Books read, early April

Graham Annable, Peter and Ernesto: A Tale of Two Sloths. Discussed elsewhere.

Deborah Cadbury, Princes at War: The Bitter Battle Inside Britain’s Royal Family in the Darkest Days of WWII. I think one of the things that people who are from a non-royalist country find a little difficult to wrap their heads around sometimes is which kinds of influence royal families have in which cases, in a modern situation. This book was valuable for that alone: lots of very specific instances of what the royal family could and could not do, what was expected of it, how it influenced the government and how the government influenced it. Not a staggering, world-altering book, but does what it says on the tin.

Jonathan I. Israel, The Expanding Blaze: How the American Revolution Ignited the World, 1775-1848. Jonathan Israel is my go-to author for things about Radical Enlightenment, and what he’s doing here is tracing threads of that going into and coming out of the American Revolution: how it influenced other countries and how those influences came back into America. He goes into places this kind of discussion often misses but shouldn’t: Haiti, Latin America, South Africa, Greece, the Netherlands. He is often trenchant and fascinating. He also has a very particular focus/fixation, and he wants his terms to keep meaning the things he wants them to mean, so “radical” is supposed to mean “Spinozist,” dammit, and round about 1848 it stops meaning that, dammit, and they did not ask Jonathan Israel. But it is generally, like his other doorstops, worth the read. He remembers that Gouverneur Morris existed and was important! He remembers Olympe de Gouges! It’s at very useful right-angles with a lot of other history of this period.

Leena Krohn, Collected Fiction. This is also a doorstop. It’s a rare opportunity in two ways: one, to read Krohn’s work in English (she is a Finnish author), and two, to read a prose writer’s work all at once, in sequence, the way one can do with the collected works of a poet. This isn’t quite everything. But it’s a substantial fraction of Krohn’s work, and it allows the reader to watch her style and ideas evolve. She does a lot of episodic/fragmentary style, which makes it easier to read such a large volume in small bites and still take it all in, the strange cities and their stranger denizens looping back around each other, insect people, plants, pelicans living among humans. I am so glad and so grateful that we have more translated strange works than we did when I was a teenager, so that I can have this.

Yoon Ha Lee, Raven Stratagem. I have always been a middle book person, and the end of this middle book particularly was very satisfying to me. I found how he handled the mathy/calendrical nature of the worldbuilding really fine. A lot of spoilers would lead up to that, so…yep, as of the end of this twisty volume I am glad to still be going with this series.

Anna Meriano, Love Sugar Magic: A Dash of Trouble. This is a warm and loving book about a Tejanx Latinx family that runs a magical bakery and misadventures of the youngest member of that family trying to claim–and understand–her magical birthright. I found it so charming, cozy without being cloying, highly recommended for kids on up. (Although it made me hungry for cinnamon rolls.)

Tochi Onyebuchi, Beasts Made of Night. For some reason I had gotten the impression that this was a very different kind of book than it is, but it was still fun. YA fantasy with lots of action and intriguing worldbuilding, young people struggling with the strictures of power and social bonds none of which fit quite right, but not using usual fantasy genre-furniture, building with very different blocks.

V.E. Schwab, A Conjuring of Light. The conclusion of a series, and wow were there a lot of ends to tie up in the parallel worlds here. Schwab had to just keep tying, and there were sections, set pieces, callbacks from previous themes…it wasn’t entirely tidy, but it did all fit together. I wouldn’t recommend starting here. This is definitely an ending. On the other hand: this series is now complete, so if you wait for that, here you go.

Michael Sedgwick and Thomas Taylor, Scarlett Hart, Monster Hunter. Discussed elsewhere.

Michael W. Twitty, The Cooking Gene: A Journey Through African American Culinary History in the Old South. This is a rambling and personal account that touches on all sorts of interesting points in Southern cooking, and in the foodways of America in general. Twitty relies a bit heavily on DNA testing sites for my tastes, but he takes a long look inward and connects it outward in ways that end up being really interesting, and he’s done very concrete research into what things taste and feel like. I’m very glad I read this.

Jennifer Wright, Get Well Soon: History’s Worst Plagues and the Heroes Who Fought Them. I am not the target audience for this book. The target audience for this book does not read monographs about specific instances of yellow fever. The target audience for this book is looking for a breezy, humorously written book with a chapter each about different historical diseases. That…is probably a lot more people than a lot of what I read, honestly. Wright brushes past some issues in historiography (why, for example, some biographers decline to state for certain whether their subjects had syphilis: hint, it is usually because they do not know), but in general if you want an overview, this is probably an entertaining way to get one.

Peter and Ernesto: A Tale of Two Sloths, by Graham Annable

Review copy provided by First Second Books

This is a picture book story of two sloths who go on adventures separately and find each other again at the end. It’s graphic novel length but picture book age, so…long picture book? If a kid talks you into reading this for their “one more book” before bedtime, I hope they’re a pretty big kid, or you got conned.

The two sloths enjoy watching clouds, but one of them, Ernesto, wants to see more of the sky, different kinds of sky. Peter is more worried, less daring, but when Ernesto leaves on his adventure, Peter wants him home safe. So he goes out after him and meets his own new friends, sees his own new habitats…less enthusiastically, and in more detail.

There’s not really any kind of acknowledgment that their differences could be good, here, just: here are two personalities seeing the world, seeing the world is great, here is a cranky tapir, here is a flock of lackadaisical crabs. The illustrations have their own very specific character, minimalist without being sparse, and somebody will probably attach hard to Murphy the parrot or some other character in particular. I think this is probably more of a little kids’ picture book than an all ages’ picture book, but it’s reasonably charming, not going to be offensive to big people for the first forty-leven reads.

Please consider using our link to buy Peter and Ernesto: A Tale of Two Sloths from Amazon.

Scarlett Hart, Monster Hunter, by Marcus Sedgwick and Thomas Taylor

Review copy provided by First Second Books.

Scarlett Hart lives in an Edwardian-esque world filled with monsters and horrors. Ghosts, mummies, tentacle beasts, it’s all there. Underage people aren’t supposed to be monster hunters, but since the death of her parents, she and her butler Napoleon White have been carrying on the family business, with Napoleon delivering their catches/kills to the Academy. (The acronym for the monster hunting academy convolutes itself to be TRAPEZE, which tells you a lot about the convolutions in this book and which ones the author considers clever.)

This is a graphic novel aimed at young readers. It’s adventure fantasy. There are gadgets, there is loyalty and frustration at the establishment, there are conveniently absent parents to be avenged. There are a lot of stock elements, which is not wrong, just…not a lot that is new here. Which perhaps its young audience won’t mind, and it goes quickly.

Please consider using our link to buy Scarlett Hart, Monster Hunter from Amazon.

Books read, late March

Chaz Brenchley, Dust-Up At the Crater School, Chapters 13-15. Kindle. This is quite episodic, but the episodes are fun, they’re literally kids having fun in a boarding school setting but also Mars. And on it goes. Don’t start in the middle, there’s literally no reason to.

Tobias Buckell, Necahual. Kindle. The way I report what I read is a little weird, but short stories that are individual ebooks get listed in my booklog as individual ebooks, so here this one is: colonialism on an alien planet, a soldier who learns unexpected things about empire.

C.J. Cherryh, Emergence. The latest Atevi book, the latest chunk of story carved off the giant story that is this series. This is really no longer a set of individual books, it’s ongoing story the way soap opera is ongoing story, except about alien-human politics. I love it and am fond of reading the latest installment even though I don’t usually like serials, and I have friends I gossip with about the characters. I’d love to have more friends like that if you want to join that number, but…it’s a lot of investment, I do admit. And I get frustrated with some threads submerged, but they do come around again, and…more great-grandmother! more Kyo!…okay, okay.

Rupert Christensen, Paris Babylon: The Story of the Paris Commune. You know how I often say “does what it says on the tin”? This spends about 3/4 of the book talking about lead-up to the Paris Commune, doing only sort of what it says on the tin. And I see why, and it’s sort of interesting, but…Paris Commune. Really interesting. Not just in its surrounding and more-imperial bits. Lots of decadence here. I have gotten past the point of thinking that if I learn more about post-Revolutionary French government it will make sense. Now I just keep learning more about the fractal nonsense, and this is another piece of that.

George Eliot, The Lifted Veil. Kindle. This is definitely not the first George Eliot you should read. (Middlemarch, you should read Middlemarch, in fact if you do read Middlemarch there is a serious chance that you will become permanently slightly wistful that you are not reading Middlemarch again AT ANY GIVEN MOMENT OF YOUR LIFE.) This is a very weird little novella that has sort of the…Lydgate family dynamics without the balance of the rest of Middlemarch…plus a weird Victorian run at a speculative element. It fascinates me when the Victorians do that, but not necessarily in a good way, unless you discovered that you loved George Eliot, which…I did when reading…yes…Middlemarch. But I was on a plane and did not want to commit, so…gosh, what an odd novella this is.

Andrea Hairston, Will Do Magic for Small Change. Two-layered historical novel, interesting angles of history and characterization and relationship, related to her other novel Redwood and Wildfire but it’s not necessary to read that one to get this one. Satisfying and fun with poignant parts.

Matthew Kressel, The Meeker and the All-Seeing Eye. Kindle. Another short one in ebook format, a far-far future thing where everyone is learning something, just not necessarily what they thought. (And currently free. -ed)

Kei Miller, The Last Warner Woman. A Jamaican novel about foresight and caregiving and how we tell stories. I liked the beginning of it, but I am really kind of exhausted with books that collapse into violent misogyny even if the tone is not violently misogynist, so…be forewarned, I guess. Sigh.

George O’Connor, Olympians: Hermes: Tales of the Trickster. Discussed elsewhere.

Sofi Oksanen, Norma. Deeply weird book about hair and trafficking and magic. The American cover makes it look very sweet and dreamy, and…Lord, is it not that. It is noir magic with hair salons and a great many of you probably need that weirdness who would not have seen it in the pastels of the cover art. It looks princessy. It is very, very not princessy.

Rafael Rosado and Jorge Aguirre, Monsters Beware!. Discussed elsewhere.

Timothy Snyder, Sketches from a Secret War: A Polish Artist’s Mission to Liberate Soviet Ukraine. This is a bizarre and interesting book. I think one of the things I loved about it was the sense of feeling of interwar Poland it gave. What was it actually like to be in Poland between the two world wars. (“Interwar” is probably a misnomer, because Poland was not really interconflict at any point, at least not emotionally reliably so.) I get very defensive of how historians write about Poland in that period, because some of them act like Poland could have…somehow magically not been on plains between Germany and Russia? And this gets into Poland: trying to deal with Ukraine having some sense of what on earth was going on in Ukraine during the Ukrainian Famine. Which is horrific, and this is a very difficult book. And yet also gonzo-weird, because Poland: they were basically like your group of friends, they had a bunch of mathematicians, some modern artists, a few classically trained musicians but not enough to make an ensemble coherently, a couple of people with horses, and they were like, right, this is who we’ve got, we’ve got to deal with authoritarians now from several angles, who’s gonna do it, I guess we’ll send the Cubist dude in? okay? because it’s not like any of us has commando training or something? And some historians are like, Poles, haha so stupid why did they send a Cubist to try to deal with the authoritarians, hahaha! But look, when you’ve got a hammer, you hammer in the morning, and when you’ve got a Cubist and the Ukrainian Famine, you don’t shrug and say sorry Ukrainians I guess, you try with the bloody Cubist, it’s not like it would have been better if he’d been representational by inclination, and this is that book, in all its very weird and incredibly upsetting glory. (This has been your Marissa Feels Strongly About Interwar Poland Report Of The Day. Tune in later. There will be another. Who knows when. Used bookstores spit these things out for me.)

Jonathan Strahan, ed., Infinity Wars. An anthology of far-future hard SF, at varying degrees of emotional remove, and you can basically map how the story will work for me by how far the emotional remove is.

Olympians: Hermes: Tales of the Trickster, by George O’Connor

Review copy provided by First Second Books.

I suppose there’s some kind of outside chance that not every comics artist wants to draw Argus Panoptes. But really, this is one of the characters that has the cool visuals, and O’Connor plays it to the max. Argus is part of the ongoing framing device in this volume, so he has plenty of chance to do a lot of different poses as O’Connor cycles through different aspects of Hermes–his infancy, his son Pan, his assistance with the fight against Typhon.

This is the tenth in a long series of comics about the Greek gods, with recurring style and references, treating the entire family of Olympians as a cast to be worked with and re-deployed. A series without arc plot is a great trick if you can manage to keep reader interest: no one has to have read anything else to enjoy a comic about Hermes if that’s the one they happen to be interested in first, but one volume easily does lead to another. The gods of Egypt make an appearance in this volume, in a weird moment of syncretism that is not entirely to my taste, but it’s an entertaining enough work and a reasonable introduction to the subject matter. My godkids love to page through these, and I don’t feel bad about leaving them around on an end-table when they’re visiting, giving them a quick introduction to Baucis and Philemon before they’re hip-deep in Haydn and need to know what’s up.

Please consider using our link to buy Olympians: Hermes: Tales of the Trickster from Amazon.

Monsters Beware! by Rafael Rosado and Jorge Aguirre

Review copy provided by First Second Books.

Claudette, her brother Gaston, and their pal Marie have been chosen to be their village’s representatives in the Warrior Games. Gaston would rather be making gelato (as indeed who among us would not, in real life), and Marie is more concerned with diplomacy than its failed endgames. But someone has to represent them against all the other kingdoms, and Claudette would really like to win. Really. Really really.

Meanwhile Marie and Gaston are pretty sure that some of the other competitors are not what they seem, and that there are more important things than winning.

And the Warrior Games…keep getting less warlike with every stage of the competition. Except for the unofficial parts, which keep getting more and more alarmingly violent (in cartoon terms of course).

This is a kids’ graphic novel. It’s not a deep one. It’s a lot like an average episode of kids’ TV–not Steven Universe or Gravity Falls or Avatar: the Last Airbender, not one of the really good ones. Just something mildly entertaining I guess. These two authors know how to hit beats that make it story. And yet. And yet.

These are two male authors who are once again doing the thing that the male reviewer says on the front is “the strong female character every book-loving child needs to read about!”…by making sure that she *hates dresses* and *hates girly stuff*. Oh. So that again. Also…this is a “syndicated episode of mediocre kids’ TV” level of consequence-free plot. If you’re looking for emotional heft, maybe look somewhere else.

Don’t get me wrong, there are some reasonably entertaining moments here. But this is pretty standard fare with cute art, not by any stretch groundbreaking work for feminism, fantasy adventure, or really much of anything else. Even fairly little kids will feel cozy and familiar in this plot line, not startled and challenged.

Books read, early March

Penelope Bagieu, Brazen: Rebel Ladies Who Rocked the World. Discussed elsewhere.

Brooke Bolander, The Only Harmless Great Thing. Radiation. Elephants. Anger, rebellion, community. There is a lot in not very much space in this novella. It’s an alternate history, but…perhaps not as far alternate as it could be.

Thekla Clark, Wystan and Chester: A Personal Memoir of W.H. Auden and Chester Kallman. I am deeply fond of Auden, and this is a friend of his writing about their friendship, more or less. The shape of Wystan and Chester’s partnership, and their friendship with Clark and her family, is described lovingly but not inattentively; she does not need her friends to be perfect to love them. And there were moments that made me feel so very fond of one of my favorite poets, and I have always had moments that made me feel so very exasperated by him, so that wasn’t really a surprise. Also this is a very short book–Clark is not trying to do a comprehensive biography, she’s doing what it says on the tin–so there’s really no time to get tired of it before it’s over.

Grace L. Dillon, ed., Walking the Clouds: An Anthology of Indigenous Science Fiction. This is the kind of anthology that is substantially excerpts from longer works rather than the kind that is largely stand-alone works, although there are a few of those. So I felt like it gave me ideas for things to pursue and read rather than complete reading experiences. (I am far to the end of the “does not read serials” end of the spectrum; this may not be the same for everyone.) Given how little-promoted indigenous SF is, this still has value. The other caveat I would give is that this was somewhat difficult to read right now given how heavily influenced it is by Sherman Alexie. He is cited/quoted widely in the introductions to other authors’ work; he is treated as the guy for this field, and…that’s not an easy thing right now, and the shift away from it seems like it will be healthy for everybody.

Rachel Hartman, Tess of the Road. A harrowing and somewhat difficult read but well worth it. Deep earth dragons, double standards, family expectations, friendships over time, boots…I feel like most of what I can say about this book will spoil the way it unfolds. It goes well with Seraphina, but it is doing quite different things; it is a companion volume rather than a copy or an attempt to cash in. I was glad of this even when it was hard on me.

Lucas K. Law and Derwin Mak, eds., Where the Stars Rise: Asian Science Fiction and Fantasy. I was particularly glad to see that Law and Mak actually meant it when they said Asian (rather than one area of Asia or only large ethnicities) and that there were writers I had never read before as well as more familiar names I was glad to see in this volume. There’s also a really large range of genres/subgenres here.

Deb Perelman, Smitten Kitchen Every Day. I love Perelman’s blog. This cookbook had me nodding along; I copied out a couple of things, but a lot of it will be more useful to people who are not as instinctive about cooking as I am. Which is fine too.

Marta Randall, Dangerous Games. Kindle. Oh this book. Oh where has this book been all my life? Answer: around, and underpromoted. It has multiple kinds of aliens, it has indictments of respectability politics and the practice of pitting minorities against each other, it has a system where killing other sentients always matters even when you thought you could think of them as faceless dots on a spaceship screen, it has disabled people, old people, and children with agency, it has intergenerational respect and understanding AND its grave difficulties, it has…a lot. It has a lot. This is a sequel, so you’re going to want to read Journey first. Luckily that is possible. Also…this starts slow while she’s setting up the pieces. But DAMN does it come together.

Mariko Tamaki, Lumberjanes: Unicorn Power! This is the first Lumberjanes prose novel–a kids’ book. It is great fun. It is full of exclamation points. The title is not playing around. I love all the Lumberjanes completely and unironically. I love them even more together. I love prose more than I love comics. This is for meeeeee.

Alan Taylor, The Civil War of 1812: American Citizens, British Subjects, Irish Rebels, and Indian Allies. How much you like this book will depend on which portions of the subtitle set you are most interested in. Taylor is at his strongest when he is considering the American citizen/British subject axis; he does very well with treating the British presence in North America at the time seriously, not just among what eventually became Canadians but along a continuum. However. The coverage of Irish issues was somewhat slight, and Native/First Nations issues were almost completely absent, and they were treated as almost completely without agency when they did appear. So that was far less interesting than I hoped it would be, alas.

Lynne Thomas and Michael Damian Thomas, eds., Uncanny Magazine Issue 20. Kindle. I make a policy of not reviewing things I have stories in. I have a story in this.

Shannon Watters, Kat Leyh, Carey Pietsch, et al, Lumberjanes: Stone Cold and Lumberjanes: A Bird’s Eye View. Okay, I know I said I love prose more than I love comics, but…I will take Lumberjanes stories however I can get them, and this is the main mode of getting them, fine, yes, good. Lots of mythology, lots of adventure, friendship to the max. Sure, yes, on board.

Why, Miss A! You’re Beautiful Without Your Shift In Meaning!

A few months ago, we had to explain to my goddaughter the old trope where the hero takes off the heroine’s glasses and says, “Why, Miss A! You’re beautiful without your glasses!” Because…she has never known a world where she can’t get cute glasses in flattering styles and a wide variety of colors. That’s just how glasses are–and not because her parents are wealthy beyond the dreams of avarice, either. Some of my friends who are struggling a lot for money still browse dozens and hundreds of glasses styles on the internet, able to choose from more on their tight budget than the richest could have dreamed of on theirs 50 years ago–especially the richest children.

My parents tell stories of having one choice of glasses, sometimes one gendered choice–here you go, here are your glasses. Doesn’t flatter your face? Too bad, this is what you get. Glasses. Now you can see. The fashion for girls right now is cat’s eyes. Boys get square blocky ones. For me, it was a little better than that, but not much–and they were not well-fitted to my child’s head, on the assumption that kids were growing, and as a result they were always slipping down my nose, and–in a fairly low-parental-conflict childhood–my mother was always nagging me to push my glasses back up.

Meg Murry’s glasses did that too. In A Wrinkle in Time. It was one of the reasons I bonded with her instantly when I first read the book in grade school: ugh, the glasses thing.

My goddaughter doesn’t have that. Meg’s glasses slipping down her nose are an individual character trait for her, not a bonding moment for every kid with glasses. There is no presumption that obviously everyone would look better without theirs, because, hey, there are so many flattering pairs of glasses, she knows so many people who look great in them. She looks great in hers. And if some jerk ever tries to take her glasses off to tell her she’s beautiful without them, she hasn’t been prepared that that’s the only way this can ever work. The idea of finding someone who thinks she’s pretty great with them is not a massive shock. It’s…life, it’s reasonable, it’s how things are.

The entire meaning of that description has shifted.

So you can’t just put Meg Murry in a pair of glasses and film it that way, assume the modern viewer will get it–in fact, you can assume they won’t. Translation is like that. The past, we say over and over again, is a foreign country. Sometimes the recent past even more so, because we don’t think of what we’re not seeing. We don’t have to explain chamber pots and carriages in the Murry home. Glasses are known technology, aren’t they? We understand glasses, don’t we? Oh.

And then there’s the hair.

This article on Meg’s natural hair in the movie is really good, really interesting. It quotes from the book, and I’m going to repeat the quote: “Meg’s hair had been passable as long as she wore it tidily in plaits. When she went into high school it was cut, and now she and her mother struggled with putting it up, but one side would come out curly and the other straight.”

Pretty straightforward, right?

Well.

A Wrinkle in Time has a 1962 publication date. Before the hippie era. So…I think younger readers mostly don’t understand the implications of women’s hair here. The passive voice is not accidental: when she went into high school it was cut. This is basically a force of nature, in social terms of the time. Wearing her hair in the braids that actually worked for (book) Meg is no longer an option because that is little kid hair. If you find a high school yearbook from the early 1960s, especially in a small town, you are not seeing the option of long hair worn straight or in braids yet. That came later. So what has happened here is that there are requirements of existing in the teen social world, between the kid world and the adult world, and Meg’s hair is failing her at them. Imagine one of the bouffants from a 1962 yearbook, but done poorly. That is what they mean by “up.” It is “done,” it is done with a fair amount of AquaNet or equivalent, it is one of the miserable child faces underneath a failed elaborate coiffure, because an extremely simple hairstyle of whatever length was not one of the options at the time.

Some of this is universal. Hair texture changes at puberty–sometimes daily–and it can feel impossible to work with whatever you got. And figuring out what on earth other people think is stylish and why on earth they think that is even more difficult when “people” means “whoever I am randomly assigned by geography” rather than “someone I have any interests in common with.” But…I think that people who post-date the hippie era–myself included, on some emotional levels–have difficulty conceiving just how many more options there are for What People Can Look Like, what we can do our hair like, what we can do our clothes like, what we can reject or choose for makeup or nails or any other grooming options.

And so…if you showed a modern audience. Especially a modern child audience. The vision of Meg that was in Madeleine L’Engle’s head for Meg. The hair that had “been cut” and “put up,” the failed bouffant. It would be fundamentally not understood. Even if she was surrounded by other ’62 teenagers in a ’62 high school. The reaction, I think, would be, “What happened to her hair? Why did she do that?” Because as modern viewers, we just don’t have the context of the range of bad hair in the past. We know what present teen struggles with hair look like. We have no reason to keep the data set for 1962.

Similarly, if you filmed the fancy dress occasions of the 1920s, exactly as imagined by F. Scott Fitzgerald–the brilliantine on the gentlemen’s hair would overwhelm us as modern viewers. And so on through history. It just…gets adjusted for the modern viewer. Inherently. Because the world is large, history is large, we cannot keep it all in our head. Every movie made from a book is a translation. No matter how faithful to the text it tries to be. It’s still a translation. The more so for a movie that’s more than a year or two from its source text.

So–read the article in the link about how Ava DuVernay decided to translate Meg’s struggles with her hair. It is a translation, a visual translation, or a transformation, but it’s a necessary one even if the movie had decided to do other things than what it did with race (of which I thoroughly approve), because the world has gone on. I haven’t seen this movie yet. I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to–I hear that it’s one of the most vertigo-inducing movies made in a very vertigo-inducing recent crop of movies. But I think that this particular choice of visual translation of Meg’s struggles with her hair is a brilliant one. It’s one that has some chance of making sense to a modern audience in a way that a literal rendering of the original just couldn’t. And the minute I hear people talk about filming what’s on the page, I know that they’re missing how books and film work differently as media–much less books and film across time.

Brazen: Rebel Ladies Who Rocked the World, by Pénélope Bagieu

Review copy provided by First Second Books.

I’m not entirely sure who the audience for this book was, even though I enjoyed it. It’s a series of brief biographical sketches in graphic novel format–four to seven pages about each woman or women, talking about their accomplishments, their obstacles, their context. The subjects are diverse as to race, religion, milieu.

They are diverse enough, in fact, that their main unifying factor seems to be that Bagieu liked them and found them interesting to draw. Why Margaret Hamilton the actress for pages and Margaret Hamilton the programmer for only one disambiguating panel? Because that’s what Bagieu felt like.

Which: sure, great, it is her book. She’s allowed to turn from Wu Zetian to Temple Grandin if she wants to. But the content includes levels of violence that I think a lot of people who restrict younger readers will want to restrict, in addition to honesty about things like Tove Jansson’s passion for smoking, so I expect this is not a My First Intersectional Feminism For The Single Digit Set. So…inspiration for teens who are feeling battered by the slings and arrows of high school life? A coffee table book for a particular quirky kind of coffee table?

It’s beautifully done, with the personal style and clear sight that Bagieu brought to her biography of Cass Elliot. It’s just a fairly weird object to place in the world. So…recommended to people who like weird objects of this sort, I guess.

Please consider using our link to buy Brazen: Rebel Ladies Who Rocked the World from Amazon.

Books read, late February

Lily Anderson, The Only Thing Worse Than Me Is You. I’m really glad this was not my first Lily Anderson novel, frankly, because this is in the same vein of mainstream YA as Not Now, Not Ever, with strong friendships among highly nerdy teenagers, and yet I would have been completely put off by the fact that one of its central plots is a very, very combative love story. You know the kind: I hate you I hate you let’s smooch. This is not a spoiler really–you can see it coming a mile off, you can see it in the title for heaven’s sake. And Anderson does it well, and there are other things going on. But–I really like having talked about romance/love stories enough to have the vocabulary to say that I prefer mine collaborative rather than combative, and I really like that I read her second book first so that I didn’t have a more general idea of this as Her Thing when in fact it’s just one facet.

S.A. Chakraborty, The City of Brass. Fantasy with djinn and various related entities, ranging from Egypt to South Asia. This book started off with a very firm historical setting and wandered off from there into fantasical fireworks, and it is very clearly a first novel with miles to go before the series sleeps.

Barbara Hambly, Murder in July. An entry in the Benjamin January series. Not a great starting point for that as its emotional heft depends on you caring about the supporting cast and knowing a fair amount about them, but if you’re invested in this series–which I really like, New Orleans area free people of color as the main family–then, hey, here’s another.

Kat Howard, An Unkindness of Magicians. Very few contemporary fantasies are as honest about power and complicity in modern systems as this one is–and very few want to actually do something about that rather than saying oh woe the world is grim and dark, look how grim and dark, gosh that sucks. Rather than: look how grim and dark, better fix it, ya big jerk. The magic system Howard postulates here is pretty nasty. But she actually wants to talk about friendship and family and figuring out a way to do better. Which is more than a lot of authors can say when they think about power dynamics. So yes, this book has a lot of unkindness; it says so on the tin. This is one of those where some of us in the gutter actually are looking at the stars.

Barbara Jensen, Reading Classes: On Culture and Classism in America. This book was startling, staggering, amazing. Jensen is my own people, to a startling degree my own people; she is from the north of the Twin Cities, some of the suburbs where I have great-aunts and -uncles. So when she used her own family examples to contrast working-class and middle-class cultural differences, she was talking about Minnesota Scandinavian Lutherans in both cases; she was talking about different parts of my family. There were a couple of places where I actually cried because I had never seen both class branches represented with respect and even affection, things that were good and valid about both, places where she could speak clearly and coherently about there being a difference rather than an absence. So that was amazing. It’s a really fascinating book. I think there are a couple of flaws. One of them is that it’s so very very generational. A great many middle-class assumptions she was talking about did not continue past the Baby Boomers, and I would be fascinated to see an analysis of what it means to be middle-class without them. Another is that I think in her rush not to throw working-class culture under the bus as has been done so many, many times before, she took several accounts of ideals as accounts of actuality. But it’s still a really thought-provoking, discussion-provoking book.

Sujata Massey, The Sleeping Dictionary. I am perpetually short on historical fiction, and Massey delivers with this one. It gets harrowing in several spots in several directions, child endangerment and sexual violence and relationship threat, just to flag that for readers, but I think that the story is interesting and has enough context to be sensitive and worth the emotional ups and downs if you’re ever up for them in any book. (Obviously if you just never want that, it’s a different calculation.) The setting is eastern India leading up to the time of independence from the UK, with independence a constantly intertwined theme for the heroine. It’s listed as the first in a series, but I don’t see that a sequel has come out yet.

Dominik Parisien and Navah Wolfe, eds., Robots Vs. Fairies. Sometimes you have a solid anthology where one story just completely blows you away and steals your heart, and this is one of those for me. Madeline Ashby’s “Work Shadow/Shadow Work” is the sort of story that I already know in February will be one of my favorites of the year. It deals with eldercare and traditional belief and robots and Iceland and I love this story to bits, worth the price of admission even if it wasn’t a well-constructed anthology otherwise. Which it is, it absolutely is, I just…am completely making heart-eyes at this one story.

Shel Silverstein, The Missing Piece and The Missing Piece Meets the Big O. Okay, so really, Uncle Shelby, this stuff is…you didn’t really. You did? And people bought it for their kids? oh golly. There are all sorts of relationship things that he’s talking about with shapes here, and…welp. There it all is then. Learn to be happy on your own and sing your own songs and…yep, Shel Silverstein is exactly who he told us all he was. Repeatedly.

F.C. Yee, The Epic Crush of Genie Lo. This book actually made me laugh out loud in spots. It’s a teen fantasy adventure about the Monkey King showing up to fight a demon infestation in a Silicon Valley suburb, and Yee has totally nailed the reality of that type of suburb being a great deal more influenced by strip malls and highways than redwoods at the moment. I loved Genie and her relationship with her parents and friends and legends and asskickery.