The Angel of the Crows, by Katherine Addison

Review copy provided by the publisher. Also the author is a personal friend.

This is an object lesson in the value of filing off serial numbers. Really, I mean that wholeheartedly and so very enthusiastically. Because this both is and is not a Sherlock Holmes story. It is clearly, plainly, not trying to hide it, inspired by Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories. And yet it is not a Sherlock Holmes story, it is clearly and firmly not, and the distance between Crow and Holmes, between Watson and Doyle, is enough to pour worlds into. It is not a technicality, it is an opening that lets in an entirely different kind of story.

This story would not be possible if I was comparing, at every turn, to my previously held view of Watson, saying, wait, what? Watson’s secrets are what? How does that square with what I previously know of Watson? Which things are alternate and which am I to keep? I am not to keep things, I am to trust what is built, not about Watson about this new character Dr. J. H. Doyle, whose experience in Afghanistan is not the same, because Doyle has been wounded by one of the Fallen, in a world where angels, vampires, werewolves, and hellhounds are part of the daily landscape.

And they are woven deeply into the fabric of this story. Addison knows the Jack the Ripper facts in our world incredibly well, so she knows how to use them deftly in a story that’s about so many more things. The fantasy elements go deeply into everything here, with thought and care, and the characters are layered and wonderful. I’m just so glad of this book.

Lady of Shadows, by Breanna Teintze

Review copy provided by the author, who is a personal friend and shares an agent with me.

Lady of Shadows catches up with Gray and Brix not long after the events of Breanna’s first book, Lord of Secrets. They have settled into a peaceful life, everything is fine, and this book is basically them having fancy iced cakes with friends while they contemplate which traveling musicians should play for them.

Wait, no. It’s not. Actually it’s not at all. Because magical plague and also Brix’s relatives.

(I should note here that the magical plague is not at all like the real plague we are dealing with right now, and I don’t think it will be the least bit triggering. It is very magical and very, very different. There’s no way around the fact that there is a plague in this book, but it is not stressful, honestly.)

I also wanted to get Alan Rickman in this book to do the bit from Galaxy Quest where he yells at Tim Allen’s character for always managing to get his shirt off. Because Gray? Is always. Managing to get his shirt off. And sometimes the rest of his clothes with it. So many magical tattoo moments! So much naked magician!

The thing about Breanna’s books is that they have heart, they have plot, but they also have just a ridiculous amount of fun packed in. This came at just the right time for me, but I suspect that any time would have been the right time, and I suspect it will be for you too.

The Glass Magician, by Caroline Stevermer

Review copy provided by the author, who is a personal friend.

I was so excited to get this from Caroline, because I’d been hearing bits and pieces of it as it was in progress but didn’t read the manuscript–perfect amounts of information to be optimally excited. And I was not disappointed.

Thalia Cutler is a stage magician, struggling to get by on skill and wit in an alternate twentieth century where the wealthiest families have not only the power of their money but also magical shapechanging powers. As an orphan, she’s worked with her guardian dad’s friend, Nutall, doing the only kinds of magic she knows: sleights of hand, cunning tricks. Then one night a jammed mechanism threatens her life and forces her into a kind of magic she didn’t know she could do.

And then there are the monsters after her.

The rich magicians have resources. The rich magicians have safety. The rich magicians have training. Thalia has what she’s always had, except now angry people trying to figure out what’s going on with her, and also monsters. So that’s fun.

No, really, it’s a lot of fun. For the reader. Not for Thalia so much.

I raced through this book with barely a glance at the outside world. I can’t wait for more.

Driving the Deep, by Suzanne Palmer

Review copy provided by the publisher, and also the author is an online friend.

This is the sequel to last year’s Finder, with the same protagonist: Fergus Ferguson, interplanetary repo man. Fergus has been…changed…by his adventures in the previous volume, giving him some additional, uh…problem-solving options that I don’t want to spoil for you here, and he takes full advantage of them here.

Because he really, really needs to.

Fergus’s strength is his friends, but they’re also his weakness. Particularly when nefarious parties have done their best to kill them all. But where his friends are concerned, Fergus isn’t going down without a fight. Even if that means going way, way down…

Under the frozen waters of Enceladus.

Yeah, the ice moon of Saturn is host to a lot of angry people and their angry secrets, and that’s where Fergus has to do if he wants to save his friends, adopt a cat, and pick apart an additional mystery he didn’t even know he was in on. Spacefaring adventure that crackles with electricity. If you liked Finder, definitely pick up Driving the Deep.

The Scapegracers, by Hannah Abigail Clarke

There is a beautiful passage toward the beginning of The Scapegracers where the character talks about the ways and reasons in which people direct anger and frustration toward girls and young women, why and how they get underestimated. Hannah Abigail Clarke doesn’t make those mistakes.

This is a contemporary fantasy about teenage witches and their friendship, about trying to figure out who you are and what the hell you’re doing in a world with a lot more to it than you expected. So: the teen experience. With cool new friends who sometimes scare you, when you’re scaring yourself, and also horrible enemies, and also a crush, and what even is this fancy restaurant. So: the teen. experience. In so very very many ways.

Sideways and her friends are so well drawn, so very skillfully and respectfully done, and by respectfully I don’t mean that Clarke mistakes them for superheroes or even adults, but that they are allowed to be themselves. They are allowed to be grumpy, bristly, snarky, loving, guilty, full of rage; they are allowed to like eyeliner and worry that they’re screwing up various things; they rush in where wiser heads might advise caution and try things that just might work (but also might not). They are so human and so great, and I’m delighted that this is only their first book.

Books read, early March

Karen Babine, All the Wild Hungers: A Season of Cooking and Cancer. This is about cooking for her mother, who had cancer. Spoiler alert: her mother did not die of cancer in the course of this book! I know that for some of you I just ruined this slim volume of nonfiction, and I’m very sorry, but for others I have made it possible to read the thing. She’s obsessed with secondhand shop Le Creuset, she’s a vegetarian who’s cooking meat for a sick carnivore, and the sick carnivore does not die at this time. You’re welcome. Come on, some stresses we just don’t need right now.

Claire Eliza Bartlett, The Winter Duke. Discussed elsewhere.

Cinelle Barnes, Malaya: Essays on Freedom. I picked this up because of my interest in Malaysia, even under its British colonial name, Malaya. It turns out that Malaya is also the name of Cinelle Barnes’s daughter! Who, if she has anything to do with Malaysia, does not reveal it in the course of these essays! That’s okay, though, because they turned out to be interesting in themselves. Barnes was an undocumented immigrant to the US from the Philippines who managed to regularize her legal status in the US and has very interesting thoughts on that process; she is fierce and detailed and fascinating.

Lois McMaster Bujold, The Orphans of Raspay. Kindle. The latest Penric and Desdemona novella, in which Pen and his demon companion–and various others–are kidnapped by pirates and must effect their escape. Fun for fans of the series but probably not a good beginning place, go back to where Pen starts this whole thing.

Roshani Chokshi, The Gilded Wolves. I have enjoyed Chokshi’s middle grade books, but YA is a whole different ballgame, so I was wondering how this would go. Quite well, it turns out! Gilded Age Paris with a whole bunch of magic and some interesting people like a mathematician, a baker, and a spider enthusiast. There are important friendships as well as romances, there are lovely clothes, there is a lot of swirling color and bright lights in the more general scene-setting sense, and I had fun with this and will be glad to find the sequel.

Pekka Hämäläinen, Lakota America. This is a history of the Lakota in specific and of the Native world around them in general, how they migrated and were pushed. Hämäläinen includes thought and analysis about where and how he uses terms like Lakota, Dakota, Sioux, and so on, and the maps are some of the most sensible maps I have ever seen in books because they are centered on water at all times, so even though north is not always up, you can find Lake Superior or Lake of the Woods or the Missouri River or whatever it is and know just where you are immediately, they’re so intuitive, it’s great. Fascinating, recommended.

Diana Henry, Pure Simple Cooking. I am the wrong audience for this, because mostly I looked at them and thought, well yes, of course. But not everyone is used to thinking in these terms, and if you want to start, this is probably a pretty good place. A few ingredients used quite well, per recipe, probably a good cookbook for that.

Kathy Iandoli, God Save the Queens: the Essential History of Women in Hip-Hop. What a lovely corrective to the hip-hop documentaries that don’t seem to notice women exist at all. (Argh. Argh.) I am not a big hip-hop fan, so for me this is more educating myself than grooving with my faves–although I’m surprised to notice how many faves I already do have–so someone who is better versed in the genre than I am can evaluate it more from that perspective. As a non-expert, I learned a lot, and you might too.

Rosemary Kirstein, The Steerswoman’s Road. Reread. These are such lovely books of inquisitiveness, care, and discovery. I intended to just stop with this volume (which is a two-book omnibus), but I may well just go on and reread all of what’s there, because really…they’re so good. The characters are so focused on learning each other and their world.

Janet Malcolm, Nobody’s Looking at You. I like the personal essay as a form, but it was so nice to pick up a volume of essays that wasn’t focused on how the essayist felt in her early twenties, that instead was external, thinking about how people do things in the world, profiles of others and what Janet Malcolm has thought of them. A few of the essays were more than twenty years old and felt oddly dated to include–I see why she felt they were some really good work at the time, they just sat strangely with the more recent work. But the effect was to make me wish that she’d had more than one collection like this, not to make me wish I hadn’t read them.

Tochi Onyebuchi, Riot Baby. This is a really strong and affecting novella that starts with a very young girl just before the Rodney King verdict and goes into her adult life and her brother’s adult life as Black people trying to work around a corrupt system as best they can. Magic provides a frame, a solace, insight, sometimes relief, but not a fix for that system–which is in some ways more satisfying, acknowledging that we will all have to keep grappling with it from our own angles, that we are not released from the work by having clearer sight of it.

C.M. Waggoner, Unnatural Magic. For me this book demonstrated one of the risks of having multiple points of view–Margaret Atwood has also had this problem–which is that sometimes I like one point of view vastly, vastly more than another. It was only toward the end, as they began to converge, that I was not impatient with one thread of this book and constantly wanting to get back to the other, but as with other competent multi-POV authors (see also Atwood) it would not have made much sense if I’d just skipped half the prose. Still: there is a stubborn and mathetmatically minded magical protagonist here, and she was worth my time.

Lawrence Wechsler, And How Are You, Dr. Sacks? Wechsler was going to be Oliver Sacks’s biographer. Became his friend. Then Sacks realized that he really, truly did not want a biographer while he was alive, largely because of attitudes about his sexuality during his upbringing. Wechsler, as his friend, acquiesced to his wishes and went on to write other things and hang out more with Sacks. For the rest of his life. And this is a very strange book as a consequence. It’s not the comprehensive biography someone should write–Wechsler knows what material there is to go through for that, knows that this is not it. It’s more of a memoir of a friendship, with the notes for what could have been more of a biography of who Oliver Sacks was in his younger years, except he kept going. Worth reading, interesting, funny, sad, sure, but weirdly shaped, and not just in the ways that anything about Oliver Sacks was going to come out nonstandard.

Jacqueline Woodson, Red at the Bone. This is fundamentally a family story. It’s novella length, multiple viewpoints, long timeline, just different views of how a family views their family life. It has major events in it–the birth of an unexpected child is central, but so is 9/11, and yet…I think this is the first book I read that treated 9/11 sensitively but historically. The people who are directly affected are very clearly hurt, but not in a way that is automatically the only thing the book is about, the way it would have been in 2003 or even I think 2010. Just as now we can have stories where World War II changed people forever–it changed my grandmother, and so many people we know–but know something of the shape of how the survivors’ stories go on. Perhaps now is a good time for a story where an event most people who are old enough to enjoy reading this book can be devastating, can be recognized as devastating, but still have an “after”…but perhaps not if you’re a direct survivor yourself, so I wanted to flag that.

The Fortress, by S.A. Jones

Review copy provided by Erewhon Books.

This is the first book I’ve gotten to review from Erewhon, I believe the first book they’re putting out at all. It’s an interesting choice to set the tone for their new imprint–very much a book both of the current moment and of science fiction’s past.

Jonathon Bridge is a man at odds with himself. He’s not even sure he understands everything that has upset his wife–the details unfold over the course of the book–but one of the conditions for staying in their marriage and co-parenting their child is that he spend a year in The Fortress. The Fortress is a woman-run city-state which men only enter under certain extremely narrow conditions–basically a gender serfdom.

This feels like a book from the ’70s. It has all the “and then it’s a fortress OF WOMEN” and “let’s learn about gender in a very encounter-y sort of way” elements that…there were LOADS of those, some of you read fourteen of them the year you were fourteen, I know I did. And I feel like S.A. Jones was maybe one of us and wanted to read one of them and realized how INCREDIBLY PROBLEMATIC all of those ’70s gender encounter books are in retrospect and said, huh, let’s do one in the present moment that people can read right now without screaming. There is a lot more emphasis on consent, on structural problems, on being part of structural problems even if you are not the worst of them. On empathy and understanding other people’s viewpoints. So if you grew up with those ’70s gender encounter books and feel like you’d like another that’s more up-to-date, this is definitely for you–and if you have no idea what I’m talking about, this might also be for you.

I do wonder whether this will age any better than the previous iterations did. I wonder whether the things that it is saying about learning what it feels like to be helpless, to consent and then feel uncertain about the free value of that consent, the context of that consent, all of those things…will feel retrograde and gross. But that’s how we get there. We don’t get there by never talking about it, by never going off and thinking about what someone else said. We get there by doing another round of them and then saying, okay, but, but this thing, it doesn’t take into account this other thing, and then this, and also that. That’s how conversation works, that’s how discourse works.

There’s a lot about sex and gender and consent in here, and I feel like Erewhon’s opening statement was: we know what this field is, and we want to move the discourse forward, even if it’s sometimes uncomfortable.

Well, okay. Thanks. I’ll look forward to that.

Books read, late February

John W. Baldwin, Paris, 1200. This is a very convenient title that will help me to find this book for reference on the shelf. It does just what it says on the tin: talks about Paris and what was going on there in 1200 or thereabouts, what guilds were there, what taxes, what nobles, what clergy. Extremely useful reference for a fantasy writer who wanted to not just do quasi-Medieval whosits that were copies of copies of copies.

Ta-Nehisi Coates, The Water Dancer. I was really interested in what Coates would do with his first novel, and I was not disappointed. I think he’s much stronger as a writer of historical fiction than as a fabulist, but the fantastical element of this novel was handled with a light touch anyway, the strongest focus being on the characterization and setting.

Paul Cornell, The Lights Go Out in Lychford. Most recent Lychford novella, and as you can expect from the title, big changes in Lychford. The small modern British village relationships continue to be beautifully done and absolutely meaningful to the fantastical element.

S.B. Divya, Contingency Plans for the Apocalypse and Other Possible Situations. I had read a bunch of these stories already, but I was glad to have permanent copies of them, and glad to encounter the new stories in this volume. Divya is the kind of SF I’m always wishing I had more of.

Louise Erdrich, Future Home of the Living God. This was incredible, searing, amazing. It’s an apocalyptic story of environmental disruption and family and pregnancy and dystopic response, here in Minnesota. The author and the main character are both Anishinaabe, and it matters deeply to the story. This is one of the best apocalyptic novels I’ve ever read, and if you like that sub-genre of SF, you entirely may have missed it, because I did not see it discussed as SF at all when it was published a few years ago, I only saw it discussed as Native fiction/Minnesota fiction. Go find the cool stuff structural bias may be hiding from you, namely this.

Lisa Goldstein, Ivory Apples. This is another in the sub-genre I’ve noticed lately, books about relatives of famous fictional authors. I’m bemused by this sub-genre, I still blame the fate of Christopher Robin Milne for it but also I think it is just less interesting to be related to us than other writers want to think. (“Oh my God it’s so cool your aunt is a writer,” someone will probably say to a niece of mine at some point, and they will be like, “Yeah!” and then we will go on with our lives, because…welp.) Anyway Goldstein at the very least leans into her premise. The family in question doesn’t just suffer a little, they fall apart completely, there is major trauma, there is more than one bit of magic and more than one adult making bad choices for children, and generally it is all a disaster that is only slightly mitigated by the magic of artistic creation. So she’s got a better handle on it than the rest of them I guess.

Barbara Hambly, Lady of Perdition. The latest Benjamin January mystery, and when I looked at the cover copy I howled, “oh nooooo don’t go to the Republic of Texas,” but they went to the Republic of Texas anyway, because characters in books hardly ever do what you tell them to even when you’re writing them, much less when they’ve already been written and published by someone else. Still: don’t start here, this is very much a late entry in this series, but a reasonably satisfying one. (Noooo! Don’t go to the Republic of Texas!)

Diana Henry, Plenty. Cookbook focused on simple things, I flipped through it from the library, found it reasonable but a lot of what she advises is stuff I already know how to do, so–if you don’t, probably a reasonable choice. (I may be picking up more library cookbooks with roughly this result. I don’t expect a lot more, but if I look at one or two recipes and say, oh hey, I could do something like that but completely different, that’s really all I want out of a cookbook from the library.)

Isabel Ibañez, Woven in Moonlight. This is Bolivian-inspired fantasy by a Bolivian-American author, and it is charming and lovely, and the weaving element in the title is literal. That was all I needed to want to read this book immediately, and I wasn’t disappointed, but you may want to know that there’s also a dispute about whose revolution has the moral right and awwww yes I am so very there.

Tove Jansson, Fair Play and The Woman Who Borrowed Memories. The first: a novella in a series of vignettes about two women artists, amazing, amazing. They are very Finnish, but they travel, they make art, they argue but not upsettingly so, I love them so much, I love this entire thing. And the second: a collection of short stories that periodically made me gasp out loud and pound the desk with my fist. I love her so much.

Nicholas Jubber, Epic Continent: Adventures in the Great Stories of Europe. A ramble about the continent and also England, exploring the commonalities of theme and story in six different European epics, with digressions into various thoughts he’d had along the way, charming and fun especially if you like thinking about epics, which yes, I definitely do.

Janet Kagan, The Collected Kagan. Kindle. I’m afraid I was disappointed in this one. I really love Mirabile and Hellspark and was hoping for more of the same here, but I found most of these stories gimmicky and flat. A few of them were quite good, but nothing up to the level of those two volumes, alas, and there were random things collected that…really could have been left uncollected. (Her introduction to James Schmitz’s work, for example, was not such a piece of stand-alone literary criticism that it needed to be reprinted in this context. Sometimes completism can go too far.)

Lydia Millet, The Shimmers in the Night. I continue to be amazed at how much Millet has committed to attempting to replicate the virtues and flaws of a Madeleine L’Engle book in a contemporary version–in this case there are serious Wind in the Door resonances as well as the more general L’Engliness. It was a fun fast read once you accept that the kids’ slang resembles no kids’ slang ever and some of the plot makes no sense, and I do want to know where the series is going–especially because the end of this series is a much harder structural pattern to follow.

Ralph O’Connor, Icelandic Histories and Romances. This is, of course, romances in the older sense, not in the sense of people falling in love. O’Connor has a bunch of theory about these genres and then translates a bunch of them, and they’re weird, though not as weird as the legendary sagas. Probably more a volume for completists than for casual medieval tale readers.

Daniel José Older, The Book of Lost Saints. A ghost story about family and the Cuban Revolution and what came after, forgiveness and love and…so very much family. So very much, and this is my jam and I think those of you who like the family element in my fiction will love this.

Malka Older, …And Other Disasters. An interesting very short set of short speculative stories, in some ways very much a departure from her novels.

Mary Oliver, Felicity. Love and nature poetry, rather breathless, not where I would start with her work but I was perfectly glad to read it.

Maria Tatar, Enchanted Hunters: The Power of Stories in Childhood and Off With Their Heads! Fairy Tales and the Culture of Childhood. I really like how Tatar is happy to talk about children as people with agency, and particularly how children’s interpretations of story and adult intention of story are not always the same thing. Yes good, more of this.

The Winter Duke, by Claire Eliza Bartlett

Review copy provided by the author, who is a personal friend and represented by the same agent as me.

One of the things I often talk about most enthusiastically in my blog series about long-established older writers is their breadth of ideas. My favorite writers often have a scope that makes me happy, ideas where one book will be wildly different from another. This is only Claire’s second book, but already she’s displaying the kind of range that I praise in authors with decades-long careers.

Claire’s first book, We Rule the Night, was a breathless adventure in magical airplanes, inspired by the Soviet Union’s Night Witches, all fire and fight. The Winter Duke is like the ice roses that pervade its castle: chilly and perfectly formed, ready to melt at a touch.

Ekata is one of the many middle children in the ducal family of Kylma Above. One of her siblings will be the heir, but she has always known that it would not be her. She would go off to university to study the natural world and be far, far from her murderously squabbling family. The only thing she expected to miss about Kylma Above was its proximity to Kylma Below–the realm below the frozen lake that is the source of the magic harvest, a fascination to Ekata’s keenly curious mind.

And then disaster strikes. Just as her brother is about to choose a spouse, Ekata’s entire family is struck down by an unprecedented–and apparently magical–plague. She is the only one left conscious. She must take the reins of political power–and with them the reins of magical power above the lake’s surface, in the air-breathing human realms–before someone takes them from her.

Someone like her extremely gross foster brother Sigis.

And when you ask, “You and what army?”, Sigis is like, “Oh, this army right here that I brought with me,” and I hate him and would like to throw him off a cliff.

On the other hand, there is Ekata’s newest ally…her temporary bride, Inkar. Inkar is fierce, Inkar is determined, and Inkar is incredibly confused by the culture she’s dealing with here. Basically half of Inkar’s dialog can be paraphrased as “YOU WHAT BUT WHY.” And since she is dealing with a very icy region…look, we get this a lot, okay? So Inkar is very relatable, not for me, but for…basically everyone who visits me. Inkar is how people are.

And then the magic, the magic under the frozen lake, oh, oh that is so…so very right. It fits, it works, it is so much fun but not in a…fluffy ponies on a picnic way. This is magic red in tooth and claw, this is the kind of magic that spawns the kind of duchy we see above it. This is a world with room to improve, and characters fighting to improve it. And themselves. Which is very like We Rule the Night, but also completely different.

Well done, Claire. Highly recommended.

Books read, early February

James Baldwin, The Fire Next Time. I had not read this fairly famous set of essays, and now I have. It was horrifying and instructive, as of course you would expect it to be. I think that in some ways the fact that it is a few generations ago and it is his cri de coeur about his experience of racism, direct and unfiltered, makes it not my first recommendation of Baldwin or of this kind of essay. I feel like his fiction and the contemporary equivalent of these essays are the things I’d hand to people if they’re going to read only one thing by him or only one of this type of essay, because the historical nature of it makes it easier for people to take the message as an historical message rather than one with contemporary relevance, and I feel like that’s less true of his plays/novels. But it’s still very much worth reading as long as you’re going to think carefully about it.

Bob Cary, Born to Pull: The Glory of Sled Dogs. I read very little middle grade nonfiction, but this was recommended for all ages of people who are interested in sled dogs. Not complicated but beautifully done.

Paul Cornell, A Long Day in Lychford. This is the third novella in its series, and in a lot of ways it’s a series of novellas that’s more of a serialization of a longer piece of fiction, so there are parts of the relationships, characterization, and setting that will be hard to pick up at this point. It doesn’t really stand alone. What it does do well: take on Brexit head on with a fantasy conceit. Oh my goodness, it had been a minute since I read the previous one in the series, and I had not braced myself for how much Cornell was just going to square up and do that. Wow. Wow.

Fernando Flores, Tears of the Truffle-Pig. This was a little bit influenced by SF about genetic engineering of animal species and a lot influenced by Latinx fabulism, and it’s US/Mexico border SF/F that isn’t entirely like anything else.

Lisa Goldstein, Travellers in Magic. Reread. Kindle. I had read these before and didn’t remember much about them, and I’m afraid I didn’t find them very memorable this time around either. Neither were they bad or offensive, they were generally pretty readable, just not her best work, in my opinion.

Geoffrey Hindley, A Brief History of the Anglo-Saxons. Actually more a history of the Anglo-Saxon (/early English) kings, but that’s fine, that’s useful in its own way as long as you’re clear on what you’re doing and willing to look further for the rest of things, which I am.

Nalo Hopkinson, Dominike Stanton, and John Rauch, House of Whispers Volume One: The Power Divided. This is in the Sandman universe, but with Caribbean gods and loa and a mostly new set of characters from this author. It is the kind of graphic novel collection that is not at all required to be a complete story arc, so there will be more of this story to come.

Tove Jansson, The Woman Who Borrowed Memories. These stories were amazing. The first one was so good that I had to set the book down and make noises about it. The characterization is just incredibly spot-on beautifully done, and I love it, I love this collection so much, I am so happy with it, oh gosh, so good.

A.K. Larkwood, The Unspoken Name. Discussed elsewhere.

Long Litt Woon, The Way Through the Woods: On Mushrooms and Mourning. This is a memoir of a woman who lost her husband very suddenly and unexpectedly in middle age and took up mushroom hunting as part of figuring out what to do with herself in the aftermath of his passing. She was born in Malaysia but had moved to Norway as an exchange student and stayed there when she met her husband, so part of this story is how she determined that she was going to stay there even once he was gone, how she made the Norwegian forest landscape more her own. It’s not very long, and I liked it.

Maria Mitsora, On My Aunt’s Shallow Grave, White Roses Have Already Bloomed. Short stories in translation, a very slim volume, a little surrealist and a little puzzling, but fine.

Cynthia Ozick, Heir to the Glimmering World. Another in the sub-genre of “people deal with their proximity to a fictional famous author,” in this case one mostly offstage, and also there’s the eccentric family of an immigrant scholar, and also a young woman making her way in the world of the 1930s. If you like that sort of thing.

C.L. Polk, Stormsong. Even when I say that a sequel deals with consequences, usually there is at least a little glossing over of the awkward bits. But this sequel to the excellent and (!!!) award-winning Witchmark does not spare its characters the social or moral implications of what they’ve done. They have to figure out how to handle it, exactly how to handle it–there’s no “oh I’m sure there’s some way to”–nope, who gets arrested, who has to say something upsetting to which powerful person’s face, exactly how does speaking really horrible truth to really powerful power play out here. It’s amazingly done, it’s really powerful, and I recommend it highly.

Danez Smith, Homie. These poems are soft and hard and particular and beautiful and ugly and just what I needed. There is one in particular that makes me cry every time I read it, “I’m Going Back To Minnesota Where Sadness Makes Sense,” but the others that are in some way the opposite, the others that are not my own perspective whatsoever, are enlightening in their own way too. Highly recommended.

Mariko Tamaki, Lumberjanes: Ghost Cabin. This is another of the middle grade novels in the same setting/with the same characters as the Lumberjanes comics. This one sets the group on a path to encounter some of the Lumberjanes who went before, and to help them to figure out where they want to be now that they’ve…gone beyond. Friendship to the max, even beyond the grave. So much fun.

Thant Myint-U, The Hidden History of Burma: Race, Capitalism, and the Crisis of Democracy in the 21st Century. It is very strange to read a history book that happened not only during my lifetime, not only during my adult lifetime, but mostly during the most recent part of my adult lifetime. It’s extremely useful, because the stuff that Thant is talking about here was drastically underreported in the news media I was reading. If you don’t know what the situation is in Burma in any great detail, this is a good place to go.

Jesmyn Ward, ed., The Fire This Time: A New Generation Speaks About Race. As should be clear from the title, this is an essay collection inspired by James Baldwin’s famous essays, above. Ward asked a bunch of people to write on a very broad interpretation of this topic, and most of what she got is really interesting, some of it even brilliant. There are two essays that relate to what I would broadly describe as the historical Black experience in New England that were just mind-blowing. One essay for some reason needed to footnote its cis-essentialist viewpoint for reasons I still don’t understand, and I want to flag that, because otherwise this is great and what is that footnote even doing, and I wouldn’t want someone to come upon it unprepared and think I thought that part was great too. But there is so much else worth reading in this collection.

Jane Yolen, Things to Say to a Dead Man: Poems at the End of a Marriage and After. This is harrowing and well done and I cried in several spots. If you are the sort of person who grieves communally through literature, this may well be for you; if you know such a person, this may well be for them. If you are the sort of person who does not want your grief highlighted by that kind of commonality, steer well clear of this book.