Sunday Sum-Up: June 6, 2021

Summer’s here. I already hate it.

I mean, most of May it was around 60F, with rainy days and plenty of clouds and cool breezes and life was great. Then June hit and overnight it leaped into the mid 90s F, and it’s awful.

How long until October?

In other, non-weather news, I got things done! I completed a bunch of spring cleaning, cleared out some old clothes and books and donated them, and generally just spruced the place up. The studio is much cleaner, and now that summer is here and the air conditioning doesn’t get into the studio, it’ll be in stasis until Fall rolls back around. At least it’s clean. *sighs*

And on one last, happy little note: I managed to not break two fingers on my left (and dominant) hand when the car’s trunk lid decided to close on it. Huzzah. For a minute or two after that happened, I really thought I might have broken my fingers, but they just hurt like hell for a little while, and then I went on my (slightly less than) merry way without having to make a detour to the hospital.

Obligatory Mina Photo:

Mina turned two years old yesterday!

I was at the pet shop earlier this week to buy litter and cat food, and I considered buying her a new toy or two. Then I realized that she already has a small box full of toys that she doesn’t play with so I got her a bag of fancy treats instead.

But I had forgotten something about those treats…

The bag is sealed with a long, thin pull-tab that curls when you pull it off the bag. And that pull-tab is Mina’s favorite toy ever. She’s already gone through two of them (they get lost somewhere, and are never seen again. I’m sure I’ll find them someday when we move out of this place). When I set the pull-tab down next to the food dish with the treats, she didn’t know which one she wanted first. Treats or toy?

She finally decided to eat the treats first, and then went for the pull-tab, which she played with for a solid forty-five minutes before managing to lose it (again). I have no idea where it is. She seems to think it slid under the kitchen cabinets, while I think it got under the boxes under the couch. I’ll look more closely later this morning when the light is better.

Overall, though, Mina had a pretty great birthday. I still can’t believe it’s been two years. It seems like it was just last week when I found that little black ball of fluff. She was so tiny! And her ears were comically huge!

Mina, at roughly five weeks old. She was 1lb 3 oz, and fit in the palm of my hand.

What I Finished Reading Last Week:

Hold onto your hats, Dear Readers, because I read a lot of books last week.

A lot.

I finished The Tangleroot Palace on the last day of May and posted my review for it on Tuesday. Overall, I enjoyed the stories and how creepy they were. Most of them were fantasty or speculative, but a few edged toward horror, which is how I prefer my horror stories to be. I tend to not read horror novels because I find them tedious after a while. Yes, I know, I have a weird reaction to horror. But Liu’s writing is beautiful, and she knows how to build a world and develop characters in a short span of pages, so even though none of the stories is more than about sixty pages, everything feels fully realized and is exactly as long as it needed to be. There were a couple of stories I didn’t care for, but that’s more to do with personal preference rather than a noticeable lack of quality. I definitely recommend it.

The Thief was a fun little adventure story about a young thief named Eugenides and the foolish boast that got him locked up in prison for several months before a man known only as the Magus secures his release so Eugenides can help him steal a precious object for the king. For a while, I wasn’t sure about the story, as I wasn’t gelling with Eugenides but by the time the last twist turned up (which I didn’t see coming), I was sold. I definitely plan to continue with this series, though the second audiobook is currently checked out, and I’ll have to wait a while for it to come available again.

And now for the flock of books I read in the first five days of June for the Shelf Space Discord’s Olympics Readathon:

The Fire Next Time is a short book composed of a letter and a long essay. The letter is addressed to Baldwin’s nephew (also named James), and addresses the problems a Black boy will face as he grows to manhood in late twentieth century America- the racism that will try to crush him, the dreams that may die, and the fact that white people are terrified of losing their superior standing in America, and do everything they can to ensure their power is never challenged. The essay addresses this, too, as well as Baldwin’s encounters (and eventual ambivalence) toward Christianity and Islam, or at least the religious leaders he met in his life and their versions of faith. Baldwin rejected a lot of the things those leaders were calling for (such as a place in the US that was only for Black people), seeing them as unrealistic for many reasons, and counter to his hopes for ridding society of racism. Baldwin states more than once (and rightly, in my opinion), that no one is free until everyone is free. I think this is a book that everyone should read, as society hasn’t advanced so much since the 1960s that Baldwin’s points are no longer valid (they still very much are), and it provides the beginnings of a foundation for understanding a lot of current writings on race. Ta-Nehisi Coates’s Between the World and Me, for example, takes its title and framework from The Fire Next Time. The audiobook was beautifully narrated by Jesse Martin, whose narration made Baldwin’s points that much more poignant.

The Dream Hunters is a graphic novel based on a Japanese folktale that opens with a badger and a fox making a bet that they can drive a solitary and steadfast young monk out of his temple on the mountainside. They are unsuccessful at doing so, but the fox falls in love with the monk and begs his forgiveness for playing her tricks on him. The monk forgives her and they live in peace for a while until the fox overhears demonic beasts plotting to kill the monk. She finds out why they want to, and sets out to save the monk she loves from the beasts and sets in motion a tale of love, sacrifice, and revenge. It had been years since I’d read it, and I had forgotten how effective Gaiman’s writing can be in such a small number of pages. Even though I knew how the story ended, I was crying by the end of it. And it was so perfectly set against Gaiman’s universe of the Dreaming, as the fox meets with the starry-eyed King of Dreams at one point. And Yoshitaka Amano’s illustrations are utterly gorgeous. The Dream Hunters was reissued as a more traditional graphic novel a few years ago with different (and in my opinion, inferior) artwork, so if you’re interested in this book, try to find the version illustrated by Yoshitaka Amano.

Beyond is the first book in what I assume will be a trilogy about the founding of the Kingdom of Valdemar. I was a little unsure about this book going into it, as I’ve been rather disappointed by Lackey’s Collegium Chronicles this year. Happily, Beyond exceeded my expectations. We meet Kordas, Duke of Valdemar, a little region at the edge of the Empire, known primarily for the quality of its horses and for housing a bunch of weirdo country bumpkins. This reputation is something that Kordas guards fiercely, for it protects his people from the cruel Emperor’s attentions and helps to ensure the success of a plan generations in the making: To store up enough supplies and create enough magical Gates so that the people of Valdemar can flee far, far away to an empty land and be free of the vicious Empire for good. Before the plan can come to fruition, though, Kordas is summoned to the capitol for reasons unknown. He’s pulled into dangerous court intrigues that could spell the end of his dreams– and of Valdemar’s freedom. A cast of delightfully quirky characters populates this book (I’d be happy to read much more about Jonaton and his cats, for example). Beyond is also the most metatextual of Lackey’s books, as it mentions things that exist in modern pop culture- but shaped for the world of Valdemar- like cat memes. Lackey also addresses the tendency of YA authors to humanize villains by declaring that they’re only awful because they had a rough childhood or whatever, and that a little bit of care (or the love of the beautiful heroine) will redeem them. There’s a point when Kordas considers a particularly awful character’s life, and wonders if he had a bad childhood and maybe if he had someone understanding in his life, that the evil character would repent and be a good person. Then Kordas realizes that this character is an adult with power who has had plenty of chances to try to be good– and has chosen to be selfish and evil every time. The conclusion Kordas (and Lackey) draws is that “sometimes an asshole is an asshole”. A pretty face doesn’t always guarantee redemption.

Neverwhere marks my second Gaiman book of June. It’s another favorite that I hadn’t read for years (since 2015, if StoryGraph is accurate), so it was nice to revisit some old… acquaintances? Richard Mayhew might be an Everyman, but the rest of the cast wouldn’t make for comfortable friendships. I’ve read Neverwhere so many times, but I’m always surprised at the things I forget from one reading to the next. Like when the Marquis de Carabas gives the mysterious box to Old Bailey, or when Door goes to find Hammersmith at the Floating Market. Or Down Street. You’d think I’d remember Down Street, but nope. I forget about it every time despite the fact that it’s vitally important to the story, to Door’s plotline, and to Richard’s development as a person. I also managed to forget Serpentine. How? She’s one of the Seven Sisters, and The Seven Sisters is supposed to be the title of the (rumored, long-awaited) sequel to Neverwhere. It’s crazy to think that this was his first full-length novel, as the writing feels so confident (granted, anyone with a style as quirky and dry as Gaiman’s needs to be confident to pull it off), and the characters and world are so strange and illogically logical. But I suppose it makes sense, given that Neverwhere came after Gaiman’s Sandman comic series, which many consider to be his magnum opus, even though it marked the beginning of his literary career. I’m happy to say that Neverwhere still holds up for me after all this time. I read it for the first time with I was about sixteen, so there was a chance that nostalgia would have an effect on my reread. But nope. I think it’s every bit as good now as it was then.

On Time and Water is a powerful book in search of a narrative arc. Which is frustrating, as it has vitally important things to say about the environment and how humanity has been almost gleefully destroying it thanks to industry and oil and our desire for convenience and gadgets. The book is part family history, part memoir, part elegy for the natural world, and partly a two-part interview with the Dalai Lama. Is it a collection of essays or a nonfiction book meant to have loose connections from one chapter to the next? It’s hard to say. It was also frustrating, because no matter how remarkable Magnason’s family history is (his grandfather was a world-renowned surgeon, and his great aunt went to England in the 1930s to be a nanny for an Oxford professor and told her country’s stories to the professor’s children while the professor sat just down the hall to listen along. Said professor happened to be J.R.R. Tolkien, and just happened to be working on The Hobbit at the time). But what is the point of all the family history next to a discussion of melting glaciers and ocean acidification? And, as lovely to read as it was, why are the interviews with the Dalai Lama here? On Time and Water feels like it wanted to be two different books altogether. But while its theme is a bit scattered, it’s still a powerful work, filled with rage and regret about the natural treasures we’ve willfully destroyed. There is, for example, a valley carved out by glaciers in northeastern Iceland that was almost utterly unique in the world– the glaciers had pushed the land up into sharply rolling hills rather quickly in the late 1800s. An Icelandic writer wrote a gorgeous book about the land and its beauty, and Magnason was struck by that beauty and the beauty of the place when he went to see it. He noted that, these days, when discussing how best to “use” land, we discuss it terms of its economic value and whether we can profit by it. No writers now will wax poetic about a place and declare that its existence is justified simply because it is there and natural and beautiful. Magnason had me wanting to visit this valley the next time I travel to Iceland– but I can’t. This unique valley was drowned in 2006 to provide water and power for an aluminum smelting plant. And it makes me wonder: How many unique and beautiful places have we destroyed because we’d rather have soda cans, plastic forks, and bitcoins than valleys, waterfalls, or rivers?

The Assassins of Thasalon is the tenth installment of Lois McMaster Bujold’s Penric and Desdemona series (which is, itself, part of her World of the Five Gods books) and the first novel-length story. It begins with an attack on General Arisaydia, Penric’s brother-in-law, puts Penric and Desdemona squarely in the middle of a political mess they’d thought they’d left behind forever. The attackers came from Cedonia, where Penric was nearly murdered as a spy, and where General Arisaydia was nearly blinded on suspicion of treason. Six years later, Penric has to leave his family behind to sneak back into Cedonia and get to the bottom of matters both political and theological. To make matters more complicated, he has a newly-made sorceress to protect and teach and a bonafide saint to watch over. And of course, the minute they reach Cedonia, all their careful plans are thrown out of the window and they have to improvise with the help of some old friends. But what else could you expect from a chaos demon and a devotee of the God of Chaos? The Assassins of Thasalon was every bit as fun as I expected it to be, and the ending was nothing like I expected (except for the satisfying ending, because Bujold is a Grand Master of Science Fiction and she knows exactly what she’s doing). This is a book I will be happy to read again- or listen to when the audiobook becomes available.

Remote Control is a strange little novella. It is, as Okorafor terms is, an African Futurist story set slightly in the future in Ghana. A little girl named Fatima has a good life with her parents and her older brother, until one night a meteor shower sends debris falling from the sky. Six-year old Fatima finds a box with a strange seed in it in her beloved tree, and thinks the tree has given her a gift. Her story about the box spreads, and one day a politician comes to buy the box. Fatima’s father happily sells the box to the politican (no matter that he hates the politician), but the box’s strange gift has already begun to make itself known within Fatima. Soon, she develops strange powers she can’t control but are fatal to those around her. They also cause her to lose her memory and forget her own name. She calls herself Sankofa and sets out into the world with her companion, a fox, to find the box– and to find answers. Legends grow up around Sankofa. Stories that she is a witch or that she is Death’s Adopted Child. That she is Death’s remote control, for her powers allow her to grant the terminally ill a merciful death, or slay entire villages. But there are more eyes on Sankofa than just her companions, and finding answers may lead her to even more difficult choices. As always with Okorafor, the writing is spare, elegant, and dense with meaning. Sankofa’s perspective is clearly that of the child she is, and her child’s logic makes perfect sense, while the baffling logic of the adults feels as random and strange to her as it must to any child. As with Okorafor’s Binti novellas, Remote Control is a book that doesn’t allow your attention to stray. If you skim over half a page, entire layers of meaning can be lost. So pay attention. This book is worth it.

What I’m Currently Reading:

I’m not very far into The Uncrowned King, but I’m wondering why Valedan is putting himself as such a risk with his decision to enter a horribly dangerous competition when he doesn’t need to. Is he trying to prove something to himself? Or someone else? I don’t know. I’m also curious about Jewel’s new visions, which seem to include Diora. Will they eventually meet? And if so, how? And when? They’re from radically different countries, and it’s not like either of them can easily travel. I guess I’ll have to read on and find out.

Ovid’s Metamorphoses is a book I’ve been meaning to read for ages now, and have finally gotten around to it thanks to my big books challenge. And… why did I wait so long? This translation is so friendly and easy to get through. It’s not nearly as difficult as I thought it would be, and at times it’s downright fun to read! It probably helps that I have a pretty solid graps of Greek mythology thanks to school and art history and whatnot. I’m weirdly looking forward to this the way I never really looked forward to reading The Iliad, The Odyssey, or The Aeneid. I guess when you’re not trying to write the Immortal Epic About the Founding of Our Great Land, then you can have a little fun with the stories, as Ovid has done in Metamorphoses.

What I Plan to Start Reading This Week:

The Ice Lion is the only one of these I’m sure about getting to this week, as it’s an ARC that’s due to be published soon, and I have a review scheduled for the fifteenth. So I need to get it finished. The other two are books that would be nice to start, but I might go with something else instead, depending on how things are going with the Shelf Space Discord’s Olympics Readathon (which is why I read seven books in five days) and my entries for it. So far, I’ve had a lot of fun reading like crazy, but I’m not sure if my eyes will put up with more of this wild amount of reading I’ve been doing, or if they’re going to rebel.

Time will tell.

11 thoughts on “Sunday Sum-Up: June 6, 2021

  1. Yikes! Glad your fingers aren’t broken.
    And a very happy birthday to Mina!! 🙂
    Assassins of Thasalon keeps popping up on my Amazon, which made me very curious about it. I intend to read all the World of Five Gods books that are out. I recently completed Paladin of Souls.

  2. I’m glad my fingers aren’t broken, too.

    The Penric and Desdemona books are soo good! I especially enjoy the audiobooks, which are narrated by Grover Gardner. He just nails Bujold’s stories. It’s great.

  3. The heat is honestly unbearable. Thank heck for AC at work because otherwise I would just be a miserable puddle. And I’m glad to hear your continuing on with The Thief! I felt similarly about the first book, and while I do still love it immensely, it’s far from my favorite of the series. Although not sure which one that’d be because the rest are all so different and amazing in their own ways!

  4. The weather out there sounds very similar to here. This past weekend my father and I hiked a trail we’ve hiked many times during the cooler months and both of us talked of how much more difficult this time was with the elevated humidity and temperature. Glad to hear about Neverwhere holding up over time. I look forward to one day rereading it and hope I share your experiences. And I’ve only read one book by Okorafor so far (Lagoon) but I really enjoyed it, so I’d love to read Remote Control (and the Binti series).

  5. Yeah, it’s been pretty hot around here. It’s supposed to be 92 today, and up to 98 on Thursday. I’m over it.

    Okorafor’s stories aren’t the easiest to read. Her themes are pretty dark, but they’re so so good. I loved Binti more than Remote Control, but both are excellent.

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