Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah, Friday Black: Stories. This is a gripping and beautiful collection that wanders in and out of speculative tropes and social discussion. I think it’s not marketed as SFF but rather as literary, but he plays beautifully on the beach that belongs to both (rather than walled-off sandboxes for each) and I think writers from that entire continuum could enjoy and learn here. Recommended.
Paul Alpers, What Is Pastoral?. This did not do what I hoped, which was talk about modern forms of the pastoral. He did start to form a model of pastoral that goes beyond Shepherd Poems, spotting commonality in some interesting 19th century works, so it wasn’t worthless, it just…didn’t go as far as I wanted it to.
Pat Barker, The Silence of the Girls. Briseis’s part of the Iliad retold from her perspective. This book does an amazing job of pointing out the horrors of war in a way that doesn’t prioritize one gender or another, but be warned, it is sexual violence front to back, that is the thing it’s doing. Also there are bizarre, gross, ahistorical moments of fatphobia, just thrown in for spice I guess, so…read with care.
Megan Crewe, Ruthless Magic. Sometimes you really want the YA trope of “we have just figured out that the system is rigged and what are we going to do about it,” because, welp, here we are. In this case that trope is set among magic trials, and the ending is satifsyingly un-pat. Relationships–not just smooching, friendships, family relationships–take a very high priority here. I raced through it and am looking forward to the sequel.
Jill Lepore, These Truths: A History of the United States. I picked up this book on the theory that I was interested in anything Jill Lepore wrote, and now I am interested in nothing Jill Lepore writes ever again. That is how bad this book was. It had bizarre inclusions and maddening exclusions. Lepore’s choices reinforce a lot of standard “large overview” models that reinforce all sorts of misconceptions, with major movements often treated as mysterious forces of nature because she hasn’t bothered to discuss what led to them. The labor movement, the conquest of Native territories, most things west of the Mississippi…okay, let’s be honest, most things west of Syracuse…not present. A complete misreading of Desk Set, and honestly, I love Desk Set, but why is it here? A sure-footed and substantially wrong-headed focus on the last 15 years at the expense of the entire second half of the nineteenth century AND the entire second half of the twentieth century. Supposedly parallel constructions with drastically slanted language. I startled the dog several times with my out-loud reactions to this book (“NO–not you, not you Ista, good dog”). Assertions that would take another 800-page book to actually support went in blithely, unchallenged and unfootnoted. And almost all of this is directly relevant to modern political interactions. What a terrible book. So incredibly disappointing. I only finished it so that I could be authoritative about how bad it was, and it just kept getting worse.
Anna-Marie McLemore, Blanca and Roja. Modern Latina version of Snow White and Rose Red, with swan shifters and tree affinities and a diversity of gender and sexuality. Charming and lovely.
Nuala O’Faolain, Are You Somebody: The Accidental Memoir of a Dublin Woman. This is substantially about digging herself out of the hole that the mid-twentieth century left Irish women in, and surveying the wreckage upon her family. There was a lot of unpleasantness here that somehow didn’t add up to a bad book, but I spent most of the time reading it sad for O’Faolain.
Daniel Jose Older, Dactyl Hill Squad. Alternate history Civil War-era New York with dinosaurs, orphan kids of color having dino-related adventures against racist miscreants. Great fun, especially if you have someone in its target age range to share with.
Mary Beth Pfieffer, Lyme: The First Epidemic of Climate Change. Do you want to scream endlessly? Because the stuff this book covers will do that for you. Not the book itself; Pfieffer is level-headed and thorough. But tick-based diseases are NO JOKE, friends, and worth knowing about in horrifying detail. (Horrifying. Really, really bad.)
Dominic Smith, The Last Painting of Sara de Vos. This literary novel weaves together the lives of two women who work as painters, one in the seventeenth century and another, who is also a scholar and critic, in the middle of the twentieth (going on to her later life in the early twenty-first). I liked each and both, the way that they were finding their way in their work around various life obstacles, quite different in different eras and yet with a thread of commonality. The ending fell a bit flat for me, so I can’t jump up and down and recommend this as thoroughly as I’d like, but it was still worth reading.