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Books read, early May

Jeanne Birdsall, The Penderwicks in Spring. Fourth in a charming series of children’s books, this one fast-forwards several years and foregrounds the previously-youngest Penderwick sister, Batty. Fair warning: because lots of time has passed, Hound has died before this book begins. Does this count as the dog dying? Well, it’s not done for dramatic effect, and the book deals more with long-term grief than with the first agony of loss, but if you need books where dog grief is never a thing, I need to warn you about this book. I think it’s sensitively and beautifully handled, but. I also really like how things are evolving, often offstage in ways that are clear onstage, as the Penderwicks grow up.

C.J. Cherryh, Invader. Reread. Holy crud the early books in this series are full of humans! Humans here and there and everywhere, and who needs ’em? Well, the plot needs ’em. But I’m glad she got less humany plots, because what I really want is Jago and Banichi and Ilisidi and like that. So if you’re starting this series and discouraged by the humans, be of good cheer, they’ll wander off soon. I think soon. Within a trilogy or two at least.

Diane Duane, Deep Wizardry and High Wizardry. Rereads. Deep Wizardry will, I think, always be one of my favorites of this series. It…well, it dives right in, emotionally. It gets to the main themes of the series and does not pull any punches. And I do love all the whales. Whales! More books need whales! High Wizardry brings in Dairine and an entire planet of silicon life, and those things could hardly be bad either.

Nicola Griffith, The Blue Place. Reread. A thriller that understands being Norwegian and Norwegian-American, is very sensory, and also is very meditative about violence and its place in different humans’ psyches. I loved this on the first read and am glad to return to it.

Hua Yu, China in Ten Words. This was a very odd essay collection. In some ways it was highly personal–it was about Hua’s experiences growing up in the Cultural Revolution and being a writer in China after. And yet those experiences were in some ways so universal that his highly personal thoughts felt a bit generic. If you haven’t read much about the Cultural Revolution for average people, this should be a reasonably smooth introduction. Otherwise–well, the opening has a really vivid story that made me hopeful about the whole thing, and then the hopes were dashed. Ah well. Not bad, mind you, just not living up to the vaccination story’s individuality early on.

Jon Meacham, American Lion: Andrew Jackson in the White House. Pffffff wow. Okay, so Jackson is an incredibly difficult subject to handle well. And yet. And yet. I feel like Meacham feels like he’s not giving Jackson a free pass from criticism in his racial policies, and yet his policies regarding African-Americans are almost completely absent from this book, and his policies regarding Native Americans…well, there is hedging. I think Meacham would say no! he says that the Trail of Tears was bad! but seriously, dude: the Trail of Tears was more than bad, and Jackson’s bad decisions in dealing with indigenous people were larger than just the Trail of Tears. There was interesting stuff in this book, but it wants context to point out its limitations, so I don’t recommend making it your sole reading material about the Jackson administration.

Jodi Meadows, The Orphan Queen. Fun, fast read with intrigue and adventure. The major “plot twist” is not very twisty, but the book’s appeal doesn’t rest on it being a major surprise. I’m interested to see where Jodi goes next with this swashbuckling YA high fantasy.

Rafael Rosado and Jorge Aguirre, Dragons Beware!. Discussed elsewhere.

Samuel A. Tannenbaum, The Handwriting of the Renaissance. Holy crud was people’s handwriting a mess. One of the major features in this book’s discussion of each character was what it could easily be mistaken for. There’s a reason for that. This is a volume from the 1930s, by the way, which had its charming moments and a few moments of outright racism. (Yes. In a handwriting book. That’s the fabulous thing about racists! They will find a way! Wait. Not fabulous.)

Lynne Thomas and Michael Damian Thomas, eds., Uncanny Magazine Issue 2. Kindle. I had already read my favorite story from this issue, Hao Jingfang’s “Folding Beijing,” online before I got around to reading the Kindle cover-to-cover, so this should count as a partial reread. This is what I mean when I say I am not trying to be comprehensive when I recommend short stories: I will read part of an issue one month and part another, in two different formats, etc. So really: I am not setting myself up as an authority here. I just like some stories. Like the one linked there.

Tehani Wessely, ed., Insert Title Here. I make a policy of not reviewing things I’m in, so: this exists! I am in it! I read it!

Herwig Wolfram, History of the Goths. Disappointingly for some of you, this is a history of the ancient people, not of the recent affinity group. It was substantially focused on the Visigoths but had a long chapter on Ostrogoths as well, and mentioned other Gothic groups somewhat. Its translation from the German meant that it dodged some common issues of Anglocentrism/Francocentrism in history originally written in English, but it could have done with many, many (MANY MANY) more maps. And also with a coherent sense of what some placenames mean absent the nation-states they refer to. When you talk about the Visigoths encountering the Spanish, for example: what group is that? Iberian Celts? Basques? Some other pre-Gothic Iberian group? “Spanish” does not cut it in these centuries. Still had some useful bits.

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