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Books read, late August

Stephanie Burgis, The Raven Throne. Second in a duology, and you should definitely read the first one first, because this is a lot of follow-on consequences from it. It’s very much a “you thought your problems were solved? no, they’re just beginning!” novel. Some problems that might be more frustrating in older characters (why don’t they talk to each other!) are entirely understandable when the protagonists are literal adolescents: this is the time in their lives when they’re learning these exact skills, this is exactly when they figure out to do this, and having them behave like adults would be silly when they really are 12 even though they’re 12-year-old shapeshifter royalty. With a kingdom to protect from all sides but still, as with being 12, themselves to figure out.

Octavia Cade, You Are My Sunshine and Other Stories. Discussed elsewhere.

Matthew Connelly, The Declassification Engine: What History Reveals About America’s Top Secrets. This is one of those books that’s good to have read but not much fun to read: so much of it is banal and depressing with so little prospect of comprehensively fixing it. It really does what it says on the tin, though.

David Cooper, Badon and the Early Wars for Wessex, Circa 500 to 710. Archaeology focused military history trying to match up the written record and the artefacts we can find. Dang is Cooper mad when people get fixated on the “historical” King Arthur.

Robertson Davies, World of Wonders. The last of the Deptford Trilogy, and in some ways the most sordid–quite a lot of it is dedicated to the carnival boyhood of the entity eventually known as Magnus Eisengrim. Quite a lot of literal filth, some repeated anal rape of a child, this is not a book to read if you’re not up for an unpleasant time. It contrasts with the previous volumes and ties them together, but if you want the most magical version of stage magic, this sure is not it. But also you should know that by the time you get to volume three.

Deva Fagan, Nightingale. Stand-alone MG fantasy adventure about an orphan girl fighting a system that is designed to grind her down. Now with fun elements of worldbuilding and friendship. Aetheric swords, soda fountains, labor unions!

Victoria Finlay, Fabric: The Hidden History of the Material World. This is about 90-95% what it says on the tin and a quite good version at that. Lots of interesting facts about fabric! Finlay in top form! The other 5-10% is Finlay grieving for her parents. If you are not up for a parental grief memoir, it is not one, but it’s not not one, either, so…maybe wait until your own grief has settled another 6-12 months if that’s newly your situation, yeah? Because if this had been fresher for me, it would have set me off far more than the details about ramie and kinte cloth (consecutive, not concurrent) would have been worth it.

Carol Gigliotti, The Creative Lives of Animals. Gigliotti is very clear-headed about the places where people have decided that animals are not being creative as a matter of definition and…sort of deconstructing those, looking at the actual behaviors rather than being defensive about how special humans need to feel. Lots of good stuff across a range of animal kingdoms here, hurrah.

Theodora Goss, The Collected Enchantments. This is structured as a few poems and then a short story, repeat. Several old favorites and some stuff new to me.

Nick Harkaway, Titanium Noir. Harkaway understands all the important notes of classic noir, including/especially despair about the class system, and he hits those notes here in a science fictional context without bringing in the incidentals like the staggering sexism. Sometimes a bit too on the nose for my tastes but worth the time all the same.

Sarah Hilary, Someone Else’s Skin. This is a mystery novel with a cop protagonist, and it features loads of sexual violence and domestic abuse, and it has the most common and most annoying twist for that kind of book. If you’re willing to deal with all that, it’s a good one of those. I will probably read the next one in the series the next time I’m willing to deal with one of those. But it sure is one of those, nothing in the world will make it not one of those.

Jordan Kurella, When I Was Lost. By turns tender, haunting, lovely, this is such a good collection, I’m so glad to have these stories all together. I’d read most of them, but it’s a case of being able to return to them whenever I like.

Emily Monosson, Blight: Fungi and the Coming Pandemic. Lots of stuff about fungal plagues and heat-resistant fungus, very interesting, not very cheerful.

Doris Langley Moore, Not at Home. The jacket copy made this look like a comic novel–the funny story of a middle-aged lady who takes in a lodger in the straitened circumstances of postwar London and devolves into an Odd Couple comedy. It was not like that at all. The lodger was not comic-awful, she was just awful-awful. The worst of this is that she borrows a friend’s dog and gets it killed and lies about it. The moral of the story seems to be “put your contracts in writing,” or possibly “have good boundaries,” or both, which is all very well but not worth a couple hundred pages of novel to say, and certainly not with horrifying illustrations of that type. Especially when one is looking forward to light fare with low stakes and instead gets two neglected children and a dead dog and some dead parakeets. Yuck.

Josephine Quinn, In Search of the Phoenicians. And can we find them, the answer is no, no such persons. But a lovely exploration of why not, how we know what we know about ancient identities, what the people in that area were thinking about themselves instead.

Margery Sharp, Cluny Brown. Kindle. One of Sharp’s upbeat funny books in which a midcentury young woman looks at the world and thinks, well, gosh, surely not like that, I’ll just do something different, then. And everyone around her is horrified but she’s basically right. As this book was set but not written in 1939 (it was in fact written in 1944), the bits where all the upper class people were terribly concerned about the impending war and whether the Polish political refugee character would be all right had a different shape than if it had been written in 1939 or in 2023. He is all right, it’s not the sort of book where he’s not all right, it’s a nice book where everyone is confused about their world and what it’s going to be like, which: scoot over, pals, I can sit on that bench with you.

Noel Streatfeild, The Winter Is Past. Kindle. If I had started with this one I would have thought that Streatfeild’s adult novels were fairly slight takes on serious matters. The protagonist of this book has suffered a miscarriage, and everyone’s attitude seems to be that she should get over it because loads of people have miscarriages, and the plot of the book is that she does. This is an oversimplification: there’s interesting business about having evacuees living in her house and learning to be nice to her mother-in-law, but it’s one of those plots that takes early 20th century women by the shoulders and says, look, nothing in your world is ever going to change except your own attitude so you just have to decide to accept your lot in life. Treat everyone around you, especially men but basically everyone, like giant children whose mother you are, including the fact that you are honor-bound to just deal with their temper-tantrums, and…yeah, no, I cannot really recommend this, and I really extra super cannot recommend it if you have had any experience of miscarriage/infant loss yourself. She has some astonishing gems and this is sure not one of them. If you’re fascinated with interactions between evacuees and their hosts and ready to steel yourself for the rest, go ahead, otherwise nope.

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