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Books read, early March

Joseph Barry, Infamous Woman: The Life of George Sand. Lots of scandalous nineteenth century gossip to be had in this, and various artists wandering in and out and having their own way in various aspects of their lives, and being shoved into corners by illness and revolution and financial concerns. Interesting stuff. Recommended.

danah boyd, It’s Complicated: The Social Lives of Networked Teens. A lot of what’s in here is stuff I already knew, but I strongly suspect that I am not boyd’s main target audience here. I think the main message is not “there’s nothing to be afraid of” so much as “most people seem to be afraid of the wrong stuff.” Also, holy crud do we need more genuine cross-generational public spaces. Also, people seem to believe things that are patently untrue, such as “I wouldn’t let my [sixteen-year-old] kid talk to strangers in person, so I’m just carrying that onto the internet.” Culturally we require kids of that age to talk to strangers all the time; what people who say that seem to mean is that they don’t expect their teenagers to have adult friends of their own with common interests apart from the parents. Because if a 16-year-old refused to speak to classmates they hadn’t been formally introduced to by their parents, or to the clerk at the grocery store? it would be considered rude and weird. And most 18-year-olds are dumped off and expected to live and construct entire social lives with strangers. But “I don’t let my kid talk to strangers” is one of those things that sounds like it’s probably true, so people are allowed to say it without having someone challenge them on what a dumb thing it is to say about a person who is allowed to operate a motor vehicle. Or even a bicycle.

Cathy Marie Buchanan, The Painted Girls. An historical novel about young Paris Opera dancers and their lives, dealing with what the impressions and views of artists such as Zola and Degas and the less savory characters around them would do to the impoverished women who were their object. In spite of that not at all uplifting theme, it has moments of great sweetness and beauty, and the women in question manage to claw out their own realistic happy ending despite their appalling circumstances. If you want the romance of the ballet, this is so not for you. I ended up entranced.

Mike Carey, The Unwritten: Orpheus in the Underworld. The worst Mike Carey thing I have ever read. Tedious, zombieful, wallowing in non-shocking attempts at gross-outs and shock-turns. I have not quit reading the series based on this volume but have started considering whether I will soon.

J. Kathleen Cheney, The Golden City. This is one of those books that as a writer I was glad I read when I did, because it bore extremely superficial similarities to an idea I was playing with, so now I can change a few details so that the deep differences will be clear and not obscured by superficial similarities. Hurrah timing! It was pacey and enjoyable, although I did wish that the historical Portuguese setting had been, well, more Portuguese. There was very little that was individually Portuguese about it, so I hope she can do more with that in future works. Still, even without much historical Portugal, murderous magic, selkies, and merfolk: want that? This is that.

Megan Crewe, The Worlds We Make. A mostly fitting end to this trilogy. It zipped right past, hitting the logistics strengths of the series hard (YAY LOGISTICS), and while the very ending was slightly not…hrmmm…hard-nosed? enough for me, it certainly made gestures in that direction considering that this was in fact YA. I will be eager to see what Crewe does next.

M. J. Engh, Wheel of the Winds. Did you ever say to yourself, “If only I had some Jack Vance to read without the sexism”? Worry not, here is this book. It is a planetary navigation adventure. Also, M. J. Engh thought very thoroughly about what it would take to have this kind of adventure with a mid-sized dog. This book very thoroughly understands not only where that kind of dog can be a useful companion but also where allowances must be made for the dog and where special accommodations must be arranged. The dog is not a prop that can be stuffed in the bag of holding. This seems like a small thing, and yet: dogs. Really.

Judith Flanders, The Invention of Murder: How the Victorians Reveled in Death and Detection and Created Modern Crime. I am so fond of Judith Flanders, when I opened this book as a present from Mark, I blurted out, “Oh! Judith Flanders! She’s my favorite Victorianist who wasn’t in our wedding!” She lived up to that expectation here, going into murder ballads and broadsheets and sets of dolls, how murders were covered and how they were prosecuted, what expectations of evidence were and how people perceived the possibilities of the world around them. Well done, hurrah, more please.

John M. Ford, The Final Reflection. Reread. Interesting to read in proximity to some of Mike’s other stuff. It’s been awhile since I revisited this one, and the other thing it’s interesting to have in proximity to it is late season ST:DS9, which we are slowly rewatching as a household. They decided to go a completely different direction with Klingon culture, which makes me a little sad: this is the best Star Trek novel, and Mike’s Klingons really were much cooler. Ah well.

Ben Hatke, Zita the Spacegirl, Legends of Zita the Spacegirl, and The Return of Zita the Spacegirl. Discussed elsewhere.

Karen Lord, Redemption in Indigo. I’ve been wanting to read this for awhile, ever since I read The Best of All Possible Worlds. It’s less polished and less balanced than her excellent later work, a completely different style of book, but still interesting, a fantasy of consequences, with African (specifically Senegalese) roots we don’t see often enough in fantasy. Well done, worth pursuing even if we didn’t know that Lord had gotten even better since (which in my opinion we do).

Mary Renault, The Friendly Young Ladies. I think this is the last Mary Renault I will try. I think me and Mary Renault are just not meant to be. There were five major characters in this book, three of them interesting. The other two got the most page time, and they got almost no character arc whatsoever, just an entire book of flatness. Someone does indeed deserve to get abandoned in this book, and someone does indeed deserve a sock in the jaw, and it is not the characters who received those fates. I understand that there are all sorts of things she could not do because of the censors of the time. But choosing to get around that by using a clueless protag who never does get any kind of clue…is not really a very sympathetic choice for me. And the ending, oh good heavens the ending. And then her notes about the ending later, arrrrgh. So: no more Mary Renault for me, I think, thank you, no; understanding why she did things in context does not translate to enjoying her doing them, even if Leo and Helen and Joe were all lovely and characters I would gladly have spent more time with.

Marie Rutkoski, The Shadow Society. Much more romance balance on this one than I am used to in my fantasy, but handled in a way that was not too visual for my tastes (my usual complaint about romance is not the love but the visual focus). The relationship between very different talented young people from very different parallel Chicagos is the center, but the worldbuilding is crucial to the ups and downs of their relationship–and the rest of the plot. All the good things that people say about blending fantasy and romance apply here. Also the positive foster parent relationship, the good friendships, and other factors made it a fun read.

Hiroshi Sakurazaka, All You Need Is Kill. This book looks like it’s doing two more typical things than what it settles into actually doing. The first is a battlefield military SF novel. The second is a Groundhog’s Day type time loop narrative. And then it goes on to do something more interesting than either one with the time loops. It’s very short, it’s very punchy, and if you don’t mind the violence that comes with a military setting (especially when it’s divorced from the baggage of a lot of American MilSF), it’s a lot of fun.

Janet D. Spector, What This Awl Means: Feminist Archaeology at a Wahpeton Dakota Village. This is a classic example of the Book of How Everyone Else Is Wrong. In this case it really does look like everyone else was wrong, and quite badly, too. One of Spector’s advantages seems to be that she worked with the local Dakota instead of ignoring them (this seems basic, and yet); another was cataloging organic material and handmade material, not just metal objects purchased from white settlers (again, obvious, right? and yet), and she did some reinterpretation that was very interesting and quite logical. This is very local to me–as in, I could get to her specific dig sites with very little more direction than what is provided in the book, could picture them easily–but I think it would be interesting to those who are not from this area also.

Jonathan Strahan, ed., Fearsome Journeys. Is there anything better than reading someone you like doing the thing you like them doing? Absolutely, and that’s reading someone you like doing something new. I got two of those in this volume, one from Scott Lynch and one from Ellen Klages. I also got stand-out stories from Elizabeth Bear and Daniel Abraham, whose novels are less unitary and who therefore have less of a “their thing” to deviate from. This is in the upper ranks of fantasy anthologies I’ve read in this decade, possibly the best–I haven’t sat down to do a total ordering, since that’s not my scene. But as fantasy anthologies go, it’s definitely worth the time.

E. P. Thompson, William Morris. Oh, E. P. Thompson, how I love you. Oh, William Morris, also with the love. This is a big thumping biography, and Thompson has the necessary background in poetry and also the necessary background in English socialists (Marxist and non-) to give context to the whole messy thing. And Morris was the Pre-Raphaelite who would get in there and dye stuff himself, and Morris was the one who would get in there and do the lead lines for the stained glass and figure out the exact colors when Rosetti had just tossed him a pencil sketch of roughly how something should look–oh, I did not come out of this a greater fan of Rosetti at all–and really, he was such a tinkery nerd. So fond, so fond. And I was even more fond because Thompson would make no bones about the parts of Morris’s work that were complete crap–he was a biographer who was clearly fond of his subject, but not at all reverent, he would just dive right in and say, “Despite Rosetti’s enthusiasm for Morris’s latest work at the time, this poem had no visible virtues,” or something like that, and you’d go and find it online and read it and go, oh, ugh, Uncle Will, what a thing to write, go and dye something, you’ll feel better after. It was so lovely. Towards the end it got to be a really diffuse accounting of English socialism of the period more than a biography of William Morris per se, but you can sympathize with that, given that Thompson was who he was and Morris was who he was. It was an awfully tempting rabbit to go running after. Anyway I highly recommend this if you are even remotely interested. And if you are not, then I will do the interpretive dance of Janey Morris and George Bernard Shaw and the blackberry pudding for you, and that’s almost as good.

Vuntut Gwitchin First Nation and Shirleen Smith, People of the Lakes: Stories of Our Van Tat Gwitch’in Elders. The two different spellings of the group name are there on the cover, so I have replicated them faithfully, knowing well the problems of transliteration. These are people of the far north who are not Inuit, telling some of their own stories, with photos illustrating the lands where they live. Quite useful for filling in gaps in perception about the peoples of the far north.

Stanley Weintraub, Beardsley. Biography of Aubrey Beardsley. Does what it says on the tin, does not do a great deal more than that, except that the accompanying illustrations gave me a much more solid reminder of what stuff is Beardsley-influenced. (A lot. Really a lot.)

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