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Books read, late October.

It was an epic fortnight for bouncing off library books. Epic.

John David Anderson, Sidekicked. On a page to page level, I found this book engaging and enjoyable. After twenty pages, I had put it on my Christmas shopping ideas list. By the time I finished, it was thoroughly off again. It is 2013, and this book made me blurt, snarl, and snap, “WHAT YEAR IS IT?” so many, many, many times in more than one direction. If you want the full version, ask on e-mail. Short version is: I was incredibly disappointed because Anderson is, as I said, very readable, clearly talented, and I wanted to like this book. And not only no but hell no.

Rae Carson, The Bitter Kingdom. A fitting end to this trilogy. I am usually a fan of reading series in order–and I am here too!–but I feel like Rae clued readers in enough on what had gone before that while someone starting here wouldn’t get the full emotional arc, they would have no trouble orienting themselves not just in the world but in the characters’ personal lives. So by all means get Girl of Fire and Thorns first if you can find it, but if you can’t, go ahead with this one. The backstory is cool, the characters are compelling, and the crucial moment with the godstone was simultaneously surprising and just right. I enjoyed this very much and will be eager to see what Rae gets up to next.

Linda Colley, The Ordeal of Elizabeth Marsh: A Woman in World History. One of the worst titles I have ever run across. Ever. “A Woman in World History,” seriously, publishers, what female-identified persons does that leave out? Most people will not recognize Elizabeth Marsh’s name except for being able to identify it as likely female, and the subtitle gives you nothing. Marsh was an eighteenth-century subject of the British Empire, and her travails took her all over the world–the Caribbean, the Mediterranean, a surprising lot of Africa, England, India, South America, lots of places. And she was remarkably ordinary, aside from that. Interesting stuff, more for people who like travel narratives and/or the eighteenth century than a general recommendation.

James S. A. Corey, Abaddon’s Gate. Last in the trilogy, with blessedly few vomit zombies to be seen, or at least seen as vomit zombies. (They might be classified as vomit zombie ghosts, but no one calls them that.) Considering how little I liked the premise and the first book, I’m glad Mark and Jo got me to read the other two, but really I’d mostly rather the authors focused on other things. I did like that the Methodist pastor in space actually acted like a Methodist pastor in space; it was a type of religious belief and practice that is not at all common in SF despite being pretty darn common in the real world.

Antonio Garrido, The Corpse Reader. Translation of a Spanish-language historical novel set in China, about the father of Chinese forensic science. Generally a fun read, with added interest for watching how a Spanish writer focuses on slightly different aspects of that era of Chinese history than English writers generally do. Not really a genre murder mystery per se, but probably should be shelved with them, since it has similar concerns.

Jonathan Grimwood, The Last Banquet. This is the Sooper Seekrit Soodonym of Jon Courtenay Grimwood as he makes a foray into straight-up non-speculative historical fiction. My alternate title for it was The French Nobility: Boring When Not Disgusting (Often Both). If that appeals to you, onwards. As for me, I will be hoping that Mr. Grimwood spends more time back on the speculative side of the aisle, even though I love historical fiction and need more of it.

Jan Guillou, The Templar Knight. Swedish historical novel of the twelfth century. This has a Birkebeiner! And evil nuns and good nuns and Templars and Hospitallers and smiting and weaving. Second in its series, but should stand alone reasonably well. Exemplar of the idea that Scandinavian literature becomes 1000% less depressing once smiting enters the picture. Looking forward to the last in this series, and I definitely see why it’s been popular in Sweden.

David I. Kertzer, The Kidnapping of Edgardo Mortara. This book was horrifying. It was not particularly well-organized and kept going back and forth, but the historical events it was covering were horrifying enough to keep it compelling. Basically in the 19th century there were several Jewish children (including the titular kid) who were legally kidnapped by Italian Catholic government(s) (this was the confusing unification period and interrelated there, although Kertzer did not make the interrelations as clear as he hoped) because there was even a rumor that a Christian servant had baptized the kid. It was awful. The titular character was six, and he never entirely reconciled with his poor family even as an adult.

Scott Lynch, The Republic of Thieves. This book is structured in two timelines, a fairly distant past within the characters’ lives and the present of the series to date. I liked both timelines, which is rare for me, and I very much liked that the subtitle of this book could in some ways be Locke Lamora Gets Called On His Bullshit. Looking forward to more. Recommended.

Craig M. Mullaney, The Unforgiving Minute: A Soldier’s Education. A thoughtful and detailed memoir of a young US Army officer’s training and deployment. It was more thoughtful and detailed on the training end of things than the deployment end, and I really wish there had been more about his post-Army life, but given the timing he really hadn’t had a lot of chance to process those things yet. I will be interested to see if he writes another memoir about becoming a civilian, though.

Chaim Potok, The Chosen. Interwoven stories of two young men who are friends and their relationships with their fathers, set in an American Orthodox Jewish community in the mid-40s into 1950. It was a beautiful book, and it did what SF readers often complain that mainstream fiction does not do: it put large-scale social change vividly into a very personal individual context. (Mainstream fiction doesn’t always do this, but SF doesn’t always do it either, so…I think we should all give that particular complaint a rest, frankly.)

Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö, The Fire Engine That Disappeared. Yes, those of you who are paying attention to the rules just noticed that’s two Swedish novels not just in one month but in one fortnight. Oops. The Templar Knight came in at the library sooner than I thought, and then there was the epic set of bounces off other library books, so…yeah. Anyway, this is another in their mystery series, and the title strikes me as unfortunate because it’s pointing in neon to one of the important clues. Ah well. That’s all of them the library has, I think.

Dan Snow, Death or Victory: The Battle of Quebec and the Birth of an Empire. This book is very very very much about the Battle of Quebec and very very very little about the birth of an empire. Judge your interest levels accordingly.

G. Willow Wilson, Alif the Unseen. One of the things I love about this book is that it was present or very near future–the setting was not at all out of line for one of Cory Doctorow’s novels that get classified as near-future SF. And it was tech-savvy along those lines, albeit in a very different (Muslim) cultural matrix. However, it was fantasy also! This is good! I see no reason why the future (near or far!) can’t have fantasies in it. I wish I saw more of that. Also Wilson’s handling of “the convert” showed a sophisticated self-awareness I wish I saw more of in whatever kind of fiction. More please.

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Books read, early October

John Joseph Adams, Other Worlds Than These. I understand that people split things up differently, but the combination of portal fantasies and alternate timeline worlds was a combination of one of my favorite things with a thing I can totally take or leave, so that was a bit disappointing. Still, my favorite stories did not actually split along those lines, so it worked out all right. I felt that the standouts in this collection were Alastair Reynolds’s “Signal to Noise,” David Barr Kirtley’s “The Ontological Factor,” and Carrie Vaughn’s “Of Swords and Horses.”

Joan Aiken, Dido and Pa (Kindle) and The Teeth of the Gale. This is not actually the last in the Dido Twite series of slangy children’s alternate history fun, but it’s the last I can easily get my hands on at the moment. Hanoverian villains amuse me. Not sure how I would feel if I was British. The Teeth of the Gale is the last of the early-19th-century Spanish adventure series, and while the outcomes are all fairly predictable, they’re a fun kind of predictable, and a swashbuckly kind I don’t have enough of in my current life.

Tim Akers, Memory Analog. Kindle. Short story that was more or less all premise; fine within those limitations but not outstanding. Akers is better at longer work, I feel.

Boris Akunin, The Death of Achilles. Next in the Erast Fandorin mystery series. Not deep or mind-blowing, but well-set, well-set-up, continues to be reasonably fun, within the context and its prejudices. The people who say “Russian James Bond” are not spot-on, but they’re not as far off as one might think sometimes.

Samit Basu, Turbulence. Indian superhero novel. Quite well done, and a great deal of fun to have a different view on priorities and human tendencies. More cross-cultural publication like this please.

John Calvin Batchelor, “Ain’t You Glad You Joined the Republicans?”. Grandpa’s. This was a history of the Republican Party, and I was afraid it would be intolerably yay-rah-rah about a group towards which I have no allegiance. No, the title was a quote from a mid-19th-century song. The book’s flaws were otherwise: basically it attempted to tell a history of a major political party with almost no reference to the legislative branch. No, really. No, really. It was bizarre. And of course the executive branch is not entirely separable from the legislative branch historically, so there were all sorts of weird gaps and things that appeared to come out of nowhere but did not. Also the important party political players from the executive branch were neglected if they did not get a presidential nomination, so…yeah, not so good. Also it was published in 1996, which…put a weird spin on things.

Anthony Blunt, Borromini. This was interesting about the architecture, but mostly I wanted it for a window into Anthony Blunt, you know, that Anthony Blunt, the spy. You can watch him being a bit plaintive about how Borromini was following rules, quite explicable and even rigid rules, just not the same rules as everyone around him expected. That’s…rather a thing, actually. Also the diagrams are lovely.

John Boyko, Blood and Daring: How Canada Fought the American Civil War and Forged a Nation. This is not fantastically written, but it’s entirely readable if you’re already interested in the interrelation of the American Civil War and the formation of the Canadian Confederation. And it’s got John A. MacDonald in it, and he’s always…vivid.

Barbara Hamilton, Sup With the Devil. The third of the Abigail Adams mysteries. I think Hamilton does a particularly good job here of having good people on both sides of the major question at hand (that being the Revolutionary War) and of having Adams reflect attitudes of her time, not of ours.

Alaya Dawn Johnson, The Summer Prince. A Brazilian-inspired future with nanotech and artists–despite the title, not a fantasy. Teen/parent relationships, teen friendships, politics, entirely appropriate crazy teen behavior. Recommended.

Suzanne Joinson, A Lady Cyclist’s Guide to Kashgar. I picked this up on a whim in Chapters in Montreal. It looked lovely. It was lovely. It was one of those two-timeline novels, one contemporary and the other interwar Kashgar (which, for those not in the know, is very far western China, or at least has been for awhile–central Asia). And it was the rare example of a bifurcated perspective novel where I actually liked and was interested in both timelines equally. I will be keeping an eye out for more Joinson; recommended.

Natsuo Kirino, The Goddess Chronicles. Japanese novel in translation. Felt a bit like early LeGuin, but with different cultural expectations about structure and timing, and of course different baseline myths.

Martin Luther, A Treatise on Good Works. Kindle. Wanted to see what it actually said, not paraphrases of paraphrases. Some of the stuff fit its premises entirely, and then…oh dear. Spices. Spices are not our enemy. I promise. Dear dear oh dear.

D. Peter MacLeod, The Canadian Iroquois and the Seven Years’ War. Does what it says on the tin. Does not do a great deal with Iroquois culture leading up to or after; ah well, war histories, what can one do. I really did like how MacLeod started to behave as though siege warfare really didn’t make sense, because, y’know, it didn’t, and the Iroquois were pretty clear on that.

William Manchester, The Last Lion: Winston Spencer Churchill, Visions of Glory 1874-1932. Manchester walks a fine line between fondness for his subject and excuse of his faults. He is clearly charmed by Churchill, but by no means finds him perfect or even free of totally exasperating moments. I think it works reasonably well, but particularly well with immediately topical contrast like….

Martin Pugh, The Pankhursts: The History of One Radical Family. The beginning of this book was much stronger than the ending. While it was clearly not intended to be a biography of Emmeline Pankhurst exclusively, the parts when she was still alive were much stronger; Pugh did not seem interested in exploring the old age of the Pankhurst daughters in any detail, and the grandchildren barely got a cursory glance. Not staggeringly well-written, but certainly well enough written that it won’t be painful if you’re interested in the topic.

V. E. Schwab, Vicious. Discussed elsewhere.

Adrian Tchaikovsky, The Sea Watch and Heirs of the Blade. These both had what I read Tchaikovsky for, which is: a) different cultures than the usual fantasy furniture and b) politicking. By which I mostly mean backstabbing. Structurally I’m wondering whether he’s going to end threads separately or bring them back together–it’s a very weird structure, with the result that Heirs had some of the most disturbing stuff in the series to date and Sea Watch…was fine. But that’s a question that’s in no way interfering with my enjoyment of them, particularly as airplane reads.

Toh EnJoe, The Self-Reference Engine. Mosaic hard SF novel. It’s a bit like Greg Egan and a bit like Alan Lightman and a bit like Stanislaw Lem and then a lot more Japanese than any of those. There is a lot of nature-of-the-universe level stuff going on here, so if you’re expecting that hard SF means rayguns, recalibrate, this is not that. Dimensionality is a major issue here. Get comfortable with it.

P. G. Wodehouse, The Head of Kay’s. Kindle. If you are feeling sick and dizzy and have run out of paper books on an airplane, this is a diverting enough thing, with its cricket and its house rules and all that. It is one of Wodehouse’s school stories. It is probably not the best of them, but it may also not be the worst, and it passes the time as a Wodehouse thing will do.

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Vicious, by V. E. Schwab

Review copy provided by Tor.

Rarely have I read a book with such an apposite epigraph. It’s Joseph Brodsky: “Life–the way it really is–is a battle not between Bad and Good, but between Bad and Worse.” And if you read that and think, gosh, that’s a darkish view of human nature, well, possibly this is not the book for you, because the book does follow through on the epigraph. And also if you run into people claiming that women don’t write gritty dark fantasy, you may pelt them with copies of this book and run away laughing. (Try to hit with the corners rather than the spine or the pages. They’re pointier.)

Other than dark: this is a mad science story. This is a mad science superhero story, and also it’s one of the sorts of stories that often ends up at the center of superhero tales: the brother-against-brother story. (In this case, college roommates rather than literal brothers.) There was also an important sister pair whose relationship was more complicated than the word “against” would really sum up, although I wanted a bit more of that than I got.

For me, the science was not mad enough and also not functional enough to really suspend my disbelief. But given the flaw in the premise in that regard, Schwab came about as close to distracting me from it with characters and violence as you could expect, so people who are less science nerd-ish may find it to be an entirely surmountable problem.

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The Incrementalists, by Steven Brust and Skyler White

Review copy provided by Tor. My additional involvement will become clear when you open the book: I’m in the acknowledgments for having read an early draft and commented upon it.

The final version is even better (and not, I think, because of anything I said!). When I was done I just sat with it for a moment. (Possibly that may be the writing-induced exhaustion talking, but I prefer to think of it as art appreciation.) But that’s just general squishy feelings. What’s in this book?

Well, there are immortals of sorts. Partial immortals? Memory immortals? There are some quasi-literalizations of memory palaces in ways that are awesome. There’s also poker and new relationships and the blessed ties that bind, gag, and throw you in the metaphorical trunk of the metaphorical car. (Okay, we all know I should not be allowed near metaphors when I’m tired. And yet I keep proving it.) There is trust misplaced and trust very well placed indeed.

Also there is Las Vegas and poker, and while I have minuscule interest in either of those things, there is a magical ability possibly induced by membership in/proximity to the Scribblies, to make me care about desert stories I would otherwise yawn and depart from. (CoughEmmacough.)

I have hopes that in future Incrementalists books (see what I did there?) we will see more of the distant-past memories, more of the pivots and switches that go way back. I liked the centuries-old bits of this one, and I liked the flashes of even more; I liked the layering, where someone with thousands of years of memories will find the new ones fresher in a way analogous to how last week is fresher to me when I was 4–except the important things that happened when I was 4.

This is urban fantasy not doing the same thing as a dozen other urban fantasies. It is a fast read. It is Zelazny-influenced without leaning too hard on the First Person Asshole narration that can sink a Zelazny. It is worth your time. And hey! Look at that! It comes out in the morning.

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Books read, early September.

W. H. Auden, Complete Works: Prose Vol. 3, 1949-1955. This is another volume of random essays and introductions, hundreds and hundreds of pages of them, and I after the first hundred pages I started thinking of it as Uncle Wystan Is Wrong About Stuff. He was also sometimes right about stuff, but honestly it was very much like reading blog posts from an uncle of whom you are fond and with whom you have a great deal in common…and who manages to get the wrong end of the stick about alllll sorts of things. But not Lord of the Rings. So that’s good. Seriously, I only recommend these volumes to die-hard Auden partisans, and apparently that’s me now. Even when he’s zany and wrong, I just love him. And he is often zany and wrong, and really, who among us would be loved if we were only loved for never being zany and wrong? But this is a lot of Auden even for me. I will want a bit of a break before I go looking for Vol. 4.

David Byrne, How Music Works. Yes, that David Byrne. I picked this book up because I had a song in my head, and I hoped that lengthy exposure to David Byrne blathering about process would dislodge it. And it did. (Whether I ever get “And She Was” out of my head is another question.) Seriously, David Byrne is such a process nerd. Some of the process nerdery in this book is only peripherally related to music, and he sort of bounces around through a lot of stuff, but that’s all right.

Neil Clarke and Sean Wallace, eds., Clarkesworld Year Four. I make a policy of not reviewing books I’m in, so I will just note: hey! This exists! I’m in it! I read the bits of it I didn’t write!

Stacy A. Cordery, Alice: Alice Roosevelt Longworth, from White House Princess to Washington Power Broker. I would like more books about behind-the-scenes politicians, including/especially the women of Washington. Cordery doesn’t idealize ARL, but I think there are a few places where she lets her (and other people!) off too easily. Particularly ARL’s involvement with America First: Cordery seems to think that saying, “I’m not anti-Semitic, but…” deserves the response, “Oh, okay, you’re not anti-Semitic! I’m glad you cleared that up, then! Other remarks you’ve made and actions you’ve taken regarding Jewish people notwithstanding!” The fact that people of the time were saying things like, “Well, Teddy Roosevelt’s daughter couldn’t be involved with anything bad, so this group must not do anything bad!” is not what we would call solid evidence of anything except people’s attachment to TR. I feel like in different hands, ARL’s biography could easily have been a case study of the deterioration of the Progressive movement in the Republican party in a very personal nutshell, but that’s not what Cordery chose to do, and ARL was still interesting to read about.

Molly Caldwell Crosby, The American Plague: The Untold Story of Yellow Fever, the Epidemic That Shaped Our History. I was hoping for a more comprehensive history of yellow fever in the US. (I would have been even happier with a more comprehensive history of yellow fever worldwide! But the title did not promise that.) Instead, Crosby grazes over much of the disease’s early history, even though it was highly influential and fascinating, and focuses on the late 19th and early 20th century. Which was also interesting! I know a great deal more about Walter Reed and early consent forms for experimental procedures than I did before. So that was good. But the focus is somewhat narrower than the title promises.

Candas Jane Dorsey, Black Wine. Reread. I think when I first read this, I didn’t realize how little servanthood and slavery are handled in fantasy. This is very much an adult precursor to what Ursula LeGuin was doing in her brilliant Annals of the Western Shore, and I mean adult in the real ways as well as the euphemistic ways.

M.F.K. Fisher, How to Cook a Wolf. A food writer takes on rationing and shortage in elegant funny essays. Which foods are considered standard and obvious and basic has changed so much since she wrote this, but her attitudes about balance and meals are pretty darn modern. Definitely worth the short time it takes to read.

Tom Holland, Rubicon: The Last Years of the Roman Republic. Well, sort of what it says on the tin, but I think I wanted more of a cultural history than this was. Still, part of the gap in my understanding has been plugged, and there were a few funny bits.

Frederik Pohl, Gateway. Reread. One thing I had forgotten from the first time I read this book (back when I was in college) is how much Pohl incorporated gay men into the fabric of this world. This book is older than I am! And by the time I read it, the fact that some people in it were gay was really not a thing–except that coming up with other examples of SF that do the same thing is not as easy as it should be if it’s “really not a thing.” The narrator is a masterful FPA point-of-view–that’s First Person Asshole, for those of you playing along at home. He thrashes. He wails. He theorizes in obnoxious ways about women and AIs and society in general. He is not a pleasant guy. But the setup is pretty darn cool, and he is a fairly well-drawn FPA.

Tamara Ramsay, Rennefarre: Dott’s Wonderful Travels and Adventures. This is a translation of a mid-century German children’s book that’s apparently considered a classic in Germany. It reminds me substantially of Selma Lagerlof–definitely influenced by The Wonderful Adventures of Nils–but very, very, very German. However, considering that it was written (though not published) in the middle of WWII, it was extremely and daringly political, including all kinds of Germans and not merely an Aryanized ideal. I wouldn’t give this to my nieces or my godkids, not because it was offensive but just because I don’t think they’d like it that much, but I might well recommend it to a children’s lit prof. If, y’know. There happened to be anyone like that reading.

Greg Rucka, Patriot Acts. This is deep in the Atticus Kodiak series. I think it’s a fun political/violent thriller, worth reading, but I wouldn’t start here. If you like Atticus, you’ll know it before this book; starting with this one will make you miss several of the important emotional cues.

Peter Seymour, ed., The West That Was: A Nostalgic Collection of Writings and Pictures Recalling the Authentic American West of a Century and More Ago. Grandpa’s. This book walked a very fine line that fascinated me. I don’t think a book about the American West would be nearly so explicitly nostalgic if it was sold today. On the other hand, this book included laudatory stories of women, African-Americans, and Native Americans, so the nostalgic sensibility went in directions I didn’t quite expect. (No Asian-Americans, however. Apparently those railroads just build themselves.) I am not at all nostalgic about the American West, so I started adding “or dead” mentally at every turn: “The West! Where the white women were strong, or dead! The white men were keen-eyed, or dead! The Native Americans of both sexes were noble, or dead! The African-American men [no women, obv] were fearless, or dead!” Seriously, it’s not a bad work of its kind, it’s just that I grew up after “cowboys and Indians” was a thing small children were encouraged to play as an idealized form.

Jonathan Strahan, ed., Under My Hat: Tales from the Cauldron. A highly variable collection. Some of the stories barely functioned as stories at all, though the prose level was consistently high, while others were thoughtful and delightful. The two stand-out works for me were Garth Nix’s “A Handful of Ashes,” which dealt with class issues in an intriguing and powerful way, and Ellen Klages’s “The Education of a Witch,” which applied Klages’s usual eye for telling mid-20th century detail and the child’s perspective to the topic of the anthology with a fusion that worked beautifully.

Charles Stross, Neptune’s Brood. Did you like Debt? So did Stross! Here is some mermaid SF inspired by a combination of Debt and FTL extrapolation! Seriously, that’s what it is, with the mermaid part fairly minimal. If you don’t like mermaids, you still might like this book. If you don’t like SF, lightspeed ponderings, or debt economics, you probably won’t. Looks to me like Stross was out to prove that economic science fiction is not the dismal science fiction. Not my favorite of his, but fun.

Jean-Christophe Valtat, Aurorarama. Magical realism of the far north. The cover has an airship and a polar bear on it, and it is an accurate cover. I am so easily bought sometimes. Polar bears are enough to do the trick. I needed a wintry book, and this is one. It reminded me a bit of The Yiddish Policeman’s Union, but while it had plenty of darkness in it, it was not nearly so grim as that. Which for me is a good thing.

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Girl Meets Books.

This is an old old story. Boy meets girl in Science Fiction lit class. Boy mentions his love of Iain M. Banks; girl catches a ride with a friend to a different city to buy one and talk about it. Boy shoves stack of additional Banks novels at girl with shy hope. They start dating.

In the first few months they’re dating, they trade a great many books, like boys and girls and non-binary-gendered young persons do when they are nerds in love. What he lends her, in great bulk, is: Charles Sheffield, Iain M. Banks, Frederik Pohl, C.J. Cherryh. (Her list is a bit younger.) And since you know this story in one form or another, you won’t be surprised that it was Mark, or in other words, reader, I married him. I just…keep thinking about that list. Gee, for some reason.

I’m going to go reread Gateway now, but if any of you know C.J. Cherryh personally, can you, like, send her a fruit basket and invite her on a nice walk or something? Remind her to stretch while she’s writing and look both ways when she crosses streets. It would be creepy coming from me, but I’d just like to take a precaution. I’m a champion worrier, and I’m starting to feel a bit worried.

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Books read, late August

Paul M. Barrett, Glock: The Rise of America’s Gun. I do not have a particular interest in guns, but like Doctor Worm in the TMBG song, I’m interested in things, and weapons often illuminate other aspects of the culture they’re in. This was not a terribly deep book, nor was it highly illuminating about other cultural aspects. Worse, the author had moments of sexism that were completely unnecessary to the microhistory, just popping in gratuitously and declaring themselves in a bright and perky way: “Hi, I’m sexism!” And then me, wearily: “Hi, sexism.” The thing I would say here is that if you’re interested in the flaws and drawbacks of a gun, read a microhistory of a similar gun, because dang. From the ones I’ve read, it really looks like the sort of people who write gun microhistories are not even slightly interested in being even-handed. Either that or all previous guns really did point death and despair solely at their owners. But from this and the AK-47 history I read, you’d think it was at Monkey’s Paw levels.

John Bierhorst, The Mythology of North America. This is an overview of myth types rather than an exhaustive compendium. It has maps carefully labeled with where Raven stories take which forms. It is useful. He also has two other volumes, one on South America and the other on “Mexico and Central America,” so if you were looking at the North America one in hopes of getting Aztec and Mexica mythologies, you would be disappointed. I was not. More a jumping-off point than a last word.

Sarah Cross, Dull Boy. Okay, I know titles are hard. And I get why she thought this title fit the story. But seriously, Dull Boy? DULL BOY? The kid’s superhero name isn’t even Dull Boy. It’s a step back from that, more thematic and all. And…you cannot name your book Dull Bo-. It’s too close to Dull Book. And this was not a dull book. It’s a teenage superhero story that actually gets pretty well into teen friendship dynamics, so if you have social embarrassment buttons, this will probably press them. My main complaint other than the title was that the ending was so very set up for sequels that it felt like the resolution was almost completely undone in the denouement, and then…there are not sequels, apparently. Sigh.

Karen Joy Fowler, We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves. I am sort of at a loss for how to talk about this book, because in some ways I think the premise is best if you let Fowler unfold it at her own pace. It’s sharp about family and humanity. It’s one of those books that’s less science fiction and more fiction-about-science. I like both. I like this.

Roger A. Freeman, Mustang at War. Grandpa’s. History of a particular plane mostly in WWII. Lots and lots of pictures. Probably not of great interest unless you’re specifically into Mustangs (as planes as opposed to cars or, y’know, horses).

Neil Gaiman, The Ocean at the End of the Lane. Neil is going to get asked a lot of personal questions about this book, poor man, but it’s his own fault, I expect. The nameless narrator does not get to do a lot of protagging compared to the much more interesting family at the end of the lane, and the ending…either assumes a Neil Gaiman semi-biographical element or only gives you resolution for the least interesting character in the book. So no wonder he’ll be asked questions.

Ken Kalfus, Equilateral. Another fiction-about-science book. This one was about the late Victorian plan to inscribe giant geometric figures in the northern African desert so that the Martians could see them. (Yes, the plan was a real thing, even though they didn’t manage it.)

David I. Kertzer, Prisoner of the Vatican: The Popes’ Secret Plot to Capture Rome from the New Italian State. This was aimed at chipping away at my ignorance of the unification of Italy. I currently don’t know much about the unification of Italy and find the entire thing rather hazy and confusing. I suspect that after another six or eight books, I will know a fair amount about the unification of Italy and be able to definitively explain why it really is hazy and confusing. That’ll be much better. Anyway, there is quite a lot of Victor Emmanuel and quite a lot of Pius IX, and that seems useful, and I was hoping for a bit more Garibaldi, but you can’t always get what you want. Useful piece of the puzzle.

Eve LaPlante, American Jezebel: The Uncommon Life of Anne Hutchinson, the Woman Who Defied the Puritans. Recommended. Anne Hutchinson was really a lot of trouble, and her family was also quite a bit of trouble. They were sort of proto-Quakers in several key ways, and the way that she (with their support) changed the American colonial landscape is really worth a read. It will also demonstrate that the phenomenon of “any word I don’t like can be applied to people I don’t like regardless of content” is not at all new.

Bruce Levine, The Spirit of 1848: German Immigrants, Labor Conflict, and the Coming of the Civil War. Every time I get to thinking I have a handle on what’s been erased in the standard schoolbook version of American history, I get to a book like this one and have another forehead-smacking moment. Among other revelations: it turns out it wasn’t only women with British Isles surnames doing the heavy work of first-wave feminism GO FIGURE WHO KNEW. Ahem. Sorry. (But Mathilde Franziska Anneke! You can look her up!) But seriously, the systematic removal of German-American contributions from standard texts looks like it’s the crappy residue of the World Wars. I knew the ’48ers had to have contributed to the mid-century American zeitgeist, and this book goes into some detail–with disagreeing factions! and divergences!–about how. And Levine does a great job of debunking the historians who want to use the refined student stereotype of ’48ers–can you believe that in many studies they were figuring that anyone who had economic reason to depart Germany could not possibly have been “political”? Aughhhhh, and also thank you, Bruce Levine, for the debunking. Lovely book, very important.

Caroline Moorehead, Dancing to the Precipice: The Life of Lucie de la Tour du Pin, Eyewitness to an Era. There is a trend that confuses me in nonfiction, and that is giving background in a book as though it might become a breakout popular history, read by people with no knowledge of its era or people, when no particular likelihood of that seems to be present. Seriously: if you don’t have an interest in Revolutionary-through-mid-19th-century France, how likely are you to say, “Ooh!” and pick up a biography of Lucie de la Tour du Pin? So why was this book filled with all sorts of rehash of the basics of the French Revolution? Interesting historical figure, interesting life, but this volume…well, I hesitate to say who this is for, since the people who would mostly find it interesting are also more likely to find it slow and frustrating.

Dmitri Nagishin, Folktales of the Amur: Stories from the Russian Far East. Beautiful, beautiful book. I am so very much not visually oriented, but these gorgeous illustrations made even me linger. And the stories themselves were different and fun. One of my best birthday presents this year. If you can find a copy anywhere, snap it up.

Phoebe North, Starglass. Generation ship YA SF. Sympathies do not go where they initially seem like they might. The warping and rediscovery of Judaism on an intended-Jewish generation ship was particularly well-handled, I thought, but this should be of interest to people without a particular interest in Judaica also. I’m looking forward to the next book.

Phillip F. Schewe, Maverick Genius: The Pioneering Odyssey of Freeman Dyson. It is so very strange to read the biography of someone you know personally. And it’s not that I think Schewe necessarily got Freeman wrong, it’s just that…okay, I guess I take for granted the intelligence of the people around me. (I guess, huh?) But when I think of Freeman, first I think “sweet-natured” and second “shy” and third “curious” and only far down the list do I get to “smart.” Whereas for Schewe, it really ended up sounding like he was a bit intimidated by Freeman’s intelligence. Anyway, interesting book about an interesting man, good addition to biographies of 20th century scientists, not automatically in sympathy with its subject and his foibles every time. (This is important in any biography, but in the biography of someone amazing like Freeman who has also made some amazing mistakes, it’s particularly crucial.)

Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö, Murder at the Savoy. Not a particularly satisfying Swedish murder mystery novel, definitely not their best. The resolution hinged on a particular plot trope I never like. Meh. Don’t start here, and unless you’re deeply committed to the series, you can probably skip this one.

Jane Yolen and Adam Stemple, The Hostage Prince. I had heard an excerpt from this at their reading at Minicon, so I was pretty sure I would like it, and in fact I did. The tone is humorous without being insubstantial, and the different Faerie groups are great fun. This is a series that’s not attempting to tell a complete story in each volume, so the ending is a bit of a cliffhanger, but I’m willing to keep hanging around here until the next volume comes out.

Sarah Zettel, Golden Girl. Zettel’s Depression-era fairies have gone on from the Dust Bowl to Hollywood. I agreed with my friend Diatryma that the ending was not as interesting/compliation-producing as it could be. But other than that, I really enjoyed this, the second volume in another trilogy that is not trying to tell independent stories with each volume. I’m a sucker for the 1930s, and I’m glad to see Zettel using them full force in these books.