does start to get more callow and less skilled, there’s that sinking feeling of “oh dear, this is it then,” and I definitely had that in the middle of this volume. Wilber turned out to be another poet I mostly connected with intellectually, and that’s okay.

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