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Books read, early May

Nathalie Bardet, Alexandra Houssaye, Stephane Jouve, and Peggy Vincent, Ocean Life in the Time of Dinosaurs. Lavishly illustrated, divided by era so that it will be useful for reference if you want it by time period, lots of interesting ocean creatures, basically exactly the sort of natural history book I liked as a little kid but for grown-ups and yes, I still do like that sort of book.

Lois McMaster Bujold, Mirror Dance, Memory, and Komarr. Rereads. Now it can be told: I’m rereading this series to do a conversation with Lois focused on Mirror Dance as a middle book at Fourth Street Fantasy next month. These three really are the meat of the middle of this series, and while Miles still gets to make mistakes, he also gets to do some genuine growing up. I’m also pleased that we’re in the portion of the series where we’re seeing changes in Barrayaran culture rather than being told that Barrayar is a culture in flux. Some of that is spending more time on Barrayar, but some of it is the long-series aspect of “setting expectations in order to overturn them.”

Judith Butler, Who’s Afraid of Gender?. This is a valuable thing to do, albeit more valuable for people paying less attention than I am, but I think I was expecting the title to be more rhetorical, and instead it could be rephrased as Some Jerks Who Are Afraid of Gender. Which was more of an “ugh, these people, in specific and at length, I already knew” than I was entirely anticipating, though some of the details were new.

Vajra Chandrasekera, The Saint of Bright Doors. I really like it when there’s no immediate “oh this is just another one of xyz” comp title in-genre for new fantasy novels, and this is one where there isn’t. The protagonist is substantially reactive, which means that the plot drifts weirdly and has its own shape, Aristotle be damned. I’m not that attached to his unities myself anyway, and the setting is the most interesting part here–inspired by various aspects of Sri Lankan history and dystopian thought rather than some of the more common sources for fantasy setting, wrestling with the divine and the chosen from a completely different angle.

H.A. Clarke, The Feast Makers. Third in its trilogy, “the triumphant conclusion of.” Sideways Pike and her friends are dealing with consequences upon consequences, and I would definitely not recommend starting here, you’ll be confused and besides the other two are in print. But I’m generally pretty happy with where it went, where they went.

Margaret Frazer, The Outlaw’s Tale and The Bishop’s Tale. Kindle. Two medieval mysteries with a detective nun protagonist. They’re structured as mysteries more than as novels, so I wanted more denouement than Frazer was interested in giving me, but they were still fun short reads, I’m still happy enough to go along with the rest of the series, the reign of Henry VI is not particularly one of “my” periods but it’s still an interesting set of thoughts about how someone would figure things out then and what they would consider important.

Marie Howe, New and Selected Poems. Worst-case scenario for a “new and selected” happened here: I did not like the direction of the new, only the “selected” (which I already knew). Howe’s poetic style is extremely forthright, which usually I am okay with, but for whatever reason she is going in a direction of forthright that doesn’t particularly do anything wonderful for me. Well, there’s the rest of what they selected from still there if I want to go back.

Jose Pablo Iriarte, Benny Ramirez and the Nearly Departed. A fun middle-grade fantasy about a young boy finding his own way in the shadow of his talented relatives–including his egotistical musician grandfather, who is hanging around being far more present after death than he ever was in life.

Gish Jen, Tiger Writing. Thoughts about culture, individualism and collective identity, and how it affects writing, interesting lectures turned into essays. Short and personal, to the point.

Elin Anna Labba, The Rocks Will Echo Our Sorrow: The Forced Displacement of the Northern S├ími. Also short and personal, featuring family photos and letters about the threads of the displacement in Labba’s own family, with searing and complicated stories making the human cost of these political decisions very clear.

Ursula K. Le Guin, The Language of the Night. Reread. This is a bit like reading James Clerk Maxwell on electromagnetics. There are some insights that are brilliant and original, there are some things that are wrong but you can see how she wasn’t to the point where she had the data to see it yet, and there were some bits of speculation, wondering if anyone would be able to do things that are now more or less taken for granted, and seeing someone that sharp come at it that soon is fascinating.

Darcie Little Badger, Sheine Lende. A prequel to the stronger Elatsoe, its structure is a bit loose for my taste, and the mammoths of the cover underrepresented, but it held onto me throughout all the same. Ghost dogs for the win.

Noel Streatfeild, Mothering Sunday. Kindle. Finally another adult Streatfeild that I actually enjoyed. A family (except its missing black sheep) descends upon their aging mother for a Mothering Sunday surprise, and she has to scramble to hide her secrets from their good intentions. People are allowed to be more complex here, as they are in the other good Streatfeilds–I wish there was some pattern I could figure out to which ones were like that, but it doesn’t seem to be when she published them or even, from the elements that appear in the books, that some of them were published far off from when they were written. Life stuff that’s opaque from here or mood, maybe, or editor, I don’t know.

Nghi Vo, The Brides of High Hill. The latest novella in its series, stands alone reasonably well but is not as strong as some of the others at doing really striking worldbuilding or characterization things without the rest of the series (that is–you could read it first but I think it’s much better if you don’t), asks very open questions about who the monsters are and how we know them when we find them.

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