Chilling Effect, by Valerie Valdes

Review copy provided by the publisher. Also the author is a Twitter buddy.

Eva Innocente and her crew may not be rich, but at least they’re honest–mostly honest–welllll, more honest than Eva’s family. So when Eva’s even-more-honest sister is kidnapped and threatened by a galactic crime syndicate called The Fridge, Eva has to save her–even if some of the decisions she makes along the way are not technically what would be known as wise or sensible or OH MY GOD EVA WHAT ARE YOU DOING. There are spaceship maneuvers, low-gravity cats, brain parasites, human-alien relations…in more senses of the word than one…fencing, fighting, torture, revenge, true love…actually I’m not remembering the fencing very well. But this is in fact a kissing book, and also there are true friends who stick with the heroine.

Also she expresses herself in emphatic Spanish from time to time, so if that’s a thing you need–and for some of you it definitely is a personal positive, I know–and the rest of you can pick up what you need to from context, trust me. No, you can. Suck it up, buttercups, you can do Klingon, the Spanish is great.

Here’s my caveat, though, having read it but also seen the marketing and some other reviews: there is a purple upbeat Julie Dillon cover, and the first chapter features the cats, and the word “fun” is getting used a lot for this book in discussions I’ve heard. How much you parse it as a pure fun adventure is likely to depend on how you read a book where one of the main engines of plot is (and this happens very early, so I don’t feel like it’s a major spoiler) the threat of sexual violence against the heroine. Because there is a very persistent sexual violence threat against the heroine. It is, in fact, one of two or three central things that drives the plot. If you don’t find that fun or relaxing–and I don’t–you might still find this book interesting and well done for the things it is doing–and I did–but your “fluffy fun yay!” quotient is going to vary considerably. One of the things it is not doing is providing a place where people who find the threat of sexual violence stressful can relax and read about space battles and cats and aliens and spaceships. Not every book has to do that, but be forewarned that this one is not. Well-written, yes; fluffy, no.

(I’ve also seen some assumptions that this must be YA based on the cover and–let’s be real here–the fact that the author is a woman of color. Don’t do that. This is adult space opera, go read it as adult space opera. Or not, if you were looking for YA! But be clear that Valerie never once claimed this was YA, not even a little. Know what you’re getting.)

Books read, early September

Becky Chambers, To Be Taught, If Fortunate. This is a charming novella of extrasolar planetary exploration. The crew works well together while having clear and distinct personalities, the planets are very different and spark different human psychological reactions, it’s all very classic SF while at the same time being very contemporary…there is hardly anything that is for everybody, but among SF fans I should think this will come pretty close.

Gavin Chappell, trans., The Saga of Half and Half’s Champions and The Saga of Ragnar Shaggy-Breeches and the Yarn of Ragnar’s Sons. Kindle. Two more legendary sagas, full of random mythical beasts and great weirdness. I live-tweeted one of them, because the depths of weirdness were inspiring. Hypothetically I am reading legendary sagas as preparation for a project I might be doing (read: will be doing, but when, who knows), but in reality let’s all admit that I just love them a lot. Also, as I clarified on Twitter, the first one is the saga of Half’s champions, and also of Half himself, not the saga of the champions of a thing you can put in your coffee. Oh, phrasing and punctuation.

Chen Qiufan, Waste Tide. There are certain kinds of books that get translated first, I am noticing, because I tend to read a lot in translation. Maybe this is unfair of me. I enjoyed Waste Tide for what it is, but…I also notice that in the wave of Chinese SF that is getting translated first, the stuff that is fairly traditionally structured and extremely male-focused to the point of being somewhat sexist is getting translated first. So this is interesting in its ideas about waste disposal and intercultural assumptions both inside and outside China, and also there is fridging and minimal use of women’s perspectives, and it is basically exactly what you’d expect would get translated early. Which doesn’t mean it doesn’t have interesting points, just…I’ll be glad when there’s more variety of what’s written in Chinese SF available in English.

Amanda Downum, Still So Strange. This is a collection of Amanda’s short mostly-urban dark fantasy, and I had been missing her work, and now here’s a bunch of it all at once. Yessss.

Tim Flannery and Peter Schouten, A Gap in Nature: Discovering the World’s Extinct Animals. This is a beautiful compendium of extinct animals, each with a description and a painting. Some of them are heartbreaking, and it’s hard to predict which.

Sarah Gailey, Magic for Liars. If you’ve been missing books that center a non-romantic relationship, this one is all about, all about sisters. There is noir detective work around a magic school, and either of those things may push some of your buttons, but for me it was the sister relationship that centered the book’s appeal.

Theodora Goss, Snow White Learns Witchcraft. This is substantially fairy tale retellings, but for me the poems were the best part, crystallizations in a few pages of fairy tale extensions and extenuations.

Alix E. Harrow, The Ten Thousand Doors of January. Discussed elsewhere.

Jaime Lee Moyer, Brightfall. Discussed elsewhere.

Malka Older, State Tectonics. The conclusion to a science fiction series about microdemocracies in a high-information society. Basically I would not recommend reading it without the first two, but as a series conclusion I found it thoughtful and thought-provoking.

Sarah Pinsker, Sooner or Later Everything Falls Into the Sea. This is a beautiful and varied collection. Highly recommended. Spans length, genre, theme, mood. Yay.

Sherwood Smith, Inda. Reread. I think what stuck out to me on this reread was how much this book was a study in leadership in its different modalities, how to inculcate leadership in people who didn’t have it naturally, how to use it for your own ends, all sorts of themes and variations around education toward leadership. I should probably restrain myself from just plowing through the rest of the series.

Pauline Stafford, Unification and Conquest: A Political and Social History of England in the Tenth and Eleventh Centuries. This is a fascinating look at England over the period of the Norman Conquest with an eye to the commonality of culture more than its disruption. Extremely useful if you’re doing a thing.

Jane Yolen, A Plague of Unicorns. This is one of those children’s books where the adults will have seen the twist a million times, but the crucial difference is in how it’s handled–in this case not just deftly but kindly, deeply kindly. And also with lots of apples and cider.

The Ten Thousand Doors of January, by Alix E. Harrow

Review copy provided by the publisher.

For a long time you couldn’t get a portal fantasy for love nor money, most particularly not for money, as I’m pretty sure the fanfic ones were out there for love. But for several years, portal fantasies were out of fashion for adults. They seem to have come back in the last few years, but in a self-aware, self-examining iteration.


The Ten Thousand Doors of January is one instantiation of that. It is full of portals–the title is no exaggeration–but almost all the action takes place in this world, or a version of it. January Scaller has spent her entire childhood puzzling over various mysteries of her existence–when her father will make one of his brief returns from his assorted travels, for example, or what happened with the mysterious and magical door she found in Tennessee as a child, what the coin she picked up beyond it meant. The other people she meets are her guardian’s house are varied in age, race, expertise, but none of them seems ready to answer her questions.

And then as January comes closer to coming of age, everything seems to happen all at once. Her guardian tells her that her father is dead, that she must adjust to a new role in the world–and all of the things that she has hoped and known about her guardian shift out from under her. The world opens up new possibilities, many of them terrifying–many of them worlds themselves. And her own power and control are simultaneously beyond what she dreamed and woefully inadequate for the task at hand.

So it’s a good thing she’s made some loyal friends along the way.

Brightfall, by Jaime Lee Moyer

Review copy provided by the author, who is a long-time friend.

I was obsessed with Arthurian legends in my early adolescence, as I think a lot of kids that age are and especially a lot of kids that age in that period were. I also read Robin McKinley’s Outlaws of Sherwood, and somewhere along the line it occurred to me to wonder why there weren’t more Robin Hood novels. On the surface there was a strong similarity with Arthurian stories: both British, both featuring nearly infinitely expandable bands of buddies and sidekicks and character actors, both romantic and action-packed. But the shelves were packed with the one, nearly empty of the other. Why?

One of the theories I formulated was that the Arthur story has a narrative arc, whereas the Robin Hood story’s arc, when it has one, is a deus ex machina: King Richard returns and all is well through no particular action on the characters’ part. It’s not even ripe to be a picaresque because nobody really goes anywhere. It’s full of episode without direction. In order to have an actual novel, I speculated, you’d have to add a lot to the basic Robin Hood story.

Brightfall is basically exhibit A for this theory. This is a Robin Hood novel, no mistake, but Jaime brought so much to the table. Witchcraft! The Fair Folk! A dragon! Entirely new characters completely separate from the extensive original cast! Plot that extends in time–that, in fact, starts–far after the glory days of the Merry Men, that gives Maid Marian her own home and priorities and life–a life that can be disrupted by nefarious plots from another realm.

Also Robin Hood is a complete butt in this book.

Seriously, though. A. Complete. Butt. But it’s not one of those books where the author doesn’t recognize it; a good third of the dialog is approximately:  Someone: Why are you such a butt, Robin Hood? RH: …I dunwanna talk about it. Is he not a butt in the end? Well, that’s for you to find out for yourself. Marian gets an earned happy ending, I’ll promise you that, but with whom and how and when is for you to find out.

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.

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.

Books read, early August

Thomas Aquinas, On the Unity of the Intellect Against the Averroists. This was my dad’s and kept among his chemistry texts. It was a charming example of medieval philosophy, debunking a notion that another group had come up with that was very inside-baseball but deftly handled with the tools available at the time.

Ruthanna Emrys, Imperfect Commentaries. I’d read, loved, and recommended several stories in this–I think even critiqued one or two in beta form actually–but it’s so nice to have them in this lovely volume where I can return to them again and again. Which I will, because there are so many favorites here, it’s impossible to pick one or even three or four. Highly recommended, you will want this on your shelf.

Kathleen Flenniken, Plume. This is a volume of poetry by a nuclear engineer who grew up in a town of nuclear engineers, in the shadow of a nuclear facility, and watched cancer clusters form in her childhood neighbors. It’s well-informed and technical and also poetically beautiful; it’s footnoted for those of you who need it, but for those of us who have the background it can be searing straight-up.

Sarah Foot, Aethelstan. A history or biography-of-sorts of this tenth century monarch, who is peripheral to a project I’m working on–hard to do biography as we think of it for modern figures on someone this far back in time, but it’s a different kind of interesting, seeing what we can piece together about him. I remain fascinated by what British historians are and are not interested in talking about regarding the Anglo-Saxon period, so there are several cultural holes I’ll continue to look to fill, but this is still a good thing to have on my shelf.

Gwynne Garfinkle, People Change. I was surprised and charmed by the breadth of the Hollywood poems in this. Less surprising but still favorites were “Man-Size” (already enjoyed elsewhere) and “The Paper Doll Golems” (I am a sucker for paper dolls, and this one was new to me).

Ruth Kassinger, Slime: How Algae Created Us, Plague Us, and Just Might Save Us. This was less algae biology than I wanted and more algae engineering. It was interesting algae engineering, so it worked out okay! But I had been hoping for lots and lots of detailed algae subspecies biology. Ah well. Algae engineering is good too.

R.F. Kuang, The Dragon Republic. Discussed elsewhere.

Fonda Lee, Jade War. I love this series. It’s so much fun. And I love middle books, and this definitely is one–scope widening, ramifications and implications at every turn, no need to stick the landing yet. Don’t start here, for heaven’s sake, start with the first one, but you’ll want to keep going, because the fantasy gangster kung fu movie mashup in this series works so brilliantly.

Rose MacAulay, The World My Wilderness. Okay so. This book. This book! This book is about a teenage girl who was with the Maquis in WWII and now has been taken back to London by her British father and is supposed to learn to be a “civilized woman” and instead is wandering around the bombed out bits painting them and stealing stuff because Maquis come on. Rose MacAulay is so great and I just keep reading her weird amazing books and this was basically exactly contemporaneous with The Catcher in the Rye. So when you were being handed something about some rando kid slouching around muttering about phonies, you could have been reading painter Maquis girl who is used to bombing Nazi train tracks is faintly baffled by your conformity, come on now, really. Really.

Amanda Owen, The Yorkshire Shepherdess. This is a memoir of a woman who decided to go off and raise sheep and children. She has some moments of “wait you what”…even more so than that decision process might indicate…and there are a few places where I really feel that her husband wants a good kicking, like where she has the ritual commentary about how he doesn’t know how to turn on the grill (American English: broiler) and yet has seven children to feed. But I’m revising a novella that features several sheep, so! It was entertaining and interesting, mostly!

Anna Lowenhaupt Tsing, The Mushroom at the End of the World. This ended up mostly being about matsutake mushroom hunters from various subcultures in different regions of the world, their sale and trading and interactions with the larger cultures around them. Occasionally Tsing wandered off into pronouncements of her personal philosophy that connected a little oddly with the mushrooms, but it was always back to the fungus eventually.

J.Y. Yang, The Ascent to Godhood. The fourth in a series of linked novellas, giving more of the history of the setting, but in a way that was all character and story, not a bare recitation of details. This centered on a relationship that shaped a world. My catnip.

Automatic Eve, by Rokuro Inui

Review copy provided by Haikasoru Books.

If you were ever thinking, okay, what if steampunk, but deeply Japanese, absolutely Edo period Japanese, this is the book for you. The sections unfold in sort of a spiral structure, seemingly handling disparate stories that turn out to ramify into a larger political structure for which the steampunk plot is entirely crucial.

This is a book that is obsessed with the soul, with ensoulment and the spirit and what makes us human. My workshop buddy Molly is quoted on the cover blurb comparing it to Blade Runner, and there’s a lot of that–a lot of “if it walks like a human and talks like a human, when does the soul come in,” and I have some pretty strong suspicions about where and how the word kami is used in the original that isn’t quite translating but is still interesting in translation, is still not at all a Helen O’Loy story.

But honestly my favorite part is the clockwork fighting crickets. That’s a worldbuilding detail that threads through delightfully and entirely appropriately, and I just…clockwork automata in the fighting cricket rings! If that is your jam, this is your book.

The Dragon Republic, by R. F. Kuang

Review copy provided by the publisher.

This is the sequel to The Poppy War, and in the shape of a classic second book of a trilogy, things get significantly worse here and do not get significantly better at the end.

Yes, from the state of things in The Poppy War. Yes, I remember how things were in that book. There is, it turns out, a lot darker to get.

And yet. And yet and yet and yet. Is this book a catalog of unremitting horrors. No. No, not unremitting. There is a lot of bleak here. There is a lot of darkness, a lot of betrayal, a lot of people fleeing from horrible situations in their world, in their politics, in their own hearts and minds, in their…theologies, I guess I would say, in a very concrete and immediate sense. This is a book that takes some of the worst situations in our own history and gives magical and divine weight to metaphors about them, and those are…not even necessarily the worst situations it describes. Some of the worst situations are very real ways humans have treated each other historically.

And yet.

Still not unremittingly bleak.

Still ways for humans to keep trying, to keep hoping, to keep reaching for a solution, for understanding, for some way for things to get better.

This is a second book.

Will book three be about the day the teddy bears have their picnic? I expect not, no. I expect there to be addiction and loss and turmoil, starvation and death and upheaval, fire and flood and betrayal. But I expect Rin to fight not just for the barest edges of survival but for something more in herself. I expect Rin to keep finding something more. And that’s why I keep reading these books. And why I think you might want to also.

Books read, late July

Sophie Anderson, The House With Chicken Legs. This is a kids’ book about death and finding your own place. It is not actually a particularly hard book to read when you’re grieving, which…is kind of a signal of some pretty pulled punches, so if you don’t want a book with these themes and that set of decisions, tread carefully. The title is literal, however, and if that strikes you as charming, consider this one.

Maurice Broaddus, The Usual Suspects. This is a kids’ mystery, which is all too rare in my experience of reading middle grade. The protagonist is a member of a mixed group of kids with behavior issues that the school district deals with…about like modern school districts do. They have varying needs and abilities and types of family support. They are beautifully characterized, with their loyalties and friendships drawn incredibly clearly. If you are at all up for MG mystery, this is quite a good one.

Stephanie Burgis, The Girl With the Dragon Heart. This follows fairly closely on The Dragon With a Chocolate Heart, but it has shifted protagonists to a closely related character. The adventure has expanded to include not only a different viewpoint, but…elves. Elves! So much fun! Oh, these books are just what I needed right now, I can’t wait for the next one to come out.

Michelle Cuevas, The Care and Feeding of a Pet Black Hole. This is a fun, charming, whimsical book wherein the black hole is mostly a metaphor but also has some bits of science education in it. ALSO IT IS A BOOK ABOUT A GIRL WHOSE DAD JUST DIED. IT DOES NOT SAY THIS ANYWHERE ON THE COVER. The grief reactions are very real, it is beautifully handled, I think this would be a great book for a kid who has not just suffered that type of loss to have as part of their emotional vocabulary to refer back to when they do have loss in their life, but I WAS SITTING UNDER THIS SLEEPING DOG AND I HAD NOTHING ELSE TO READ AND IT WAS A DEAD DAD BOOK DO NOT GO IN UNWARNED.

Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone, This Is How You Lose the Time War. This is a beautiful epistolary time travel battle poetry love story. It is not like other things. It rewrites the world in full color.

Minister Faust, The Coyote Kings Vs. the Myconauts of Plutonium City Scrolls 7-8. Kindle. This continues to be a pop culture adventure extravaganza singularity. Where is he going with it, who can say.

Peter Fiennes, Oak and Ash and Thorn: The Ancient Woods and New Forests of Britain. Trees trees trees trees. There are a few places where I felt a little baffled that Fiennes didn’t want to do more comparative work, but on the other hand limiting his scope is admirable in his way: he is by God writing about the woods and forests of Britain, and other comparable latitudes and habitats are not the point. There are also tidbits about forest creatures and the evolution of the British forest as habitat, although I feel like there could have been still more about what one is to do with a well-documented habitat as its climate changes–when the previous state literally could not be restored no matter what, how do you shape policy goals for its wild or wild-ish habitats? That was not Fiennes’s purpose here, and that’s okay, I still like tree books.

Nancy Kress, Beaker’s Dozen and Trinity and Other Stories. Rereads. What a relief to find some old favorites (and even a few more minor works) more or less where I’d left them, deftly characterized and passionately thought through.

Mary Oliver, Dog Songs. A poetry collection focused on Oliver’s dogs. Not entirely free of dog death, not handled graphically or in a maudlin way, but still: if you are not up for the raw emotions of losing a dog right now (or in fact on any day), tread carefully here, have someone recommend a few of the delightful works here that are not about that.

Susan Orlean, Saturday Night. Kindle. This was written to be a study of American casual leisure, more or less, in the handful of years leading up to the year it came out (1990). From this distance it ends up looking more like a portrait of the late ’80s as a cultural phenomenon. There are all sorts of things that Orlean carefully explains that strike me as common knowledge, like what a quinceaƱera is, and then others that have fallen completely by the wayside, like the ideas and attitudes around video rental. It was a very strange time warp of a book.

John Ruskin, The Queen of the Air/Being a Study of the Greek Myths of Cloud and Storm. Kindle. OH JOHN RUSKIN NO. Look, I keep reading John Ruskin as background for a story I’m writing, but he is not going to be the hero of that story, I’ll tell you that much for free. And he keeps going on about how you can tell that Western art is superior to non-Western art because blah blah reasons–that all of Greek art is superior to all of Chinese art and then he sets up his bullshit that is often not even true, but even if it was it wouldn’t mean that and it’s all so insecure and pointless and you just want to give him a time out until he can treat the other children with respect. Occasionally he’ll have a sensible line about a particular painting and then right away he will ruin it with crashing racism. YUCK.

Siegfried Sassoon, Picture-Show. Kindle. Sassoon is of course a Great War poet, and this is one of the volumes of Great War poetry that came out in 1919, full of anguish and the trenches. It is very thoroughly itself, but go in braced if you’re going in at all.

James C. Scott, Against the Grain: A Deep History of the Earliest States. Scott has a bone to pick with agriculture–several, really–and he is not always careful along the way. I think he is most interesting when he’s taking down assumptions, not always as clear-headed when he’s building his own conjectures. There is a great deal about early agriculture that’s clearly not as we thought it would be, and this book has a great deal that’s interesting about it, but also a great deal that it misses, I think.

Breanna Teintze, Lord of Secrets. Discussed elsewhere.

Lynne Thomas, Michael Damian Thomas, Michi Trota, et al, Uncanny Magazine Issue 29. Kindle. I make a policy of not reviewing magazine issues I’m in, and I’m in this.

Tade Thompson, The Murders of Molly Southbourne. Kindle. A creepy and satisfying novella, far outside my usual range in the direction of horror but well worth the time.

Jessie L. Weston, Sir Gawain and the Lady of Lys. Kindle. True confessions time: of all the knights of the Round Table, Sir Gawain is my dude. So yeah, I’ll duck my head in to read early 20th century authors doing versions of Belgian things. Hell yes I will, every once in awhile, on airplanes, under stress. Sir Gawain relaxes me.

Jane Yolen and Rebecca Guay, The Last Dragon. Graphic novel in a sort of Canty-esque style, very Scottish-ish, a fun fast read with bonus fantasy herbalism.

Damon Young, The Art of Reading. A slim and self-aware volume, fast and reasonably fun to read but honestly…sort of like the others of its kind. If you like books by passionate readers, for passionate readers, it’s that thing.