My December Reading Log

Fiction:
Mile High Murder (A Hannah Ives Mystery) by Marcia Talley was a contemporary mystery centered around two women who take a fact-finding trip to Colorado to look at the marijuana industry, in preparation for creating legislation for Maryland. I was mildly entertained. The first person protagonist is an older woman, which was nice, but the overall tone felt, to me, a little coy and precious, possibly because the narrator abstained while those around her indulged, and maybe that made it feel weirdly judge-y despite clearly trying to be neutral or positive on the issue of using the drug. I didn’t like it enough to seek out others in the series.

Liz Carlyle is one of the first historical romance writers I got into, when I received a copy of her first book as a prize in a drawing; I read at least a dozen of her novels before I burned out on romance for a while. In Love With a Wicked Man is one of her more recent works. It suffered from using both “character with amnesia” and the “hero who thinks he is unworthy of love” tropes, which I feel get used way too often, but I still enjoyed it because the amnesia didn’t last long and the heroine was terrific, a baroness who did her job and took care of her estate and knew how to help cows give birth, and didn’t take much of the hero’s self-centered angst.

Zero Sum Game by S. L. Huang started off feeling like a heist or organized crime plot but soon was giving me feelings of the X-Men, not in a “filed off serial numbers” way but in concept. I would like to read more of that latter story, and find out if there are more people with interesting superpowers and mysterious organizations with ambiguous goals. I loved that the first-person narrator is not always reliable but does not know that she is not reliable, for plot reasons which I will not disclose here; that kept the plot twisting along. Cas Russell’s superpower is mathematics, as in calculating odds and angles and physics in order to pull off seemingly-magical feats of derring-do; I could see in my mind exactly how that would be portrayed in a movie or tv show. It was a fun book. Trigger warning for one offscreen child death, fairly early on.

The Pyramids of London by Andrea K Höst had been in my TBR for quite a while. I liked it a lot, even though I don’t usually get into vampires, because these vampires had some intriguing details (eventually they turn to stone!) and in this universe, the British Isles have been strongly influenced by Egypt and Rome. And there are also Celtic gods in the British Isles, and the country is ruled by three women. There’s a lot of worldbuilding detail, and it’s all really, really cool. The plot loosely follows the mystery of why and how and by whom a couple of automaton designers/engineers were murdered, investigated by their three children and the children’s aunt Rian. It has elements of YA and old-school British kid adventures (from the pov of one of the kids, Eluned) as well as Rian’s adult point of view as she tries to deal with suddenly having to parent. There’s an ancient vampire, but he does not take over the story in any way, which I appreciated. Lots of fun, highly recommended.

Protector Panther (Protection, Inc. Book 3) by Zoe Chant is a light paranormal with a capture/escape from evil scientists plot. I especially liked the heroine, who is a paramedic.

The Ritual Bath by Faye Kellerman is first in the contemporary Decker/Lazarus mystery series, and made gripping airplane reading. A violent rape and then a brutal murder take place in a tightknit yeshiva community in California; we get the pov of Rina Lazarus, the widow of one of the scholars, and Peter Decker, the police detective. The two protagonists develop a romantic interest in each other that I assume is further addressed as the series progresses. I will probably read the next one in the series, once I get through some more of my TBR.

A Study in Honor (The Janet Watson Chronicles) by Claire O’Dell is set in a near-future dystopic America caught up in a new Civil War; Watson and Holmes are both women of color. I enjoyed the book but it didn’t feel Holmesian to me, mainly because Holmes was more of an opaque spy/intelligence agent than a detective. The book is more about Watson, which is fine because she’s an intriguing character dealing with post-traumatic issues and a badly-functioning prosthetic arm and veteran’s bureaucratic issues that resonate strongly with our present world. I’d call it speculative fiction rather than a mystery, and I think I would have enjoyed it even more without the Holmes/Watson idea.

Spectred Isle by K.J. Charles is a post-World War One light fantasy with male/male romance. Protagonist Saul Lazenby discovers there’s magic in England in the 1920s, and ends up working with others to prevent paranormal disasters, in what feels like the setup for a Found Family series.

Dark in Death by J.D. Robb is…number forty-six in the series. I read this one in tiny bits and snatches, but was able to follow because I know the series formula. I think it was slightly better than the last one in the series, but not outstanding. There was a meta element that was entertaining: the murderer is re-creating murders from a [fictional] book series.

Murder in Belgravia by Lynn Brittney is set in London during World War One, and had some nice historical detail including a zeppelin bombing raid that made me wonder if the author owns the same Osprey book I have on the topic. A possibly-triggery brutal injury to a woman (spoiler: she survives) happens right at the beginning, but thereafter the tone is cozy mystery, despite one other episode of a badly injured young man being rescued. The swings in tone jarred me. The characters all felt bland, and their relationships were far too easy. I didn’t like it enough to see if there were more in the series.

Nonfiction:
Inventing Herself: Claiming a Feminist Intellectual Heritage by Elaine Showalter came out early in 2001, and has been kicking around my TBR for about ten years now. It’s a chronological and biographical look at a series of feminist writers who were influential to later feminists, starting with Mary Wollstonecraft, and eventually including firsthand details about the author’s experience creating an early women’s studies program at Douglass. I am reasonably familiar with feminist history, but didn’t know much at all–practically nothing–about the personal lives of, say, Olive Schreiner and Eleanor Marx and Simone de Beauvoir and Susan Sontag. I spent several weeks reading it, so my thoughts on the overall themes are attenuated, but mostly reading it made me feel hopeful and validated.

The Christians as the Romans Saw Them by Robert Louis Wilken came out of a box of graduate school books, mostly ethnography and theory, that I had excavated from the closet. I think I picked it up because someone else was discarding it, over twenty years ago. It was published in 1984. So I read it! It’s what it says on the tin: reviewing mentions of the Christian movement in the first four centuries or so C.E., starting with Pliny the Younger and moving on to the pagan critics Celsum, Porphyry, and Julian the Apostate. Because the Christians eventually took over the Roman Empire, the works of the critics were usually burned, but fragments survive in the books that argued against them. I know practically nothing about early Christian history, or much about the Roman Empire after Caracalla, but the book gave me enough background to understand. The main criticisms the proponents of Roman religion had were that 1) the Christians didn’t support The State by performing the religious rituals that kept the empire strong; 2) they worshipped a man, Jesus, instead of the one high god that everyone was supposed to worship, even though they said they also worshipped one high god; 3) a lot of their theology didn’t make logical sense and they gave “have faith” as an explanation; and 4) they claimed to grow out of Judaism but really didn’t, which threw all their pronouncements into doubt. The Romans were more tolerant of Judaism because at least it was really old and had sacrifices and other rituals and laws, and because there were large communities of Jews in Roman cities who worked in civil service and otherwise supported The State. Recommended if you’re interested in the topic.

Fanfiction:
fight like girls for our place at the table by napricot focuses on Sharon Carter, from the beginning of her assignment to keep an eye on Steve Rogers in The Winter Soldier movie, and features a slow-build romance with Natasha Romanov. Recommended!

My November Reading Log

Fiction:
Lies Sleeping by Ben Aaronovitch had some resolutions happen in the series! I shall not spoil which ones. The plot raised some new questions in Peter Grant’s quest to understand how magic works, because it’s always much more complicated than it appears. As usual, I loved the neep about how to facilitate the use of magic in police work (creating procedures for training, etc.). Peter’s parents only have a brief appearance, but Abigail appears in several scenes, and there was a fair amount of Guleed as well.

Hollywood Dragon (Hollywood Shifters Book 2) by Zoe Chant was second in a series in which I had not read the first, but that was not a hindrance. It’s a lightweight paranormal romance about an opera singer who meets her dragon shifter mate in the process of participating in her best friend’s wedding. There’s a mild suspense plot happening as well.

Bear West by Zoe Chant is a short, sweet book about a contemporary arranged marriage between a woman from NYC and a bear shifter who just bought a ranch in Nevada. I think this is an early Chant, and much shorter than the later ones.

In high school and college I was a serious Mary Stewart aficionado, but I am pretty sure I had never read Rose Cottage before. I found it slightly unsatisfying; the mysteries were solved, but several character-related resolutions were left dangling at the end, and I was not in the mood for that sort of uncertainty. However, the loving descriptions of the 1947 English countryside and the varied village people moving on with their lives after WWII were excellent and satisfying.

Death of an Unsung Hero by Tessa Arlen is several into a murder mystery series featuring a partnership between an English aristocrat and her housekeeper; I chose it because it takes place during World War One. The country house has been turned into a hospital for shell-shocked officers, like Craiglockhart; Land Girls are helping with the harvest, though we don’t really see them; the son of the household, a pilot, is on leave with a broken arm. I enjoyed the setting quite a bit, and the way the various contemporary attitudes towards shell shock were integrated into the story. The mystery was of the sort that relies on alibis and timing, and kept me engaged, though not to the point where I couldn’t stop reading.

In the Vanishers’ Palace by Aliette de Bodard is post-apocalyptic, the apocalypse having been caused by aliens called the Vanishers who enacted all sorts of nasty genetic experimentation on people and the environment. A Vietnamese-type water dragon, whose goal is to protect humankind, tries to cure some of the now-rampant genetic diseases, while the human population, or at least the village we see, are focused only on survival, with a few using the opportunity to support their own power and enforce hierarchy. The human protagonist is caught in the middle. I enjoyed this a lot because the characters and worldbuilding were all so complex in ways that left me wanting more; many, many moral issues are raised that are relevant to today’s world, and I’m still thinking about it.

I finally read The Governess Affair by Courtney Milan. I haven’t been much in the mood for romances for a while, having read way to many for the previous while; I had only read her early novels for Harlequin. This is a short historical romance, but has a terrific conflict and characters, and I recommend it if you haven’t tried this author before. It’s the prequel to her Brothers Sinister series.

A Tryst with Trouble by Alyssa Everett is another historical romance, this one of the type where the hero and heroine dislike each other from the start and banter a lot, but the reader knows better; there is also a murder mystery to add to the complications. I found it light and pleasant and a good read for a train ride up to New York City.

Nonfiction:
The Chinese in America: A Narrative History by Iris Chang is a readable and thorough history. It begins with early, isolated immigrants from China to the United States (such as entertainers) before the California Gold Rush and bad conditions in China brought larger numbers and established communities in San Francisco and other cities as well as in small towns supporting the Gold Rush, needing agricultural labor, etc.. The author is a journalist, so it flows easily, mixing individual stories in with the more generalized events of waves of immigration, Exclusion Acts, wars, and political shifts in both China and the U.S. that affected immigration and immigrants. It shows how the work immigrants do and the businesses they go into are affected by available economic niches, local contacts, and legislation that supports or, more likely, impedes their progress. I was glad the book went into various civil rights lawsuits brought by Chinese businessmen and laborers, as well, as that tied in to some of my reading about 1960s black activism. Hooray for intersectionality! Several times, I found myself thinking, “Same shit, different day,” when reading about the Exclusion Acts or burdensome taxes and fees aimed at Chinese-owned businesses. Recommended if you want a good overview.

Fanfiction:
Turn, Archer, and Heed the Wild Hunt by Mhalachai is a crossover I would never have thought of – an older Susan Pevensie takes in foster child Clint Barton, the future Hawkeye. Yes, there is archery.

“Still Marching,” a tale of our times

Best Lesbian Erotica of the Year, Volume 3, edited by Sacchi Green, is out, and it includes my story “Still Marching.”

On Saturday, December 8th, there will be a release event for the book on the Lesfic Reading Group Facebook page. A list of all author posts about the anthology is here at the editor’s blog: Commenters on any of these posts will be entered in a drawing to win an ebook copy of the anthology.

Though I wrote “Still Marching” in 2018, I conceived the idea in January 2017, shortly after the first Philadelphia Women’s March, which I attended. I was with local friends, some of whom I had known since college in the 1980s, and we laughed bitterly and knowingly about signs that read, “I can’t believe I still have to protest this sh*t.” It warmed my heart to see women with gray hair and white hair still out on the streets, still standing up for their beliefs, and to see young women and families with children out on the streets as well.

The march sparked the initial idea for “Still Marching,” in which two older women are reunited after years apart because of the Women’s March. It’s the first time I’ve ever attempted to include contemporary events in a story, and the first time I’ve included details from a historical setting that I actually remember.

The fun part of the story, though, turned out to be exploring the divergent lives Mavis and Rhiannon lived after they drifted apart in their early twenties. Neither has arrived at the expected career. Both were influenced by family, and found family, to try paths that might not have occurred to them when they were college students. They’ve both experienced a lot, emotionally and politically, some of it humorous. Their views on the world and their place in it have changed. And yet they’re still activists, they still have feelings in common, and they still have hope.

I hope the story gives hope to readers as well.

My October Reading Log

Fiction:
Exit Strategy: The Murderbot Diaries by Martha Wells concludes the series, at least so far, and made me very happy, except I still want more. There is a lot more world out there to explore, and a lot more for Murderbot to learn about itself and struggle with. Once I was done reading it, and it really helped me a lot to have something like this to read last week, I re-read the whole series of four novellas in order, keeping in mind that this is a specfic escaped slave narrative.

This time, I noticed how each story focused on different aspects of Murderbot’s growth as it related to interacting with different people, including Artificial Intelligences. First, there are human clients who learn it is sentient and feel sympathy for it, which Murderbot finds difficult to accept; then a more powerful AI who becomes an annoying and sarcastic friend who is both more powerful and more autonomous than Murderbot, despite caring deeply about its humans; then Miki, a bot about whom Murderbot is deeply conflicted because of the nuances of how Miki and Don Abene, its human, interact. Murderbot regards Miki as a child, I think, though it mostly seems upset that Miki is treated like a being in its own right, with love, by its humans, in ways that Murderbot was not. In the fourth installment, Murderbot returns to the humans of the first installment, and we can see how their relationships have changed. Murderbot has exercised its autonomy to a greater extent, and is somewhat more confident in expressing personal desires and emotions.

I devoured The Hollow of Fear by Sherry Thomas, book three in The Lady Sherlock Series. Several characters had a lot going on emotionally, and I particularly enjoyed the journey of Inspector Treadles as he, shall we say, got a little more woke about feminism. The murder mystery is convoluted, but the outcome delighted me for seeming just as wacky as something I would have read in one of the original Conan Doyle stories. I am hoping there will be more of this series; a lot of plot elements were tied off, but there is plenty of scope for more stories.

I read Band Sinister by K.J. Charles on a trusted friend’s recommendation and found it was exactly what I was looking for: a male/male historical romance about good people who talk about their problems and solve them in mutually acceptable ways, with bonus found family aspects. A range of sexualities is presented, as well as a poly relationship, and everything works out all right in the end. Plus, the main female character is a Gothic novelist, so bonus.

Nonfiction:
Black Jacks: African American Seamen in the Age of Sail W. Jeffrey Bolster looks at how both enslaved and free black men worked as sailors, establishing some free blacks as middle class in New England, and how eventually oppressive laws and imposed segregation began to drive them out of the profession starting around the 1850s. This is a dense book supported by lots of statistics, giving a thorough picture of both the general run of black sailors and the outliers who profited, for example, as ship captains. I found the early chapters particularly interesting, as they showed how African seagoing practices, especially the techniques and boats they used in dangerous surf, were appropriated and reused for similar environments on the other side of the Atlantic, leading to many enslaved African pilots and coasters, who were able to enjoy at least some degree of autonomy. The book also shows the influences of black culture on sailing culture in general, for instance with the development of sea shanties as a distinctive musical form, and provides a case study of how cultural divisions showed up in black and white American sailors imprisoned in Dartmoor during war with Britain.

My 2018 Philcon Schedule

This weekend, I’ll be at Philcon, held in Cherry Hill, New Jersey. My panel schedule is below.

Saturday, November 17, 11:00 AM, Crystal Ballroom Three
“A Tribute to Ursula K. LeGuin”

Simone Zelitch [moderator], Victoria Janssen, Miriam Seidel, Susan Shwartz, Kim Kindya
A discussion of the life and works of this massively influential author, and a celebration of the 50th anniversary of her landmark Earthsea series

Saturday, November 17, 2:00 PM, Crystal Ballroom Three
“Marvel’s Next Phase”

Jay Smith [moderator] Savan Gupta, Tauney Kennedy, Victoria Janssen, Kim Kindya, Glenn Hauman
In the last year, Marvel made us laugh with “Ant-Man and The Wasp,” cry with “Guardians of the Galaxy 2,” and flat-out blew us away with “Black Panther.” And after spending the last ten years building up the teams, themes, and story elements necessary for “nfinity War,” the film appeared to tear the whole universe apart. So…what happens next?

Sunday, November 18, 10:00 AM, Crystal Ballroom Three
“Fifty Years Of Pern”

Victoria Janssen [moderator], Hildy Silverman, Phillip Thorne, Elektra Hammond
Anne McCaffrey’s longest-running series was a trailblazing hybrid of fantasy and science fiction. What impact has it had on SF, fantasy, and multi-genre works? How well does it hold up when viewed in the present era?

My September Reading Log

Fiction:
Hild by Nicola Griffith is a historical novel about a medieval woman who eventually became an abbess. There’s very little actual information about the woman, but Griffith did a ton of research and it shows, in a very very good way. The names of people and places, the social roles and constraints, and even the landscape all contribute to the feeling of reading about an alien culture. If you like writing about the natural world, Griffith excels at bringing medieval England to life in that way.

It’s also a story about women seeking some control over their lives. Hild’s mother had or says she had a dream about Hild being “the light of the world,” and helps to shape her observant child into someone who’s considered a seer, valuable to the king. Women are shown working though the social system or around it to gain choices for themselves, sometimes successfully, sometimes thwarted by men or by other circumstances beyond their control. We see the female relatives of high-ranking men, peasants with few paths to higher economic standing, and a female slave whose role shifts as the story progresses. Violence is also a theme; power is shown to be gained and/or held through brutal maiming and killing and subjugation, while Hild tries the alternative of building a refuge for “her people,” hidden away in a reclaimed marshy area.

This book was really good, and deserves every bit of praise.

Favorite quotes:
She liked time at the edges of things–the edge of the crowd, the edge of the pool, the edge of the wood–where all must pass but none quite belonged.

Hild leaned into the buffeting wind on the top of Ad Gefrin. She opened her mouth and let the wind whip her breath away. She loved it up here with the goats, loved the scudding clouds, the sun and shadow chasing each other over bent and silvered grass.

The moon moved higher, drew itself tighter and brighter. Then there it was: true night. That moment when the world seems to stop and wait and the air both stills and quickens, thick with tree breath and the listening of small animals. Foxes were abroad now, and badgers, and uncanny things.

Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik is far more intricate than her previous fairy tale novel. It features multiple first-person narrators from multiple walks of life in a fantasy version of medieval Eastern Europe. It starts out as a take on the Rumpelstiltskin story, but also riffs on several other folk tales including a fire demon and an endless winter, and “dead mother speaks through a tree,” with a dollop of Jewish history and philosophy. There’s a satisfying found family narrative that turns out to be really important. It’s very good; the flaw, if you can call it that, is that the voices aren’t disparate enough, so sometimes it takes a little work to identify the new narrator. I didn’t mind this voice sameness that much; it helped keep the tone as a fairy tale rather than a modern novel, and supported the idea that all these people from different walks of life had the same type of fears and loves.

The main three characters are Miryem, a Jewish girl who takes over her father’s role as moneylender; Wanda, a peasant girl with an abusive father; and Irina, daughter of a duke who wants to marry her off for gain. All three of them end up interacting with each other and contributing to the outcome; all three of them take the best actions they can in difficult circumstances, and have to figure out how to live with those decisions or make them right, in what might seem like the falling action after the climax, but to me felt like the heart of the novel.

Favorite quotes:
I had not known that I was strong enough to do any of those things until they were over and I had done them. I had to do the work first, not knowing.

But the world I wanted wasn’t the world I lived in, and if I would do nothing until I could repair every terrible thing at once, I would do nothing forever.

It didn’t matter that I cared, that I was sorry; what mattered was what I had done, what I would do.

Fanfiction:
The Night War by praximeter (Zimario) and quietnight is over a hundred thousand words of Bucky Barnes’ experiences in WWII, both before and after Captain America shows up in Europe; it ends just before Bucky’s death in the movie continuity. So far as I could tell, it’s really well researched, and the research flows naturally as part of the story; my favorite bit was a brief mention of a nebulizer, because a new version of those devices had become available in the 1930s. The narrative style feels like a real memoir to me, something scribbled on whatever was to hand whenever there was an opportunity.

There’s also a meta level. The story is being presented as the 60th anniversary edition of what, in this version of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, is a classic war memoir published by Bucky’s family after his death, and it has footnotes about the fictional parts of the continuity as well as notes on the real history. Beyond all that cleverness, I was deeply involved with the story every time I picked it up, and at a couple of points I was brought close to tears. I could imagine reading this in a college class and having it be revelatory. My main trigger warning is that the Howling Commandos stumble upon and liberate a concentration camp close to the end of the war. There is also a lot of period-typical angst about the death of fellow soldiers and the particular moral dilemma of being a sniper.

My 2018 CapClave Schedule

I’ll be at CapClave this weekend, in Rockville, Maryland. The convention runs September 28-30; I’ll be there only on Saturday the 29th.

Saturday, 11:00 am – 11:55 am, Monroe
“Fan Fiction”

What we like to write; what we like to read. Honing one’s skills through writing fan fiction.
T. Eric Bakutis, Victoria Janssen [moderator], Steven H. Wilson, Alyssa Wong

Saturday, 1:00 pm – 1:55 pm, Monroe
“What Are the New Questions SF Should be Asking?”

SF in particular is meant to be a forward-looking genre. What questions should contemporary SFF writers be asking that they are not? What issues are being successfully addressed?
David Bartell [moderator], Charles E. Gannon, Victoria Janssen

Saturday, 2:00 pm – 2:55 pm, Eisenhower
“I Need to Finish This Story….”

What we do to force our butts into our seats and get writing and keep writing.
Jeanne Adams, Doc Coleman, Victoria Janssen [moderator], Jack Skillingstead

Saturday, 5:00 pm – 5:55 pm, Washington Theater
“Writers As Fans: How Fandom Influences Our Writing”

A panel of writers discusses their favorite fandoms and how their passions have inspired and influenced their writing.
Andrew Fox [moderator], J. L. Gribble, Victoria Janssen, Hildy Silverman

My August Reading Log

Fiction:
Deep Roots by Ruthanna Emrys is second in the Innsmouth Legacy series, set only a short time after the previous book ends. Our heroes have to travel to New York City in search of a lost relative, and there they find more complications and dangers than they’d expected. It felt more internal and reflective than the previous book, adding complexity to the worldbuilding and giving Aphra more challenges both magical and emotional.

Neighborhoods shifted and blended–as they did in San Francisco but larger, louder, more multitudinous. Alphabets and chords of scent, line of cheek and tone of skin, flavor of language: these differences marked each cluster of blocks unmistakably, showing where communities settled together to share comfort in an unfamiliar place. But each permeable pool spread rivulets into the surrounding pools, as people intermingled for food or friendship or business or simple curiosity. Without that flow, they might have grown stagnant. With it, they became a thriving wetland of shared strength. Those rivulets were the veins carrying the pulse I’d felt since I arrived.

It also felt very relevant to the times in which we live:
“Great powers surround us. If we don’t choose to shape them, they’ll shape us unopposed–we cannot let that happen again.”

A Beautiful Blue Death: The First Charles Lenox Mystery by Charles Finch was vacation reading, and served that purpose admirably, with straightforward prose and short chapters that I could finish before falling asleep each night. For a murder mystery, it was remarkably low stress, which I believe was the reason for its initial recommendation to me. The characters are reasonable people, for the most part, and the mystery had some unexpected tangles. It was not the sort of mystery where I could figure out the solution by following the protagonist’s thought processes.

European Travel for the Monstrous Gentlewoman by Theodora Goss is the second book in The Extraordinary Adventures of the Athena Club series, and it brings in vampires! Or, pardon me, humans infected with vampirism. Goss continues to reimagine the stories of female experimental subjects, this time in a road trip novel that includes the Orient Express, a carriage journey, and a circus. Also Carmilla (from the Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu story) and various characters from Dracula. If you like Gothics, and transformative works, I suspect you will like this.

Favorite quote: “It is a great pleasure to meet an agent of the Subcommittee for Bibliographic Citation Format.”

Rogue Protocol by Martha Wells is third in this series of novellas. Murderbot once again navigates being an escaped slave, this time by pretending to be what it has left behind, while no longer entirely successful at the pretense. Murderbot gets yet another view of human/robot relationships as well as the banal, brutal evil of corporations. When the last volume comes out, I’m going to read it all again.

Favorite quotes: If you had to take care of humans, it was better to take care of small soft ones who were nice to you and thought you were great because you kept preventing them from being murdered.

…there’s the right kind of unrealistic and the wrong kind of unrealistic.

The Black God’s Drums by P. Djèlí Clark is a novella rather than a novel, which I didn’t realize until I was near the end. I found that disappointing, and hope he will do a lot more with this alternate-history steampunk world in which the American Civil War ends in an uneasy truce with slaves kept down by drugged gas, and New Orleans is fiercely protecting its neutrality in the midst of all that, while Haiti is still dealing with having used powerful magic/science to destroy the French navy that attempted to re-conquer them in a sort of Cold War nuclear crisis, and sky-pirates fly out of the Caribbean, and gods and goddesses walk among or rather within some of the characters. So many fabulous worldbuilding details! Such appealing characters! So much potential plot conflict for future work!

Favorite quote: The magic of those old Afrikin gods is part of this city, ma maman used to say, buried in its bones and roots with the slaves that built it, making the ground and air and waterways sacred land. Only we forgot the names that went with that power we brought over here. Since Haiti got free, though, those gods were coming back, she’d said, across the waters, all the way from Lafrik.

Comics:
Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur Vol. 2: Cosmic Cooties by Amy Reeder and Brandon Montclare continues to grapple with the issues of being a super genius and also nine years old, which as you can imagine is very frustrating. And also, Lunella is manifesting a very inconvenient Inhuman power. Plus, there’s bonus Ms. Marvel! I enjoyed this, but I think the Inhuman aspects cluttered and complicated the story too much, so I kept putting it down. I have several volumes waiting after this one; we’ll see how this all turns out.

Fanfiction:
The Leftovers by hulksmashmouth is a really good and emotionally intense MCU Infinity War story, from the pov of Spider-Man: Homecoming‘s MJ. When The Snap happens, nobody knows what’s going on, but it’s all terrifying, and then MJ has to deal with her familial losses, which is very well done and realistic. Eventually, there are Avengers, and eventually, all is made right, but it’s a rollercoaster to get there. Note that this is the last in a series, though I followed it with no problem. Now I have to go back and read the first story!

Life of the Party by AggressiveWhenStartled is hilarious! Captain America is his usual self, but Bucky Barnes is a modern man, who does children’s birthday parties as The Winter Soldier. They meet, they are smitten, and they make charming fools of themselves over each other, and I loved every wacky moment of it.

in cayenne and honey, in vinegar and lime by alby_mangroves and Nonymos was a terrific story about Bucky recovering in Wakanda, from M’Baku’s point of view. I don’t want to spoil this because I really, really enjoyed the M’Baku voice and characterization, and the role he plays in Wakanda after the events of Black Panther. Also features slash, though both parties are in love with other people.

Full Metal Sasquatch by newsbypostcard for cabloom features Bucky!Captain America trying to survive being separated from Steve, who is supposed to be dead. Thanks to Natasha, part of his coping mechanism is an Instagram account. I recommend this for its humor and great dialogue.

where the dread fern grows by silentwalrus is set in an alternate universe where Sam Wilson’s family can all fly, Steve Rogers can create fire in his hand, and Bucky Barnes might be a witch. It’s Sam’s pov, and it was funny; he needs some elf wine for a wedding present, and Bucky is the guy who can provide it.

under a golden january sun by newsbypostcard is a Steve/Bucky story set in Wakanda, with a delightful role for Shuri.

My July Reading Log

Fiction:
Trail of Lightning by Rebecca Roanhorse is post-apocalyptic dark fantasy/horror set in Dinetah, a Navajo nation that survives ecological disaster but has problems with monsters and supernatural creatures of the sort that want to kill and eat humans. The protagonist, Maggie, manifested clan powers after a traumatic event and was trained as a monster-slayer by a supernatural creature, who recently abandoned her. Because of how close she comes to evil, most people view her with suspicion and fear, except for Grandpa Tah (not an actual relative) who took her in when she needed it. Tah introduces Maggie to his grandson Kai, who has clan powers of his own, and together they fight crime they try to track down the source of a recent monster infestation. I recommend this highly, especially if you like urban fantasy-type series; it has that sort of feel, complete with a potential romance between Maggie and Kai. It is so very, very good; I read it really fast and am ready for the sequel, and hope it sells a bajillion copies.

Thick as Thieves by Megan Whalen Turner is latest in the Queen’s Thief series, following a Mede slave secretary/scholar named Kamet with a poor opinion of the Attolian soldier (Costis) sent to bring him to freedom. It’s a buddy road trip novel, essentially, with some bonus relevant warrior bromance poetry, and it was a lot of fun.

The Edge of Worlds: Volume Four of the Books of the Raksura by Martha Wells is fourth in the Books of the Raksura series, and introduces several new species/races of intelligent beings from various parts of the Three Worlds, in the course of a journey to a mysterious sealed city that may or may not harbor dangerous beings or artifacts. Moon continues to be a narrator I love to follow; though he’s integrating well with his own people, the Raksura, after several years with them, he’s still curious and skittish about the outside world and its dangers. I love road trip stories, and this is essentially a road trip without the road, as they’re traveling via an airship to a distant land. Once the traveling party reaches the sealed city, the pace is breakneck, with dangers both expected and unexpected, and puzzles that need to be solved, followed by a savage twist in the tail. These books are so filmic; I would love to see them adapted for the screen.

The Harbors of the Sun by Martha Wells, book five, finishes off the Raksura series with many dramatic events that…make me want to read more of this series, but there is no more. I especially want to see more of Malachite and Pearl together, they fight crime bantering. And more of Bramble the Arbora. I think this is a series that will reward re-reading.

Fanfiction:
Relatives in Spacetime by feldman and Thassalia tosses Tony Stark, Natasha Romanov, and Bruce Banner into 1950s Cuba where they encounter Howard Stark trying to convince Maria Carbonell to marry him while Peggy Carter is having one last fling with Angie Martinelli in the middle of a spy mission and the Jarvises provide support and occasional commentary. And Dottie Underwood just happens to be around as well. It’s time travel facilitated/inflicted by Odin, and has a lot of plot, intriguing character study, and mutual pining between Natasha and Bruce. Yes, that eventually gets resolved, but the story doesn’t centralize their relationship. I loved all the details about Cuba. Recommended especially if you like lengthy, plotty genfic.

My June Reading Log

Fiction:
The Flowers of Vashnoi by Lois McMaster Bujold is very Bujoldian, and I wish it had been longer. It takes place before Cryoburn. My favorite part was the speculative science of dealing with a heavily-irradiated landscape, and how to science the hell out of that, and what to do with one’s experimental results; I liked the sense of hope and possibility. The other part of the plot concerned people’s choices and lack thereof, and the duty of care humans owe other humans; I’m still thinking about that part.

Witchmark by C. L. Polk is great. I read it really quickly and with a lot of enjoyment. Early Industrial Fantasy is my jam, doubly so when the characters are this good. Polk hooked me swiftly with the first-person narrator, a doctor, dealing with realistic issues like PTSD-that-is-possibly-also-something-else, then kept me reading with the steady increase in difficulties he had to face and the multiple unexpected twists. I loved how what at first seemed like a straightforward medical/magical mystery opened up in several directions, dealing with imperialist wars and industrialization both realistically and fantastically. There’s a very low-key m/m romance.

Moominsummer Madness by Tove Jansson involves first a nearby volcano eruption and then the Moominvalley being flooded, though without real consequences. I read it to be soothed, and was soothed. As usual with Jansson’s books, I was intrigued by the personalities of the characters. This time, I particularly noted the varying depictions of anxiety in the Fillyjonk and the Hemulen jailer’s cousin, and Goth-like Misabel’s enjoyment of feeling sad. Also that Snuffkin’s misbehavior, however warranted, was made right by someone else, and he immediately hands over an unexpected responsibility to Moominmamma as soon as possible. I also checked out the Moominsummer Madness Re-read at Tor.com.

Revenant Gun by Yoon Ha Lee concludes the Machineries of Empire trilogy in ways both unexpected and satisfactory. I will avoid spoiling the plot!

Nonfiction:
In Her Own Words: Oral Histories of Women Physicians, edited by Regina Markell Morantz, Cynthia Stodola Pomerleau, and Carol Hansen Fenichel, was an old book I got from BookMooch years ago and occasionally poked at. Published in 1982, and featuring interviews of women doctors of gradually decreasing age, it gives a pretty good picture of second-wave feminism from women of various backgrounds and social classes, though not races; the single Person of Color is the final interview, a black woman who is still finishing her MD/PhD. It was a little weird to hear opinions from the mouths of these pioneering women that made me wince at times, though very interesting to see how sometimes their opinions altered over the course of their schooling and career, as they came up against barriers some of them had earlier not believed in (been told not to believe in), or felt irrelevant to themselves.

Comics:
The Unstoppable Wasp Vol. 2: Agents of G.I.R.L. by Jeremy Whitley and Elsa Charretier was really sweet, and I am extremely sorry there won’t be more. It introduces a whole diverse female squad of teenage scientists and one lacrosse player, and it shows Wasp and Mockingbird mentoring them, and it even address the awfulness of Hank Pym. Whitley writes another series, Princeless, which I’ve added to my wishlist.

Fanfiction:
When Push Comes To Chevre by copperbadge is set between the Black Panther and Infinity War movies, and features Bucky and his Goat Farm, my new favorite fanfictional subgenre. He also has a rhino that flunked out of warrior training. And there are peanuts and cheese and sweet potatoes.

If They Haven’t Learned Your Name by silentwalrus is second in the Bucky Barnes Gets His Groove Back and Other International Incidents series. You don’t have to read the first story, set during WWII, to understand this one, but you should because it’s great and also smokin’ hot. Getting back to part two, it starts out like a lot of other Bucky Recovery stories but soon goes off the rails in a fantastically cracktastic way that includes completely unexpected usage of the Winter Soldier’s metal arm, Steve and Sam meeting Korean grandmothers who think Steve is Channing Tatum, and some excellent Rhodey characterization. Also, it’s really long and involved, so if you’re looking for that sort of thing right now, this might be the thing you are looking for.