Return of the Reading Log: March and April, 2020

The Rat-Catcher’s Daughter by K.J. Charles is a short romance between an ace trans music hall singer and an ace man who works as a fence for the notorious Lilywhite Boys. Both are in danger from an upstart criminal, but it ends happily, before you have time to get really worried. I also didn’t have enough time to get really invested in the characters, but I think they are side characters in a series, so presumably there is more of them there.

Don’t Read The Comments by copperbadge is original fiction from one of my favorite fanfiction writers, exploring what might happen if a young liberal lesbian suddenly gained the ability to delete other people’s comments on the internet; later, she finds out she’s not the only one with an internet-related power. The story explores a lot of knotty ethical issues, including how this power might be used by a person who wanted to hurt others, leading to a couple of scary confrontations. It ends well, but be warned if you’re avoiding fiction that includes white supremacists.

Vendetta in Death by J.D. Robb is the 49th (!) book in her futuristic mystery series, and I am still reading. This installment was one of the better ones, featuring a serial murderer who targeted men who had perpetrated injustice against women. It is weirdly comforting to spend time with familiar characters, even when they are investigating hideous torture-murders, because one is assured that Justice will be served; Justice in the context of the book’s world, that is.

Above Rubies: Eliza Ferraby’s Story: 2 (Clorinda Cathcart’s Circle Book 7) by L.A. Hall was perfect for a week when I was finding it difficult to concentrate and needed a familiar place of escape.

The Children of Green Knowe by L. M. Boston is a book I managed to miss growing up. It’s first in a series about a little English boy, Tolly, who goes to live in an ancient house with his great-grandmother. Sometimes she speaks to the children who appear in a portrait on the wall, and lonely Tolly wants to meet the three children, as well. This had a lovely magical realism feel, with lots of animals and imaginative games as well as ghosts. The only thing that briefly threw me out was a story about a horse thief, a Romany, who in disguising himself to case the stables “even washed his face.” It was barely an aside, but ouch. Otherwise, I enjoyed it, though I don’t think I’ll re-read, or go on with the series. If I’d read this as a child, I likely would have loved it a lot more.

Redshirts: A Novel with Three Codas by John Scalzi was a Tor freebie I had not read. It’s a meta take on classic Trek and the tendency of red-shirted security officers to be killed in many episodes, along with various other tropes of science fiction television. Not everyone gets a happy ending, as you might expect from a book about redshirts, but it does end happily, and is moderately thought-provoking. Scalzi’s brisk, readable style helped me to finish the book during the anxiety of Social Distancing.

A Song in the Dark (Vampire Files, No. 11) and Dark Road Rising: Vampire Files, Book 12 by P.N. Elrod had been in my TBR for quite a while; I had read most of the series from the library. These two conclude a series about a vampire named Jack Fleming in 1930s Chicago; he’s a former journalist turned detective and later nightclub owner, with a singer girlfriend, Bobbi, and friends in the Mob, so very very noir but also not, because the morality play is far less important than the characters. The series feels very 1980s to me overall, even at this far end: straightforward prose, good characterization of characters meant to be liked, excellent worldbuilding. In the third from last book, Jack was horribly tortured by a sadistic New York mob guy whom he subsequently killed, and I remember the story as being intense. As you might expect, A Song in the Dark deals with Jack’s PTSD about those events, and Dark Road Rising with his and Bobbi’s path forward. However, a new character in both books, a possibly-sociopathic mob character with amnesia, seemed to me to be pointing to a potential series spinoff that didn’t spin off, and I found he distracted from what I had actually wanted to read about. So the books did what they needed to, just not in the way I wanted, which is hardly the author’s fault.

Precinct 13 by Tate Hallaway/Lyda Morehouse is a book I somehow missed when it first came around; I bought it because there’s a sequel, and I got them both together. Protagonist Alex has fled Chicago after a fiasco involving her boyfriend and her possibly-evil stepmother plus a lot of psychiatry aimed at convincing her that she does not see magical things. As you might guess, she does in fact see magical things, and in her new job as county coroner in Pierre, SD, magic turns out to be frequent enough that there is even a special department to deal with it. Those with gaslighting trauma might find parts of this triggery, but for the most part Alex finds a great deal of validation and a host of intriguing characters including my favorite, a golem police officer. Though I’d call its main genre urban fantasy, the characters and their interconnectedness give it the feel of a cozy mystery.

This is not a book to read unless you have already read the three previous installments, not because there’s not enough information to understand volume four, but because you would be really really missing out on the intricate reveals if you didn’t read them in strict order. Crimes and Survivors (The Reisden and Perdita Mysteries Book 4) by Sarah Smith seems like it’s the last book in the series, though I hope it is not. It’s set in 1912, and the sinking of the Titanic looms over everything like, well, a titan, both physically and thematically. Reflecting the first book in the series, The Vanished Child, the mysteries all have to do with family secrets, this time mostly Perdita’s, but also fallout from Alexander Reisden’s. I have been waiting for this book for literally years, nagging Sarah every time I see her at Arisia or Readercon for “my book.” (Not in a mean way!) And my waiting has been repaid. It’s brilliant and complex and even if you figure out some of the mysteries, as I did, there are more beneath those, and still more beneath those, all the way to the end. Alexander and Perdita have to figure out what to do with all these revelations, and their desperate desires to do the right thing were painful and beautiful and utterly satisfying.

The Golden Age of Black Nationalism, 1850-1925 by Wilson Jeremiah Moses is an old book (1978) but a very good one. I think I got this copy through BookMooch and it kicked around for several years before it finally became Insomnia Reading in recent weeks. Not only do you get an excellent grounding in the title period and its major figures, you can see how certain ideas changed over time and in response to contemporary events, such as increased colonialism in Africa and World War One. It offers clear comparison points between, for instance, Frederick Douglass and W.E.B. DuBois. There’s one chapter focusing on women and their political activities, mostly through clubs, and even a small amount about Ida B. Wells, whose biography is coming up soon in my TBR pile. There’s a whole chapter on science fiction writer Sutton Griggs! Definitely a keeper, even though my copy is yellowed and has a little writing in it.

I got I’m Just Here for the Food: Food + Heat = Cooking by Alton Brown at a used bookstore during the winter and finally finished it over the weekend; it’s a large, clunky hardcover, so it became bedtime reading. It’s more of a science of cooking book than a book of recipes. It was fascinating to read about why certain things I’d learned to do while cooking actually work, for instance searing your meat before you put it into stew, and salting meat ahead of time, and heating your pan before you use it. I was especially entertained by his enthusiastic tales of constructing small earthenware ovens out of flowerpots and the like. I am not invested enough to try that, but it was fun to read about. He agrees with me on the fabulosity of the iron skillet, so I would definitely read another of his books.

Natalie Jones and the Stone Knight by ironychan is a Mostly-Scottish MCU Alternate Universe that stands on its own, with nifty worldbuilding and lots of plot. While Natasha Romanov is still an ex-spy, she’s given it up and now works as an archaeologist in a world with no Avengers. This reads like contemporary fantasy.

Fine and Fierce by kristophine is an Avengers AU in which Tony Stark is a famous scientist and Bruce Banner is an angry professor in San Diego. They get to know each other on Twitter and there is slow, hesitant romance. Yes it all works out in the end!

All Hail the Underdogs by xiaq is a long Check Please! romance about secondary characters Nursey and Dex; I suspect it doesn’t matter if you’ve read the comic because so far as I can tell the protagonists of this story might as well be original characters. Nursey is black, with rich white adoptive parents; Dex is a poor white boy from Maine whose parents have failed him. Together, they find a happy ending. CW for Domestic Tropes when a baby shows up later in the story and becomes a factor in the plot. I liked the way the baby plot element was handled.

Skybird by windsweptfic is an unusual crossover; a young orphan Neal Caffrey, from White Collar, is adopted by Arthur and Eames from Inception. Adventures ensue, one of them scary but they get through it. It has a happy ending.

my spirit swims right to the hook by napricot is M’Baku/Bucky Barnes slash, and it really works. As part of bringing the Jabari into the rest of Wakanda, M’Baku is trying out kimoyo beads. Shuri has added a dating app as a joke, but it works out very well for all concerned. Also, there is bonus “trapped in a well-supplied cave by an avalanche.” Recommended!

I re-read Out Of Bounds by Icarus, an epic Stargate: Atlantis figure skating slash AU in which John Sheppard has the jumps but not the artistry; former champion and coach Rodney McKay flopped at the Olympics. It’s still great, and a lovely reminder of that period in skating right when Figures were on the way out and bigger jumps were on the way in.

wayfaring strangers by cosmicocean explores the missing scenes of Tony Stark and Nebula on a deserted planet after The Snap, scavenging to build a spaceship that will get them to Earth.

how to win friends and influence people by Bundibird is an amusing exploration of what would happen if Peter Parker met Harley Keener from Iron Man 3.

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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