Books read, early November

Barbara Bourland, Fake Like Me. A young artist’s studio burns, and the paintings that survived the fire are worth far more. Problem: they didn’t survive the fire. So she has a few months to completely remake a giant show, and also to delve into her assumptions about life and art and other artists. There were some dubious rich people assumptions–namely that a working class artist would get more attention than a rich one, pull the other one, Bourland–but it was still an interesting read and different from everything else.

Allie Brosh, Solutions and Other Problems. By the author of Hyperbole and a Half. This had some funny bits and some sad bits and some frankly deeply alarming bits; the times when Brosh is made unhappy by the world are sad but her own philosophy seems to be making her less happy also, and that’s more alarming to watch.

Emily Carroll, Through the Woods. This is another graphic novel, this one of creepy fairy tale-adjacent stories of monsters and dark places.

Roshani Chokshi, The Silvered Serpents. Second in its series, and I would start with The Gilded Wolves, because this has a lot of implication and ramification that follows from that. I raced through it and had a great time with it.

Zoraida Cordova, Wayward Witch. Another sequel, this one the third in its series. I sometimes like the shape of series where the setting and events continue to ramify but the narrative focuses on a different character each time, and this is one of those. I like this series a lot and recommend it.

Robert Darnton, Censors at Work: How States Shaped Literature. Three different case studies of censorship in Western history. While I would also like a farther-reaching study of this topic, some of the ways in which censorship varies a lot with its environment and assumptions were really interesting–and the fact that Darnton got to interview actual East German censors about their work was just great.

Bathsheba Demuth, Floating Coast: An Environmental History of the Bering Strait. Lots of large marine mammals, lots of cultural shift here. I particularly liked having this angle on world history, from a region that had a very different concept of what world there was and how to handle it than many of the dominant regions. Content warning, as you would expect, for mass slaughters.

Joy Harjo, ed., When the Light of the World Was Subdued, Our Songs Came Through: A Norton Anthology of Native Nations Poetry. This had some really interesting poems in it, but it’s one of those anthologies that skews toward picking poems that are About This Ethnic Experience, which can give a distorted view of what marginalized groups choose to write about or are allowed to write about. So this is another of the “don’t let this be the only thing you read on this topic” category. It’s organized geographically and then temporally within each geographic section, which I enjoyed.

S.L. Huang, Burning Roses. Fairy tale crossover novella from multiple cultures, thinking about monstrousness and relationships. Delightful if you know all the source material Huang is riffing on, but I think it would still work if you only knew some of it.

Sujata Massey, The Satapur Moonstone. Early twentieth century Indian setting for this mystery, which takes some time to really get going.

Hilary McKay, Love to Everyone. This historical makes me feel like McKay is branching out in genres, which I enjoy. It’s got a WWI setting and covers quite a lot of ground. I really like how it–like other McKay–allows the child reader and the child protagonists to see through some of the social niceties adults will claim on behalf of other adults. There’s a certain set of tropes about who dies in the Great War, what specific kind of person, that…goes back to stuff that was written at the time but still is a little frustrating. But in general I enjoyed it anyway.

L.M. Montgomery, Emily of New Moon and Emily Climbs. Rereads. I was always an Emily girl as a kid, more than an Anne girl. These two are fun. I would never be friends with Ilse in real life, but I enjoy her immensely on the page, and I enjoy Emily’s career focus and I enjoy the bits where she is dealing with her large and exasperating extended family. Things I do not enjoy: Teddy Kent; Dean Priest. I knew Dean Priest was creepy when I first read these, when I was younger than Emily. But rereading them now that I have two godchildren Emily’s age when a man in his 30s starts hitting on her…aaaaaaaagh go away and stay away, basically every dude character in these books who isn’t Cousin Jimmy. Maaaaaybe on a good day Mr. Carpenter. Maybe. (I’m a little alarmed by how much Mr. Carpenter is Adult Dude Ilse. But okay, onward.)

Amy Tintera, All These Monsters. Fun monster-fighting YA SF that takes on toxic relationship tropes and kicks their teeth in. Very much enjoyed this.

Megan Whelan Turner, Return of the Thief. I think this most recent volume in this series might be my favorite. It’s got a protag who isn’t the king of anything, and it’s thinking about disability and assumptions a lot. But for heaven’s sake don’t start here, it won’t make sense without at least some of the earlier books in the series.

W.B. Yeats, The Collected Poems of W.B. Yeats. There are things I aspire to do and things I dread, and reading the collected poems of Yeats was a third category that fewer people seem to have than the previous two, which is things that I expect I will do without feeling particularly strongly about that expectation. “Yeah, that sounds like me,” rather than “ooh!” or “oh no.” Anyway, in addition to the attempts at a mythic ethnic poetry and the poems to various friends and lovers, there was an entire middle section that was substantially about being in a country wracked with plague and political upheaval while adjusting to middle-age (as a pretty bumpy road), so…yeah, poetry, punching you in the teeth between the pretty parts. This is what I wanted from it, and lo, this is what I got.

Books read, late October

Madeline Ashby, ReV. Third in a series about robots and personhood. Does not pull punches with human sexuality and its darker sides. I wouldn’t recommend starting here, since there’s a lot of worldbuilding preceding it.

Rena Barron, Maya and the Rising Dark. This is an awesome fun book about a young girl in Chicago interacting with Orishas and coming into her own power. It’s just the sort of MG I love to read, and I can’t wait for more in this series.

Roshani Chokshi, Aru Shah and the Tree of Wishes. And speaking of more in the series, Aru, Mini, and their friends are back and just as fun and awesome in the third book of this lovely MG series. My younger godchild and I gossip about our favorite characters on the family Discord. It’s great, read the whole series.

Lynn Darling, Out of the Woods: A Memoir of Wayfinding. This is sort of about wayfinding, but it’s a lot about dealing with the (long-term) aftermath of loss, and also with cancer. So if you read natural history for cool details about the woods, this is very, very not that.

George Eliot, Scenes of Clerical Life. Kindle. This is three novellas, recent historical fiction when she wrote them, about people’s lives and relationships around small town churches. If you have the entirely false belief that 19th century women just wrote about love and marriage, this one has domestic violence, alcoholism, and doctrinal schism as well, come be proven wrong. She is so compassionate and clear and good.

Elisa Gabbert, The Unreality of Memory. Essays on disaster culture. I feel like timing did not serve this essayist well–some of the things she says are not at all looking prescient in the face of a pandemic–but to be fair some of them were incredibly wrong-headed before the pandemic as well. She writes nice sentences, I just have very little interest in people who are willing to repeat the utterly wrong “autistic people have no empathy” idea, among other things.

Carolyn Ives Gilman, The Ice Owl. Kindle. Alien SF politics of a young girl who has traveled a lot relativistically and is trying to figure out her relationships thereafter. Some of the gender stuff feels a little off, but possibly this is in the “we have to explore this to figure out how to do it better” camp.

Louise Glück, Averno and Faithful and Virtuous Night. Guess who got in ahead of the crowds the morning Glück won her Nobel. I described these to some friends as cerebral but not intellectual: the own internal experience of Louise Glück is examined with minute and thoughtful care, the outside world not as much a topic.

Virginia Hanlon Grohl, From Cradle to Stage: Stories from the Mothers Who Rocked and Raised Rock Stars. Yeah, this is Dave Grohl’s mom. This is Dave Grohl’s mom interviewing other musicians’ moms about their experience of parenting. It is not attempting to be hard-hitting investigative journalism, it is pleasant conversations with Ginny, and frankly it was pretty relaxing that way. (Dave Grohl’s mom calls him David. Which, when you think about it, sure, yes. Also she is still pretty protective of Kurt Cobain’s mom after all these years, which melted my heart.)

Joanne M. Harris, Honeycomb. Discussed elsewhere.

Hebi-Zou and Tsuta Suzuki, Heaven’s Design Team Volume 1. Manga about weird animal facts and evolution, with the conceit that God has outsourced their creation to a design team, with the group dynamics inherent thereto. Fun stuff, silly.

Kathleen Jamie, Sightlines. Beautiful essays on remote places. I am so glad to have so much Kathleen Jamie ahead of me to read. It’s a great comfort.

Amanda Leduc, Disfigured: On Fairy Tales, Disability, and Making Space. This was more memoir than literary analysis in some ways, but both can be valuable, just know what you’re getting if you pick it up.

Helen Macdonald, Vesper Flights. Essays about birds and nature. I couldn’t read H is for Hawk because of the paternal death theme, but this was really well-written, and not on that theme, so hurray, I could enjoy it.

Arkady Martine, A Desolation Called Peace. Discussed elsewhere.

N. Scott Momaday, The Death of Sitting Bear. Poems full of bears, Russia, Kiowa themes, history, generally interesting stuff.

Nina O’Leary, Native Enough. A collection of photo portraits and interview questions with a variety of Native college students talking about their experience of Native-ness.

Susan Palwick, The Necessary Beggar. Discussed elsewhere.

Marta Randall, The River South. Kindle. This sequel to Mapping Winter is not nearly as strong or thematically focused as its predecessor, but it’s still smoothly written and fun to read. May serve as Steerswoman methadone if that’s a thing you need.

Iona Datt Sharma, Division Bells. Kindle. Charming, sweet near-future administrative romance. Administrative? Legislative! More political romance, more.

Mary Stewart, The Ivy Tree. A thriller in the sub-genre of Brat Farrar, with a twist visible from page one and deeply stereotyped characterization.

Kate Wilhelm, The Good Children. Reread. I won’t need to read this a third time, I fear. The sentence-level writing is smooth, as I’d expect from Wilhelm, but the characterization is shallow and weird, and the plot is predictable and offensive in its handling of mental illness. Sigh.

P. G. Wodehouse, The Intrusion of Jimmy. Kindle. I’ve gotten pretty good at detecting bad Wodehouse right out of the gate. This is one of the good ones: sending up its era’s obsession with gentleman thieves, setting up a plot where everyone ends up with the right person but not without a lot of hijinx in the middle. If you like Wodehouse at all, you’ll probably like this one. There is a New York Irishman who has a lot of phoneticized dialect, but it’s survivable.

A Desolation Called Peace, by Arkady Martine

Review copy provided by the publisher. The author is a close friend of mine, to the point where I DMed her to screech, “my DUDE Swarm” in the middle of this book when my new favorite character did something particularly noteworthy.

Mahit Dzmare and Three Seagrass are back, dealing with the (NOT INCONSIDERABLE) fallout from their previous actions. Can Lsel be home again? What about all the upheaval in the reign of the new Emperor, Nineteen Adze? All of that is very much just getting started when Martine’s cool, assured prose is introducing us to an entirely new alien species. Threat or menace? We are plunged immediately into finding out–and into all the complications of finding out with the above fallout still ongoing.

Nine Hibiscus and her old friend Twenty Cicada are on the front lines of the new alien threat. (And if you’re thinking, Twenty Cicada, I thought Teixcalaanli weren’t supposed to be named after animals, 1) you are just as entranced with Teixcalaanli names as I am and 2) you are correct, this is a worldbuilding detail as well as a bit of characterization. My dude Swarm is the best.) Nine Hibiscus’s political position, as a military leader, has been immensely altered by the upheaval in the previous volume, and she has to wrangle disgruntled and politically inconvenient officers under her command as well as keeping the new aliens from pouring in and destroying Lsel Station and the Empire.

And there are modified kittens in the ductwork. Oh, and Nineteen Adze and her…extremely precocious imperial heir? They have a great deal of look-in too. Because there’s a lot going on among the ministries of War, Science, and Information, and it will take a pretty determined person to put the pieces together.

I laughed, I whimpered, I squirmed, I marveled. This is just so good. It’s so thoughtful about home and relationship and obligation and duty and communication, it’s doing all the things it’s doing on so many iterated levels, it is a beautiful book, it is in every way a delight, and you should feel free to DM me “OMG MY DUDE SWARM” when you get to various bits of this book when it comes out.

#TeamTwentyCicada

Honeycomb, by Joanne M. Harris

Review copy provided by the publisher.

This book is a maddening mix of beautiful and obnoxiously trite.

It’s a set of very short stories in fairy tale style, some of which form an arc plot and some of which do not. There’s a lot of lovely stuff with the intersection of insects and Faerie that gets in very neatly at the sense of the alien in the best Faerie fiction–they’re literally not like us if they’re a swarm of bees, okay, cool. (I am reminded of Robert Levy’s The Glittering World, which is in every way a better book.)

But the down side of fairy tale locution is that in this case Harris stretches it so that the characterizations have length but no depth, so that when the story returns to previous characters, I had no sense of “oh cool, it’s that person”–they remained shallow, mostly heartless archetypes at best, and sketches less charming than their literal illustrations at worst.

The heavy-handed parables were the worst of it. Interspersed with the whole were messages that Harris apparently just had to get across, in fairy tale language, including such gems as “don’t get obsessed with your cell phone.” Thanks, Polonius! Without you I would never have thought of such a message! As a full-time genre professional, I can tell you that you do not get bonus points for making your snotty and obvious life advice slightly princessified. At least not from me.

And then there’s the use of Hel, which is a very specific spelling with specific cultural connotation, to just mean…Hell. If you have a lord of it and it’s full of the damned, it is not Hel and what are you even doing. Why. It doesn’t make you fancy, it’s not like spelling your name Jynnyfer where the meaning doesn’t change.

So what to make of this book. Honestly I’m not sure it’s worth your time to try. The occasional beautiful image isn’t worth all the flaws. Her books are sure to be bestsellers even without your time and attention, because of who she is and the marketing campaign they’re given. I haven’t read any of the others, but maybe one of them is better. It’s probably worth at least giving that a try.

The Necessary Beggar, by Susan Palwick

Review copy provided by Tor Books.

This is the second of Tor’s new Tor Essentials line I’ve read–the first was The Dragon Waiting, so it’s in good company. I’m eager to see the rest of what they’re doing here, because these are two books I love and want to see a larger audience.

The Necessary Beggar is about a family of interdimensional refugees whose exile involves walking through a blue door into an unknown world…which happens to be Reno, NV, in the early part of the twenty-first century. Palwick does the best job I’ve ever seen at introducing characters to things that are unfamiliar to them and familiar to us, gradually building their knowledge of the culture we already know in a way that illuminates it.

She’s also done a beautiful job creating a family that comes from the same culture but has prioritized different aspects of it–no one person has to stand in for the whole, each gets to be fully individualized, and as a result the pieces of culture they cling to in their new home vary extremely. There’s not a lot of standard science fiction furniture here–after the dimensional travel, the book is mostly stuff that could happen at any time if there happened to be people with those personalities and cultural beliefs around to make it happen.

The Necessary Beggar, as its back cover tells us, is from the perspectives of a girl, a grandfather, and a ghost. I am a sucker for tales of relentless young girls and the grandpas who love them, so this is right in my wheelhouse. The ghost turns out to be pretty interesting too. But the main thing about this book is that it’s some of the most compassionate science fiction I’ve ever read. The people get to be full, flawed people and still love each other and make their way an an imperfect world with some of the most focus on kindness that I’ve ever seen in a book. This book dives into some extremely difficult issues–refugees, immigration, homelessness, alcoholism, suicide, cultural loss, depression–but it does so with such love that the potentially depressing nature of the topics is turned to hope. Highly recommended, so glad it’s available in this new edition.

Books read, early October

Allie Brosh, Hyperbole and a Half. News that Brosh’s new book is coming out made me realize that I hadn’t ever read the old one. I had, however, read most of it in its original internet publication. Some of it made me giggle uproariously all over again. Some of it…it’s amazing how fast mores change, particularly around terms for disabled people, and I hope that she wouldn’t write it that way today, but this is the book she wrote then.

Pamela Dean, Tam Lin. Reread. This was exactly the right choice for the mood I was in. The minute I picked it up and started reading it, I just wanted to keep going no matter what else I was supposed to be doing. This is one of the most-reread books of my adolescent + adult life, and I still love it and find new things in it every time. This time it was striking to me how much the change of technology between this setting and my college days didn’t change the basic difficulties in tracking down the person you wanted to talk to when you wanted to talk to them. Funny details like that, that you get to think of because you have the deep knowledge of the book to spot them. I’m still thinking about the last line again.

Michael J. DeLuca, Night Roll. Reread, sort of, because I read it in draft. This is also a Tam Lin story! A Tam Lin/Nanabozho near-future bike novella about very early parenthood. It’s lovely, I loved it in draft and I love it even more with the revisions Michael and his editor decided on. Check this one out.

Rosamond Faith, The Moral Economy of the Countryside: Anglo-Saxon to Anglo-Norman England. It’s a very Anglo-Saxon time up in here, and this is probably the best nonfiction I’ve read on the topic so far. (Stay tuned etc.) Faith thinks interestingly and coherently about how it was that people changed what they were doing on an individual and small community level, and all the way up to the national scale. Good stuff, I’ve added her other books to my list.

Catherine Coleman Flowers, Waste: One Woman’s Fight Against America’s Dirty Secret. Discussed elsewhere.

Louise Glück, Faithful and Virtuous Night. I had not previously thought about the difference between cerebral and intellectual very much, but these poems are very much the former and not the latter, so that’s something to turn over in my head.

Laura E. Gómez, Inventing Latinos: A New Story of American Racism. A 101-level book about Latinx identity and how it formed/co-evolved with prejudice around it. If you’re looking for a starter kit on how to think and talk about bias in this area, this is a good source, quite intersectional in the areas of class and other racial and ethnic groups. Not particularly interested in gender–my use of “Latinx” is mine, not mirrored by this text.

Seamus Heaney, trans., Beowulf. A less fun translation than Maria Dahvana Headley’s, very spare, very plain. I was left with the urge for More Beowulf when I finished Headley’s translation, so here we are and don’t be surprised if there’s more later.

Marc Morris, The Norman Conquest: The Battle of Hastings and the Fall of Anglo-Saxon England. Of the books I’ve read on this specific topic, this is the one I’d recommend. Generally thoughtful, only a few places where he’s unduly confused by things that make total sense in Viking context.

Sarah Moss, Bodies of Light. A young woman who wants to be a doctor when women mostly aren’t allowed, winning free of the various constraints of her family of origin, which are more interesting constraints than lack of support. Very well done, clearly paid a lot of attention to 19th century British painters, interested in more work by this author.

Christine Peel, ed., Guta Saga: The History of the Gotlanders. This is really only if you are feeling completist about reading basically every saga there is. I am feeling so completist. It is extremely short and not particularly outstanding in any way, except for some of its linguistic features. Still, now I’ve read it, and I know where it is on the shelf.

Neil Price, Children of Ash and Elm: A History of the Vikings. This was quite good, absolutely recommended either as an introduction to this topic or for more insight/analysis if you’re well-versed in it. Lots of stuff for me to ponder here, which is quite rare in volumes with this subtitle, given how much I’ve already read and pondered.

London Shah, The Light at the Bottom of the World. Fun and pacey undersea YA SF adventure with a drowned dystopia. It hits some of the predictable beats but also is doing its own thing. The puppy comes out of the entire thing fine. I don’t want you to worry, because this is a book with peril and stuff, so: the dog is okay at the end.

Una L. Silberrad, The Good Comrade. Kindle. This is so charming. It has some Blue Castle-esque elements of satisfyingly telling off annoying family members, it has Silberrad’s recognition that women working for a living is sometimes tedious but not actually the end of the world, it has a heroine who is willing to consider her own values and not always come up with the choices the world assumes are obvious, it has a hero who belatedly realizes “what if wife but also good pal.” Oh yes, and it has random horticulture. It’s free on Gutenberg. Treat yourself.

Dana Simpson, Virtual Unicorn Experience. The latest Phoebe and Her Unicorn book, a charming escape that made me giggle.

Jonathan C. Slaght, Owls of the Eastern Ice: A Quest to Find and Save the World’s Largest Owl. Blakiston’s fish owls are large, funny-looking owls, and Slaght studies them. If you don’t think owls are kinda great, I don’t know what to tell you. This is at least as much about field work as it is about owls, but both are interesting to me.

Patrik Svensson, The Book of Eels: Our Enduring Fascination With the Most Mysterious Creature in the Natural World. Look, I get that publishers want an exciting title, but…”most mysterious,” really, that’s pretty debatable. On the other hand, this book–like the owl book directly above–was interesting in part for what we don’t know about certain species of eel that you’d think we might–and, of course, for what we do know. I mean, they’re no owls, but they’re still pretty interesting. Also I find it a relief to read natural history right now.

Adrian Tchaikovsky, Made Things. A fun novella featuring a young puppeteer and created creatures made from various materials, with more serious digressions into the nature of the soul.

Elizabeth von Arnim, The Enchanted April. Kindle. Four women from ’20s Britain go on holiday to Italy together and figure their lives out in a beautiful rented Italian castle. I am a little skeptical of a few of the happy endings, but happy middles matter a lot as well, and this is a very gentle book in which things are generally okay. If I was in charge of Airbnb marketing I’d go around putting copies of this in Little Free Libraries. (…possibly there is a reason no one puts me in charge of marketing things.) You will still be able to enjoy this book if you have no fixed opinions about John Ruskin, but if you do have them it will be even funnier.

Wendy Williams, The Language of Butterflies: How Thieves, Hoarders, Scientists, and Other Obsessives Unlocked the Secrets of the World’s Favorite Insect. I didn’t actually plan to have a naturalist bent to this fortnight’s reading, it’s just that’s what came in on the long-term holds from the library. This was an interesting introduction to butterfly biology and another nice calm thing to read right now.

Harriet Wood Harvey, The Battle of Hastings: The Fall of Anglo-Saxon England. And this is the less preferred of the books on this exact thing that I read in the last fortnight. She is more often baffled by cultural context, less thorough about sources, generally not an offensive read but not as illuminating, alas.

Xia Jia, A Summer Beyond Your Reach. Kindle. Always interesting to try to guess whether translated stories vary a lot in quality because of the originals or because of the translation, but in this case I think it’s at least partly the former because the structure of some of the stories seemed not-amazing to begin with. Some of them are amazing, though, in both concept and execution. So…a mixed bag, lots of interest in time travel and variously timed selves. Glad I read it.

Waste: One Woman’s Fight Against America’s Dirty Secret, by Catherine Coleman Flowers

Review copy provided by the publisher.

Clean water is a cause very dear to my heart; it was my late father’s field. As a result, I know quite a bit more than the average person about water treatment, and I expected that to come into play in this book. And it did–but not in the way I expected.

Waste is not a book about clean water. It’s the activism-focused memoir of an activist whose long career has led her to fight for clean water and safe sewage treatment for some of the poorest people in America. Her personal journey has brought her to many famous politicians, celebrities, and activists–and not always the ones you’d expect.

There are some terms–“perc test” comes to mind–that go sweeping past that I know, because of my family background, but I don’t expect a casually interested reader to know them. Despite that, this is very much not a technical book, so if you come in wanting to know why some soils are more prone to drainage difficulties than others, how different diseases of untreated sewage spread differently with environmental factors, how climate change will only hasten this spread–this is not the book to explain any of that to you. What it is: a book that gives one woman’s road map to awareness, activism, and real change.

It also is a book that does not flinch from the present day. There is an epilogue that was written after the start of the COVID-19 pandemic and puts the rest of the book in that context. If you’re not ready for that on a given day, that’s not the day to read Waste.

Books read, late September

John Joseph Adams, ed., Cosmic Powers: The Saga Anthology of Far-Away Galaxies. This is an anthology full of familiar names doing a wide variety of far-flung space adventure. I particularly appreciated stories from Vylar Kaftan, Yoon Ha Lee, Merc Fenn Wolfmoor (writing as A. Merc Rustad), and Caroline Yoachim.

Melissa Albert, The Night Country. The sequel to The Hazel Wood, this deals with the fallout from that book in a way that is extremely well-suited to its YA fantasy structure.

Claire Beams, The Illness Lesson. Major content warnings for sexual abuse and medical abuse here. If you hate Bronson Alcott–and Lord knows I do–here is a book by someone else who hates Bronson Alcott and wants to tell a 19th century story of personal discovery and liberation from Transcendentalist bozo dudes. Some quite upsetting sections, but generally beautifully written.

Stephanie Burgis, Frostgilded. Kindle. This is a short treat, labeled a coda to the previous novellas and very dependent on knowing the characters from them–but very rewarding if you do.

S.B. Divya, Machinehood. Discussed elsewhere.

Maria Dahvana Headley, trans. Beowulf. This is a rollicking translation, steeped in Saxon braggadocio. Fun alliteration, interesting angle. Depending on how emotionally intimate you feel with the Geats, Danes, and Angles, you might not want this to be your only Beowulf–but it increased, rather than decreasing, my enthusiasm for more.

Jordan Ifueko, Raybearer. YA fantasy with global inspirations centering on Africa, lots of fun, beautifully written, highly recommended.

Naomi Mitchison, The Delicate Fire. The introduction to my copy claims that this is Mitchison’s farewell to the Classical Greek world. I can believe it. It’s like a mosaic novel except that the pieces don’t all join to one thing. It’s like a mosaic workshop, in novel form. One of the things Mitchison is seriously thinking about is slavery, and another is sexual violence, so time your reading of it carefully if you’re interested.

Megan E. O’Keefe, Chaos Vector. Another example of a sequel that depends heavily on the first volume, but they’re in print so you’re all good. This one had fewer AIs (less AI?) through most of the book, and those were my favorite part of the first one, but it was still fun.

Susan Oosthuizen, The Emergence of the English. A tiny monograph about ethnoformation and what we know from archaeological evidence in an age when genetic testing can rule out certain kinds and timings of vast population difference. Pretty cool.

Ann Patchett, This Is the Story of a Happy Marriage and What Now?. Two nonfiction volumes, essays by the author, very personal but only sporadically deep. Sometimes fun to read, sometimes just awful–the former volume, for example, has an essay about end-of-life care for her grandmother and another about end-of-life care for her dog, so, uh. Tread cautiously.

Claudia Rankine, Just Us: An American Conversation. Mixed media: photos, illustrations, poetry, essays. Really compelling and sometimes beautifully-footnoted personal thoughts about race in America.

Valerie Valdes, Prime Deceptions. Another sequel that is full of ramifications. This one I think has a cover that is slightly more accurate for the sometimes-dark tone–it’s a funny book, don’t get me wrong, but not a perky one, and I worried about the previous cover giving the impression of sunshine and roses when it’s more blasters and (self-)recrimination. But with Spanish-inflected wisecracking along the way! And a supportive team…that has to be supportive because they get into some pretty deep shit….

Francesca Wade, Square Haunting: Five Writers in London Between the Wars. This is about five women writers who lived in the same square in the interwar period–Dorothy Sayers and Virginia Woolf and HD and two scholars I didn’t know much about before, Jane Harrison and Eileen Power. You get some Hope Mirrlees as a bonus, and my main complaint about this book was that I’m still not sure why Wade didn’t make it six and give Mirrlees her own section, instead of wrapping her in with living with Jane Harrison. But still, it’s just the sort of history packed with artistic and intellectual connections that I love to see.

Shannon Watters, Kat Leyh, and Anne-Marie Rogers, Lumberjanes: Birthday Smarty. This…okay, I’m going to be honest: this is not my favorite style, of the artists doing Lumberjanes, and the plot felt pretty paint-by-numbers. It was still fun–Lumberjanes are always fun–but I don’t think it will be one of their notable best volumes.

Annie Whitehead, Mercia: The Rise and Fall of a Kingdom. If you notice a pattern lately, why yes, I am reading a lot about pre-Conquest England. This is not one of the catchier volumes but is still very good for what it’s doing.

Troy L. Wiggins, DaVaun Sanders, and B. Sherise Moore, eds. Fiyah Issue 15. Kindle. For me the stand-out story in this issue was Vincent Tirado’s “Your Name Is Oblivia,” but it was another solid issue, well worth reading.

Machinehood, by S. B. Divya

Review copy provided by the publisher.

This is a classic science fiction form I’m not seeing enough of: near-future SF written from an intimate voice. The main points of view in the book are two sisters-in-law, Welga and Nithya, who are also close friends, and whose perspective gives triangulation on the future Divya has created. Most humans are constantly accompanied and assisted by their WAIs (weak AIs), machine intelligences that don’t quite make the full equal personhood grade by humanity’s current estimation. But they’re darn good at what they can do, and as a result humanity has chosen to enter an arms race of source with machines, taking a variety of designer drugs to enhance intellectual focus, speed, healing ability, stamina, and more.

Enter the Machinehood. The Machinehood is a combined human-AI group that is not the least bit satisfied with the status of AIs in the world–and not thrilled with the way human bodies are treated, either. They’ve gotten to the point where they are willing to engage in violent revolution.

Welga has been aligned with the status quo for most of her life–previously as a Marine, now in her work as a shield. But her mother died of bad reactions to drugs, and she’s starting to have some of those herself. Her sister-in-law Nithya has the biotech skills to help her if anyone can–if anyone human can. And they’re both ready to oppose the Machinehood for the safety of their loved ones–for humanity as a whole. They think. They hope.

This book has a few weaknesses. The exposition is often clunky, and the secondary characters (especially Luis, the man who ties the two protagonists together) are sometimes sketched-in ciphers. But if you like near-future hard SF that centers the lives of individuals and gives you close views of their thoughts, Machinehood is exactly what you’re looking for.

Books read, early September

Ben Aaronovitch, Tales from the Folly. Kindle. Vignettes and side stories from the Rivers of London series across time. Fun but not a good place to begin, and not crucial unless you really like the series.

John Blair, Building Anglo-Saxon England. This is a literal title: it is about architecture and archaeology and what we know about this era of English history. Lots of cool details about how we know what we know, interesting research fodder for a project.

Desirina Boskovich, ed., Lost Transmissions: The Secret History of Science Fiction and Fantasy. Lavishly illustrated, including some illustrations that appear to be newly commissioned for this book–money well spent in my opinion, the Angela Carter one by Dea Boskovich was gorgeous. Many of the entries are house-written but some are guests. Most serious SFF fans will already know some of what’s in here, but which things which people will know varies–I expect there’s something new for everyone here, ranging all over the field including different media.

Marie Brennan, The Nine Lands. Kindle. These were fine short stories, but sometimes one is conscious of an author improving, and this is evidence that Brennan has. Still worth reading? Sure, yes, it was fun. But don’t make this your first Brennan book. They’re early stories, and she does keep getting better.

Christopher Brown, Failed State. The third in its series, and I recommend reading the other two first. It’s fast-paced and well-done and thinking very carefully about the near future of the environment and politics of the US–not always cheerfully. But carefully; and not hopelessly either. This book has forays into both the legal system and land reclamation projects, and does not neglect characterization along the way. Recommended.

Marcia Douglas, The Marvellous Equations of the Dread. This is a female (feminist?) Rastafarian novel, across time and certain parts of local space. It’s an extremely different perspective from what I usually read and very interesting; I’m still thinking about it.

John M. Ford, The Dragon Waiting. Reread. Discussed elsewhere.

C.L.R. James, The Black Jacobins: Toussaint L’Overture and the San Domingo Revolution. This is a magisterial history of that section of Haitian history. James is acute and unrelenting. There is one footnote from the second edition where he basically said, “this sentence has gotten a lot of criticism and it is still exactly what I think,” and I love this book for that as for so many other things. This book has the courage of its convictions–and has also bothered to significantly research its convictions.

Naomi Mitchison, The Land the Ravens Found. A retelling of the settlement of Iceland through the family of Aud the Deep-Minded. This is my jam and may well be your jam as well. If only it was longer.

Megan O’Keefe, Velocity Weapon. Are you short on charming AIs in your fiction at the moment? Would any number of charming AIs still leave you short on charming AIs? Megan O’Keefe has your back. I enjoyed this a lot and ordered the sequel basically right away.

Nunzio Pernicone, Italian Anarchism, 1864-1892. As I said to a friend in email, this book is very strong on the who, what, where, when, and not so hot on the why, how. If you want to know what conventions and schisms took place in Italian anarchism in the late 19th century, this is a solid resource. If you want to go any deeper about who these people were personally, why they felt the way they did, how their thinking evolved and why…you’ll have to find another book, because that’s not what Pernicone is here to do. Ah well.

Elizabeth Rush, Rising: Dispatches from the New American Shore. This is lovely. It’s got quite a few direct interviews with people living on disappearing or threatened land, it’s got Rush thinking about different American coastal ecosystems, it’s thoughtful and beautiful, hurray this book.

Dana Simpson, Camping With Unicorns, Phoebe and Her Unicorn In Unicorn Theater, The Unicorn Whisperer, Unicorn Bowling. I realized that I had not read the latest adventures of Phoebe and Marigold in quite some time, so I got them all from the library at once and (almost) caught up in one silly evening on the couch. (There’s another new one out. I’m in line for it.) I can recommend silly evenings on the couch with Phoebe and Marigold right now.

Lynne Thomas, Michael Damian Thomas, et al, eds., Uncanny Magazine Issue 36. Kindle. I am in this, and I make a policy of not reviewing things I’m in.

Jill Watts, The Black Cabinet: The Untold Story of African Americans and Politics During the Age of Roosevelt. If you’ve been feeling like contemporary people are uniquely terrible to each other, wow is this the book to remedy that. The staggering amount of racism in and out of both major American political parties during the Roosevelt presidency is quite a lot to deal with. Several remarkable people tried, and knowing about them is good. But yikes, the amount of blatant overt racism is nauseating.

Rebecca West, The Judge. Kindle. Oh this was so bad. Oh goodness this was so bad. It was not worthless, it was not without its charms or I wouldn’t have read it all the way through. (You have no idea how many books I don’t read all the way through.) And other Rebecca West is lovely! But this was long-winded, never taking a paragraph to say what five pages could. And it suffered from so many other flaws that West doesn’t usually, such as: Batman Villainitis! Wherein you can tell by looking at someone whether they are smart, interesting, and generally worthwhile! Expired Satire! Where the thing that was going to be cleverly sent-up doesn’t even really matter in historical context! Excessive Freudianism! Where instead of her usual observations of people, it’s Oedipal complexes all the way down! Improbable Staging! Where seriously, you can’t do that with any bread knife I’ve ever met. There is much better Rebecca West out there for you to read, and I suggest you do that instead.