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White Sky, Black Ice

Another little free bookshelf book about a Native (raised by White people, so they call him nalauqmiiyaaq for "half white") Alaskan State Trooper trying to make sense of what seem to be unrelated suicides that may involve the big multinational mining concern in the small town. Lots of good Alaska atmosphere and great to read during a Vermont heat wave. The author is not Native but does go out of his way to explain the terminology he uses and I’d be very interested to learn what the taks on this series are from Native readers.

The Lost Glass Plates of Wilfred Eng

A random find in a little free bookshelf, this was a surprisingly interesting novel about the discovery of some old negatives and a bunch of lessons about how things aren’t exactly what they seem, set in 1990s Seattle which was a place I used to live so I liked it more than I might have otherwise. Some extraneous bits but ultimately a story of trying to figure something out. Not quite a mystery, not quite not.

We Had To Remove This Post

A fantastically strange novella about being a content moderator for a large social media platform (which reminas nameless) and how it changes you. Goes in a bunch of directions you might not expect as the moderators befriend one another and get into and out of relationships, and has a hell of an ending. As someone who has worked in the moderator space somewhat I devoured it.

Dog Biscuits

A graphic novel about grappling with the early days of Covid, police brutality, and navigating complicated relationships. Originally released as a series of panels on Instagram and there’s a big afterword talking about its reception there. Not quite my jam, really uneven and I didn’t like the illustration style, but I hope it finds its audience.

Enchanted Islands

A really interesting mood piece about a woman with a difficult past and one (difficult) best friend who winds up married to a probably-gay man and living a nearly self-sufficient life in the Galapagos in the 1930s and 1940s. It’s got odd pacing but is good reading. The afterword which talks about how the author came up with the idea is, itself, fascinating.

Trust

What an unusual and interesting book. It’s a single story, sort of, told four different ways, but it takes you til about a third of the way through the book to figure out exactly what’s going on, but somehow you don’t mind at all. Lots of female characters and a writing style that is evocative but not too flowery. I loved it.

Sweetness and Power: The Place of Sugar in Modern History

I love sugar but this book was a bit of a slog. It was interesting to look at the history of sugar and plantations and slavery and the increasing demand for sugar. It was a lot less interesting to read long pull quotes from ancient texts supporting the general thesis as well as recitations of various references that backed up the assertions of the author. For a book written in the 1980s it dealt with the issue of enslaved people and what their lives were like with more sensitivity than I expected.

True Biz

This book is about the interweaving lives of two-maybe-three people with differing relationships to Deaf culture (CODA, multigenerational Deaf, raised oralist w/ cochlear implant). It’s set against the backdrop of a Deaf school in danger of closing. There are lots of Deaf culture and ASL lessons tucked in-between chapters which will be interesting for people who would like to know more about Deaf culture (I knew many of these points so they felt a little bolted-on to me). There’s a lot going on here and there’s enough young person angst that it reads like a YA novel but also some more mature themes that make it not really read like a YA novel. I had some trouble getting a read on exactly what it was trying to say at times. Very good.

Wingwalkers

I had said back in 2018 that I was going to go back and read all of Brown’s other books. And then I forgot and noticed this one on the New shelf at the library. It’s got two intertwining stories, one with William Faulkner and one about the two barnstormers he maybe met once in the 1930s. It’s well-written but there’s a lot of drunken nonsense and not enough women who are actual characters. If you really love Faulkner and his history, you might enjoy this book’s exploration of parts of it. If you don’t much care about him you might be confused why this character takes up so much of this novel

The Patron Saint of Second Chances

A very small town in Italy needs to raise some money to fix their municipal water. One man, possibly the mayor as well as a hotelier as well as the local vacuum repairman, launches a scheme which unfolds with amusing, if predictable, mishaps. You get to meet all the characters, you worry it’s all going to fall apart. It does fall apart and it gets put back together. Funny as well as heartwarming.

An Eternal Lei

I liked Hirahara’s last book with this cast, the first in a series, but this one was more uneven. You could see how the plot outline was set up, and then it was filled in irregularly. Some parts of the story felt fleshed out and others felt unfinished. I appreciated the Hawaiian setting and really diverse cast and discussion of the some of the cultural issues. Still got hung up on what felt like confusing pidgin and I’m really not sure if it’s me or the author who has it somewhat wrong.

The Last Chance Library

More light fiction set in a library/bookstore! This one is about saving a small library in the UK, which many librarians know is still an ongoing thing. Our protagonist is a librarian without much of a life, who finds her voice and helps her community. Sweet and straightforward, goes nowhere surprising, doesn’t end quite like you think or maybe like you want, but a good read in these tough times

The Scorpion’s Head

A Flemish thriller! This was a really interesting take on the “dark web hitman network” idea that I also saw in R3eaper. What if a hitman decided, for their own ethical reasons, and then becomes a target themselves? Surprisingly non-gruesome despite the topic and some pretty tough story lines. Felt a little too pat in some places because you’re in the “Grappling with people with nearly infinite resources” category. I’d definitely read more by this author.

The Bitter Taste of Murder

Figured I’d try the next book in this series and see how I liked it. I liked it! This one involves the death of a wine reviewer with a fancy wine blog and a large number of people who could have done it. A lot of ins and outs but the same general cast of characters. Engaging. More good food descriptions.

Murder in Chianti

Very similar to the Inspector Bruno books, or like a cross between those and the Commissario Guido books. However there is a little less machismo and a few more female characters, and it’s set in Italy and not France. Also unlike the Bruno books there aren’t so many loanwords inserted in italics as if it’s important to use the foreign word for certain things that also have words in English. Nico is a “retired” policeman, recently, widowed, who moves back to his late wife’s homeland, in small town Italy and gets wrapped up in a mystery. Lots of good foods. Faithful pup companion. Enjoyed it, especially the nuances about people from different parts of Italy.

The Lost for Words Bookshop

I will read nearly any book set in a library or bookstore. This was an above-average one of the genre with a female protagonist with a dark/murky past that you gradually learn about. She does have some friends despite her generally low-seeming self-esteem. Meets a guy, pushes him away, some stuff happens. It works out. Some wordy tattoos which were, surprisingly, my least favorite part of this.. Some poetry. Well told.

The Peacekeeper

I both loved this book for its central theme--a non-colonized but modern day US, all Native characters--but also had issues with some of the mental health tropes that rubbed me the wrong way. People who are used to these tropes in writing, tropes that blame the mentally ill despite the mentally ill more often being the victims of crimes than the perpetrators--can see these coming a mile away. A lot of sorrow in this book. A great read and an interesting story.

The Wreck of the William Brown

If you grow up with a sailor dad you may have read more than your average share of shipwreck books. This is about a ship that hit an iceberg & sank without enough lifeboats. Some passengers went down with the ship. Others got into the lifeboats only to be tossed overboard to die. This book spells out the whole situation, from who was on the boat, to what happened when it sank, to the murder of some of the lifeboat passengers, to the weird set of decisions about how to seek legal justice for those murders. And then, finally, some of the ramifications of what was decided. Interesting to note that there was a time before an honorable captain was supposed to go down with the ship.

LaserWriter II

A loving novelization of one of NYCs best Mac repair places, a place that really exists. Anyone who was around in the early Mac years will appreciate this nostalgia trip and all the tiny details that made us Mac lovers to begin with. There’s very little actual story here and I’m not sure that matters.

Sleepwalk

Chaon has this fascinating ethereal style that he brings to stories usually not getting that treatment. This one has an oddly sympathetic murderer at the heart of it, working out some shit about what family means, against a backdrop of a dystopian future US. You don’t know quite what happened and his life’s story comes out in dribs and drabs but its all very interesting even as our protagonist does not at all seem like someone you’d want to spend time with. Quite well done.

Book Lovers

Henry writes lightweight books you can read on vacation and they are fun and interesting. This book goes nowhere unfamiliar which is just fine. The author really enjoys Hallmark movies and wanted to write a book about the other side of the equation: the person back home whose significant other falls for someone in some cutesy small town. This story is not quite that, but close and it was actually a fun read.

Iced in Paradise

I enjoyed this mystery based in Hawai’i, 1st in a series. The main character speaks in pidgin with her family/friends (and not with strangers) but narrates the story in Standard English and it was a bit of a stumbling point for me trying to understand what was being said and why the author chose to make that split in that way. Reading the afterword it seems that the author herself doesn’t speak this way (though she had sensitivity readers who okayed this) and maybe that was why it felt weird. A good story, with good characters who have complex relationships with their family, with their community, and with outsiders.

Button Pusher

A graphic novel about being diagnosed with ADHD before it was really a thing. Page went through a lot of “What is WRONG with that kid?” interactions with the medical establishment before getting a good diagnosis that was helpful. And he’s got a home life that is sort of messy with a dad with a tempeer problem who may be part of the problem as much as he also needs some help. A combination memoir and good factual information about lots of aspects of ADHD. Engaging and interesting.

In the Land of Invented Languages

A great fun and funny look at the history of some of the bigger-name invented languages, what makes them work and not work and who were some of the personalities behind them. Okrent is a linguist, so she actually gets involved with some of these languages, tries to pass a Klingon proficiency tests, attends an Esperanto conference. She has a good sense of humor about a lot of this but also bring s a lot of good background knowledge to the topic, so her takes are well worth reading.

Reap3r

A pretty straightforward technothriller about the upsides and downsides to having unlimited funds to work on your dreams, but there’s always some kind of a catch. A somewhat pat ending but not too terrible. Some interesting ideas of the ramifications of totally anonymous online payments and what you could potentially buy. Sort of one evil overlord and the people beholden to him. I’ve liked Peper’s other books and I liked this one even more.

The Bangalore Detectives Club

I loved this book which took place in 1920s Bangalore. So many great colors, and so many rich smells described. There are real friendships between the women and the woman gets along well with her husband. She’s a female protagonist in a supportive relationship who likes to untangle mysteries which they eventually work on together. So good.

The Book Woman’s Daughter

This is a sequel to the earlier book, with the same general vibe. A LOT of rural poverty and ignorance-informed trauma including both of the daughter’s parents getting ripped away to prison and getting abused in prison for being an interracial couple. Some vocational awe in there too for good measure, about how noble librarianship is and how you should do it even at great cost to yourself because it’s so important. Some good facts about 1950s Kentucky including some information about Moonlight Schools, the Pack Horse Librarians and women serving as fire lookouts. A decent ending, a good read but not my fave.

Blue Mars

This was the most uneven of the pack, veering between a lot of complicated relationship stuff and walls of text about dust, weather patterns, the nature of memory, and then a tiny conflict wrapped up way too quickly. It follows the same general trajectory as the others but whereas the others, the final conflict is introduced significantly earlier in the novel, in here it felt jammed right on to the end. And the overall wrap-up seemed weird to me. Glad I read it, happy it’s over.

Good Time Girls of the Alaska-Yukon Gold Rush

A pretty decent look at sex work in Alaska during and after the gold rush. Done in a sort of person-per-chapter format, with a lot of newspaper and other research going in to filling out some not otherwise well documented stories of these women in early Alaskan history. There are some photos as well so these are well-illustrated stories about many different women (and a few men) who contributed to the culture in important ways. This is as much a story about Alaska as it is about sex work. People who are up on present sensibilities about how we talk about sex work may find the language somewhat outdated and.or offensive.

Green Mars

I like where the worldbuilding is going in this series but this book has long passages of just geology/planetology even more than the first. I like the human aspects and how all of that interacts with the choices people make about the planet, but one person talking for five pages about a crater, is a LOT less my jam.

Red Mars

How have I gone this long without reading this? I like most of KSR’s stuff. This was a little more epic than I expected and could sometimes get bogged down in long Martian geography/worldbuilding passages, but overall a neat look at a possible Martian future. One of the things that is the most interesting about all of this is that we’re in a future world where we’ve traveled to Mars, but at the same time, there is ubiquitous network but... no social media? So some of the interactions which occur seem weirdly quaint now because in the actual world with both ubiquitous network AND ubiquitous social media it’s hard time imagine things unfolding the way they do.

The Temps

A weird story about a dramatic apocalypse and the only people left at the weird startup are the temporary workers who try to find a way to make things work out. And you’re not sure for a bit “Wait, did nearly everyone in the entire world DIE??” Not quite a romp but not fully serious either. I liked the main character but... he dies? I found the entire thing basically a black humor situation where I felt the author was maybe not entirely clear if he wanted to it be super dark or not so it wavered. The plot was interesting, the conclusion was unsatisfying.

Bao

This was on my Kindle forever, I finally got around to reading it. A guy is depressed because his startup got stolen from him. But they pull him back for one last job, building an AI to go inside a lifelike humanoid that... only speaks Chinese? And then you as the reader have to deal with this completely incomprehensible cyborg and it just didn’t land right with me. Like I liked the idea in general, but the execution and especially a few specifics (like the Chinese thing, come ON) made it a really uneven read.

Dune: The Graphic Novel, Book 1

I read Dune earlier this year and was looking forward to seeing a graphic novel treatment of it, but I gotta be honest, I wasn’t wild about this. There’s a lot jammed in there & I think I’d have had trouble following it if I hadn’t just finished the book. For a desert planet, there were a lot of blues and greens in the illustrations and the style just wasn’t to my liking. I found the book a lot more evocative and the graphic novel a lot more kind of standard comic book fare with really busty improbably built women and lots of brooding and.or evil dudes.

Arkhangelsk

Once your generation ship makes it somewhere, then what? A really good exploration of the compromises that need to (maybe) be made in the name of survivability. A colony that is almost too small to survive, on a frozen ice planet, suddenly realizes they are not alone. Gets real creepy at the end in a surprising way. Mostly female characters, lots of interesting social dynamics.

Demystifying Disability

Emily is a great writer and a great Twitter follow who’s written a friendly and useful book about helping the non-disabled understand good, constructive ways to interact with disabled folks and what it really means to be a good ally. Well-designed with friendly illustrations and a positive attitude that you just have to make an effort, not always do each thing exactly perfect. Emily is very good at explaining how sometimes different disabled people can want different things out of interactions and talks about how to negotiate those interactions.

Braking Day

A great story of a generation ship approaching a new planet (after over 5 generations) and all the last minute stuff that occurs. Our plucky hero is in officer school (despite being from a family where that’s not the norm) has to work some shit out to both keep himself and his family from getting in trouble, but also to solve a weird mystery about why the ship isn’t behaving the way it’s supposed to. A lot of deconstruction of the various kinds of class/caste privilege and how they might shake out over a multigenerational voyage.

On Juneteenth

I knew the bare facts about this holiday but it was an entirely other thing to hear about Gordon-Reed’s experiences growing up as a black girl in Texas in a family that had been there for generations. She talks about wanting to know more about her family’s experience during the time when Texas was a weird world unto itself. Great essays about her life as a child but also where she is now as an adult.

The Wartime Sisters

This novel was outside of my usual reading, a suggestion from a friend. It’s a straightforward story of a family with some mysteries, takes place in and around the Springfield Armory during a wartime production period. Lots of bad parents, and people trying to do better. The two sisters have an almost Frozen-like split up and eventual reuniting. The mysteries get meted out slowly. I liked learning about Springfield, I found the rest of it a little higher drama than I’d prefer.

The Rabbi Who Prayed with Fire

I had heard about this book but it turned out to be somewhat hard to find. It’s kind of an intellectual successor to the Rabbi Small books, this one features Rabbi Vivian, a lesbian assistant rabbi in Providence RI. The story is engaging and entertaining with a more social justice oriented approach to the tenets of modern Judaism. The basic issue is “Hey maybe as a community we need to not just continue to focus on our own oppression but look outward and see who else could be helped by some of the power we’ve accumulated” I really appreciated that view and the author does a good job outlining a story.

No Gods, NoMonsters

Picked this up because of the title and it being on the new shelf at the library. Liked it a lot for about the first three-quarters of it. It’s a multiverse book and a monster book and I was confused how those two connected, like I felt there was something I was possibly missing. The characters are great, a wide range of types of people and the ways they interact. The discussions from within the co-op meetings felt super real. But, there was some realistic active-shooter stuff, in a long-feeling chapter, at the 3/4 mark which was too scary and too real-life horror for me to really stick with the rest of the book. I finished it but only just.

Sea of Tranquility

Usually I don’t enjoy books that jump around in time and have a many-narrative perspectives in them, but this book somehow made it work. It makes it clear where you are in time and who is doing the talking which is really all I want. This is the second book I’ve read this year about simulation theory, and another book that has a pandemic as a plot point, so if you liked this one you might enjoy The Anomaly or How High We Go In The Dark. This book covers a range from “old timey” to “distant future” and does it incredibly well. I was sad when it was over.

The Great Glorious Goddamn of It All

It’s nice to be back in the library reading print books! I plucked this one right off of the “newish” shelf. This is a great tale about the end of the lumberjack era as told through the eyes of a 99 year old man after what may be his last fight. So it’s mostly told in flashbacks but you get little snippets of what happened later. A just-barely-magical tale, maybe not even. Made me miss the PacNW something fierce. A better lumberjack story than most of the rest of them I’ve read.

Dune

This book was on my dad’s nightstand during my childhood seemingly forever. I picked it up when I was too young to get it and hated it: confusing names, nothing happens in the first 1/5, snoresville. Finally picked it up again at the suggestion of a friend of mine and didn’t hate it, even liked parts of it. It was a little long and dragged in parts but I appreciated the “palace intrigue” quality of it and a lot of the worldbuilding. Wished for more female characters because even though there was a lot of gender diversity, it felt like a very masculine book. Not going to read the other seventeen books (possibly a few, certainly not all), but might now go watch the movie.

Little Heathens

A straightforward, well-told recounting of growing up in rural Iowa in the 1930s in a big family during the depression. Kalish’s family was almost entirely self-sufficient, making their own clothes and all their own food and she recounts what a huge amount of time it was every day to feed and clothe a family of this size. The bulk of the book is about being one of the Little Kids and chores and school and whatnot, but the epilogue about what she did next fills it all out.

That Day the Rabbi Left Town

This is the last book in the series, and there’s no satisfying wrap-up since it’s the last book only because Kemelman died. A lively mystery with a snow storm at its center, and a new rabbi at the temple and this one goes jogging! There’s a lot of drama and a somewhat confusing setup with a lot of lawyer and the rabbi and his wife splitting their time between Boston and Barnard’s Crossing but this story wraps up well even if the overarching tale is left somewhat unfinished.

The Day the Rabbi Resigned

It’s a joke that the rabbi almost-resigns in each book. But now he finally does, seemingly in a good way. As this series progresses the plots get kind of complex with what can feel like too many characters and this one is definitely like that, but I enjoyed this penultimate one.

The Gift of Stones

A story told in oral storytelling fashion about a Stone Age culture right on the cusp of the Bronze Age and the day to day things they do to trade and survive. This was suggested to me from someone who saw that I liked teh KSR novel Shaman. I also enjoyed this one. Many branching tales with (perhaps) one central true thru line. Well-told.

A Sunlit Weapon

Another Maisie Dobbs novel, still in WWII. No Nazis in this one though there are some good old fashioned US white supremacists... and Eleanor Roosevelt! Maisie is in a stable domestic situation though there’s some weirdness at her adopted daughter’s school. Everyone lives through this one I believe and there are some other romances afoot. A lively novel and mystery; if you liked the other ones, you’ll like this one.

Murder on Fifth Avenue

I was away from home, misjudged books to bring on my Kindle, and had to find a book in my dad’s house that would be OK nighttime reading. I’ve read other books by this author and they are just fine: period mysteries, not too complicated, delve into a lot of “the status of women in the gaslight era of NYC.” This is a mystery where a terrible man is killed and nearly everyone has a motive. The two main characters (the actual cop at a time when cops have pretty low status, and a midwife who is unusual for being a well-to-do woman with a profession) get along in a way that is pleasant and not the kind of smoldering intrigue that the last book I read in this series seemed to have.

One Fine Day the Rabbi Bought a Cross

The rabbi goes to Israel again, gets mixed up in some nonsense, helps keep an innocent (but annoying) kid out of Israeli jail. A lot more scene-setting than actual mystery time, but it’s got a fair amount of the folks you like in it and you learn a little more about the more Orthodox style of Judaism. There’s definitely an aspect of pinning the bad stuff on the Arabs so it may be worth avoiding if that’s not the kind of thing you’d want to read.

Someday the Rabbi Will Leave

Not too surprisingly, these books are getting kind of samey but I liked this one because it has some political machinations and a guy who wants to run the temple like a business which, hey hey, the rabbi doesn’t like. So the rabbi is, as per usual, threatening to leave but then has to help get the Jewish person off the hook when they’re accused of doing something dastardly.

The Warehouse

A really well done near-future dystopia where giant corporations (or one in particular, that seems an awful lot like Amazon) take over more of the day-to-day lives of Americans as the planet becomes more and more unlivable. There’s a great attention to detail about the surveillance state that crops up and how much of what is happening is evil people being evil and how much is people just trying to make the best of bad personal situations. I didn’t love any of the characters but you’re maybe not supposed to.

The Calculus Story

Every so often I feel I should try to get my head around calculus & some nice man offers me a book they say is “Not like all the other books.” And I read, once again, about a pissing match between Newton and Leibniz with a roller coaster on the cover. Basically there is a jump that happens between understanding the concepts (which I do) and understanding how to plug them into formulae (which I don’t understand) and I always wind up lost in the second half of these roller coaster books.

Last Exit

This would be a great book for someone, it was not a great book for me. A grimdark near-world dystopia which is trauma-laden from the getgo and each time you think “This can’t get more dire, can it?” it does. So much tragedy and just unrelenting pain and sorrow. I read at night, usually, and need less nightmare fuel.

The Cartographers

I loved this book and also wanted it to be 10-15% more subtle. Like there are some mysteries inside it where if you guess that the guy with the nickname is ALSO the other named character in a different part of the story, you kind of know what may be about to happen. It’s a wonderful story about maps and map libraries and the weird line between the map and the territory. And nostalgia. And just a little bit magical, but only a tiny bit. And based on some true history. It had some twists that I wanted to be a little bit twistier. Tiny gripe, great book

Thursday the Rabbi Walked Out

This was definitely my least favorite of the series. A lot of unlikable characters that you had to spend a lot of time with, and while there were a couple interesting twists it just didn’t do it for me. There is basically an antisemitic older man who dies and a LOT of people might have wanted to see him dead. Unfortunately he’s still alive for a lot of the earlier parts of the book and so you just have to listen to his awful tirades and poor treatment of those around him.

The Granite State’s Boston Post Canes

The Boston Post, a newspaper in Massachusetts, sent engraved canes to towns in New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Maine and Rhode Island in 1909 with a request to give them to the town’s oldest man. This book tracks the ones sent to New Hampshire and gives info who the canes were given to in 1909. Also, if known it discusses who currently owns the cane or if it’s still given out. This is clearly a bit of a homemade book, but it’s made with love and you learn a lot about what old timers were like in New Hampshire at the turn of the last century.

The Kaiju Preservation Society

A great snack of a book. It was really so nice to read something set in modern (i.e. COVID) times without leaning on that & having an entirely other plot. Funny and very relatable for the Extremely Online even as there’s nearly no internet in the book. A guy who gets shafted by his start-up get a random new gig which turns out to be even stranger than he imagines. And then he gets to get a teeny bit of revenge on the grifter CEO who shafted him. I enjoyed how aware of itself this book was, and how funny.

The Paradox Hotel

As I was reading this, I could easily see it being a time-slipping thriller movie with Charlize Theron in the title role. It’s a very visually compelling story of a hotel that is a stopover place for time travelers but then there’s some sort of anomaly that is hard to pin down leading to the hotel detective having to rty to figure stuff out all the while suffering from increasingly concerning “slippage” due to the mount of time travel she’s done. A lively book, with a bit of confusing timeline back and forth (not always easy to tell when “now” is which I think is intentional but still kind of vexing) but ultimately one that delivered.

The Secret to Superhuman Strength

This is a different tour through Bechdel’s life than some of her recent titles, it talks about her preoccupation with fitness through her whole life (before it was really a thing) and reflects on what that might have been, or is, about. She goes to a lot of discursive places some of which were more interesting than the others but to me what was so interesting is that I really didn’t know she was sporty at all. And as someone who had an upringing that was like hers in some ways and very unlike hers in other ways, I am always curious to read more meoir-style stuff from her.

Mickey7

I’ve been reading a lot of clone books lately, this is one of the better ones. It looks at ethical issues of making exact replicas of people--ones that emerge as the same general age as the original--while also just being being a solid colony-ship type of story. The main character is fallible yet likeable, and the histories of failed colonies are so interesting. While this book wraps up somewhat tidily there is a sequel planned and I am looking forward to reading it.

Tuesday the Rabbi Saw Red

These are sort of ripped from the headlines and this one involves a bombing at a local college where the rabbi is teaching briefly and the real differences between the “tough on crime” establishment versus the “hey they’re just kids” folks. I felt like there was more that could be done with this and I felt like they set up the one Black student to attract a lot of suspicion and then you never really figured out what happened to him when his name was cleared.

Please Don’t Sit on My Bed In Your Outside Clothes

I really enjoyed No You Can’t Touch My Hair and this is another great book by Robinson. Funny and unapologetic, I really enjoyed how much she OWNS her life and is willing to talk about the good and the bad parts of it. She’s got a white boyfriend, they used to travel a lot and didn’t spend too much time together then the pandemic hit and they were ALWAYS in each others' space. There’s humor, there’s snark, there’s a bit of name-dropping. A really good romp of a book.

The Library of the Dead

Maybe a YA novel? This book takes place in Scotland, where there are a lot of haves and the have-nots are really just barely eking out an existence. There’s a weird library and some supernatural stuff going on. Our plucky hero is a young woman of color managing a lot of stuff--poverty, supporting her family, learning magic, threats--while trying to learn a bunch of stuff and figure out a bit of a mystery. Very engaging.

Lesser Known Monsters of the 21st Century

A really interesting collection of short stories, many with different positionings of what a “monster” is. Sometimes it’s someone with weird features, sometimes it’s someone with a bad attitude, sometimes it’s someone who treats others badly. Rarely is it an actual supernatural being or a Frankenstein type of thing. Some I liked more than others, but all of them were good and worth reading and some have continued to stick with me.

Monday the Rabbi Took Off

This title has a double meaning because Rabbi Small takes some time off and also takes off for Israel which is a very different place in the late 60s than today’s Israel, I’m guessing. The country is not as much of a country as it is now and there’s a lot more random violence that is a bit more mysterious. Small, as usual, is not sure what to do about his job at the synagogue and so he takes an unpaid sabbatical to think it over. Was interesting to learn some about this part of the world at this point in time, very snack-sized books, these.

Sunday the Rabbi Stayed Home

There’s something comforting about these small-ish town, very Judaism-focused, New England mysteries. This one has some casual racism in it along with some white-savior stuff (pushed back against, mercifully). I liked it but it wasn’t quite as interesting as the others I’ve read in the series. A quick read.

State of Terror

This book was co-written with Louise Penny of the Inspector Gamache series of mysteries. This is exactly the kind of book you think it’s going to be from reading the cover: a diplomacy-based thriller w/ a dose of difficult decisions and cameos of a few people from the Penny universe. And the main character is a middle-aged Secretary of State who has to use her diplomacy chops to get to the bottom of a global disaster-in-the-making. I liked it, but it didn’t go anywhere I wasn’t expecting.

Saturday the Rabbi Went Hungry

These are nice simple mysteries that take place in familiar (to me) locations in Massachusetts and have some little lessons about Judaism as part of them. The rabbi isn’t super charismatic but he’s a man of principles and you wind up taking his side a lot. I enjoy brushing up on my Yiddishisms by reading along with these stories.

Friday the Rabbi Slept Late

A 1960s-era set of mysteries about a Massachusetts rabbi which I decided to read because I was getting a little tired of “ambitious” scifi for now. Jim suggested this series and I like it. The Rabbi of a small town in the North Shore of Massachusetts gets drawn in to local mysteries but it’s not like he’s an amateur sleuth but more like he uses rabbinical tactics to help figure out what happened. Very much a product of its time but a good story overall.

Appleseed

I am learning that a book that is described by many reviewers as “ambitious” may not be the right book for me. I really liked this book generally, but felt confused by the ending somewhat and felt the author had a Big Idea that may or may not have really worked out. Sometimes I have to get all the way to the end of these “climate disaster” books to tell if it’s a story of hope or a story of doom, and gosh I’m still not sure about this one. A great read told in a before, during, after way. A little scifi, a little fantasy.

Stargazer: The Life and Times of the Telescope

This book had been on my shelf for a long time, picked up at a library booksale somewhere in Michigan. It’s basically a history of telescope technology as told by a telescope nerd. Well-illustrated. A bit on the dry side but no more than I was expecting. And he really tries to acknowledge the history of women, usually as doting sisters to astronomers who didnt get enough credit at the time, and I appreciated that. I learned things about the night sky and I enjoyed learning about old astronomer drama.

The Girl Who WOuld be King

I has misgivings as soon as I saw that this book was dedicated to Joss Whedon. And I’m not sure if my dislike for it was really because I had thought it was going to be something else? There are some vague descriptions of this book and I think I thought the two very different superhero women were... going to team up somehow? They do NOT. So ultimately this book was not my jam. A two-superhero-one-good-one-evil story which was hyperviolent and too trauma-filled for me. A good plot and there’s some good writing but there is also some bad writing. Would have made a good comic book (and the author’s background is sequential art) but just relentlessly sad as a novel.

The End of Ordinary

Another one of those books taking place in a near future where people with genetic modifications and people without them fail to get along. In this case there was an all out war, called The Stupid War that is in the country’s near past. Now something else is going on and there’s a group of plucky teens who tries to figure it out. This is a weirder-than-usual spin on that trope, nearly YA in its approach. Readable and somewhat strange.

The Anomaly

A Goncourt-winning novel originally in French which manages to be both ethereal (in parts) and didactic (in other parts). There were a lot of long chunks of philosophy in the middle of what was otherwise a story about a really weird thing that happens. Hard to talk about without giving plot details away. I enjoyed it but went to Goodreads after reading to check “What did I just read?” and figure out how it ended because even though I was giving it a close read, I wasn’t sure I understood. Neat weird plot twists, big cast of characters. Would I recommend it? Not sure.

How High We Go In The Dark

It’s been a long time since I’ve put a book in my Best In Show category but I really enjoyed this book despite the fact that it takes place mostly during a global pandemic (not this one, a different one). A perfect example of one of those “stories which overlap but you’re not quite sure how until much later” novels. It’s about people trying to do their best despite living through really extraordinary circumstances, in a few different time periods. Can sometimes be a trick to link all the stories together. Incredibly poignant in a few places and I’m sure it’s not for everyone. One of my favorite reads of the past 12 months.

Elder Race

A book with one central conceit: an anthropologist goes back to check on an older Earth colony on another planet. His tools and knowledge make them think he’s a wizard. They can’t communicate well enough to clear it up. They have to solve some problems. It’s a really well-done story. Some humor, a great tale, not too long.

Dare to Know

Fascinating premise--what if there was a way to determine exactly when you would die and companies competed to sell this information to you--kind of ruined with an unlikable protagonist and a supernatural backdrop that never entirely cohered. I really liked these stories when they were about managing a world in which you could know your death date. I liked the supernaturallish stuff a lot less so the ending was just a swamp of “What the heck is going on?” Promising but didn’t make it work.

The Consequences of Fear

A WWII-era mystery that focuses on a lot of spycraft and London during The Blitz. Decent storylines that all kind of fit together, not too twee, good to see familiar characters again. There’s an awful lot of kind of up and down Maisie and her latest guy as well as a pretty big helping of Patricia Is Dramatic (for good reasons but still) so if you’re looking for more of Maisie-the-Detective, this book doesn’t have as much of that.

The Big Activity Book for Anxious People

Found this in a free box at the library. Can’t tell if it’s not funny, I have no sense of humor, the authors are way younger than me, or the pandemic rendered any pre-pandemic discussions of anxiety moot. Some things seemed to be making fun of anxiety and some seemed to act like it’s the most serious big deal thing in the world. In any case, not my jam.

Best American Science and Nature Writing 2021

As you might imagine, this collection by Ed Yong is terrific, encompassing the urgency of COVID and global warming, among other science and nature-y things. It felt like the authors were mostly female writers, with a thread of hopefulness not typical of these books. I did get the vibe that many of the essays were from the Atlantic which was the only real “sameyness” about the collection. Compared to last year’s collection which was notable in the absence of COVID coverage, this was a nice return to the types of collections I am used to finding in this series.

The Cruel Stars

An interesting premise about a galaxy-wide war between “modified humans” (neural nets, DNA mods &c) and what’s become a cult of non-modded humans who want to destroy anyone with mods. The beginning of this book was a few unlinked story lines that were much more interesting once you figured out how they all fit together. Overall there’s a good story arc, a bit slow to get going but with a “pink mist” level of violence that probably wouldn’t lead me to pick up a sequel.

The Cellist

This is the most recent in Silva’s Israeli-assassin series. The enemies this time are “the Russians” which was better than many other books which seem to have some Islamophobia issues. The story has an interesting main plot about money laundering and Swiss banks with a very bolted-on Jan 6th denouement and dramaz at the end which I did not at all enjoy. Clearly the author working out some stuff and he says as much in the afterword. A good but not great book in this series.

Rosewater Redemption

I checked reviews for this one before I read it because I wanted to make sure it wasn’t another all out civil war type book the way the second book was. It wasn’t. It wrapped the series up really nicely and was a lot more interesting to me than Book Two. You do lose some main characters but you understand a lot more about everyone and about the xenosphere in general.

Rosewater Insurrection

This book was the sequel to Rosewater. It took a path kind of like the novel The Outside where the first book sets up the human vs. alien struggle which is pretty interesting and raises a lot of questions, but then the second book is a lot of All Out War. And, I’m just less into the all-out-war stuff even though it continues to be interesting and the story lines continue. It wasn’t bad, it was quite good really, but there was an awful lot of trauma and I’m hoping the last book won’t be more of the same.

While Justice Sleeps

This was a fun political thriller even though it laid out who the bad and good guys were pretty early on and didn’t vary much from that course. Stock bad people, fairly interesting good people, not so many in-between people which I often think of when I read thriller type books, like you never know who is good or bad, or who the good person can trust. This was a book with good legal intrigue but didn’t get bogged down in it. If you wished Grisham were better, or had decent female characters, read Abrams book.

Rosewater

Another winner by Thompson about a strange alien thing that crops up in Nigeria and the people who try to make sense of it. I’m not sure if Thompson embraces the Afrofuturism moniker but this feels like it to me even though except for the alien thing, this is a modern day story. The protagonist is a slightly unreliable narrator and you’re not sure if he’s smart or stupid in several pivotal points in this book. The sequencing is a bit herky-jerky in the chronology--it goes back and forth between modern day and events in the past and sometimes it’s tough to tell where you are since the protagonist basically seems like the same person--but not a major issue. It’s the first book in a trilogy and I’ll definitely be picking up the next installment.