I had one of my ritual book-buyings this spring, ordering a couple of dozen at a go through ABEbooks (I’ve lived in Japan too long, and can’t help pronouncing it ah-bay-books). A mixed batch as usual, but with a lot of good stuff in it.
A Game of their Own, Jennifer Ring: women playing professional baseball. Kind of sad, because there just aren’t enough opportunities being made, but interesting stories being told. I’d have enjoyed more focus on the minutiae of the team, particularly the relationships among the women and their families, the way baseball crosses lines of ethnicity and religion and class and sexuality.
Division Street, Studs Terkel: the first (I think) of his monumental oral history series. Also kind of depressing, because things in America were and remain really messed up, although not always in the same ways; that would make a hell of a sociology paper, looking at it as a mirror of the present. Not as fascinating as Working, but that’s a very high bar.
Tourists, Lisa Goldstein: urban fantasy in the literal rather than genre sense. Most of it was not to my taste, because none of the characters seemed at all likeable (either integrally so, or too miserable to be fun to spend time with), but the ending was happier than I’d expected; a bit deus, or rather princess, ex machina, but requiring further consideration. Original.
The Story of Owen and Prairie Fire, E.K. Johnston: a duology set in alternate-universe Canada, VERY MUCH up my alley. Everyday lives and dragon fighting and alternate history and music all going on together. Too short—I would have enjoyed a couple of six-hundred-page tomes which actually picked up all the potential subplots rather than just hinting at them—and not perfect in every way, but very very enjoyable. Maybe for next year’s Yuletide.
West Berlin Journal, Eloise Schindler: notes on life in 1960s Kreuzberg as the wife of a liberal pastor. Not exactly fun, but fascinating, and among other things provoking interesting thought on the differences and similarities of living as a foreigner in Germany and in Japan.
A Gathering of Shadows, V.E. Schwab: the second in a fantasy trilogy. I had read the first and decided I’d like to know what happened next, but ended up not being interested enough to do more than skim. Not character-driven enough for me, and done in too broad strokes, and focusing too much on place without enough of a sense of the real life of the places.
Not Time’s Fool, Erica H. Smith: the fourth in an ongoing series by an Internet acquaintance. Self-published, and overall of higher quality than about 99.44% of the commercially published stuff available. I loved the new focus on Janet (a favorite character of mine), could have done with slightly less time spent on fairy tales but otherwise enjoyed it richly and am now waiting for the next and last.
Gentleman Jole and the Red Queen, Lois McMaster Bujold: the new Vorkosigan book. Has had a mixed reception on the net, with which I mostly agree—I like the idea of the retcon per se, but feel that in both past and present it comes off too smoothly. Bujold at her best is absolutely brilliant at showing people struggling to master difficult but precious relationships (Aral and Cordelia in the original two books, Miles and Ekaterin, Bothari, Mark and his whole family, Duv Galeni…) and that’s what gets skimmed over here, to the detriment of the book’s heft (metaphorical, that is). But I do like the new characters, including Jole himself; I am seriously tempted to nominate a Yuletide cast entirely made up of Cordelia’s staff and Jole’s. And I loved Alex Vorkosigan poring over his grandfather’s drawings.
Games Wizards Play, Diane Duane: the latest in the Young Wizards series. Lighter in some ways than some of the others (deliberately, one assumes) and lots of fun. I loved Harry Callahan casuallly introducing the wizard-king of another planet as “My brother,” both funny and moving, and I liked Nita and Kit working on new ways to be together. I found Penn and Mehrnaz both a little light on nuance, there to help tell somebody else’s story rather than to be their own…
Shadow Web, N.M. Browne: alternate modern history and doppelgangers in London. I’m just not good at “has to pretend to be somebody else” stories, I didn’t like having to spend the whole book worrying about whether Jess would be found out, get home safely, etc., when I would rather have been exploring the alternate reality with a little less immediate panic. (This is one thing Erica Smith’s Waters of Time books, see above, do very well: her time jumpers are prepared for their impersonations within an inch of their lives.)
Letters to a Friend, Winifred Holtby: effervescent, thoughtful, impassioned, hilarious, and ridiculously enjoyable. I’m sometimes reminded of a phrase that was applied to another young woman sometimes called a saint, the “shining personality” of Etty Hillesum.
Among You Taking Notes, Naomi Mitchison: her wartime Mass Observation diary. I am a big Mass Obs fan, but had held off on this one because I wasn’t super interested in life in a Scottish fishing village; however, her 1934 Vienna Diary convinced me it would be worth a try, and it was. It’s full of personalities and opinions and ups and downs, rather less about the progress of the war and more about the day-to-day and its immediate effects on near and far-flung family and friends, which is just right for me. I wish she’d kept a diary her whole life.
A Tangle of Gold, Jaclyn Moriarty: the last in her “Colours of Madeleine” trilogy, and a brilliant conclusion, tying up almost too many loose ends. I think it’s her particular talent to show the ambiguity of her characters, good and bad sides and aspects melding and blending together—Keira and Belle and Ko and Abel and Chime and Jimmy.
A Notable Woman, Jean Lucey Pratt: the collected diaries of the woman who was “Maggie Joy Blunt” in the Mass Obs wartime excerpts. Not quite as enjoyable as I’d hoped, because she spends so much of her writing time unhappy, wanting a lover or a husband, a book published, a good job. Reading her in close proximity to Winifred Holtby and Naomi Mitchison, see above, gives a sense of the differences…not in technical writing ability, but in…breadth of mind, vitality of some kind…?
Military Brats, Mary E. Wertsch: oral history of growing up with parents (usually fathers) in the armed forces. Very interesting as it is, and probably invaluable research for a novel treating any such, but rather depressing in the incredible frequency of emotional and/or physical abuse.
Solitaire, Marian Botsford Fraser: interviews with single women across Canada. Beautifully written and skilful in the interviewing as well to draw out the best; also painstaking in its cross-section, geographical (except maybe the Far North), ethnic, religious, a fairly wide age range, queer and straight women (unlike the author of Singled Out, who doesn’t seem to have been able to decide whether lesbians counted as single women or not), women widowed and divorced, both happily and unhappily, and never married, women with vast sexual experience and virgins, the lot. Painful and definitely worth keeping around.
All Girls, Karen Stabiner: studies of girls at two girls’ schools, an elite California establishment and a NYC school for lower-income girls of promise. Not quite with the immediacy and rueful humor of Brooke Hauser’s New Kids, keeping some distance between the reader and the subjects, but interesting.
Fruits of Victory, Elaine F. Weiss: land girls in America during the First War. Academic rather than anecdotal, well researched and thoughtful, useful for research rather than pleasure reading.
Daughters of the Samurai, Janice P. Nimura: Ume, Sutematsu, Shige and the others in America and Japan. Also a good piece of research and well written, telling me a lot I didn’t know about their American experience in particular, and providing a nicely different slant from Ume’s letters to her foster mother, my main source so far.
Selected Letters of Rebecca West, ed. Bonnie Kimes Scott: bought because I was so fascinated by Black Lamb, Grey Falcon, or is it the other way round? Very readable, but also inspiring one to go to bed every night thinking “Well, things could be worse: at least I’m not Rebecca West.”
One Under, Cynthia Harrod-Eagles: the latest Bill Slider mystery. Well done in terms of the mystery, with her usual competence; one very sad personal event and one happy one.
The Watchmaker of Filigree Street, Natasha Pulley: recommended by some people on the net. MUCH more to my taste than I had anticipated, with wonderful small details, music (although I would have liked to see even more of the Mikado), generally well-researched Japanese (the names seemed just a little too modern, Keita and Yuki for instance, but within tolerances; I was also sorry that the lady at the Rokumeikan turned out to be Takeko Inoue and not Sutematsu Oyama), humor and intelligence. Now I want more.