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Books read, late August

Wilfrid Blunt, Linnaeus: The Compleat Naturalist. I hate Wilfrid Blunt and wish he was still alive to give the cut direct to. He doesn’t really care about Linnaeus’s students and under-researchers, which…neglects a major component in his success. But he also just had a major hate on for Sara-Lisa Linnaeus and took random swipes at her for completely unjust reasons. Oh gosh, sorry you didn’t find Sara-Lisa to be as cultured as you’d like, Wilfrid, too bad she was literally not allowed to study anything. So tedious. So many places where he wasted time sneering at Sara-Lisa when he could have been talking about failed attempts to grow tea in Sweden. Only get this book if you are a truly dedicated Linnaeus completist.

Gwenda Bond and Christopher Rowe, The Supernormal Sleuthing Service: The Sphinx’s Secret. The second in its series, featuring kids with varied skills and magical backgrounds solving problems and mysteries. If friendship and teamwork are elements of MG fantasy you like, this series delivers those along with sphinxes and time travel and monkeys going berserk and sentient elevators. Just plain fun.

Alan Bradley, The Golden Tresses of the Dead. The latest Flavia de Luce mystery. Do not start here, there is a lot of assumption that you know the characters and care about them, but really, 12-year-old girl chemist in post-War Britain, great fun for a cozyish mystery read, very fast to zip through.

Chaz Brenchley, Dust-Up at the Crater School Chapter 22. Kindle. I really need to learn to let the installments of a serial pile up, but whenever I’m traveling I read what’s come around since last I was traveling, and this was only one chapter, and…more! More adventures! More!

Greg Brick, Minnesota Caves: History and Lore. This is exactly what it says on the tin. All the Minnesota caves, including some fictional ones, and what they’ve been used for, so far as Brick has been able to figure out. There is history of cheesemaking, the mushroom industry, brewing. There is tourism, there are structural uncertainties. It’s a slim volume, but it covers a lot. The prose is not necessarily sparkling, but if you want this for the contents, it sure does what it does thoroughly. (I do want this for the contents, in case that wasn’t clear.)

Gavin Chappell, trans. The Saga of Arrow-Odd. Kindle. This is the first listed of several legendary sagas I’m going to be reading. And I mean “legendary saga” here as a technical term, as distinct from family sagas and king sagas, and buckle in, because these are a trip and a half. I am researching a thing, and if that means that I have to read about abrasive Vikings who suddenly run into mythical beasts who were nowhere foreshadowed in the text, so be it. That will be my fate. (Dang, legendary sagas feel random.)

C.S.E. Cooney, Desdemona and the Deep. This is a delightful romp through mining labor relations, faerieland, self-knowledge, and friendship. It packs a lot into every single page. There is also couture. I think you know from that if you want this. You probably do.

Candas Jane Dorsey, Ice and Other Stories. This is a very large range of stories and types of story, with a lot of fairly icy science fiction as its core. There’s a high prairie range to it that made me glad I read it when I had just been to Alberta. It’s the sort of collection that pulls a career into focus.

Sarah Glassford and Amy Shaw, eds., A Sisterhood of Suffering and Service: Women and Girls of Canada and Newfoundland During the First World War. This is totally a tell that I’ve been in a Canadian museum shop in the last month, because really, you can’t get things like this in the US–I mean, probably you can special-order them, this is the future we live in, but how would you know it was out there to do. Anyway: Glassford and Shaw and the authors they’ve assembled are careful and thoughtful about what range of girls and women they manage to cover and what range they do not and why, where more study is needed, and it’s very interesting and exactly the sort of thing I’ve been wanting to know for thirty years and more now, thanks, L.M. Montgomery. (Why “and Newfoundland,” say the non-Canadians? Newfoundland was a separate entity from the rest of what we now consider Canada until 1949, the more you know!)

Tessa Gratton, Strange Grace. This is a horror-fantasy or dark-fantasy with a village that sacrifices one of its boys, and how you feel about it may depend on how much you’re willing to sit through some gender essentialism and social toxicity to get to the utter deconstruction of the gender essentialism and social toxicity. For me, having enjoyed other books of Gratton’s, there was a level of trust there–I knew she was not going to go somewhere dreadful at the end. It may still be too much for you, you may still crawl out of your skin before she gets there, because it’s borderline in spots, lots of people accepting a pretty bad status quo and having to be shaken out of it. That may be just what you need right now, that may be the last thing you need right now, depending on whether you find it cathartic or too close to the bone.

Melissa Harrison, Rain: Four Walks in English Weather. Very short, very much what it says on the tin. Four different locations throughout England, lyrical, lovely.

Rokuro Inui, Automatic Eve. Discussed elsewhere.

Sarah Orne Jewett, The Country of the Pointed Firs. Kindle. This is a chatty short novel of small town Maine life early in the twentieth century. Some of the interactions between women characters particularly ring true to my experience of family life even though their details are not the specific details of either setting or time frame–the dialog and characterization are note-perfect. One of the major characters is an herbalist, and I find the entire thing charming.

Barbara Krasnoff, The History of Soul 2065. This is a mosaic novel of two intertwined Jewish families, their ghosts, and their loved ones of various ethnicities/religions. Barbara has a particularly sharp ear for dialog, which is such a pleasure to read, making the ghosts warm and human and in places all too poignant.

Adam Morris, American Messiahs: False Prophets of a Damned Nation. This is a history of people claiming to be God or the voice of God in America. It gets more depressing to read the closer to the present it gets, the less it can be an academic exercise and the more it’s immediate. It’s worth knowing about, and I feel that Morris is very careful about being skeptical yet respectful–that is, respecting the humanity of everyone in the book. If you’re going to read about this topic, this seems like a good choice to me. But oof.

Mary Oliver, The Leaf and the Cloud. I really don’t like John Ruskin, like, not quite on the level of Wilfrid Blunt (still mad about you, Wilfrid Blunt!), but I would be very chilly about the process of not giving him the cut direct. However, and unlike Wilfrid Blunt, he did lead to a great many lovely things, and one of them is this book-length poem in several parts, about the universe, the natural world, and, er…everything. It’s Mary Oliver having a good wander, a bit like it was reading a new Madeleine L’Engle book as a child but all poetry. It’s lovely.

Hermann Palsson and Paul Edwards, translators, Gautrek’s Saga and Other Medieval Tales. This is more weird legendary saga stuff. Fewer sea monsters than Arrow-Odd but continuing in the randomness vein.

Robert William Sandford, Cold Matters: The State and Fate of Canada’s Fresh Water. This reads like an extended conference talk, which is fine by me. The gallery owner who sold it to me said, “Oh, he’s very smart,” and now that I’ve read it I realize this was meant as a warning, but it’s a topic that’s worth being smart on. Lots of stuff that we simply do not know yet about drainage and erosion in regions where that water was formerly frozen in glaciers. Lots to investigate and, uh, worry about. But it’s worth the worry. I was thinking this was going to be mostly limnology, but really not, mostly it’s frozen or recently-frozen water which is a different study completely.

Iona Datt Sharma, Not For Use in Navigation. Kindle. Iona is an agentsib of mine, and their work feels…neighborly. To me. If you like my short fiction, I think you might well like Iona’s. It just feels companionable. Of course they are coming from somewhere completely different from me, so what you want in my work and what you find in theirs may be quite different. I just was startled at how much I could notice the fellow-feeling across the miles and years and gender and…everything. So that was awesome.

Lilah Sturges and Polterink, Lumberjanes: The Infernal Compass. Brief and friend-focused and fun and basically everything I am looking for in Lumberjanes. I am not the target audience for this particular message, but hoo boy do I know people who are.

Sara Teasdale, Helen of Troy and Other Poems. Kindle. The persona poems in this volume fascinate me, the particular empathies Teasdale finds with historical and legendary women and the way she chooses which women to shape empathies with. The rest is more typical Teasdale, but those felt very worthwhile as a separate category.

Ngozi Ukazu, Check, Please! Book 1: #Hockey. I’d read this as an online comic, but I really like physical books better (really) (really really), and I didn’t even mean to sit down and read this, I just…got lured. It is a college hockey and baking comic. At the end of this volume there is some romance. It is so much fun. It is so hockey, but I think in a way that draws non-hockey people in rather than shuts them out. I will be so glad to have volume 2.

Adriaan Verhulst, The Rise of Cities in North-West Europe. This, it turns out, means Belgium. It is always startling to me to be exposed to regions that had the Romans and thus Christianity but particularly the regions that were not at all central to that, that had bishops but not, like, consistent secular governance. Like Belgium. And it was interesting to watch cities not entirely map to Roman settlements or bishoprics or…well. Go Belgium, do your thing.

Jane Yolen, The Emerald Circus. This is a collection of Jane’s stories, mostly the newer ones. If you’ve read a lot of her short work, there will be some old familiar favorites in here, but also probably some new ones even the avid followers haven’t run into before unless you’ve been getting every anthology she’s got one in–which, with Jane, takes quite some doing; it’s difficult enough to keep up on the books she’s authored by herself.

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Catfish Lullaby, by A.C. Wise

Review copy provided by Broken Eye Books. Also the author has become a convention buddy of mine.

This novella is an incredibly fast read for something this creepy and dark. I started reading it in the waiting room for a doctor’s appointment, and…it’s not the pulse-pounding raise-your-blood-pressure kind of dark fantasy. It’s the creeping-chill kind of dark fantasy, the kind that won’t show up on any monitors but will stick with you.

So. This is very Southern Gothic kind of dark fantasy, which the title is not trying to keep from you in the slightest. The title is very, very accurate in that regard. As with a lot of the best in Southern lit, there’s a lot of time and generations, there’s complicated history that people only know parts of at any given time, and there’s…dark and swampy stuff going on. Literally this time. Literal dark and swampy creepy stuff that the protagonist has to unravel if the people he cares about have any chance of making it through in one piece.

Gotta tell you the odds do not look great at several points in this, and it’s dark fantasy, so I’m not going to tell you what the survival rate is. Just…lots of bayou stuff and lots of family history, and some people who make their own families caring about each other and sticking by each other through some unimaginably dark times. Good stuff, though very far outside my usual.