My March Reading Log

A Conspiracy in Belgravia by Sherry Thomas entertained me just as much as the first book in the series, and I am really bummed the third book isn’t out yet. I love the many female characters and the complexities of their relationships, as well as the aristocratic brothers who serve as, respectively, unattainable love interest and guy with the government. I also love that young Charlotte Holmes is not infallible, mostly due to a “proper young lady” upbringing that hampered her in learning about the world, despite her hyper-intelligence. I am enjoying this series in ways completely separate from its association with Doyle’s Holmes and Watson.

The Tea Master and the Detective by Aliette de Bodard is a science fictional take on a female Sherlock, with a Watson who is a shipmind [The Shadow’s Child], but still a veteran of war and tragedy, who has taken to brewing individualized, specialized teas to help humans tolerate the Deep Spaces through which ships travel. Long Chau needs both a brew and a ship to help her find a corpse floating in space. It’s an intriguing and different take on two classic characters. Like the Sherry Thomas series, I would enjoy this one even without reference to the Conan Doyle source material.

Some Kind of Hero by Suzanne Brockmann is the latest in a very long series of romantic suspense novels (Troubleshooters) involving quantities of Navy SEALS as well as FBI agents and batches of random people who unfortunately ended up in the middle of a terrorist plot. I have read most of Brockmann’s work, from her early category romances all through the extensive Troubleshooters series, so I devoured this pretty quickly. For me, it slotted into the Found Family sub-genre, and I could see that Brockmann is still trying to be inclusive in her work by having more Black characters than usual. Plotwise, it was pretty fun. The heroine is currently blocked on her bestselling series of novels about an FBI team that also has lots of hot sex, and there are several discussions on tropes of romance novels worked into the story. She ends up helping the Hot Navy SEAL across the street to locate his missing teenage daughter, who’s been framed and dragged into trouble with local criminals.

Quotes of note:
…he smelled good. Like sunblock and fresh air and a scent she assumed was pure Navy SEAL hotness.

And alas, even though she’d spent her career writing books where this kind of impromptu meet-cute would end with them having screaming animal-sex before the clock struck midnight, Shayla wasn’t as bold as her romance novel heroines. She didn’t look all that much like them, either. In fact, she was lucky that she’d showered and put on real pants before she’d crawled away from her computer in order to drive-and-drop Frankie at his high school debate club practice.

Icon by Genevieve Valentine is the sequel to Persona, ostensibly, but it really felt like just the second half of that book. It had been while since I read the first book, and this second one makes no effort to remind you of the characters and events. I’m not sure why it was released in two volumes. If I’d known, I would have re-read Persona first. Anyway, the story continues exploring the politics of being a Face, a government representative who is at the same time a celebrity manipulating the press for advantages for their country. Protagonist Suyana is wiser and more paranoid in the second volume, and has to maneuver through various tragedies in order to make change happen. It’s a bit stressful at times, and very interior. I wish there was an edition with art of the various Faces. Highly recommended (both books, not just the second one) if you’re interested in celebrity, performance, and the ethics of fame.

A Stranger in Olondria by Sofia Samatar is slow and immersive and poetic. It’s a Stranger in a Strange Land story, except the stranger knows and valorizes the strange land through having read its books, while his own country is illiterate. It’s about his journeys, and being changed by journeys, and learning to empathize, and making mistakes, and learning to take some of what he learns and use it for his own purposes, while rejecting other parts. It’s also about the connection between and teacher and his student, and about coming to understand parents, mostly mothers, from an adult perspective. Several times, the book made me melancholy or angry or sad, but by the end it got me through, and you can’t really ask for more than that.

An example of the poetic prose and beautiful rhythm:
Facing us is the door, a jagged crack in the chalky stone, in that crumbling sand-colored rock with its channels of dust, its piled offerings. Leeks, a bird’s nest, bundles of sweet hay tied up with ribbons. A flask of olive oil, a small white harp. We walk past the seashells of supplication, the mulberries of remorse, and enter the long slit in the wall of the hill.

And another quote, because it’s such a good example of what the travelogue portions of the book are like:
The Ethendria Road, wide and well-kept, curved down into the Valley, into the shadow of cliffs and the redolence of wet herbs. The grape harvest was ended, and the country was filled with tumbled vines, rust-colored, mellowed with age, birdsong, and repose…. Everything shone in that sumptuous light which is called “the breath of angels”: the hills flecked with the gold of the autumn crocus, the windy, bronze-limbed chestnut trees and the radhui, the peasant houses, sprawling structures topped with blackened chimneys.

The narrator thinks back on this quote later in the book, and so did I.
She looked at me, her eyes wet and green as celadon. “You are very young. I think that you have not built anything yet?”

I thought of my life: lessons, a journey, an angel. I shook my head.

“No,” she murmured. “I thought not. It is dangerous to build. Once you have built something–something that takes all your passion and will–it becomes more precious to you than your own happiness. You don’t realize that, while you are building it. That you are creating a martyrdom–something which, later, will make you suffer.”

They Called It Passchendaele: The Story Of The Third Battle Of Ypres And Of The Men Who Fought by Lyn MacDonald is, like other books by the same author, constructed from first-person accounts, interspersed with each other to achieve chronological order, at least, on events that beggar imagination. Focusing on a single, grindingly endless, muddy campaign, this book is a good introduction to many of the issues with trench warfare in World War One, so long as the reader is not squeamish. I did not read it very quickly because every chapter was so intense; at the same time, sometimes I read several chapters in a row, because it was so intense. Recommended if you’re interested in World War One, not recommended if any of the following could be a trigger for you: being helpless in the face of machine gun or artillery fire; bodies ripped apart by same; large quantities of unburied bodies over a long period of time; and drowning in either water or mud.

I dove into G. Willow Wilson’s Ms. Marvel Volume 7: Damage Per Second hoping for escape but finding that the big bad was gerrymandering and Hydra attempting to hijack the election for mayor of Jersey City. It was really good, and really well done! Just very topical.

Ms. Marvel Volume 8: Mecca was even more topical and terrifying, as a personified computer virus and a villian from Volume 6 get backing from a bunch of bigots. The main people shown being persecuted are mutants and inhumans, but Kamala’s brother is swept up, too, and at one point they take refuge in the local mosque. It all turns out okay, just a little more stressful than I needed that week…and in case you miss Bruno, there’s an issue about what he’s up to in college in Wakanda.

I love the complexity of this comic so, so much. I’m currently caught up, and waiting impatiently for the next volume to come out.

Late in the Day: Poems 2010-2014 by Ursula K. LeGuin helped me to prepare for a LeGuin memorial event at local bookstore Big Blue Marble. I was unfamiliar with some of the poems, and particularly loved and was comforted by the range of ways she wrote about aging and being old. The collection includes various experiments with form, which she writes about in the highly recommended accompanying essay. Below is a selection from a group of four-line poems that I particularly liked.

Artemisia Tridentata

Some ruthlessness befits old age.
Tender young herbs are generous and pliant,
but in dry solitudes the grey-leaved sage
stands unforthcoming and defiant.

About Victoria Janssen

Victoria Janssen [she, her] currently writes cozy space opera for Kalikoi. The novella series A Place of Refuge begins with Finding Refuge: Telepathic warrior Talia Avi, genius engineer Miki Boudreaux, and augmented soldier Faigin Balfour fought the fascist Federated Colonies for ten years, following the charismatic dissenter Jon Churchill. Then Jon disappeared, Talia was thought dead, and Miki and Faigin struggled to take Jon’s place and stay alive. When the FC is unexpectedly upended, Talia is reunited with her friends and they are given sanctuary on the enigmatic planet Refuge. The trio of former guerillas strive to recover from lifetimes of trauma, build new lives on a planet with endless horizons, and forge tender new connections with each other.
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