mabith's 2019 Reads
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Hi, I'm Meredith. I read eclectically but with some focus on non-fiction. I've been in the weeds, dealing with the sudden loss of my mom (who was my best friend) a little over a year ago. Nothing has quite the same color but I'm still clinging hard to my reading.
Fer-de-Lance – Rex Stout
The Fox Hunt – Mohammed Al Samawi
Ruddy Gore – Kerry Greenwood
Jovah's Angel – Sharon Shinn
Peter The Great – Robert K. Massie
Cutting School – Noliwe Rooks
Becoming Maria – Sonia Manzano
The Sound of Things Falling – Juan Gabriel Vasquez
Inferior – Angela Saini
The Actual One – Isy Suttie
Guapa by Saleem Haddad
Code Girls by Liza Mundy
Lost Kingdom – Serhii Plokhy
Rebels and Traitors – Lindsey Davis
Woman on the Edge of Time – Marge Piercy
The Real Lolita – Sarah Weinman
Animal – Sara Pascoe
The Alleluia Files – Sharon Shinn
Daughters of the Sun – Ira Mukhoty
The Crime at Black Dudley – Margery Allingham
At Night We Walk in Circles – Daniel Alarcon
Close Encounters with Humankind – Sang-Hee Lee
The Latehomecomer – Kao Kalia Yang
Doomsday Book – Connie Willis
Kindred – Octavia Butler
Unlikely Warrior – Georg Rauch
Braiding Sweetgrass – Robin Wall Kimmerer
A Doll's House – Henrik Ibsen
Story of a Secret State – Jan Karski
Secret Water – Arthur Ransome
The Thirteenth House – Sharon Shinn
James Acaster's Classic Scrapes – James Acaster
No Good Men Among the Living – Anand Gopal
Argo – Antonio Mendez
Revolution for Dummies – Bassem Youssef
Let's Talk About Love - Claire Kann
Memory's Last Breath – Gerda Saunders
Golden Bones – Sichan Siv
Heartbreak Soup – Gilbert Hernandez
Wonder Woman: The True Amazon – Jill Thompson
Dark Moon Defender – Sharon Shinn
Heavy – Kiese Laymon
Like Water for Chocolate – Laura Esquivel
The Dawn Watch – Maya Jasanoff
The Perfectionist – Joyce Carol Oates
Becoming – Michelle Obama
Fahrenheit 451 – Ray Bradbury
Adult Children of Emotionally Immature Parents – Lindsay C. Gibson
No Turning Back – Rania Abouzeid
Shadows in Bronze – Lindsay Davis
Reader and Raelynx – Sharon Shinn
The Girl from the Metropol Hotel – Ludmilla Petrushevskaya
Black Fortunes – Shomari Wills
Mystic and Rider – Sharon Shinn
The Ladies' Paradise – Emile Zola
Stokely: A Life – Peniel E. Joseph
1947: Where Now Begins - Elisabeth Asbrink
The Girl with Seven Names – Hyeonseo Lee
Mala – Melinda Lopez
Daughter of Fortune – Isabel Allende
Fortune and Fate – Sharon Shinn
Every Heart a Doorway – Seanan McGuire
The Canon – Natalie Angier
Jem Vol 1: Showtime – Kelly Thompson, Sophie Campbell
Heaven's Command – Jan Morris
The Song and the Silence – Yvette Johnson
The Passion According to G.H. - Clarice Lispector
Where the Jews Aren't – Masha Gessen
Delusions of Gender – Cordelia Fine
No One Belongs Here More Than You – Miranda July
Umami – Laia Jufresa
The Bible – Karen Armstrong
Jem and the Holograms: Infinite – Kelly Thompson
The Galaxy Game – Karen Lord
The Winthrop Woman – Anya Seton
The Re-Origin of Species – Torill Kornfeldt
Freshwater – Akwaeke Emezi
Pretty Fire – Charlayne Woodard
Whipping Girl – Julia Serano
A Corner of White – Jaclyn Moriarty
Red Famine – Anne Applebaum
The Complete Wimmen's Comix – Various
The Joy Luck Club – Amy Tan
The Cracks in the Kingdom – Jaclyn Moriarty
Elizabeth Gaskell: The Short Stories – Elizabeth Gaskell
Doubt: A History – Jennifer Michael Hecht
Born Criminal – Angelica Shirley Carpenter
A Tangle of Gold – Jaclyn Moriarty
I Await the Devil's Coming – Mary MacLane
The Foundling - Paul Joseph Fronczak
Washington Black - Esi Edugyan
Spain in our Hearts - Adam Hochschild
Watch on the Rhine - Lillian Hellman
Graveyard of the Hesperides - Lindsey Davis
Inheritance - Sharon Moalem
River of Teeth - Sarah Gailey
A World of Three Zeros - Muhammad Yunus
Dragonsong – Anne McCaffrey
The Salt Roads – Nalo Hopkinson
The Bone and Sinew of the Land – Anna-Lisa Cox
Mister Monday – Garth Nix
Hullabaloo in the Guava Orchard – Kiran Desai
The Best Bad Things – Katrina Carrasco
Sweet Little C*nt – Anne Elizabeth Moore
The Devil that Danced on the Water – Aminatta Forna
Dragonsinger – Anne McCaffrey
Quackery – Lydia Kang
Craeft – Alexander Langlands
All-of-a-Kind Family – Sidney Taylor
Castle Rackrent – Maria Edgeworth
Reconciliation – Benazir Bhutto
Grim Tuesday – Garth Nix
Nine Continents – Xiaolu Guo
Seeing a Large Cat – Elizabeth Peters
Claire of the Sea Light – Edwidge Danticat
L.E.L. - Lucasta Miller
There Was a Country – Chinua Achebe
Letter to Jimmy – Alain Mabanckou
The Provocative Colette – Annie Goetzinger
Acorna's People – Anne McCaffrey, Elizabeth Ann Scarborough
Drowned Wednesday – Garth Nix
Birds in Town and Village – William Henry Hudson
Black Tudors – Miranda Kaufmann
Heart's Blood – Juliet Marillier
Daniel Deronda – George Eliot
Salvage the Bones – Jesmyn Ward
Good Morning, Comrades – Ondjaki
How Democracies Die – Steven Levitsky
The Lighthouse – Paco Roca
Embassytown – China Mieville
Golden Hill – Francis Spufford
Assata – Assata Shakur
Sir Thursday – Garth Nix
The Mines of King Solomon – Carl Barks
Serena – Ron Rash
Everything is Wonderful – Sigrid Rausing
Lady Friday – Garth Nix
Extra Virginity – Tom Mueller
Shooting Stars – Stefan Zweig
The Civil Wars of Julia Ward Howe – Elaine Showalter
My Sister, The Serial Killer – Oyinkan Braithwaite
Superior Saturday – Garth Nix
A Venetian Affair – Andrea di Robilant
Popular – Maya van Wagenen
The Treasure of Alpheus Winterborn – John Bellairs
Field Notes from a Catastrophe – Elizabeth Kolbert
Appalachian Elegy – bell hooks
The History of the Medieval World – Susan Wise Bauer
Crosstalk – Connie Willis
Lord Sunday – Garth Nix
Acorna's World – Anne McCaffrey, Elizabeth Ann Scarborough
The Last Palace – Norman Eisen
Energy and Civilization – Vaclav Smil
Dancing Bears – Witold Szablowski
I Will Repay – Emmuska Orczy
This Land is My Land – Andy Warner, Sofie Louise Dam
The Utopia of Rules – David Graeber
The Wolf and the Watchman – Niklas Natt och Dag
Jayber Crow – Wendell Berry
The Door – Magda Szabo
Outlaw Marriages – Roger Streitmatter
The Gilda Stories – Jewelle Gomez
A Cup of Water Under my Bed – Daisy Hernandez
War Against All Puerto Ricans – Nelson A. Denis
Tomorrow Will be Different – Sarah McBride
Ocean Renegades – Abby Howard
Dragondrums – Anne McCaffrey
Chasing Venus - Andrea Wulf
The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl Vol 2 – Ryan North, Erica Henderson
The Extremely Inconvenient Adventures of Bronte Mettlestone – Jaclyn Moriarty
Witches Abroad - Terry Pratchett
38% of my reads had authors with maximum privilege (in the big five anglophone countries, who were white, cis, straight, and abled). Given that I had to do a lot of comfort reading by those privileged authors, I'm proud this percentage still stayed that low.
57% of my reads were by women. 63% of authors were from the US, UK, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand.
Here's my best of 2018:
The Fact of a Body – Alexandria Marzano-Lesnevich
The American Plague – Molly Caldwell Crosby
How Dare the Sun Rise – Sandra Uwiringiyimana
Border: A Journey to the Edge of Europe – Kapka Kassabova
Things I've Been Silent About – Azar Nafisi
The Queen of Whale Cay – Kate Summerscale
Photographic: The Life of Graciela Iturbide – Isabel Quintero and Zack Pena
The Line Becomes a River – Francisco Cantu
The Trauma Cleaner – Sarah Krasnostein
I am, I am, I am – Maggie O'Farrell
1066 And All That – WC Sellar and RJ Yeatman
Magnificent Delusions – Husain Haqqani
Warriors Don't Cry – Melba Pattillo Beals
Playing in the Dark – Toni Morrison
Other People's Children – Lisa Delpit
The Search for Modern China – Jonathan D. Spence
Zami: A New Spelling of my Name – Audre Lorde
Heart Berries – Terese Marie Mailhot
Red Azalea – Anchee Min
The Library Book – Susan Orleans
Roots – Alex Haley
Amatka – Karin Tidbeck
Darkness at Noon – Arthur Koestler
We Didn't Mean to go to Sea – Arthur Ransome
Lotus: A Novel – Lijia Zhang
Nada – Carmen Laforet
The Queue – Basma Abdel Aziz
Adam Bede – George Eliot
Circe – Madeline Miller
Home Fire – Kamila Shamsie
Trumpet – Jackie Kay
Sing, Unburied, Sing – Jesmyn Ward
The Bread Givers – Anzia Yezierska
Redemption in Indigo – Karen Lord
Where We Once Belonged – Sia Figiel
MEM – Bethany Morrow
Spilt Milk – Chico Buarque
Dread Nation – Justina Ireland
I am looking forward to following your reading again this year.
261 books last year is a very impressive total.
I read 1066 And All That about 45 years ago. I had totally forgotten about it. I remember that I enjoyed it and that it was funny.
Have a good year of reading.
Thank you for so many great recommendations in 2018. Reading your reviews with interest in 2019.
Fer-de-Lance by Rex Stout RE-READ
I recently nudged a friend into reading his first Nero Wolfe mystery and wanted to revive my memory of the first book in the series. I'd advised him to start a few books in and I think that was right. This book spends a bit too much energy setting up Wolfe's genius.
Still fun, just takes a few books for Stout to start hitting his stride. I think the entire series functions perfectly as stand-alone novels, barring maybe one book. I love the way Archie's narration is done, it's just so of the period and I like the humor of it.
The Fox Hunt: A Refugee's Memoir of Coming to America by Mohammed Al Samawi
Al Samawi was born and raised in Sanaa, Yemen. He is disabled due to a stroke as an infant, and was raised with a heap of anti-Jewish and anti-American propaganda. He didn't examine this until his teenage years, after reading the Old Testament and seeing the similarities with the teachings of the Quran. He quickly got involved in multi-faith activism.
Good read, recommended.
Ruddy Gore by Kerry Greenwood
I love the TV series based on these books, Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries, but wasn't overly impressed with the first book. Fair enough though, as it was Greenwood's first novel.
Decided to dip in later in the series, with book 7, which was a particularly fun episode of the TV show. It's definitely a better book, but I do prefer TV Phryne. In the show she's a full on Bright Young Thing, flirty and snarky and feisty.
Not sure I'll read any more of the series, but it was nice to check back in with.
Jovah's Angel by Sharon Shinn RE-READ
Comfort fantasy re-read.
Book two in a trilogy. In Samaria there are angels and mortal. Angels have the ability to pray for weather changes, grain, medicine, etc... but suddenly the god, Jovah, no longer answers them. The archangel Delilah is injured and as she can no longer fly, Alleluia is named as the archangel. She is the last angel that Jovah can hear and with the help of an engineer must attempt to reach Jovah before their world is destroyed.
(But don't start here, start with Archangel.)
Cutting School: Privatization, Segregation, and the End of Public Education by Noliwe Rooks
Does what it says on the tin. EXCELLENT book about current educational issues particularly surrounding race and how charter and virtual schools are for profit industries.
Very important work and required reading if you're in the US, in my opinion.
Becoming Maria: Love and Chaos in the South Bronx by Sonia Manzano
Manzano is best known for playing Maria on Sesame Street for something like 40 years. Describing her childhood as chaotic is rather selling it short. The book is exceptionally fine, Manzano is really talented at wrapping you insider her young world.
The book ends just before she gets her Sesame Street job (she was only 21!). Excellent work.
The Sound of Things Falling by Juan Gabriel Vasquez
In the city of Bogotá, Antonio Yammara reads an article about a hippo that had escaped from a derelict zoo once owned by legendary Colombian drug kingpin Pablo Escobar. The article transports Antonio back to when the war between Escobar’s Medellín cartel and government forces played out violently in Colombia’s streets and in the skies above. Back then, Antonio witnessed a friend’s murder, an event that haunts him still. As he investigates, he discovers the many ways in which his own life and his friend’s family have been shaped by his country’s recent violent past. His journey leads him all the way back to the 1960s and a world on the brink of change: a time before narco-trafficking trapped a whole generation in a living nightmare.
I liked this but didn't love it. I'll be pondering it for a bit.
Inferior: How Science Got Women Wrong--And the New Research That's Rewriting the Story by Angela Saini
A short book on some of the history of the pernicious idea that women are less intelligent than men and less suited to STEM fields. Well written, good read, depressing that we're still fighting this.
Could have brought in some wider history perhaps, but I should appreciate that it stuck to the proposed focus.
The Actual One: How I Tried, and Failed, to Remain Twenty-Something for Ever by Isy Suttie
Like a lot of people, Suttie found herself in her mid to late 20s feeling like she was the only one amongst her peers who wasn't hitting the predicted landmarks of 'proper' adulthood (marriage, children, home ownership, careers). Just after a breakup with the boyfriend that was supposed to be 'the one' she learns her best friends (who are a couple) are pregnant.
I love Suttie, and seeing she read the audiobook version knew I had to listen to it as I also love her east Midlands accent (granting I enjoy any accent you don't hear very often). She wrote this fairly after the fact when she could easily laugh at herself, and I really enjoyed it.
That feeling of being left behind has plagued me as well, though for very different reasons (I got sick at 19, had to leave college at 20, quit working at about 21, etc...). Suttie wrote this song exaggerating the clinging to youthful irresponsibility which always makes me laugh:
Guapa by Saleem Haddad
This novel tells the story of a mostly-closeted gay man in an unnamed Arab country. He lives with his traditional grandmother as his parents are both gone. The book delves into his past and memories but the present action takes place over the course of one day after his grandmother has seen him in a compromising situation with his boyfriend.
It's a beautifully complex work for a short novel. There are no easy stereotypes or one dimensional characters. BookRiot (a favorite book news/blogging platform) said "Haddad maps postcolonial theory, post-revolutionary malaise, and post-outing upheaval onto your standard post-college, what-am-I-doing-with-my-life aimlessness, creating something wonderful and fascinating in the process."
Really enjoyed this.
Code Girls: The Untold Story of the American Women Code Breakers of World War II by Liza Mundy
Great book about the absolute legion of women (tens of thousands) who helped break codes in WWII and who have been largely ignored. The book focuses on a small group (largely the ones who were still around to interview and willing to be interviewed, I imagine). The book covers how they were recruited, the changes in civilian workers vs military (WAVES, the women's side of the Navy, particularly), the impact of women on forming the NSA, and the particularly important breakthroughs.
I'm pretty sure my maternal grandmother actually knew one of the named women, need to go look that up in her photos.
Lost Kingdom: The Quest for Empire and the Making of the Russian Nation by Serhii Plokhy
I thought this would reinforce and expand on some of the topics from Peter the Great, and it did. Especially good for Plokhy's descriptions of the recent Russian invasion into Ukraine (the author is Ukrainian himself).
Rebels and Traitors by Lindsey Davis RE-READ
It can be hard to make time to re-read a 900 page book, but I was eager to do it in this case. Davis leaves ancient Rome behind for the English Civil War, which is actually one of her prime historical interests (and it shows here in the quality). As with her other books she's great at including really interesting historical details without it feeling like a lecture.
This epic book especially focuses on two characters, Gideon Jukes, a New Model Army soldier, and Juliana Cahill, a generally orphaned young woman who has been hastily married (under false pretenses on both sides) to Orlando Lovell, a Royalist soldier. We also follow Kinchin Tew, a poor urchin who survived the Royalist sacking of Birmingham and get glimpses Edmund Treves, friend of Orlando Lovell.
I found her writing here SO brilliant and compelling. I love the style of it, very different to her other books, and the way she works in all the actual events and gives you a great overall picture of the period.
Highly recommended. It won't be the last time I re-read this.
Woman on the Edge of Time by Marge Piercy
A 1970s feminist speculative fiction classic. This is one of the last books my mom specifically recommended to me (she didn't do that often, since she felt I didn't need them), so it gave this read a different feeling than it might have had otherwise.
"Connie Ramos is a Mexican American woman living on the streets of New York. Once ambitious and proud, she has lost her child, her husband, her dignity—and now they want to take her sanity. After being unjustly committed to a mental institution, Connie is contacted by an envoy from the year 2137, who shows her a time of sexual and racial equality, environmental purity, and unprecedented self-actualization. But Connie also bears witness to another potential outcome: a society of grotesque exploitation in which the barrier between person and commodity has finally been eroded. One will become our world. And Connie herself may strike the decisive blow."
I really enjoyed this. Is it perfect, no, but I found the vision interesting and liked where it took me.
The Real Lolita: The Kidnapping of Sally Horner and the Novel that Scandalized the World by Sarah Weinman
A short book that sprung from this article by the author. The information that we have, an article is probably a better length for it, but I found the book general interesting. To fill space is does go into other sometimes random seeming crime stories from the period and area, but being a bit of a true crime junkie I didn't really mind. I assume the book also goes into a lot more detail about Nabokov's writing and the publication of and reception to Lolita.
I didn't realize that Nabokov uses that theme in a few other places. I've largely seen pieces about Lolita being about how those kinds of monsters can easily hide and be accepted by society and the mistaken viewing of the book as some sort of romance. Now I wonder about the draw Nabokov had towards the subject after reading this. Something to ponder.
Animal: The Autobiography of a Female Body by Sara Pascoe
This is a bit of a random book, part memoir and partly about sexism, women's sexuality, and research into those topics. It's the kind of book that might have made my brain light up when I was 17, but on the general non-fiction side there was nothing new in it for me. I also know enough to spot the places where it's lacking on that end.
The memoir part was more interesting for me. I've seen Pascoe's stand-up bits for years now, but knew almost nothing about her personal life other than her veganism. She's extremely frank in this book and I really admired that, and of course it was one of the main points in writing it.
Moderately good, recommended for late teens/early 20s women (and maybe older woman just getting out of cults or extremely conservative religious groups...).
The Alleluia Files by Sharon Shinn RE-READ
Finished up this trilogy re-read. These really have to be read in order, but in short Group of plucky rebels try to prove their world has major fundamental secrets while heads of the world try to kill them. Great fantasy series, and still my favorite of Shinn's various series.
Daughters of the Sun by Ira Mukhoty
Just what I want which is often hard to find - history of a specific country/region written by a native of the place (and in audio format as well). History reading gets frustrating when there are so many books about fascinating places/times but almost everything I can access is by someone from the USA or UK.
The writing style won't appeal to everyone, but worked for me. It's a subject I knew nothing about and I really enjoyed the read.
The Crime at Black Dudley by Margery Allingham
This is Allingham's first novel featuring Albert Campion, who would became her main detective but in this book is a side character and a parody of Dorothy L. Sayer's Peter Wimsey (though his type does change further on in the series).
This was only Allingham's third novel over all and I can't say I enjoyed it much. It was very strange and oddly put together. A dinner party ends in murder and two doctors in the house are threatened into signing natural death forms so the body can be cremated immediately. The threatening parties then take the others hostage because something's been stolen from them. The one doctor is the main investigator/leader but Campion seems to know a lot and doesn't fit with the rest of the party.
The ending was really bizarre as well. I'll even read a letter book in the series and see what I think, if I knew they were all going to be like this I'd skip them.
At Night We Walk in Circles by Daniel Alarcon
Nelson was supposed to join his brother in the US, but instead he's left in his unnamed South American country caring for his widowed mother. He feels adrift in his life until he gets a starring role in The Idiot President with his idol, the leader of a legendary guerilla theatre troupe.
We learn Nelson's story through the investigations of an unnamed narrator who is interviewing people who knew him and seems to have some connection to his life.
I was definitely over halfway through the book before I really started enjoying it and feeling invested in the characters. So, I'm not sure where that leaves me. That's a long time to be not have much feeling about a book.
Close Encounters with Humankind: A Paleoanthropologist Investigates Our Evolving Species by Sang-Hee Lee
The book is a collection of articles that Lee wrote for a newspaper or magazine in Korea. The subtitle pretty much says it all. It deals with specific evolution theories about walking first vs big brain first, the history of our fossil discoveries, all sorts of things. A good book, but definitely expect the series of articles feel, since that's what it is!
The Latehomecomer by Kao Kalia Yang
This is a beautiful memoir about Yang's Hmong family and their journey from Laos to refugee camps in Thailand to living in the United States. Yang was born in the Thailand and lived there until she was six. Though she's the younger sister, she had more trouble learning to confidently speak English (I think mostly due to anxiety) but found her English home in writing.
The book especially deals with her grandmother and their relationship. The writing is poetic and wonderful and I loved the book. The love for her family, in harder and easier times, really shines through.
Doomsday Book by Connie Willis RE-READ
I really love Willis' writing, and have been meaning to re-read this for a while. It's the first in her Oxford time travel novels. Even basically remembering what would happen it was still extremely suspenseful. Willis manages to describe the differences between historical study and living the experience SO well and combats some stereotypes about past centuries.
Kivrin is passionate about Medieval history and has secured permission to go back to 1320. Her extra tutor, Professor Dunworthy, is extremely apprehensive about this, however, and believes the professor overseeing the 'drop' is ignorant of the technology and slap-dash in his approach. After she leaves the students who was operating the 'net' falls seriously ill and seems to be trying to convey difficulties with Kivrin's trip. As the illness spreads Oxford is quarantined, Dunworthy is frantic to find someone who can check on Kivrin's trip. The action goes back and forth with Kivrin, who has also fallen ill.
LOVE these books.
Kindred by Octavia E. Butler RE-READ
Another time travel re-read! I didn't even think about that when I was picking them.
It's 1976, Dana and Kevin have just moved in together and are unpacking their books. Dana suddenly feels odd and finds herself transported to the bank of a river where a young boy is drowning. She saves him, and as his father points a gun at her head she finds herself back in her home. Soon after she is transported again where the same boy, now older, has set a fire in his house. It is the early 19th century, and Dana is a black woman finding herself drawn to a young white boy, the son of the plantation owner.
This novel really does a lot well. I loved it the first time and the second. Like my previous read it still felt suspenseful despite knowing what happens.
Unlikely Warrior: A Jewish Soldier in Hitler's Army by Georg Rauch
Rauch had one Jewish grandparent but was drafted into the German army. This is his memoir of those years, fighting and being taken prisoner on the eastern front.
Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge and the Teachings of Plants by Robin Wall Kimmerer
Kimmerer is a botanist, and this is a mixed book in the best way. Part memoir, part scientific work, party history, part cultural examination.
Beautiful writing, important work, and interesting subjects.
A Doll's House by Henrik Ibsen
I'd never read any Ibsen before, and thought I'd start with the only one I had any concept was. Which it turns out the vague things I thought I knew don't really come in until the end.
I went with a more recent translation and enjoyed it quite a bit. The pacing of it maybe a seemed a bit odd at the end, but glad I listened to it and I'll find some more Ibsen soon.
Story of a Secret State by Jan Karski
Originally published in 1944, Karski was a member of the Polish underground and brought eye-witness testimony of the Warsaw ghetto and the transit camp for Belzec death camp. The book is a general memoir of his life from the initial invasions of Poland, being held by the Soviets, escaping, joining the underground, and his activities within it.
Very important book, well worth reading.
Secret Water by Arthur Ransome
What do you read after a 19th century play and a WWII resistance memoir? A 1930s children's novel, of course.
In this one sailing plans with dad are scuppered but he arranges to leave them on a tidal inlet (Hamford Water), with instructions to map the area. They meet some new friends, the Eels and the Mastodon, and of course there are some scrapes.
The flow of this one didn't work for me as well as some of the others. The Big Event seemed less big. Though in the last book they were swept out to the North Sea, so maybe it's just hard to follow that up!
The Thirteenth House by Sharon Shinn RE-READ
This is the second in Shinn's Twelve Houses series. I've only read it once before, as it's a bit too full-throated fantasy to hit my sweetspot the way her Samaria series does.
Gillengaria has twelve independent-ish fiefdoms which are led by specific families. The most well off of the rest of the population are referred to as the Thirteenth House. The kingdom is at the brink of civil war as the king's only child is thought by many to be unfit to rule and the king is thought to defend 'mystics' too much (people with specific powers). In the first book we meet the king's chosen team who are going around spying, saving people, and investigating plots.
They're not bad books at all, and I'll keep doing my re-read, but probably won't visit them again after this. I mostly needed a soft reliable read and I just re-read her other series!
James Acaster's Classic Scrapes by James Acaster
Acaster is pretty much my favorite comedian, maybe ever, but definitely of the moment. He has a set of specials on Netflix which I highly recommend and which are really younger-age friendly as well.
His various misadventures were labeled scrapes on Josh Widdecombe's radio show. He does have a knack for making just the wrong decision at the wrong time leading to these scrapes plus just bad luck.
Really fun read.
Here are two favorite snippets of his comedy, unrelated to scrapes:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tG2F8zIs3m8 - on conga lines/leadership
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xm6Id3Qt8Wk - the best Brexit analogy
Argo: How the CIA and Hollywood Pulled Off the Most Audacious Rescue in History by Antonio Mendez
Mendez worked for the CIA for twenty-five years, starting as an artist doing forgeries and specializing in disguise. He was a key part of the rescuing of six American diplomats who had taken refuse in the home of a Canadian embassy staff member during the Iran hostage crisis.
Good, interesting read.
No Good Men Among the Living by Anand Gopal
How the US beat the Taliban in Afghanistan, decided they hadn't really beat it, and took steps to ensure its eventually come back. If you've ever asked yourself if the US learned anything from the Vietnam War, the short answer is no. The long answer is this book.
This is an utterly heartbreaking read, deeply upsetting on so many levels. It's also an important read and very well-written and organized.
Revolution for Dummies: Laughing Through the Arab Spring by Bassem Youssef
Youssef was a doctor in Cairo who started making satirical videos in 2011, inspired by the Egyptian revolution and the general disgust with how the traditional media was covering it. His Youtube channel became wildly popular and he was eventually offered a TV show. This began the not so delicate push and pull of trying to basically speak as freely as The Daily Show in a country without our free speech protections.
Really interesting and worth reading. It's not a scholarly account or meant to be one, but Youssef lays out the basics very clearly. Recommended.
Let's Talk About Love by Claire Kann
A YA novel dealing with college students and sexuality. Alice is 19, biromantic (romantically attracted to multiple genders), and her girlfriend has just broken up with her because she's asexual, a word Alice can't even say out loud. Then she meets Takumi at work and experiences an intense aesthetic attraction that has her questioning everything.
This is a good book for some asexuality basics. It covers the cliches but it also the things no one really talks about, like the difference between aesthetic attraction and sexual attraction. It would have been good to have it talk about demisexuality specifically, since Alice has her moment of questioning herself, but otherwise it's a sweet little bubblegum read. I'm somewhere on the asexuality spectrum myself, and a fair bit of this book really spoke to me despite not being my usual sort of read.
Memory's Last Breath: Field Notes on my Dementia by Gerda Saunders
The main body of this book is memoir vs specific dementia commentary. Saunders was born in 1949 and lived in South Africa until her mid-30s. In 2011 she was diagnosed with cerebral microvascular disease, a precursor to dementia. She started keeping a notebook of memory related problems in her daily life. The first longer piece led to encouragement to write a book and memoir of her earlier life.
It was good, though I was expecting less memoir.
Golden Bones: An Extraordinary Journey from Hell in Cambodia to a New Life in America by Sichan Siv
Siv was born in 1948. A few lucky strokes saved him from more immediate death at the hands of the Khmer Rouge and his own ingenuity even got him into Thailand. He came to the US in 1976.
A good memoir.
Heartbreak Soup: A Love and Rockets Book by Gilbert Hernandez
Love and Rockets was one of the most important alternative comics of the 1980s and 1990s. The Hernandez brothers did brilliant things with storytelling and I've always adored their art style. The original comics had multiple settings and sets of characters with ongoing lives that saw the characters age. So an issue might have a story set in Palomar and then a story set around Maggie the mechanic in LA. The new books group a particular setting together, this being the first volume of comics set in Palomar, a town in an unnamed central American country.
There are magical realist elements, but the focus is on the characters and their relationships. This book was around 280 pages, and covers 1981 through 1988 or so. Palomar was never my favorite area in the comics, but reading them all together it grew on me. It's amazing how fully formed their work was, even from the very beginning.
Wonder Woman: The True Amazon by Jill Thompson
A much quicker read by another favorite creator. The entire comic is made up of beautiful watercolor paintings. This is Thompson's own origin story of Wonder Woman from spoiled, beloved child to an adult striving to be better.
Not my favorite treatment, but a nice little read.
Dark Moon Defender by Sharon Shinn RE-READ
The third book in the Twelve Houses series (out of five total). I like this one more than the second book.
Justin, a King's Rider, is sent away from the core group of six in order to observe the Lumanen Convent undercover in a nearby town. He is heartbroken to be away from the group that he considers family, but does as he's told. Early in his stay he saves a young girl, Ellynor, a novice at the convent, from a man intent on assaulting her. They form a quick friendship, seeking each other out each time she's in the town despite strictures that the novices have no such contact with men. Meanwhile Ellynor begin to see how evil the convent's motives and actions truly are.
Again, this is only my first re-read of this series because it's a bit too full-throated fantasy for me. Too many powers and medieval fantasy nonsense. They're good enough books though, and Shinn is ever skilled at character development and making you really care about them.
Heavy: An American Memoir by Kiese Laymon
This is the third book I've read by Laymon, and the third I've really enjoyed. His writing is just impeccable, and given the out of school writing assignments he was given by his mother and grandmother, it's no wonder.
The book particularly explores his complicated relationship to his mother, a brilliant academic who was physically abusive and later developed a gambling addiction. The title refers to his own weight and some of the subjects covered.
It's a brilliant work, highly recommended.
Like Water for Chocolate by Laura Esquivel
Finally read this classic of magical realism. I've found that I'm much more likely to enjoy magical realism when the author is a woman, and went the magical elements revolve around homes or family relationships.
I really liked this. The flow, the relationships, the way the magic is there, it all worked really well for me.
Set at the turn of the century in Mexico, Tita is in love with Pedro, but she's the youngest daughter and forbidden to marry, as she will be responsible for caring for her mother as she ages. Her mother instead proposes Rosaura marry Pedro, and both agree, Pedro saying that he agreed only for the chance to be near Tita.
The Dawn Watch: Joseph Conrad in a Global World by Maya Jasanoff
This book explores Conrad's writing, inspirations, and life. I've not read much Conrad (only Under Western Eyes), but though this might be a nice primer to reading more. It definitely served that purpose (since I don't mind spoilers that much), and was a good read.
The Perfectionist by Joyce Carol Oates
I've averaged a book read per day in February and really wanted to keep that up, hence seeking out a few plays.
This is actually the first thing I've read by Oates, though I hope to read one of her novels this year as well. It's a comedy about a perfectionist father trying to deal with his less than perfect wife and children. It has some good laughs and was enjoyable, though not something I absolutely loved.
Becoming by Michelle Obama
This month's pick for my non-fiction book club. A very good read about an interesting, wonderful, down to earth person.
I didn't find this as lifting as a lot of LT reviewers, but I'm dealing with more than political dismay at the moment (my mother's death was also echoed several times in this book with deaths of Obama's friends and loved ones, which was part of my more muted reaction, I'm sure) . Obama is such a good and gifted person, and I'm glad this book is out here.
Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
Another book club read. My online book club is so gifted at picking books I've been meaning to read, which I appreciate.
Interestingly, the thing I knew about the book doesn't really get mentioned until the very end (people memorizing full texts). It's funny what the public narrative ends up being vs what the book actually is.
In many ways I wish it were longer, and had more time to explore the subject of fighting an oppressive state and dealing with one's role in it. It felt rushed in some ways. I still enjoyed it though, and I'm glad I can check this classic off my to-read list.
Adult Children of Emotionally Immature Parents: How to Heal from Distant, Rejecting, or Self-Involved Parents by Lindsay C. Gibson
I found a lot of affirming stuff in this book. One of my parents is certainly emotionally immature and the other was emotionally closed off (though validated and accepted my emotions, unlike emotionally immature people), so I did not have great models for healthy emotional sharing when I was growing up. For the last few years I've been struggling to become more emotionally open and balanced, so it was good to find this book.
I went into this with low expectations for some reason, and was pleasantly surprised. A useful read.
No Turning Back: Life, Loss, and Hope in Wartime Syria by Rania Abouzeid
I'm on a roll with depressing middle eastern reads, I guess.
Well-written, educational, interesting (and depressing). A really important read for gaining a better understanding of recent events in Syria.
Shadows in Bronze by Lindsey Davis RE-READ
Going back for a casual but chronological re-read of Lindsey Davis' Falco books, one of my favorite mystery series. This is the second book in the series, with a little more focus on the character development than the crime element. It takes Davis a few books to hit her stride but by book four (and maybe by book three, I forget now), the series is on its spectacular track.
It's the first century A.D. and Marcus Didius Falco, Ancient Rome's favorite son and sometime palace spy, has just been dealt a lousy blow from the gods: The beautiful, high-born Helena Justina has left him in the dust. So when the Emperor Vespasian calls upon him to investigate an act of treason, Falco is more than ready for a distraction. Disguised as an idle vacationer in the company of his best friend Petronius, Falco travels from the Isle of Capreae to Neapolis and all the way to the great city of Pompeii…where a whole new series of Herculean events—involving yet another conspiracy, and a fateful meeting with his beloved Helena—are about to erupt….
Reader and Raelynx by Sharon Shinn RE-READ
The fourth and sort of final book in this series. There's a fifth book, but it deals with a very minor character on their own path after the arc that drives the other books is wrapped up.
It's a good series in many ways but as I've said too fantasy for my tastes. This kingdom has people with strange, varied powers called mystics. Our mixed group of six, four mystics and two king's riders (elite fighters), have been traveling the kingdom, investigating those who want to overthrow the king and/or kill all mystics. While the events are large, Shinn's books are always character driven.
Recommended if you like magical fantasy in a somewhat medieval style (technology wise).
The Girl From the Metropol Hotel by Lyudmila Petrushevskaya (listed some places as Ludmilla)
This is a very short memoir of childhood by a prominent Russian author (who I'd never actually heard of until seeing this at the library).
Here she focuses on her very rough years after leaving Moscow and a comfortable home at the Metropol hotel until her father was declared an enemy of the state in 1941. She was an extremely strong-willed, focused child and the book is interesting. I think the length is far too short though, it's more like a few long essays stuck together.
Black Fortunes: The Story of the First Six African Americans Who Escaped Slavery and Became Millionaires by Shomari Wills
Subtitle largely says it all, though all of the people were a generation removed from slavery at least (and some were two generations out and were born in free states), so that seems like a publisher pushed marketing subtitle.
Good read, interesting stuff. The arrangement of the book felt a little random and awkward at times, but it wasn't too bad. Worth reading.
Mystic and Rider by Sharon Shinn RE-READ
So I finished up the main action in Shinn's Twelve Houses series (five books but the first four wrap up the real storyline and the fifth largely focuses on a different character), and that was fine. But I re-read the first book in the series two years ago and had totally forgotten how the random group of people became so bonded blah blah blah or if it was much rougher than the rest of the series. So here I am reading it again. Admittedly, I've also gotten really sick of being blindsided by cancer deaths in books (fiction and non-fiction), so this was a safe re-read.
The king has sent three mystics (people with a variety of powers) and two king's riders (elite fighters) to investigate the mood of the kingdom in regards to both himself and to mystics. The two riders don't seem to understand the point and don't trust the mystics at the start. As they get into various scrapes and real danger the group bonds together etc etc...
It's certainly a little weaker than the other books, and maybe developing trust/feelings could have been paced better, but it's not bad.
The Ladies' Paradise by Emile Zola
I didn't intend this to be my first read by Zola, but it was on hand, and I was in the mood. A British TV show (The Paradise) based on the book was released a few years back, which I quite enjoyed, so I was also curious just how much was taken from the book. More than I expected, in the end (though that's not saying loads given how frequently a 'based on' show/movie takes only the barest ideas from the book).
It was a very good read for me, particularly the commentary on the economics of department stores and how they impacted smaller shops and consumer attitudes/demand. Look forward to reading more Zola.
1947: Where Now Begins by Elisabeth Asbrink
Some covers for this book have the subtitle and some don't, and I think sans was the way to go. The subtitle leads one to believe that the book is more tied to Now, and in some ways it is, not but in most ways. For me it felt more like a book about the effects of WWII and the aftermath of that war very specifically. We're certainly living through things tied to the end of it, but only a few are discussed in the book. Part of it is also specifically about Asbrink's family.
It was still a good book for me, but if you go into it with specific assumptions you're more likely to be disappointed and annoyed with the title as a whole . It is sometimes described as a "biography of a year" and I don't really think it's that either. If you like somewhat random popular history books, this might be one you'll enjoy, I certainly wouldn't recommend it widely.
The Girl with Seven Names by Hyeonseo Lee
This is the memoir of a North Korean defector, albeit an apparently accidental one. While these kinds of memoirs (and refugee memoirs in general) all differ and have their unique voice and journey. Most do not have a number of almost impossibly naive people.
Lee grew up right on the border with China, and had more interaction with foreign goods and news than most North Koreans. Yet she is SO naive as to think that she can just disappear for weeks on end and reappear in her gossipy village with no problems. She was 18, but her aunt and uncle in China are ALSO so naive as to think that's feasible.
I don't know. It just felt unbelievably naive, and Lee doesn't mature all that much throughout the whole book.
Mala by Melinda Lopez
This is a one-woman play, and a very good one in my eyes. The performance (an Audible original) is great as well, and I'd love to see it performed live. One person plays can be so interesting to stage. While it is a great piece of work, it was not a great choice for someone grieving a person who died relatively young, as the play's focus is death at (fairly) great age.
"An utterly unsentimental journey toward the end of life, Mala is an irreverent exploration of how we live, cope, and survive in the moment. Grounded in Lopez's distinctive emotional language and sharp humor, this powerful one-woman show dances between doctors and urgent 911 calls, a mother's growing frailty, and a daughter's quest for grace - all set during an epic Boston winter. Rather than depict a "right way", the play opens the door for conversation in our universal struggle to support those we love in dying, especially when all we've ever focused on is surviving."
Daughter of Fortune by Isabel Allende
Nice historical novel set in the mid-19th century. Eliza is raised in Chile by an English spinster and her brother after being left in their garden as a baby. After falling in love with a sailor who's gone to California for the gold rush, Eliza stows away to try and find him.
Nice read, not a hugely deep book but with good complexity, and told simply and straightly. It felt very realistic, which I like. Recommend.
Fortune and Fate by Sharon Shinn RE-READ
Okay, finally the last of the Twelve Houses series (though really this is an addendum to the series).
Wen is a former King's Rider who feels she failed in her duty and has left the service. She wanders, helping anyone she can and feeling generally miserable. After saving a Sera Mara (basically the heir to the one of the Twelve Houses) from one of the formerly disloyal houses, she ends up agreeing to train up a new house guard to protect the girl. You get bits and pieces with the gang of six from the other books but it's largely Wen's story.
In some ways I think this is a stronger book than most of the others in the series. Perhaps the steady cast of six became a little hampering, too many strong voices to deal with. Also there's no war. I'm not a big fan of reading about imaginary wars.
Every Heart a Doorway by Seanan McGuire
This is an interesting fantasy book, the first in a series. It deals with a home for children who have gone to other worlds (ala Alice in the Wonderland, Dorothy Gale, etc...) and need help adjusting (or not, as the case may be) to life back home. It is a boarding school setting, run by a woman who has crossed to her world many times. It turns into a mystery part way through the book.
There was a lot about this that I absolutely loved, but I think it needed to be longer. The main action happens over halfway through (as I recall) and must be wrapped up extremely quickly (and requires a smart character to have a drop in IQ at one point to work, which I HATE in mysteries). Another one hundred, or even fifty pages would have helped immeasurably. Novellas are great, but sometimes authors (or publishers) don't seem to know when a story needs to be longer. I am definitely still going to read more of the series though.
The Canon: A Whirligig Tour of the Beautiful Basics of Science by Natalie Angier
Angier is a science writer who studied English, Astronomy, and Physics in college. This book is a semi-random mishmash of explanations, aspects of bad science teaching, and general "we need to get better at teaching this to children AND adults." It was quite well done and I had a number of instances of "yes, there's the explanation I've heard for X my entire life which I can parrot but don't really 'get' and here's Angier's explanation and now I ACTUALLY get it" moments.
Definitely a good read.
Jem and the Holograms: Showtime by Kelly Thompson and Sophie Campbell
Volume collecting the first six issues of the recent Jem comic book, written by Thompson, illustrated by Campbell. There was a weird pattern with me and these girly TV shows as a kid. I watched a few episodes and then based the rest of my love on a coloring book (this was the case with the original Jem and She-Ra).
I really enjoyed this, especially issue three and onward as it got established. It's silly, fun, and cute. Campbell's art is good, but I'm more looking forward to the artist who comes in later down the line (Meredith McClaren).
Heaven's Command: An Imperial Progress by Jan Morris
Chronologically first in Morris' English history trilogy, though it was actually the second written. It follows England's imperial history (the development of it, how it changed, etc...) in the 19th century.
A good read, really interesting, though difficult at times for how it flits between places and times. There's no really elegant way to handle writing about what was happening on different continents at the same time over periods of decades, since of course you have to flit, basically. I know that kind of thing can be annoying for some reasons though, so I mention it.
This was published in 1973, and while Morris was (and in some aspects still is) progressive in many ways, it is dated in places, or the "THAT'S not what you were taught in school" moment is thrown away versus showcased.
The Song and the Silence: A Story about Family, Race, and What was Revealed in a Small Town in the Mississippi Delta While Searching for Booker Wright by Yvette Johnson
This is part memoir, part biography, and party history. Johnson learned about her grandfather Booker Wright almost in passing. What she eventually uncovered was his interview about the false face he had to use with white people, his successful restaurant contrasting with his job as a waiter in a well-known restaurant on the white side of town, and his untimely murder.
A very good read.
The Passion According to G.H. by Clarice Lispector
My first Lispector read. This one was a bit too out there for me, and hit my ick spot with the constant talk about cockroaches (more insects don't bother me, but cockroaches are a specter of evil).
"The Passion According to G.H., Clarice Lispector’s mystical novel of 1964, concerns a well-to-do Rio sculptress, G.H., who enters her maid’s room, sees a cockroach crawling out of the wardrobe, and, panicking, slams the door ―crushing the cockroach ―and then watches it die. At the end of the novel, at the height of a spiritual crisis, comes the most famous and most genuinely shocking scene in Brazilian literature…"
I felt more confusion than shock, to be honest. I am largely a surface reader though.
Where the Jews Aren't: The Sad and Absurd Story of Birobidzhan, Russia's Jewish Autonomous Region by Masha Gessen
After I read Gessen's book about Putin (The Man Without a Face), I put her on my "read everything they write" list. Gessen is Jewish herself and her family left Russia when she was a teenager precisely because of that fact. She moved back to Russia in her 20s and worked as a journalist, staying as long as she was safely able to (she is also openly gay, and had adopted a child with her partner).
It's a good, fascinating, distressing book. Potentially she stretches the information into a longer book than is necessary, but I didn't really care. Recommended.
Delusions of Gender by Cordelia Fine
Compiling neuroscience studies around gender differences, both the well done studies (which all seem to show there are not in-built gender differences relating to empathy, math skills, etc...) and the poorly done studies used to try to prove innate gender difference.
A good book, but it was pretty much all old information for me. Either the studies were in Inferior by Angela Saini or in the other neuroscience books I've read. Should have stopped reading it but was feeling completest and didn't want to have to choose another book!
Really important reading for a lot of people though, and well written.
No One Belongs Here More Than You by Miranda July
This short story collection was on my radar when it was quite new, but dropped off after some reviews made me think it would be a bit too odd for me. I remained curious about the book though, and I just love the title, so finally got around to it.
The stories are odd, in a somewhat shifted worked, but after the first two or three July had me under her spell. Even those first stories getting used to her vibe, she has such a way with language and feelings. A good read in the end.
Umami by Laia Jufresa
I didn't enjoy this one as much as I expected to. I think the switching perspectives/character focus muddled the story rather than enlarging it.
"Deep in the heart of Mexico City, where five houses cluster around a sun-drenched courtyard, lives Ana, a precocious twelve-year-old who spends her days buried in Agatha Christie novels to forget the mysterious death of her little sister years earlier. Over the summer she decides to plant a milpa in her backyard, and as she digs the ground and plants her seeds, her neighbors in turn delve into their past. The ripple effects of grief, childlessness, illness and displacement saturate their stories, secrets seep out and questions emerge — Who was my wife? Why did my Mom leave? Can I turn back the clock? And how could a girl who knew how to swim drown?"
The Bible: A Biography by Karen Armstrong
I do love Armstrong's books so much, and this was a really good one for me. Armstrong deals with changing views on the Bible (literal vs metaphorical readings, for one), how the texts were compiled, etc... It's a trampoline book, covering many things in a more shallow manner that allows you to say "I want to read more about THAT" and find an in-depth book on whatever aspect.
I found it really interesting that several different people (some Jewish, some Christine) felt that the ultimate point of the texts was compassion and this should be the only reading of the Bible. Also that violent, hateful, exclusionary readings of Biblical texts were automatically invalid.
Good read though she felt down on the Scopes trial front, parroting the same misinformation we all got. It's definitely not her area at all, but it worries me when that kind of incorrect "common knowledge" makes it into a book. No author is perfect though.
Jem and the Holograms: Infinite by Kelly Thompson (multiple illustrators)
More Jem comics! This collects a storyline wherein the band and The Misfits all cross to an alternate reality where Jem is controlled by a sinister corporation and 90% of humans are excluded from living in the city.
Fun, silly, cute, with some good messages about use of technology and what's worth fighting for.
The Galaxy Game by Karen Lord
I LOVED Lord's first book, Redemption in Indigo, a retelling/extension of a Senegalese folktale. This book is science fiction, set in the same world as her book The Best of All Possible Worlds (some places call it a sequel, but from what I can tell it's mostly just another book in that world). Maybe it would have helped to read the previous book first, but I never felt drawn into this world enough to understand it. It could easier just me the mood I was in the day I read it, but the book didn't work for me.
"On the verge of adulthood, Rafi attends the Lyceum, a school for the psionically gifted. Rafi possesses mental abilities that might benefit people . . . or control them. Some wish to help Rafi wield his powers responsibly; others see him as a threat to be contained.
Serendipity and Ntenman are also students at the Lyceum, but unlike Rafi they come from communities where such abilities are valued. Serendipity finds the Lyceum as much a prison as a school, and she yearns for a meaningful life beyond its gates. Ntenman, with his quick tongue, quicker mind, and a willingness to bend if not break the rules, has no problem fitting in. But he too has his reasons for wanting to escape."
The Winthrop Woman by Anya Seton
I read Seton's book Katherine a few years back and absolutely loved it, so finally made time for another. Both books are her "biographical novels," as compared to her historical fiction which focuses on invented characters. This one deals with Elizabeth Fones (this is her maiden name), niece and daughter-in-law of John Winthrop, a Puritan lawyer who arrived in the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1630 and founded what would become Boston.
Elizabeth was headstrong, not much inclined towards religion and scandalized Winthrop in a variety of ways (none all that scandalous to our modern eyes). The book tells her full life story and I found it absolutely brilliant. Sometimes I forget how much I love historical fiction and then I'm hit with something truly wonderful.
One of Seton's real gifts is that she doesn't see past peoples are hugely different from ourselves. She knows there were children in Puritan families who weren't religious, knows that women could have sex drives, knows that most people have their own particular view of a simple happiness that might lie outside society's strictures. It's all the the more impressive given that she was born in 1904 her biggest books were published in the 1940s and 1950s. She also did extensive research, which really showed in the two I've read.
The Re-Origin of Species by Torill Kornfeldt
Popular science work examining a variety of projects aiming to bring extinct species back from the dead. Sure, there's a short dinosaur chapter, but what about passenger pigeons, wooly mammoths, and aurochs? The book deals with the Hows and the Whys and the likelihood of success.
An interesting little read.
Freshwater by Akwaeke Emezi
This is a contemporary/urban fantasy novel. Here's part of the publisher's synopsis:
"Ada begins her life in the south of Nigeria as a troubled baby and a source of deep concern to her family. Her parents, Saul and Saachi, successfully prayed her into existence, but as she grows into a volatile and splintered child, it becomes clear that something went terribly awry. When Ada comes of age and moves to America for college, the group of selves within her grows in power and agency."
This is a debut novel and I think it shows it in some of the typical ways. The plot sometimes hints that it's going somewhere but then never seems to arrive, just meanders. There are some interesting aspects related to trauma and coping and identity in general, but it never quite worked for me. I'll be curious to see what the author is doing a few books down the line though.
Pretty Fire by Charlayne Woodard
Autobiographical one-woman show that tells stories from Woodard's life and bits about her parents and grandparents as well. It deals with some very serious subjects (racism, assault), but always comes back to humor. This one seems like it would be especially good live. Well worth seeing or listening to especially.
Whipping Girl: A Transsexual Woman on Sexism and the Scapegoating of Femininity by Julia Serano
A very good memoir and primer on a lot of issues surrounding gender identity and how trans women especially are treated with Catch 22s regarding their dress and behavior that cis women rarely are.
There's no single opinion of view on a lot of these issues (just like there's no single disabled opinion on ableism, etc...), but I do think this is an especially good book for people who haven't really read anything about the trans experience.
For anyone rolling their eyes about the scapegoating of femininity phrase, it's a complex issue and the book sets it out well. I will say that I noticed a trend when I was growing up (I'm an 80s baby) that extremely stereotypically feminine characters in children's shows, teen shows, movies, etc... where almost without fail the villains or just generally mean, awful people. That deserves a book all its own, but it's interesting to me.
Also, Serano is not "speaking over" cis women on sexism, this is personal experience of being seen one way and then seen the other. Trans men and women have unique perspectives on just how quickly treatment changes based on which gender you're seen as.
A Corner of White, The Cracks in the Kingdom, A Tangle of Gold by Jaclyn Moriarty RE-READS
This is the Colors of Madeleine trilogy. Moriarty is known for writing YA novels but this is her first venture into full blown fantasy and it's frankly brilliant. It's a parallel universe type of deal, and also full of actual science and history.
Madeleine and her mother are living in Cambridge, England, surviving on very little after Madeleine's latest attempt at running away ended with her mother deciding to come with her. Prior to this they lived a rich, jet setting life, so the current turn isn't easy to adjust to.
Her story alternates with Elliot's, a boy from the Farms province in the Kingdom of Cello. He's dealing with the recent death of his uncle and the disappearance (and probably death) of his father at the same time. He and Madeleine are connected when a note come through a tiny crack linking the two kingdoms.
As usual, Moriarty writes very realistic teenagers and there's a lot of humor in the book. If you've got 12+ kids in your life I really recommend these (and if you read any YA yourself). They're fun, twisty, and the fantasy world is very unique. I don't read much YA, I don't want to spend much of my reading life with teens, but I just love these (and Moriarty's work in general), and really recommend them.
Red Famine: Stalin's War on Ukraine by Anne Applebaum
Loved Applebaum's Gulag: A History, so finally wanted to get to more by her.
The subtitle really says it all. Great history writing, covering a long period, dealing with the various famines, the reasons for them, and the way they were covered up.
The Complete Wimmen's Comix by various, introduction by Trina Robbins
Wimmen's Comix was a touchstone in the alternative/underground comics scene starting in the 1972 and publishing not quite yearly for 20 years. Loads of well known names were involved over the years, including Joyce Farmer, Alison Bechdel, Lynda Barry, and this complete volume is just over 700 pages. It featured early autobiographical comics, more normalized views of homosexuality, and lots of commentary on women's rights.
Each issue having the work of many people, it's a hit or miss thing. The first few issues especially and the more random seeming fantasy works were less enjoyable. At some point (or maybe always? I'd read a chunk, then not any for a few days or even a week) the issues had more dedicated themes.
I grew up on alternative comics and feminism, so this was an interesting journey for me, and well worth the time. There are some extremely good comics in here. I'd love to own a copy of the collection.
The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan
How great is this altering of the classic orange and white Penguin cover?
This has been on my to-read list for a long time now, and I finally got to it. I spent March (women's history month) only reading books by women and this one focusing on mothers and daughters doubly fits that theme.
Tan cycles through the stories of different Chinese women and their first generation American daughters. It's a beautiful book, and other then slight worry that we wouldn't loop back to the first story (we do) enjoyed every bit of it.
Four short stories by Elizabeth Gaskell
This is an audio only selection, as far as I can tell. It's a pretty random assortment. One is more representative of Gaskell's novels, two are morality tales, and the four is a spooky tale. The first was definitely best. The morality stories were rather heavy handed, and the spooky one was fairly enjoyable.
The stories were, Right at Last, Sexton's Hero, Hand and Heart, and The Old Nurse's Story.
Doubt: A History: The Great Doubters and Their Legacy of Innovation from Socrates and Jesus to Thomas Jefferson and Emily Dickinson by Jennifer Michael Hecht
Fascinating book about the history of religious doubt. This includes doubt about the existence of any god, doubt about the dominant religious doctrines that lead to off-shoots or new religions, and doubt that causes religious searchings and writings.
Really enjoyed it, learned a ton of new stuff, and have other books on my to-read list from the bibliography. It's a reasonably long work but covering a lot of ground, so it can't spend as long as the reader might want on some categories, but that's the way with this type of book (and again there's that bibliography).
Born Criminal: Matilda Joslyn Gage, Radical Suffragist by Angelica Shirley Carpenter
This is SUCH an important book about a key figure who was written out of women's history. Gage was born in 1826 to parents who were active abolitionists, their home an underground railroad stop when she was growing up, as was her home after she married. She became involved in the women's suffrage movement in 1852.
Gage was considered more radical than Susan B. Anthony or Elizabeth Cady Stanton, who she knew extremely through their joint work for the National Woman Suffrage Association. Gage was very well educated, and particularly interested in shining a light on forgotten women in history and women's inventions. Anthony and Stanton, who out-lived Gage, are the key people responsible for writing her out of history. Both took credit for Gage's writings and research at various times before and after her death, Anthony most egregiously. Gage's writing was often praised, and her book Woman, Church, and State garnered a personal letter from Tolstoy with the back handed compliment "It proved a woman could think logically."
Gage was other L. Frank Baum's mother-in-law, and it's thought that she greatly inspired how he wrote women and girls, particularly in the Oz books and the books written under his Edith van Dyne pseudonym. Given that Baum had only sons, I think this is probably quite true.
Highly recommend this book, or at least doing a good Wikipedia dive.
I Await the Devil's Coming by Mary MacLane
This was published in 1902 by a 19 year old woman from Butte, Montana, largely from her diary. To be fair the publishers changed the title to The Story of Mary MacLane without her consent but a recent republishing went back to the original title.
MacLane was openly bisexual, highly sexual in general, and felt destined for fame when her brilliance was recognized. It is a very teenaged document and if I'd read it as a 13 yr old I would have been absolutely obsessed with it (perhaps it's best that I didn't). MacLane used the money from the book (which made her an instant celebrity) to get the hell of a Butte and begin her decadent and bohemian life.
As an adult it was interesting. Parts of it blindingly relevant and wise, others so full of eye-roll inducing teen angst and an obsession with the devil that will strike many as odd but I feel like there's this occult phase that a ton of girls go through, often multiple times with different focuses (in 3rd grade I was all about sacrificing my dolls to the volcano goddess and then in 8th grade a friend sort of forced a a period of study on the Satanic Bible and similar on us). Maybe it's something to do with frustration at societal messages. I know it was pretty clear my whole public school career that boys were cut a lot more slack, behavior wise, even in kindergarten (one classroom was extremely harsh on 'kept fidgeting' in girl but didn't expect the boys to sit as still or keep inside voices).
Anyway, not a book I'd recommend widely, but really interesting to me.
The Foundling: The True Story of a Kidnapping, a Family Secret, and my Search for the Real Me by Paul Joseph Fronczak
I did not like this book or this author.
Fronczak was kidnapped as a newborn from his hospital room by a woman disguised as a nurse. About two years later a baby was thought to be the baby Fronczak based solely on similar predicted age despite being in New Jersey (vs Chicago). The Fronczak's were brought in to see if they recognized the child. They decided they did and took the baby home. The author found articles about the kidnapping when he was about 10, had never felt like he belonged with his family, felt they treated him different than his younger brother (born not long before he was 'found'), etc...
So of course it wasn't the same baby and after the author has a daughter he wants to get a DNA test done. Convinces his parents to do it, they change their mind after giving samples, but he sends the tests in anyway. That's fine but then when it shows he's not their biological child he decides that the FIRST STEP in finding out who he really is should be a TV interview asking the public for help. He doesn't contact an agency about it, he doesn't do an Ancestry.com or 23andme test to look for relatives (neither was a brand new thing), nope he goes public with it immediately. When his parents are upset he tries to say it's so that they can find their real baby, so it's for them, not him. He also dwells on being treated differently but at the same time keeps saying (to his parents) that they gave him a perfect childhood and he loves them so much. When they stop speaking to him for a bit he also doesn't ever try to get back in touch. Plus he starts ignoring his wife and child to focus on the search.
It all felt very false and weird, like he knew he had to portray himself a certain way but wasn't that good at faking it. I would have honestly stopped reading except then I did want to know how it would end up and it wasn't a long book. Here's what I kept reading for:
Washington Black by Esi Edugyan
I enjoyed this read, though maybe not quite as much as I was expecting. The emotional level of the book always felt quite muted (or perhaps that was just me muting my emotions! It's hard to tell with grief in the way) and I wanted to access that side.
"George Washington Black, or "Wash," an eleven-year-old field slave on a Barbados sugar plantation, is terrified to be chosen by his master's brother as his manservant. To his surprise, the eccentric Christopher Wilde turns out to be a naturalist, explorer, inventor, and abolitionist. Soon Wash is initiated into a world where a flying machine can carry a man across the sky, where even a boy born in chains may embrace a life of dignity and meaning--and where two people, separated by an impossible divide, can begin to see each other as human."
That description doesn't do the book justice. It's well worth reading even if not a full five stars for me (still a four).
Spain in Our Hearts: Americans in the Spanish Civil War, 1936-1939 by Adam Hochschild
Does what it says on the tin! Very good history read, highly recommended.
The Watch on the Rhine by Lillian Hellman
An interesting play combining some drawing room humor and serious political commentary. It was first performed in April 1941 and deals with the rise of fascism n Europe.
Set (and written) in 1940, Kurt Mueller and his American wife Sara have lived in Europe for the last 17 years. They have been active anti-fascists and are now visiting Sara's mother and brother in Washington DC. The play was Hellman's response to the Soviet-Nazi non-aggression pact and the importance of an international alliance against Hitler.
I always found it interesting to read works like this, written at the time, not in retrospect. It was a good read, and I think the tone, the mix of serious and flippant worked very well.
The Graveyard of the Hesperides by Lindsey Davis
The fourth in Davis' Flavia Albia historical mystery series (a spin off from the Falco books, Albia being his adopted daughter). It took a few books for me to feel like Davis had found her feet writing Albia. I miss Falco, but I'm enjoying these.
This one has a special focus on her relationship with Manlius Faustus the aedile who she's marrying. He's taken charge of a construction firm and in renovating a local bar find a number of human bones. Of course they decide to investigate. It felt like a quieter book than some of the others, and I enjoyed it.
Amusingly, Wikipedia says this about it: The plot features sex workers, bones, wedding planners and lentils. Yes, definitely my special interests...
Inheritance: How Our Genes Change Our Lives--and Our Lives Change Our Genes by Sharon Moalem
Good science work on genes, dealing somewhat with why there's no nature vs nurture but both interacting.
Nice read, recommended if you like this sort of thing.
River of Teeth by Sarah Gailey
A fun, silly, ridiculous book. Gailey takes the 1910 proposal of a US politician to import hippopotamuses into Louisiana (to raise for meat and to eat the invasive water hyacinth) and makes it happen in the 1850s. Soon there's a feral hippo problem that Winslow Houndstooth has been hired to handle. He puts together a ragtag group of misfits and a daring plan to rid the river of the problem in one fell swoop (not the year of hunting ferals individually that his employers had in mind).
It's the book I needed. Fun, full of great characters and good representation (both LGBT and racial). Gailey is a non-binary author who prefers they/them pronouns, as does one of the characters. If I were Gailey, I think I'd have gone with one of the new pronoun options (ze/zir, for example) because that's slightly less confusing for readers, but it was great for me to see regardless (I myself don't relate to gender at all, and consider myself agender).
I might have liked a bit more length on the book as well (it's a novella) for extra development, but the plot is very fast moving and it didn't have the pacing issues that Every Heart a Doorway had, thankfully.
A World of Three Zeros: The New Economics of Zero Poverty, Zero Unemployment, and Zero Net Carbon Emissions by Muhammad Yunus
One of those books that seems very radical to a lot of the political establishment, but doesn't go far enough in my opinion. Yunus is a little too fixated on entrepreneurship (in ways that aren't inclusive of less tangible services and art) and falls into the "getting money from the government is always bad" model. Yet several times he contradicts this and it feels like he wants to go more radical. The truth is that in experiments with a universal basic income and health coverage the vast majority of people still work (the ones who don't are largely the elderly, stay at home parents, etc...). Most people have passions they'd like to pursue which will add value to the world, whether that's opening a restaurant, making art, creating new apps and games, teaching, etc etc. There's always the anti-abortion argument that X particular fetus would have been the one to cure cancer but that's never extended to the person struggling with poverty and working two jobs paycheck to paycheck.
The book is good for a basic primer on some of these ideas though, and why we need to start changing so much.
Dragonsong by Anne McCaffrey RE-READ
Just a classic SFF re-read to chear myself up. Plus it's a celebration of some McCaffrey finally being available as digital audio (as opposed to books on tape/CD) after quite a lapse. These are ultimate comfort reads or listens for me. I read them first in middle school and always got them on tape when I had to do serious room-cleaning or art projects or similar.
Menolly is the youngest daughter of a stern sea Holder of Pern. When her music teacher and only friend Peterin dies she is on her own against her family, who see her interest in music as shameful (because only men can be harpers). The trilogy that this book starts is geared more towards the YA market, with the first and second really basically being one book.
The Salt Roads by Nalo Hopkinson
Really excellent historical fiction fantasy novel built partly around a water spirit found in religions of west, central, and southern Africa and the African diaspora in the Americas. The novel travels between three women: Mer, a slave in St. Domingue (just before it's renamed Haiti), Jeanne Duval, the 19th century Afro-French actress/dancer and mistress to the French poet Baudelaire, and Thais, the fourth century prostitute-turned-saint.
I loved this. Wonderful mix of historical fiction and fantasy elements from the folklore. It's just the kind of thing I love when it's done right.
The Bone and Sinew of the Land: America's Forgotten Black Pioneers and the Struggle for Equality by Anna-Lisa Cox
An interesting history work, though at times it's much less about the pioneers and more about how any thriving black families and communities were systematically destroyed and moved on by white neighbors.
There's plenty of good information here for those who are interested, just one of those books where the subtitle can lead one a little astray in expectations (not wildly so, but still).
Hullabaloo in the Guava Orchard by Kiran Desai
This was one of my suggestions for a book club, which I loved and another member liked but most people had a hard time getting into (only one other person finished it). For me the book immediately drew me in, I adored the writing style and couldn't put it down. Given how hard it is for me to read in print sometimes this was a dream.
Sampath is a young man who, having struggled through school, is now struggling with his job in the post office and the expectations of his father. He is hyperfocused on his own interests and unable to settle down. His mother is the same, obsessed with food and cooking strange and grand meals.
It's a hard book to describe, but give it thirty pages and if you're drawn in by the writing style I think you'll like the book. It has some magical realist notes though not explicitly until the very end. The sense of place is extremely strong and I'd certainly recommend giving it a try.
The Best Bad Things by Katrina Carrasco
A historical mystery on the thriller side of the genre. It's set in 1887 with Alma Rosales in undercover as a man trying to sort out the leaks in Delphine Beaumond's drug business.
It's a little too full on for me in terms of violence and sex, but I was partly reading for LGBT characters. At times it does feel like Rosales wants to have sex with everyone. It's really just three people, but she's so driven by her sex drive it was rather off-putting for me, and not something I can understand. This would bug me in a male character as well, and in any setting. I don't really feel sexual attraction, so putting your job at risk because you want to have sex with a random acquaintance doesn't compute for me.
My issues are likely not yours, so this might be your cup of tea. I did feel Rosales was frustratingly distracted from the job at hand but the setting and detail was interesting and I didn't hate the book.
Sweet Little Cunt: The Graphic Work of Julie Doucet by Anne Elizabeth Moore
I never got to read Doucet in a dedicated fashion, but saw bits and pieces enough to recognize her style instantly.
While I was disappointed not to see more of her work reprinted in this book, that quickly faded. Moore describes strips well and the book was a great read. The critical treatment was done extremely well and I didn't want to put the book down once I started it. Moore's writing is accessible, funny, and her knowledge is wide enough to cover a lot of ground in a short book.
Recommended for anyone who was into alternative/underground comics in the 1990s. I've not put everything by Moore on my to-read list.
The Devil that Danced on the Water: A Daughter's Memoir by Aminatta Forna
Forna's mother is from Scotland and her father was from Sierra Leone. Her childhood was mostly spent in Sierra Leone and Nigeria, and her father was a doctor turned politician. He was eventually murdered by another political faction.
This book is her own memoir but also a potted history of her father from her investigations into the details of his work and death that she wasn't really aware of at the time.
Very good read.
Dragonsinger by Anne McCaffrey RE-READ
Book two of this trilogy. Solidly good YA SFF. I do always enjoy how McCaffrey builds her worlds and drops you into them. Her handling of abuse in the first and second book is also VERY good by today's standards, and downright amazing for the 1970s.
Menolly is now at the Harper hall, being tested by the various masters and trying to find her place as the only girl apprentice.
Quackery: A Brief History of the Worst Ways to Cure Everything by Lydia Kang
Humorous popular science/history work. Just what I needed at the time, a really fun read.
Craeft: How Traditional Crafts are About More than Just Making by Alexander Langlands
Langlands did a number of 'year on a historical farm' shows on BBC which I absolutely adore. Ruth Goodman, who did all the same shows and more, has written a number of excellent books so thought I'd read Langlands.
I didn't particularly love this one. Langlands has the type of craft obsession that feels very exclusive and overly wrought, and an outlook which leaves disabled folk out of the picture generally (in general pronouncements, obvious his personal story is its own thing). Even the subtitle rather turns me off. It's okay when crafts ARE just about making! We don't have to meditate our way into the distant pasts of what we're doing. I love learning about traditional crafts, I love trying them out, I love doing embroidery, but I don't want to worship them and they're not inherently better than playing a video game or digital photography.
There's some interesting stuff in the book, but I wouldn't particularly recommend it unless you think Langlands is simpatico with your view!
All-of-a-Kind-Family by Sydney Taylor (real name Sarah Brenner)
These mid-century works dealing with early 20th century New York City Jewish life were a window for so many children. This started a series, based on Taylor's own childhood (she was born in 1904). They're a great counterpart to Mary Hart Lovelace's Betsy-Tacy series (set in the same period, but Betsy-Tacy is rural and gentile).
The book is sweet and interesting, and just what you'd imagine from this type of thing. The series would have been many Christian children's main (or only) window into Jewish holidays. This books covers Sukkot in particular.
I enjoyed it, and I'll read the next couple books in the series at least.
Castle Rackrent by Maria Edgeworth
I've been casually wanting to read more of the novels by women writing pre-Jane Austen, and Edgeworth is definitely on that list. I would have preferred to read her The Absentee, since absentee landlordism has played a key role in West Virginia history, but it wasn't accessible in audio form.
It's not the greatest book in the world, but it's interesting. Edgeworth has a lot of opinions on the English in Ireland, as she was part of that group. There are definitely some good social themes in her work, and I hope to read another by her this year.
It wasn't an "I loved this!" type of book, but I'm glad I read it.
Nine Continents/Once Upon a Time in the East: A Story of Growing Up by Xiaolu Guo
I think all of my previously read Chinese memoirs were written by people born in the 1950s or earlier, so this was a good change (Guo was born in 1973).
She dealt with a variety of hardships especially as a child, including being taken from the only home she'd known, with her grandparents, to live with her parents and younger brother. As a content warning, she also deals with sexual abuse at various times in her life.
I read one of Guo's novels a few years back (20 Fragments of a Ravenous Youth), and just adored it. The memoir was pretty good and quite interesting, but I'll be especially happy to get back to her fiction.
Seeing a Large Cat by Elizabeth Peters
This is the ninth Amelia Peabody book. Peabody's own interest in Egyptology led her to meeting her archeologist husband Radcliffe and most books cover the excavation season in Egypt, starting in 1884. Their adventures feed her extreme interest in sleuthing. The series is pure fun, and often quite silly, which is why I love it. Peters is the pseudonym of actual Egyptologist Barbara Mertz, so there's a lot of really excellent detail in them.
I'm reading the series slowly to make it last longer, but if you enjoy humorous historical mysteries, you might like these. One doesn't read them for the trickiness of the mystery though (particularly not the first few).
I even more highly recommend Mertz's non-fiction books published under her own name. Her Red Land, Black Land: Daily Life in Ancient Egypt is one of the best ancient Egypt books I've read. It was first published in 1966 and has never been out of print. She gets quite a bit of humor in that as well, and it's so good I'm planning to re-read it.
Claire of the Sea Light by Edwidge Danticat
I've been meaning to read another novel by Danticat for some time, and finally chose this one slightly at random. It's one of her more recently works, published in 2013.
It's a novel following various trails that weave together a full picture of a town. Claire is a seven year old girl. Her mother died giving birth to her, and each year her father struggles with the idea of giving her to someone else to raise. Finally on her seventh birthday, he decides to do it. Claire then disappears.
Danticat's writing styles is absolutely delicious. This book could have gone on forever and I would have been happy. The way the town is brought to life is extremely effective and each character felt well-rendered. Recommended.
L.E.L.: the Lost Life and Scandalous Death of Letitia Elizabeth Landon, the Celebrated "Female Byron" by Lucasta Miller
I forget where I read about either this book or Landon, but it was probably on BookRiot.
Very interesting to read about this generally forgotten figure who was so key in the early part of her career (and so taken advantage of). It was interesting to compare what her life actually was compared with some later critiquing in terms of the sexual content of her poetry and the fact that her death comes very swiftly after her marriage (but long after her lengthy affair which produced two children).
A good read.
There Was a Country: A Personal History of Biafra by Chinua Achebe
I've been meaning to read about Biafra for some time, and thought I'd start here and then go to a full history.
The book is part memoir, part wider history, and is a good read for either part. Achebe's writing is excellent, as you'd probably expect and the book necessarily paints a picture of colonial Nigeria as well.
Letter to Jimmy by Alain Mabanckou
This book is a series of essays addressed to James Baldwin. Mabanckou is a poet, novelist, and essayist from Republic of Congo.
Parts of this I loved, parts got a little tedious (the entire book is address to Baldwin personally, so full of "You did this, you did that" which can be awkward). There's a lot of great detail and commentary in here, particularly on the development of post-colonial African literature and the Negritude movement. It was an interesting companion read with There Was a Country as well.
Recommended if the idea of the book piques your interest.
The Provocative Colette by Annie Goetzinger
A graphic non-fiction work, giving us a minimal biography of Colette, focusing on her marriage to Willy and maybe a decade afterward. The drawing is beautiful, though I wish there was more focus on her career vs her personal life, but oh well.
Not must-read, but nice to pick up for the art if it's easily available.
Acorna's People by Anne McCaffrey RE-READ
For some reason as a kid I read and re-read McCaffrey's Menolly books in the Pern world and loved them, but didn't read any other Pern books. Instead I read the Acorna books. In the first one three freelance miner/scavengers find a small escape pod with a baby in it. It's not a human baby, but humanoid, covered in short fur, with hands that seem a little closer to hooves, and a tiny horn. Soon they realize she can purify air and identify ores in rocks by touching her horn to them.
This is the third book in the series. I quite enjoy them. There's a lot of diversity in settings and character groups and good solid sci-fi. Acorna is a really great character, as are her three adopted fathers. I'm enjoying re-reading them.
Birds in Town and Village by William Henry Hudson
One of my more left-field reads. A nature book first published as Birds in a Village in 1893. When it came to republishing he removed a lot of no longer relevant information and added notes about bird life in town, that I believe were taken at the same time as the Village bits. I'm way behind on reviews, so I don't remember now.
Hudson was born and raised in Argentina, not coming to England until his 30s. It's an interesting snapshot of practices and concerns about wildlife from a time when people were still shooting any old wild bird for the pot (an old cookbook for budget cooking in a city I looked through advised sending one's children out to the street to shoot birds with a slingshot for the pot).
Heart's Blood by Juliet Marillier RE-READ
Thus far, this is Marillier's only stand-alone novel. It's not her best, but not terrible either. I'm not sure if I was just rushing through it when I first read it (about eight years ago), but this time I found it so predictable and the main character goes less intelligent at times to extend things, a major pet peeve in books.
Caitrin is a girl on the run from abusive relations, but she does have the skills of a scribe to offer. In a small village she learns that the lord of a manor is looking for a scribe. The house and lord are feared and mistrusted in the village, but it's the refuge that Caitrin needs.
There are a lot of good points in the book. The lord of the manor has had a stroke at some point and has some disabilities as a result, and Caitrin is dealing with PTSD. It's probably best for the older teen audience.
Daniel Deronda by George Eliot
A complex book to enjoy, because Eliot has decided to take on anti-semitism, to an extent, but she's still a Victorian woman and the effort sometimes involves casual anti-semitism. Fighting that is her absolutely gorgeous prose. I just want to bathe in her words.
Deronda is the ward of Sir Hugo Mallinger, and it's widely believed that he is an illegitimate son of the same. He nearly meets Gwendolen Harleth as she first wins at the roulette table and then loses all. They meet properly again after she is called home when her family loses its fortune.
This was Eliot's final novel, and the only one set in contemporary England. It's a wonderful work, and as usual she manages to avoid being totally predictable. I wouldn't care if I could predict every detail though, since I enjoy her writing so much.
Salvage the Bones by Jesmyn Ward
Set over twelve days before and during hurricane Katrina, it follows Esch and her family as they prepare and deal with their own difficulties. Esch is pregnant, one brother is trying to save his dog's puppies, another is working to get to a basketball camp, and the youngest is just trying to be part of the group. Their father is the only one really concerned about the coming hurricane.
It's a good book, though you can definitely tell there are six years of growth between it and Sing, Unburied, Sing. It's a complex book, and a difficult read in many ways, but a good one to pick up. The links and interactions between the siblings were particularly well-rendered.
Good Morning Comrades by Ondjaki
My first book by an Angolan author. It is semi/very autobiographical but billed as a novel. Angola quite a different colonial experience under the Portuguese, compared to the English and French systems which I've read more about.
Set in 1990 in Luanda, Ndalu is twelve years ago and living an ordinary life at a time of great upheaval for his county. His teachers are Cuban, his school work must revolve around revolutionary themes, his cook thinks things were better under the Portuguese, and his aunt Dada's visit from Portugal is quite perplexing (she doesn't know what a ration card is!).
It's a great little book, a slice of a very specific time and place. There's also a very helpful afterward. Recommended.
How Democracies Die by Steven Levitsky
High time for some extra depressing non-fiction. In addition to pointing out the ways Trump fits the definitions for anti-democratic leaders, this book looks at places were those figures were stopped vs where they succeeded and the reasons why.
It's a really interesting work, and an important read. Highly recommended.
Embassytown by China Mieville
Read for my online book club. I wasn't a fan of this. Mieville throws you into the most alien of worlds, starts throwing invented terms at you like there's no tomorrow, and struggles with giving contextual examples that would allow you to feel like you understand the world. There's no telling-but-not-showing but there's also little showing, which isn't good writing in my book. One aspect he even has a character say it can't be explained. That aspect felt like it was going to be a focus of the book, enough time was spent on it early on, but then totally disappeared and wasn't really relevant at all.
Clinging along as best I could, things started to feel more understandable before it all went odd for me again. I didn't hate every second reading it, and I can sort of understand why a lot of people found it amazing, but it felt like too much focus on concept to me. There are also too many big ideas in the book all fighting with each other and not getting enough focus to be meaningful.
Golden Hill by Francis Spufford
I'm not sure if I just read this at a bad time for me, but it didn't really work for me. Maybe it was down the pacing and just the situations. I didn't particularly care about any of the characters and kept feeling like it would make a better TV show than book (I'd watch it). I didn't hate it by any means, I just didn't connect with it either.
"New York, a small town on the tip of Manhattan island, 1746. One rainy evening in November, a handsome young stranger fresh off the boat arrives at a countinghouse door on Golden Hill Street: this is Mr. Smith, amiable, charming, yet strangely determined to keep suspicion shimmering. For in his pocket, he has what seems to be an order for a thousand pounds, a huge sum, and he won’t explain why, or where he comes from, or what he is planning to do in the colonies that requires so much money. Should the New York merchants trust him? Should they risk their credit and refuse to pay? Should they befriend him, seduce him, arrest him; maybe even kill him?"
The Mines of King Solomon by Carl Barks
The umpteenth volume of the Carl Barks Donald Duck and Uncle Scrooge libraries. Annoyingly, a good chunk of this one was taken up by Gyro Gearloose stories. I'm sure someone felt they should be included since they nominally take place in Duckburg, but it's not like they heavily feature Donald or Scrooge, so I was rather grumbly. When you're excited for a volume of Scrooge-focused stories, it's hard being disappointed.
Serena by Ron Rash
A book club choice. There were aspects of this book that I loved, like the sense of place and connection to the land, and others that I really took me out of the book, namely ahistorical details (a komodo dragon in a traveling circus in the 1930s for one). In the end I was unsatisfied. It was also quite predictable and the baddies are really really bad, the goodies are really really good and there's not much in between.
"Rash’s chilling gothic tale of greed, corruption, and revenge set against the backdrop of the 1930s wilderness and America’s burgeoning environmental movement was named a Best Book of the Year by more than a dozen national publications, including the New York Times, Washington Post, San Francisco Chronicle, Chicago Tribune, and Miami Herald. Serena is brilliant contemporary fiction that exquisitely balances beauty and violence, passion and rage, cruelty and love."
The actual summaries of this give away a huge amount, and whoever wrote that doesn't understand what contemporary fiction is.
Everything is Wonderful: Memories of a Collective Farm in Estonia by Sigrid Rausing
Rausing is a Swedish anthropologist who did field research on an Estonian collective farm is 1993-1994 for her dissertation. That scholarly was published in 2004 as History, Memory, and Identity in Post-Soviet Estonia. While this book reprints a few pieces from that work, it is a much more informal memoir about her personal life while in Estonia.
It was a good read, though some may dislike Rausing's rather muted tone.
Extra Virginity: The Sublime and Scandalous World of Olive Oil by Tom Mueller
A very good read, interesting, and annoying. There are very specific requirements about the "extra virgin" label that include smell and taste, not just method of pressing, but these are almost never enforced. Large companies don't test oil shipments because then they can label extra virgin and act surprised when it's not. There's quite a bit of contamination of other oils in purported pure olive oil. This is all helping to kill good oil producers and because of the way the oil is treated (to deodorize it, for one) you're not actually getting the health benefits.
So in essence, cheap "extra virgin" oil almost certainly doesn't hit all the requirements and maybe isn't pure olive oil at all.
My uncle recommended this to me a few years ago and I'm glad to have finally read it.
Shooting Stars: Ten Historical Miniatures by Stefan Zweig
Zweig's take on ten historical events. These pieces have an interesting publishing history. Five pieces (one of which is not in this book) were initially published as Decisive Moments in History in 1927. More pieces were written, it was first published in the US in 1940 as The Tide of Fortune: Twelve Historical Miniatures. Eventually there were fourteen pieces but this book only contains ten and I'd really like to know what was cut and why.
I absolutely loved reading it. A friend spotted this and knew it would be just my thing, and he was right. Zweig's writing is wonderful, though I'm sure one could argue it's so narrative as to be historical fiction. I learned quite a bit from it, including about an early California gold rush event. It was also funny that so many key things in the book happened on or around April 20. The book ended on a bit of a sour note for me, as it was about Woodrow Wilson, and he was not a good person (so that was included but pieces about Cicero, Tolstoy, Goethe, and Dostoevsky were cut).
Highly recommended to anyone who likes history reading.
The Civil Wars of Julia Ward Howe by Elaine Showalter
A biography in brief of Howe, particularly focusing on her turbulent marriage. Her husband spent most of her fortune on bad real estate deals, encouraged single women to have careers and follow their dreams, but felt his wife should find her whole reason for living in being a wife and mother.
Best remembered now for writing the words to the Battle-Hymn of the Republic, her poetry actually occupies a very interesting place in women's literature, and she did so much more. She was not a perfect person or a perfect activist (being raised with a lot of privilege means there's a lot to overcome), but she was fascinating and her legacy is important. Thank goodness her husband was almost twenty years older than her, and that after he died she had a lot of years left (during which her chlidren then tried to control her).
My Sister, the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite
Yes, I'm on the train for this book too. While there was one thread which I thought could have used more exploring, in general this was a great read and really well done.
The book opens with Korede going to help her sister, Ayoola, clean up after she's murdered her boyfriend. It is the third killing. Korede grapples with her sister's explanations of what happened (he was violent, backed her into a corner, she didn't mean to stab him) with the facts she knows for sure (this one was stabbed in the back).
Meanwhile she works as a nurse, hoping one of the doctors will notice her in a romantic sense. Then he meets her beautiful, perfect sister.
Again, this is the kind of book that could easily go wrong but Braithwaite handles it really well. It's not the most perfect book in the universe (Braithwaite is only just 30), but I thoroughly enjoyed it.
A Venetian Affair: A True Tale of Forbidden Love in the 18th Century by Andrea di Robilant
The story of two lovers, drawn from primary sources. Andrea Memmo was the heir to an old Venetian Patrician family, Giustiniana Wynne was the illegitimate daughter of a Venetian mother and British father. It was out of the question that they would marry. Giustiniana's letters were found in the 1920s and a Venetian historian wrote a book about them, and speculated wildly about Memmo and what his letters were like. Memmo is an ancestor of the author and his side of the correspondence was found by the author's father in a family home.
It was interesting, and a pretty good read, but nothing electric.
Popular: Vintage Wisdom for a Modern Geek by Maya van Wagenen
A house clean brings the find of Betty Cornell's Teen-Age Popularity Guide to the family's attention. Maya's mother suggests she follow the guide for the upcoming school year (8th grade, age 13-14) and write about the experience. Now, to me that sounds like dangerous advice. If I'd done these things in my 8th grade year, or at the large public high school I spent a few months at, I would have been bullied out of existence. I spent 7th grade being bullied by my former best friends for reasons I still don't understand (we'd stopped being friends largely because I dressed poor and not with the fashions and they decided to attempt to become more popular, which okay, but then why not just leave me be and move on? And that was when there was a little less bullying going on in general).
Maya doesn't have too hard a time, though when things are more difficult she seems, in print, to get over it in about an hour, which seems hard to believe. She tries to follow specific smaller things each month, and throughout it makes an effort to reach out to more people and get over some of her shyness.
A reasonably interesting read which feels a bit too polished given that she was writing this as she did the experiment, not a year or even months later. Her emotions feel far too controlled. She says the experiment did give her more confidence. A lot of the other students don't seem all that real to me. The popular kids all demure about being popular, and aspects did feel constructed to make students all seem more mature and muted (emotionally). Maybe she told them she was writing a book before asking for their opinions on popularity... They'd also only been living in that school district for two years. She did this circa 2011.
Obviously I'm not the target audience for this book, but I love a vintage etiquette/advice guide, so was interested in the book from that perspective.
The Treasure of Alpheus Winterborn by John Bellairs
I become a diehard fan of Bellairs Johnny Dixon books when I was a kid, but for some reason just stuck with that series. Maybe because we owned a number of them, maybe out of some strange misplaced loyalty to the character. We'll never know. This is the first book featuring Anthony Monday, of which there are only four. Publishers weren't such fans of this series, and I can sort of see why. Johnny Dixon's grandparents may not totally understand him, but they do love him. Anthony Monday's mother is actively awful at times.
Anthony's favorite thing is to visit Miss Eells, the clumsy old librarian. With her he stops worrying so much about his parents fights over money. Earning some money himself is such a fixation that she offers him a job as a page in the library. The building is a strange old place, designed by Alpheus Winterborn, legendary rich oddball of the town. It was said he brought back an amazing treasure from an archeological dig but no one has ever found it. While dusting, Anthony knocks a piece of wood off the wall. Inside is a $10 gold piece (these are set vaguely in the 1950s, so it's a good chunk of cash) and a riddle with clues to the treasure. Anthony becomes instantly obsessed.
I really enjoyed this, and loved Monday as a character and especially Miss Eells. The riddle/mystery element is easily worked out for an adult (and probably most kids, but I think that's a good thing), but the journey towards the treasure comes more in fits and starts, which feels more realistic. Looking forward to reading the others in the series.
Field Notes From a Catastrophe: Man, Nature, and Climate Change by Elizabeth Kolbert
This was originally published in 2006, so multiply the danger and horror by 10 to get it up to date.
A good basic read on the subject of climate change. The timeline of W. Bush's stance on climate change was interesting, and the doublespeak on it by his people is almost a work of art.
Appalachian Elegy: Poetry and Place by bell hooks
A small volume of poetry. hooks' style isn't totally to my taste (too spare). I did mark a few I liked, but this was a digital loan and I accidentally returned the book before copying out the poems.
I loved hooks' memoir Bone Black, and will probably stick to her essays and non-fiction writing over her poetry. The sense of place in these poems was very strong and I did really enjoy that (as a fellow Appalachian).
The History of the Medieval World: From the Conversion of Constantine to the First Crusade by Susan Wise Bauer
An okay wider history, but I'm critical of the chronological way it's put together. There's little to be gained covering a brief period in France before switching to the same period in Japan in an era when the two countries have nothing to do with each other. I think even when there is more of an interplay it's easier for my brain to cover the whole era in one region and for the next section to have very brief reminders "Y happened while X was happening over there" if it's at all relevant. This hopping around technique just doesn't work well for me when we're talking about history before the 19th century (beyond specifics like colonizing country vs colonized country).
Crosstalk by Connie Willis
A fun science fiction novel by one of my favorite authors. This one isn't time travel, it's near-ish future where you can have an implant to allow you to clearly sense your partner's emotions to further deepen your bond. Briddey is having this done with her boyfriend Trent and everyone is madly jealous. However, she wakes up hearing a clear voice, and it's not Trent's.
It's a largely silly one, which I enjoyed, though the protagonist is rather slow on the uptake for certain things (granting she is under a great deal of stress and just trying to get one step further in her Great Plan without having to rethink it or face the reality that her family might be right (vs just being nosy busybodies).
The Keys to the Kingdom by Garth Nix (series starts with Mister Monday and continues with days of the week in the names) RE-READS
I didn't read this all in one lump, but thought I'd review them that way to save on tedium.
This middle grade fantasy series is one of my favorites. Nix builds such neat worlds, and I never get sick of the sprawling, unworkable bureaucracy in this one. That is a strange comment to make, but there's some quite amusing commentary in these. The books are set in a similar world to ours but things have taken a different course after a very serious flu pandemic. Arthur gets roped into being a hero after denizens of The House try to use him as a pawn and he really doesn't care for the job.
Great characters, fun world, power corrupts kind of message, highly recommended for anyone interested in what's going on in middle grade books (a different world from YA) or any actual children (age 9-13ish?).
Acorna's World by Anne McCaffrey and Elizabeth Ann Scarborough RE-READ
Fourth book in the Acorna series. Furthering the story and giving us a lot more information about the villains of the universe, the Khleevi at the end of the book. After the first book the series does feel more like each book is a very long chapter of a very long book. Not a bad thing necessarily, but good to know and for me not always what I'm in the mood for. I think this is the last book I read in my initial reads.
The Last Palace: Europe's Turbulent Century in Five Lives and One Legendary House by Norman Eisen
I'm not sure this really hangs together as one solid book. Eisen's mother was a Jewish Czechoslovak who survived the Holocaust, eventually settling in the US where Eisen was born. Skip a zillion years and he's named ambassador to Czechia, which she has a lot of anxiety about. He'll be living in the house built by Otto Petschek, a Jewish businessman who died in 1934 and whose family fled the country in 1938 after the annexation of the Sudetenland.
So Eisen gives us Petschek's story and the building of the house, his mother's story, a little about the Nazi occupation of the house, the US ambassador in 1945 who acquired the house for the ambassadorial residence (which seems like total overkill) and helped restore it, Shirley Temple Black's ambassadorship during pivotal protests (she had also been in the country in 1968 when Soviet-backed forces invaded), and then some events from the author's time there.
While there are lots of interesting things here, it just doesn't feel like one cohesive book, and only two parts are really concerned with the house at all. I also find it very strange that even after Eisen's mother's real concern about him living there, due to anti-semitism and her own trauma, he's piping up to her in a nonchalant tone about finding swastikas stamped on the bottom of the dining room chairs from when the Nazis occupied the house. He seemed surprised at the reaction this triggered in her.
Energy and Civilization by Vaclav Smil
A very dry book with some aspects that made me feel uneasy about the author. He didn't seem to recognize that in a lot of the world energy coorporations have had a vested interest in keeping renewable energy small scale and limited. Saying that he doesn't think renewable energy will suddenly take over is kind of a meaningless statement in light of huge interests that don't want it to.
There were some interesting things in here but mostly it was just so dry and long for me. I really should have stopped reading it, but that doesn't come easily to me.
Dancing Bears: True Stories of People Nostalgic for Life Under Tyranny by Witold Szablowski
A strange little book, with some initial focus on the end of the dancing bears in Bulgaria who, while free, still stand up to dance when they see humans as partial allegory/partial story on some Roma who were forced to take to bear keeping again after the collective farms closed and they no longer had jobs.
Worth the quick read, I think, but don't expect great depth or analysis. It is very much oral history.
I Will Repay by Emmuska Orczy
This is a sequel to The Scarlet Pimpernel. While Orczy's black and white view of the French Revolution can be wearying I do love these. The adventure is a lot of fun.
A girl's brother is killed in a duel and her father makes her promise to avenge him. As she reluctanctly puts her plan into motion, she begins to fall for the man.
This Land is My Land: A Graphic History of Big Dreams, Micronations, and Other Self-Made States by Andy Warner
Couldn't put this down once I'd started it. Fascinating set of short pieces, nicely organized into categories of place. The art was great, the writing clear and objective, and the subject fascinating. It's one of those books where if you're interested in the subject or fascinated by eccentric folks, you'll love it.
My one quibble is that it would be nice to have some sources for further reading. However, we're given all the names we need to look them up ourselves.
The Utopia of Rules: On Technology, Stupidity, and the Secret Joys of Bureaucracy by David Graeber
I'm so far behind on reviews I can't review this in detail. Graeber's writing is always good, and he's a great source for learning about actual anarchist beliefs/groups vs popular perception. I remember this feeling a little random, like a book of essays pulled from every old where, which wasn't what I wanted at the time of reading.
Graeber is generally worthwhile though (I particularly loved his Debt: The First 5,000 Years).
The Wolf and the Watchman by Niklas Natt och Dag
Really interesting mystery set in 18th century Sweden. Where it went and how it ended, conspiracy wise wasn't my favorite, but I really enjoyed the book overall. I enjoyed the shifting perspective.
"One morning in the autumn of 1793, watchman Mikel Cardell is awakened from his drunken slumber with reports of a body seen floating in the Larder, once a pristine lake on Stockholm’s Southern Isle, now a rancid bog. Efforts to identify the bizarrely mutilated corpse are entrusted to incorruptible lawyer Cecil Winge, who enlists Cardell’s help to solve the case. But time is short: Winge’s health is failing, the monarchy is in shambles, and whispered conspiracies and paranoia abound.
Winge and Cardell become immersed in a brutal world of guttersnipes and thieves, mercenaries and madams. From a farmer’s son who is led down a treacherous path when he seeks his fortune in the capital to an orphan girl consigned to the workhouse by a pitiless parish priest, their gruesome investigation peels back layer upon layer of the city’s labyrinthine society. The rich and the poor, the pious and the fallen, the living and the dead—all collide and interconnect with the body pulled from the lake."
Jayber Crow by Wendell Barry
This is one of those internal character books where nothing really happens. Sometimes that works for me, but the narrator, Jayber Crow, didn't really have anything going on internally either. The closest we come to an internal struggle is Crow not being able to love a neighbor who doesn't treat his wife with utmost respect.
The writing was nice, and some of Barry's philosophical points were good, but the package was very dull and monotonous. The character's actions also didn't make sense a lot of the time, when compared to his internal 'here's how the ideal person acts" thoughts.
The Door by Magda Szabo
A better book club selection for this group! Aspects of this I really loved, though it was hard to understand some of the characters' feelings. Viewing it as just slightly magical realist helped me overlook some of that. I definitely loved the writing though.
"The Door is an unsettling exploration of the relationship between two very different women. Magda is a writer, educated, married to an academic, public-spirited, with an on-again-off-again relationship to Hungary’s Communist authorities. Emerence is a peasant, illiterate, impassive, abrupt, seemingly ageless. She lives alone in a house that no one else may enter, not even her closest relatives. She is Magda’s housekeeper and she has taken control over Magda’s household, becoming indispensable to her. And Emerence, in her way, has come to depend on Magda. They share a kind of love—at least until Magda’s long-sought success as a writer leads to a devastating revelation."
Outlaw Marriages: The Hidden Histories of Fifteen Extraordinary Same-Sex Couples by Rodger Streitmatter
Book of profiles, which is interesting, but each section is so short it can feel unsatisfying when you want to know more.
Generally a good read.
The Gilda Stories by Jewelle Gomez
Brief periods in the life of a vampire, starting in 1850. The Girl shows up at Gilda's bawdy house, running from a plantation after having killed a man in her escape. She is taught, protected, and loved. Gilda 'turns' her before choosing permanent death, so the Girl becomes the new Gilda. Each story takes place further in time, with the last two pieces set in the future (when they were written).
It's a very atypical piece of vampire fiction, and I really enjoyed it. The writing is great, and it's a true meditation on how we use our lives and how that would change if the life was functionally endless.
A Cup of Water Under My Bed by Daisy Hernandez
This is a memoir about the author's childhood. She was born in 1975, raised in New Jersey by a Colombian mother and Cuban father. She initially struggles in school due to her parents only speaking Spanish. She later struggles with her family accepting her bisexuality. The book has almost as much focus on her parents and their lives and beliefs as it does on Hernandez.
I read a fair number of memoirs, but this is one of the most beautiful I've read in the last couple years. The writing is wonderful, and Hernandez almost seems to hover outside herself as she writes about her parents and their struggles.
War Against All Puerto Ricans: Revolution and Terror in America's Colony by Nelson A. Denis
In the US we're woefully uneducated about Puerto Rico. The fact of it being a territory of the US is certainly all that I was ever told in school, and it was extremely rare that I saw anything in the news either. It shouldn't come as much surprise that the US has abused the people of Puerto Rico.
This seems to be the most accessible book available about a piece of the history surrounding one man. Recommended.
"Nelson A. Denis tells this powerful story through the controversial life of Pedro Albizu Campos, who served as the president of the Nationalist Party. A lawyer, chemical engineer, and the first Puerto Rican to graduate from Harvard Law School, Albizu Campos was imprisoned for twenty-five years and died under mysterious circumstances. By tracing his life and death, Denis shows how the journey of Albizu Campos is part of a larger story of Puerto Rico and US colonialism."
Tomorrow Will Be Different: Love, Loss, and the Fight for Trans Equality by Sarah McBride
This book is a lesson to me that when my library holds are about to come in I should re-read their summaries and make sure they're not covering really triggering subjects (very swift cancer deaths for me).
McBride came out as trans towards the end of her college life. The book covers that, her lifelong interest and involvement in politics, her fight for legislative protections for trans folks in Delaware, and her relationship with the man she'd marry, Andrew Cray. Having survived one bout with cancer, the second occurrence came very swiftly and they decided to marry even though it was clear he would die within a few weeks. As she was only 27 when this book was published and of course it had an enormous impact on her life, it takes up a lot of the book. I should have put it down and read it at a later date, but I'm not very good at that.
It's a good memoir, but a very hard read for me.
Ocean Renegades: Journey Through the Paleozoic Era by Abby Howard
This is the second installment in Howard's Earth Before Us comic series. Aimed at kids aged 10-ish and up, the first was Dinosaur Empire. Howard has always had a strong interest in biology, evolution, and paleontology which comes through strongly. The setup of the books is Miss Lernin, an eccentric, taking a young girl, Ronnie, back in time initially to correct her woeful dinosaur knowledge.
The art is absolutely spectacular and the books are just really fun and informative. I bought the dinosaur one for my nephew and I'll probably get him this and the third book (about mammals) for him as well.
Chasing Venus: The Race to Measure the Heavens by Andrea Wulf
"On June 6, 1761, the world paused to observe a momentous occasion: the first transit of Venus between the Earth and the Sun in more than a century. Through that observation, astronomers could calculate the size of the solar system—but only if they could compile data from many different points of the globe, all recorded during the short period of the transit. Overcoming incredible odds and political strife, astronomers from Britain, France, Russia, Germany, Sweden, and the American colonies set up observatories in the remotest corners of the world, only to be thwarted by unpredictable weather and warring armies. Fortunately, transits of Venus occur in pairs; eight years later, they would have another opportunity to succeed."
I so loved Wulf's The Invention of Nature but this one didn't live up to expectations. It felt a little flat or too scattered perhaps. The more interesting stories within this event are covered very quickly. It was all generally interesting but not engrossing.
The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl Volume 2 by Ryan North and Erica Henderson
North's Squirrel Girl comics are so much fun. They're lighthearted and the way the rest of the Marvel universe gets wrapped up in them doesn't annoy me as it has in other comics (G. Willow Wilson's Ms. Marvel). They're just pure fun with great art and writing.
The Extremely Inconvenient Adventures of Bronte Mettlestone by Jaclyn Moriarty
A fun little children's fantasy though not a book of great substance. Bronte's parents have just been reported killed by pirates, but that's okay, she doesn't actually know them. They left her on the doorstep of an aunt when she was baby. However, the terms of their will are set down in fairy cross-stitch which must be obeyed or else her hometown will be torn asunder. She must follow an itinerary of travel to see each of her aunts, bringing them a gift and staying for a set amount of time. At some of these stops she's forced to have an adventure or do a brave deed, but at others she's just cold and annoyed. But could there be a deeper message in her parents' instructions? Yes, yes there is.
Again, fun, and I think my niece would greatly enjoy this, but it's less enjoyable for adults than Moriarty's other books.
Witches Abroad by Terry Pratchett RE-READ
Always a favorite Discworld book, and the Witch books are special favorites in general. Pratchett tackling familiar fairy tales (however briefly) and the power of stories is a gorgeous thing. Plus British writers doing humorous takes on travel abroad is always fun (looking at you, Lindsey Davis, for See Delphi and Die).
It's amazing to realize that Reaper Man, Witches Abroad, Small Gods, Lords and Ladies, and Men at Arms were all written within a three year period.