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Books read, early August

L. Frank Baum, The Sea Fairies. Kindle. Boy, concepts of rudeness have changed a lot since this book was written. It stars Trot and Cap’n Bill, whom I liked in Oz, but I haven’t reread any Oz books as an adult, and this…was less fantastical and funny than I remember the Oz books being. And it was more generally acceptable to be flat-out rude to people for no apparent reason. Ah well. Maybe stick with Oz, is what I’m saying here.

Elizabeth Bear, Garrett Investigates. Kindle. I’d read some of these before, but it turns out I liked them then, too. And the ones that were new to me were worthy additions to the Abby Irene timeline. I think you could probably start here and be just fine for an introduction to this series of magical detective stories.

H. R. Ellis Davidson, Pagan Scandinavia. This was a book they had at the bed-and-breakfast Mark and I stayed in for our anniversary, and the innkeeper commented that he didn’t think he’d seen anybody else open it, much less read it all through. Mostly archaeological and therefore largely descriptions of what we don’t know about, for example, Bronze Age Scandinavia. Still quite interesting, some good insights for future work, hurrah.

Gillian Gill, Nightingales: The Extraordinary Upbringing and Curious Life of Miss Florence Nightingale. Usually I am asking for books to be less “popular history” category and to go deeper. In this case rather more the opposite, I fear. The author’s thesis was about how the Nightingale family and affines strongly affected their most famous member, and she took a quite circuitous route to lay it all out in detail. And…a lot of that detail looked to me to be unnecessary corroboration rather than fascinating elaboration. So this one took me awhile. I would probably only recommend it if you have specific interest in the Nightingales’ place among mid-19th century Dissenters, intellectuals, and other troublemakers in England; while I have an interest in that general category, even I found it a bit slow.

John Haines. The Stars, the Snow, the Fire: Twenty-Five Years in the Alaska Wilderness. Very episodic essays. Lovely but brief.

Barbara Hambly, Search the Seven Hills. Kindle. I enjoyed this Roman mystery, but it had a certain feel of “I did my research, LOOK, SEE?” in parts. But mostly those were bickering parts, so generally I was amused. Early Christian doctrinal disputes and kidnapping: actually a good combination. (But the hero didn’t ask a question I found obvious, so the ending was not the revelation it was intended to be; ah well.)

Nalo Hopkinson, Sister Mine. Range of characters, urban fantasy with familial and cultural relationships that carry a great deal of weight in the story, highly recommended.

Hugh Howard, Mr. and Mrs. Madison’s War: America’s First Couple and the Second War of Independence. I had the wrong expectations for this book. I expected it to be more or less a joint biography of the Madisons, with a focus on their role in the War of 1812. Instead it was pretty much a general American-perspective history of the War of 1812. Which was fine, but not particularly exciting or enthralling; I could have done with a bit more (or a lot more!) focus.

Shira Lipkin and Michael Damian Thomas, eds., Flying Higher: An Anthology of Superhero Poetry. Kindle. Highly, highly variable, both in form and in quality. I felt that the stand-out poem was Kip Manley’s “If,” although I also enjoyed Benjamin Rosembaum’s “Judah Maccabee,” Wednesday Burns-White’s “knitwear is both harder and softer than suits,” and Catt Kinsgrave’s “The Ballad of Captain America’s Disapproving Face.” The last is an exemplar of how much funnier funny poems can be when the poet is a master of the form they’ve chosen.

Hilary McKay, Caddy Ever After, Forever Rose, and Saffy’s Angel. Rereads. Oh how I love these books. They make me so happy. The entire series makes me happy. I did not reread the Caddy prequel this time around because I had read it so recently, but the others I just couldn’t resist. Start with Saffy’s Angel. But do start, they’re funny and astute and all sorts of other good things.

Jean-Benoit Nadeau and Julie Barlow, The Story of French. Written by people from Quebec, not France, which I think was all to the good. Starting from a somewhat more politically peripheral position in this kind of study seems to only help promote awareness of the actual diversity that exists. I found the coherence (and lack thereof!) of the historical French language to be interestingly handled in this book, and I would recommend it to language geeks, particularly those who have read similar books about English and would like parallax.

Joe Palca and Flora Lichtman, Annoying: The Science of What Bugs Us. This was interesting and fast but very light; I find that even within two weeks of reading it, its details have mostly faded. Probably not worth the time, probably not going to offend or upset if you do take the time.

David J. Schwartz, Gooseberry Bluff Community College of Magic: The Thirteenth Rib (episodes 7 to end). Kindle. I finally managed to remind myself that I do not like serials and that the serial nature of this was optional, and to have the willpower to put off reading each chunk until I had all the rest of them. It works beautifully this way and is a great deal of fun; I hope Dave gets a chance to tell more stories in this world, because it feels like it’s a very detailed realization in a way that a lot of urban fantasies aren’t really trying to be, but without getting bogged down in exposition. The characters are diverse and well-realized. I’m glad I didn’t keep frustrating myself needlessly by reading it in chunks, but if you’re the sort of person who likes reading things in chunks and Dave does this again, I’m pretty sure that reaction is all on me, not on how he executed it.

Arkady and Boris Strugatsky, Roadside Picnic. Intriguing conceit with aliens who honestly don’t even seem to notice humans are there as they pass and leave their detritus. I felt like Ursula LeGuin’s introduction inadvertently pointed out how much less total characterization (either breadth or depth, not necessarily both) we expected in SF novels from before, oh, about the late ’80s/early ’90s. That doesn’t make “classic” SF bad, just a different set of protocols to read with.

Ellen Emerson White, The President’s Daughter. I am a sucker for political dramas and even political melodramas. I didn’t find this one at all painful in the process of reading it, but I’m not sure it was worth the time. Among other things, it appears to have been “updated,” with references to DVDs and similar tech, from its original publication date, and I don’t think this was useful. At all. Especially since the rest of the assumptions didn’t really fit with the surface updates. It looks from scanning jacket copy as though the rest of the series sinks into melodrama plots, and I can see why, because this plot was pretty…limp, honestly. I wanted to like this, since it was in a category I like and don’t get enough of, but it just didn’t really deliver.

1 thought on “Books read, early August

  1. I must confess that I really enjoyed that Ellen Emerson White book. But I read the first one in the original printing, where the protag drank Tab :), and it somehow held together well. It was truly weird to get to the next one and find that it was modernized; it didn’t work out at all, as you said.

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