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Books read, early April

Robert E. Blobaum, Rewolucja: Russian Poland 1904-1907. Kindle. Interesting and focused, lots of useful stuff about schools and labor unions and other pieces of information that broader texts might not think to go into. I know lots about Finland under Russian rule in this period and very little about Poland, so the compare-and-contrast was valuable as well.

Lois McMaster Bujold, Shards of Honor and Barrayar. Rereads. For a different project than other recent rereads, and while I’ve read others in this series more recently, it’s been a while since I saw the very beginnings of things that are fixed reference points in my family and immediate friend circle discourse.

Maud Cairnes, Strange Journey. This is a Freaky Friday (body swap) novel from the ’30s, but the characters doing the swap are two women of different classes rather than a parent/child pair. It’s light rather than overtly hilarious, and nothing of great dramatic consequence happens; it’s a short and pleasant enough read, and if you’re interested in this trope, it sure is a one of those, but the two women’s classes aren’t so staggeringly distant that Cairnes was attempting massive social commentary: they are an upper class and upper middle class woman, this is not the ’30s of the bread line, nobody is coming out of this with a particularly raised consciousness.

Christopher Clark, Revolutionary Spring: Europe Aflame and the Fight for a New World, 1848-1849. I loved so many things about this. If you have any interest at all in the ’48 uprisings, I recommend it very much. For example, Clark uses women sources as a matter of course rather than as a separate, vestigial How Women Did In All This section; he is clear that Europe is not the entirety of the world and yet notices that the rest of the world affects Europe and says so. For a 700+ page book it goes so fast, you’ll hardly know you spent any time reading it.

Pamela Dean, Tam Lin. Reread. Probably I wouldn’t be rereading this quite so soon after a previous project if it didn’t fit a current project so well, but it does, and I didn’t entirely want to stop myself, I just fell right in rather than consulting it for one or two references. I caught myself talking like Molly for a week afterward. I never regret a reread of this one, never.

Penelope Fitzgerald, The Gate of Angels. Brief and light and concerned with the intersection of worlds academic and otherwise through the intersection of people from those worlds; I finished it and immediately added another of her books to my list.

E.M. Forster, The Longest Journey. Kindle. Less funny than some of his other work, and I think less well-conceived, the abrupt death in this one is toward the beginning and of an adult, so it’s not as upsetting as Where Angels Fear to Tread, but there are flashes of absolute cold-bloodedness about the death of a disabled infant and some weird ideas about disability in general, so while it has some virtues as its hero struggles toward a clarity of purpose, I think I will neither want to revisit it nor particularly recommend it.

Victoria Goddard, Till Human Voices Wake Us. Kindle. This is a corner of Goddard’s universe that’s new to me, the corner that impinges upon our own and has magicians moonlighting as actors. Much shorter than the ones I’ve read before but with similar themes.

Guy Gavriel Kay, Sailing to Sarantium. Reread. Not for a project, I just felt like mosaics. I like the birds, I like the chariots, there are parts of this I don’t like but I know what they are going in, I’m ready for them.

August V. Koskimies and Toivo I. Itkonen, with Lea Laitinen, Inari Sámi Folklore: Stories from Aanaar. A compilation divided by type of folklore, including proverbs as well as stories. I think some of the proverbs are not adequately explained in English and would be happy to argue with the translator about them, and by “happy” I mean “what a fun time that would be, gosh that would be great.”

Ann Leckie, Lake of Souls. What I see in these stories is that Ann is short story lab person, which we used to see a lot more of in science fiction. You can watch her tinkering with theme and concept and making sure they work and then deploying them later at greater length in novels, but they do work at the shorter lengths, if there were experiments in the lab that didn’t work so well they didn’t make it into the collection. More than half of it is in one of her preexisting universes or the other, but I believe the Raven Tower stories predated the book, so it’s very much not the sort of thing where you’re getting the cutting room floor with a collection label slapped on and already have to be invested to care at all, more the opposite, that this is a fine road in.

Ursula K. Le Guin, Always Coming Home. Reread. For book club, and the sort of reread where I say reread, I know I’ve read it before, but that was before I started my booklog 25 years ago, so the things I remember and the things I don’t are an interesting study. This book is clearly labeled “a novel” on the cover, and I think it isn’t one, I think “a fictional experiment in science fiction anthropology” would have put people off but there’s no particular reason to look at the way Le Guin wrote this and think, yes, that’s definitely a novel, although when the bits with character continuity come around I’m glad to have them, glad to immerse with them. There isn’t a lot else that’s like this.

Jeffrey McKinnon, Our Ancient Lakes: A Natural History. This is actually mostly “fish in ancient lakes: speciation is weird and not maybe as clear or important as previous generations would like to think.” And he was cheerful and interesting about it, and I don’t resent the fish, but also I was hoping for more geology. Well, win some lose some.

Barbara Sjoholm, From Lapland to Sámi: Collecting and Returning Sámi Craft and Culture. A highly illustrated examination of which parts of Sámi material culture are where and why and how that looks culturally–mostly not sacred items, for example, but how craft was maintained against overwhelming cultural forces and where it was not entirely, that sort of thing. Interesting, and the illustrations are quite useful.

D. E. Stevenson, Music in the Hills. Kindle. This novel runs very much on rails: every twist goes exactly where you think it will, the ending is just what you expect it to be. Which is fine enough, I suppose; Stevenson can write sentences, and it’s not a very long book. But given that the running on rails undoes some of what was an interesting ending in the previous (but theoretically stand-alone) one, I was a bit disappointed. It’s a straightforward romance where much of the falling in love is various people falling in love with a farm.

Caroline Stevermer, A Scholar of Magics. Reread. When I finished A College of Magics in March, I thought, why have I never read this and its sequel in close proximity? and the answer is: it is not a very close sequel, I now remember. You do not have to have the previous volume’s details close to hand, and it is considerably more idiosyncratic in structure (this is in no way a complaint, I like its singular nature a lot) whereas this is a lot more normal for fantasy novels. Except for having a cowboy sharpshooter falling in love with British magic, that’s not something you see every day, pure Caroline.

Noel Streatfeild, Luke. Kindle. This is one of the bad Streatfeilds, and I strongly recommend you skip it. There are no plot twists. Everything is just as it appears on the surface. It’s not really a spoiler to tell you that the creepy boy did it and his weak mother covered up for him, because you’ll know that right away, and there are never any twists that make you think, oh, but maybe not. No, it’s that, it’s always that, and it’s never any deeper than that, it’s always, you shouldn’t be too precious over your child or he’ll be a murderous creep. Thanks for that I guess? But no thanks? Ugh.

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