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Books read, early April

Elizabeth Bear, Steles of the Sky. Discussed elsewhere.

Tobias S. Buckell, Hurricane Fever. Discussed elsewhere.

Dorothy Canfield (Fisher), Understood Betsy. Kindle. This is a very strange thing: an anti-helicopter parenting manifesto kids’ novel from…1917. It’s astonishing how many of the details of the helicopter parenting map pretty exactly. I think that the sort of modern kid who enjoys “old time novels” might still enjoy it? but my main recommendation of it is to modern adults who should find it to be a quick read and may be greatly interested in the details of how much the more things change…. Canfield/Fisher is very careful not to put country living over city living, for example, and although there are a few places where her priorities make me wince, overall it’s really quite good.

C. J. Cherryh, Peacemaker. The latest atevi novel. She keeps writing ’em, I keep reading ’em. Honestly, do not start here. Whatever you do, do not start here. Not at all the strongest of the series, by no means stands alone–they get less and less stand-alone as time goes by–but I still do care how Cajeiri negotiates the question of the birthday coat and its consequences as well as being impatient for the Spoiler who still do not Spoiler yet in this book. (Maybe in the next fortuitous three. Or maybe not. Sigh.) This book could have done with more Jago. But I still liked it.

Nancy Hale, Mary Cassatt. A quite competent but not transcendent bio of one of the important (American, female) Impressionists. Recommended if you’re looking for a bio of Mary Cassatt, otherwise not really.

Seanan McGuire, Discount Armageddon. Not my usual thing, but I could see how skillfully she was appealing to the audience she was appealing to, and there were some quite amusing moments. I’ll probably go back for the next one when I’m in the mood for humorous (modern-type) urban fantasy with cryptids.

E. C. Myers, Quantum Coin. Definitely in sequel land, and while I could see where this went all sorts of places an author might be eager to go, I was less eager as a reader to follow. I hope that Myers goes somewhere entirely different with his next work.

Michael O’Brien, Mrs. Adams in Winter: A Journey in the Last Days of Napoleon. Louisa Adams, the wife and First Lady of John Quincy Adams, was with him when he was ambassador to the court of the tsar, and she kept an account of when she had to travel by herself from that court to Paris. (“By herself”: with servants, her sister, and her son. But with no suitable male escort.) These worlds coexisted in my mind but did not really intersect: the philosophical austerity of the early American Republic (largely brought about by the elder John Adams) and the demands of an embassy at a court such as that of the early nineteenth century Russian one. Uff da, not an easy thing to have in collision, and an interesting book thereby.

Helen Oyeyemi, Boy, Snow, Bird. I loved this book! This was so beautiful! Such a lovely amazing book! Um. Except the last few chapters. Other than that, great stuff! Ignore the last couple of chapters. I think the thing was, Oyeyemi had all sorts of interesting things to say about passing and the intersection of African-Americans and ethnic whites in the era she’d chosen, and then she tried to take it an analogy too far. There was a light touch with the fairy tale parallels (seriously, fantasy writers, we could learn from the lightness of touch), there was a richness of historical detail, there was all kinds of good stuff here. But the last few chapters…well, just…no call for them really. I will try again with another of her books. Onwards.

Reader’s Digest Editors, Great Biographies: Charles A. Lindbergh, Thomas A. Edison, Hans Christian Andersen, etc.. Grandpa’s. Again, the biographies are chopped to bits and strikingly laudatory and uncontroversial. One would hardly know that Edison ever had a controversial thought or deed. I am impressed that one can even manage such a biography of Edison. Or Lindbergh, although his was an autobiography focused solely on the Spirit of St. Louis trip, which does tend to limit the debate.

Reader’s Digest Editors, Scenic Wonders of America. Grandpa’s. This was large photos of scenic areas, followed by essays about them, then lists of nearby (“one day’s drive,” which is not all that nearby, by my American standards) places to visit. It was from 1973, and it was kind of nice to see that Grandpa had looked through it and picked out some things that looked interesting and gone to see them–often with me–but it would have been unlike him to use it as a checklist, and in fact he had not. Not really the sort of thing one reads so much as looks at, but in the spirit of my project with my grandpa’s books, I did indeed look at it.

Evelyn Sharp, All the Way to Fairyland. Kindle. Somewhat twee late Victorian fairy tales, not too bad but not the best Evelyn Sharp or the best late Victorian fairy tales. Probably mostly for the specialist in one direction or the other.

Rob Thomas and Jennifer Graham, Veronica Mars: The Thousand Dollar Tan Line. Had some very fun bits. I was interested to see whether a novel would read more like a season or more like an episode, and for me it was more like a slightly extended episode. Clearly some of the juicier developments are being held back for future movies if it turns out that demand for such things exist, but there were still a few character arc points for the committed fan.

Monique Truong, The Book of Salt. A novel about the Vietnamese chef for Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas in their time in Paris. One of the key pieces of advice in critiques–which this is not, it’s nattering about books–is that one is to focus on what the author wanted a book to be, not what one wanted of the book oneself. This is one of the cases where it was a perfectly readable book where the author and I kept having drastic mismatches in what we felt was interesting about the situation and where we wanted the book to go. I, for example, found Binh’s communications (successful and otherwise) with his employers and with Parisians–and in flashback scenes, with his countrymen–fascinating, and felt that Truong missed a lot of opportunities in where she ended the scenes she chose to write. She was a lot more interested in elements like his parents’ sexualities, which…kind of bored me, frankly. So I think this is a reasonably good book for which I was very much the wrong audience.

Greg van Eekhout, California Bones. Every time I read a lovingly detailed book set in Southern California, I think, “Maybe this will be the one that makes it clear why people love this place I so very much do not love!” van Eekhout has probably come the closest so far. He also has some cool fun osteomancy worldbuilding, which is nifty and zips along. It isn’t out yet, but I borrowed a copy from someone else who got a review copy. Out this summer. Good fun. Expect to hear more when they’re actually, y’know, available and stuff.

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