Books read, early February

John Bierhorst, The Mythology of South America. This is an anthropology-level overview, talking about common features of myths among different ethnic groups of South Americans. It starts out pretty dubiously, talking as though myth-formation is a thing done by Those Primitives, you see, and not by Us Civilized People, so you have to take it with a grain of salt–it’s mostly interesting as a source of avenues for further exploration–oh, this motif here, let’s explore what that really means in detail with people who know what they’re doing.

Lois McMaster Bujold, Gentleman Jole and the Red Queen. A gentle mid-life romance among the Vorkosigans and the alien fauna of Sergyar. At 76 Cordelia is not yet even a little bit old by Betan standards, and for me this is a shame; I am looking for more books that are about protagonists who actually feel old. But “more time with these characters you like” worked just fine for me in general, even if I want even more time with them later–and it was definitely a book full of grown-ups, and there are not enough of those either.

Mike Carey, Linda Carey, and Louise Carey, The House of War and Witness. Intertemporal ghost stories weaving back to a crisis moment in the 18th century. I was disappointed in this–it was reasonably well done, but compared to their previous collaboration, The Steel Seraglio, it was not at all my thing. The different ghost stories through time were quite well done, as was the 18th century main protagonist whose life was pretty awful. It just was hitting various tropes that are not at all of interest to me fairly hard, and in a narrative featuring an abusive relationship that was sensitively handled but difficult to read.

Edwidge Danticat, Untwine. Heartfelt YA about a young woman learning to live without her twin–her entire family learning to live without, really. The Haitian political references Danticat is known for were around the edges–this is a Haitian-American family, its relatives multilingual and naming their cats after politicians, but the core of this book is where the personal does not much overlap with the political.

Albert Goldbarth, Across the Layers. Reread. Lots of prose poems and borderline-prose poems. Not much snagged me this time through, and I don’t know that I will give it a third go. The interesting things he was doing with his family immigrant voice were not immigrant things that really caught me much with individual moments or lines.

Rachel Hartman, Seraphina. Come for the early modern/premodern musical instruments, stay for the saint culture. What, shapeshifting dragons? Yes, all right, I suppose you can have some of those too. It adds up to familial relationships with alien psychologies in some ways, which I am much more interested in than “fire thing go swoop.” Although there is fire thing go swoop, if that’s what you’re here for.

David R. Montgomery, Dirt: The Erosion of Civilizations. Wow, what a book. Soil science. Politics of erosion and soil depletion laid out in multiple places worldwide, throughout time, with explicit parallels drawn. Fascinating, lovely, much recommended. It made me want to scream and swear and punch things sometimes, but not without hopeful spots also. And dirt! Dirt is great!

Julia Rios and Alisa Krasnostein, eds., Year’s Best Young Adult Speculative Fiction 2014. I have a policy of not reviewing books I’m in. So much potential to be tacky. So: this exists, I’m in it, I read it. You can read it too.

Bogi Takacs, Changing Body Templates. Kindle. This short was a bonus from a charitable donation I made, and was interesting in its cultural reference points.

Chris West, A History of America in Thirty-Six Postage Stamps. Each year I buy myself a book for my grandpa’s birthday. I pick something I would have wanted to share with him, since I am not actually done sharing things with my grandpa yet despite the utter stupid inconvenience of death. As 300-page histories of the US go, this is not the worst you could do, particularly if you wanted something to hand to someone who is not from the US. It suffers from a few quite glaring flaws. Its sexism, racism, and classism are the benevolent sort, but still present. It has a strong and annoying present-day skew–three hundred pages of all of American history and culture and you can fit in Monica Lewinsky, really? Alice Paul is irrelevant, never mind Grace Hopper, but Monica Lewinsky must appear? And on the other hand I started to wonder whether its author was merely clueless or an extreme Tory in his own country and trying to shore up his own party’s allies, because while the aforementioned Affaire Lewinsky did appear, the election of President Geo. W. Bush came and went without the least hint that it was the tiniest bit controversial in its practicalities. So while he did a good job of explaining some of the American history things that Americans generally take for granted, there were also some tone-deaf notes.

G. Willow Wilson, Ms. Marvel: Generation Why. I enjoy Kamala Khan. I enjoy her even more with a very large teleporting doggie.

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