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Books read: all of June

Diane Ackerman, Animal Sense. I am now afraid to reread Diane Ackerman’s poems for adults, since this was for children and was so bad–flames on the side of my face–that I am seriously afraid that I was badly, badly wrong about what she wrote as poetry for adults and will go back and read it with horror. And I’m not sure if that would be worse or if it would be worse if she believes that things don’t have to be good if they’re for kids. I suppose there’s always the alternative that she thinks that “good for kids” is this hideous twee category with the scansion of a badly fitting boot and didacticism that isn’t even right. I just. Sorry, I’m just going to have my Madeline Kahn moment with that YouTube clip up there. Aaaaagh. “I know, I’ll have the library get me a book of children’s poems from a poet I like while I’m sick aaaah what is this aaaaah.” When my godson Rob was two he liked calamari rings, and someone accidentally put the tentacles on his plate. And he got to that part of his plate and recoiled in horror and intoned, “I–I–I DON’T YIKE DIS” from somewhere deep in his two-year-old soul. The depth of his offense was much more than one might think proportional from an outside perspective. And that is where I am with this book somehow. I love the tentacles. Maybe you will like these tentacles. But I am very glad I did not buy this for a small person in my life on the strength of author name.

Leigh Bardugo, Ruin and Rising. A very satisfying ending to this trilogy, but I think not at all satisfying if you started here–lots of emotional weight from earlier events. There was a bit of the trick to the ending that made me kind of scrinch up my nose, but I was overall so pleased with the fast, fun reading experience that I didn’t, in general mind, and will be pleased to look for what Bardugo does next. Go start at the beginning for the weird Russian-esque YA fantasy stuff.

Andrea Barrett, Lucid Stars. A novel following the women of one American mid-century family, with a focus on astronomy that never gets particularly passionate or technical–an interesting angle, since usually somebody in that kind of novel actually gets really quite good at astronomy. It walks a fine line of almost getting compassion for a particular kind of depression right, but interested readers should go into it forewarned that Barrett is a little iffy on the topic of weight and dress sizes–she gets ill-advisedly specific about how big the character who is supposed to be really quite big is, and if it made my eyebrows do the tango with my hairline, I imagine it would be quite a bit worse for some of you. She’s also iffy on the line between “this character finds a healthier place for herself to be in all areas of her life that happens to be at a smaller though still not thin weight” and…worse than that really. So: with caveats, this book. With definite caveats.

Jianing Chen, The Core of Chinese Classical Fiction. Short bits and excerpts from lots of pieces of Chinese classics throughout the ages. Alec lent me this as part of our discussion about the range of Chinese ghost stories, but it also has bits of non-ghost-related Chinese classics. A good jumping-off place if you want to go further, probably not a good place to stop and say, “Oh good, now I know about Chinese lit, the end.”

Tim Cooper, The Reader: War for the Oaks. I make a policy of not writing reviews of things I’m in, and I have an essay in this (as well as being in some of the photos). But it’s here, the thing that I posted about Kickstarting. It can now be ordered and read as an actual book, including my bit, and I did read it as one.

Pamela Dean, The Secret Country, The Hidden Land, and The Whim of the Dragon. Rereads. I am often very stern with myself about rereads. “You can’t just reread the same things all the time!” I tell myself sternly. And then when I was sick in bed, after some days of being too sick to read when I could read again, what I really wanted to read was the Secret Country trilogy, and I was really quite sick, so I said okay, let’s do that. And then when I went to put it in my booklog when all was said and done, it had been nearly a decade since I’d reread them. So I think the moral of the story is that I should be somewhat less stern with myself. Also, the Secret Country books make me happy in my heart and are totally where I left them, untouched by the Suck Fairy, hurrah, and I love everybody. Someone–maybe even Pamela?–was saying how much Patrick was their favorite, and Patrick is not my favorite because I don’t have a favorite because I love all the main people. All of them.

Samuel Delany, Driftglass. Reread. I am pleased that in the years since I read this, it’s looking a lot more influential on the short fiction being published in the field, although I can’t say how much of that is direct. It was less of a “wow” because of that than it was the first few times reading it, and I think that’s a good thing.

A.M. Dellamonica, Child of a Hidden Sea. Discussed elsewhere.

Karen Joy Fowler, Black Glass. Reread. What a good title for the shiny and reflective stories herein. Particularly the opening one made me glad I randomly returned to this collection.

Julia Mary Gibson, Copper Magic. Discussed elsewhere.

Benedict Jacka, Fated. Someone–Rose? someone who is perhaps Rose?–recommended this when I was less than satisfied with the Paul Cornell book I had just read, and that someone, whether or not it was Rose, was correct to do so. It is a fun urban fantasy of the sorta-noir-but-not-depressingly-noir school of urban fantasy-ing–set in London, as several of them are, but it did not feel repetitive with Aaronovitch, Carey, or Cornell–and I will be glad to get the sequel from the library. It goes well in that set and did not annoy me. Hurrah.

Guy Gavriel Kay, The Lions of Al-Rassan, Sailing to Sarantium, and Lord of Emperors. Rereads. The Lions of Al-Rassan remains the one true GGK book, for my money. I read it and wondered whether everyone else also thinks that he wrote one of the three religions in it to be the one that is obviously correct, but the people I’ve consulted so far (my mom and Alec) are not really the people one would want to consult to get a viewpoint that is, one might say, most distant from mine. So please chime in, if you’ve read this book: the Kindath, the Asharites, the Jaddites? Then I reread the Sarantine Mosaic books, and if there is direct observed evidence of the truth of any religion in this world, it is none of those three. Huh. Well, I stick by my impression anyway. Also: while the suck fairy had not visited Lions and in fact I liked the Sarantine Mosaic books better this time around (having remembered them in the context of comparing them directly to Lions, which would leave many things unsatisfying), I had not remembered the amount of sexual violence implicit in any of them. I don’t think it was badly handled, but I do think it’s indicative of how much more weary I am of feeling battered by it all, even in the books I love.

Walt Kelly, Pogo: Through the Wild Blue Yonder: The Complete Syndicated Comic Strips Volume 1. This was in some ways a Christmas present from both my grandparents, despite the fact that Grandpa died and was not technically around to consult on the present. I remain convinced–I become even more convinced–that Pogo is mostly one of those things you had to be there for. There were three or four strips out of this collection that made me laugh and laugh, and the rest made me say, “Ah, I see, that was certainly…a comic strip, yes, I have read comic strips, and that was definitely one.” Even when I was very clear what the topical references were, I just tend not to find them particularly funny. But it was an interesting insight into Things Grandpa Liked, so okay then.

Seanan McGuire, Midnight Blue-Light Special. Second in its series, and I can’t believe that was still the same month. This is why I do fortnight posts instead of month posts, aughhhh. Anyway, this book establishes that while the InCryptid books are a series, they will not be a “sitcom reset, everything back to normal” style series–there are major changes for Verity throughout. This makes it more fun, for me at least. While on the Fourth Street writers’ seminar with Seanan I got promised werewolf rabies if I stick with this series, complete with Seanan actually getting to dissect rabid brains as research. This is a pretty good promise to dangle in front of a Mris, I have to say, and “start with unusual elements like the waheela, so that when you move on to werewolves, readers trust that you will do something unusual and interesting with them” is really quite good writing advice; people should take it to heart.

Robin McKinley, Sunshine and The Hero and the Crown. Rereads. More of my sick in bed “you can’t always reread the same things!” rereads. The thing that struck me about The Hero and the Crown was how very, very much younger Aerin was than anyone else in the book–in fact how completely inappropriate some of these people’s behavior was considering the age gap. “We are both seven years old and still in the process of being civilized” is a very different set of behaviors from “I am seven and you are fourteen and could have reasonably been considered a responsible person to be put in charge of me, except that you are apparently an abusive psychopath.” I…am not entirely sure what was going on there. When I was seven, I read it as “vaguely older” not “holy crap what is wrong with this entire culture.” I still like the bits where Aerin experiments and figures out how to slay dragons. But the people who think that Deerskin is McKinley’s important book about abuse…should really go back and reread The Hero and the Crown, because it is not just about injury and recovery, it is also all about abuse and complicity. As for Sunshine, I did a Sunshine rant on my attention-direction panel at Fourth Street. It’s not that I don’t like it on the reread. I do! I still enjoyed it very much. But just as we acknowledge that Santa Claus only happens if we buy trinkets for each other’s stockings, we need to acknowledge that Robin McKinley does not write direct sequels. She just doesn’t. Her publisher claims that the other half of her pegasus book is coming out this year, but that’s the one where she literally wrote half a story rather than a whole story. So all the threads that she left dangling in Sunshine…with Rae’s father and grandmother and whether they are dead and if not where the hell they are…with Rae’s badass boyfriend and his crazy wizard tattoos and how it is that he can control so many of them and why she doesn’t ask for his damn help when they are having the throwdown…with all the things. All the things that she put in that book that go beyond “hey this might be cool” and well into “no really, this is a plot thread; I’m just going to leave it here.” Those things are going to keep dangling for the rest of our lives. And we just need to cope with that. Because this is all we are likely to get, if statistics bear out. Also, when we first got Sunshine, it was the first in the “Robin McKinley’s prose rambles” books, and it was charming because Rae was a charming narrator, and she still is. But now I look at it being followed by Dragonhaven, Chalice, Pegasus, and Shadows, and it starts to look like a turning point in her work. Sunshine is the pivot where things stop being dense and start being tangly. And it is a tangle I love, but it looks to me like a crucial turn.

William H. Patterson, Jr., Robert A. Heinlein In Dialogue With His Century: Vol. II: The Man Who Learned Better, 1948-1988. Discussed elsewhere.

Harold B. Segel, Renaissance Culture in Poland: The Rise of Humanism, 1470-1543. A fascinating look at Polish participation in Latin culture before the rise of the vernacular, with various interactions with what we would now call Italy and Germany. A reminder that not only was Copernicus Polish, he did not exist in a Polish cultural vacuum.

Clete Barrett Smith, Aliens in Disguise. Finishing up a trilogy of children’s SF. Probably better for its target age audience but still silly fun with lots of light-hearted aliens and the kids taking charge of situations that very much need it.

Elizabeth von Arnim, The Solitary Summer. Kindle. An Englishwoman who has married noble German, pre-wars, talks about a summer of not having company, and dealing with her children and her garden. This sounds dull but in fact is gentle and warm instead. And short; the shortness probably helps.

Sylvia Townsend Warner, Lolly Willowes. Oh how I loved this book. It gets described as the story of a witch, but she is a witch in very classical deal-with-Satan terms, and the thing that she makes a deal with Satan for is very early twentieth century introvert upper-middle. Oh so lovely. Highly, highly recommended.

Richard Zimler, The Warsaw Anagrams. A completely wrenching mystery novel about the Warsaw ghetto of WWII and murders therein. Vivid and well-done and detailed, and you will probably want to pick your time to read it very carefully if you can bear to read it at all. Oof.

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