Daniel Jose Older
Arthur A. Levine Books, 2015
An urban fantasy YA set in Brooklyn, with Brooklyn (and the changes it's experiencing) being a character in the novel. I liked the main character, and her interactions with her family and friends. I also liked the family and friends themselves. There were a couple problems with the story though that other reviewers didn't comment on. I figured out a clue a few pages earlier than the characters did, which is a very rare thing for me. Also, the shadowshaper's tools are very portable, why did she not ALWAYS have her tools with her? It really wouldn't have weakened the plot, might have made it more tense, in fact. There's no indication that this is a series, but it ends with that possibility, and I'd be happy enough to read the next one if there were.
Orbit Books, 2015
The last two novels I read, I felt like there was an awful lot of set up then BOOM sudden action. This novel felt like the tension built steadily and inexorably. By now we've gotten used to the convention of this culture using the feminine pronoun for everybody. It's no longer a gimmick, but a great insight into the culture being depicted. The Radch might have gender equity, but they're pretty nasty in almost every other respect. Ancillary Mercy ends the trilogy in a way that wrapped up all the loose ends and felt final to me. And left me wanting to reread the whole thing now that all three books are available.
Black by Design: A 2-Tone Memoir
Serpent's Tail, 2011
Pauline Black was the lead singer of The Selecter, one of the 2 Tone groups that sprung up in the late 70s and faded quickly. Her memoir tells the story of her life from her childhood as the adopted daughter of a white working class British family. She becomes lead singer of The Selecter almost by accident, and experiences its meteoric rise and almost as-rapid fall barely able to catch a breath. Her memoir looks at being mixed race in the UK, and how some things have changed, but many haven't -- even in the 90s, after successful stints as actress on stage and presenter for television shows, she's told to get toilet paper for the rest room by an old woman who sees only the skin color, not the clothes or demeanor. She only gets half famous, in sometimes embarrassing ways: encountering a fan who remembers her from her Selecter days, but only because she complained about the fish and chips he bought for her. The most triumphant moments in the book come from acknowledging her marriage and finding her birth families.
Indians of the Pacific Northwest: From the Coming of the White Man to the Present Day
Vine Deloria, Jr.
Fulcrum, 1977 (afterword, 2012)
The first white people to arrive in the Pacific Northwest were British traders, looking to take advantage of the established trade routes of the Salish peoples for their own ends: The Makah whalers for whale oil, others for salmon or animal skins. They lived in relative peace with Salish peoples, even intermarrying with first peoples, although they still brought smallpox. The Americans who came later wanted to establish permanent settlements, which resulted in the occasionally violent removal of first peoples from their lands and the establishment of reservations. I thought this book would be a pretty depressing read, but although it told the story of the thefts of Americans without flinching, it also told the many stories of successes that first peoples have had, in re-establishing their fishing rights and keeping parcels of their lands under their own controls. I think this book leaves a lot out, as well, particularly the story of the Duwamish. It was first published in 1977, and an afterword provides an update as of 2011, which takes us as far as the first Elwha Dam removal.
Sorcerer to the Crown
Ace Books, 2015
Another fantasy set in Great Britain at the time of the Napoleonic wars, drawing on Jane Austen and other writers of that period. A number of the cover blurbs compare Cho to Georgette Heyer, whom I haven't read. I thought it well-written, but the world building felt occasionally clumsy to me. However, the race and gender relations depicted in the book felt genuine. By the end, though, I was carried right along. This is the first book in a trilogy, and I'll probably read the others.
Ilf and Petrov's American Road Trip: The 1935 Travelogue of Two Soviet Writers
Ilya Ilf and Evgeny Petrov (edited by Erika Wolf)
Cabinet Books, 2007
This is the story, occasionally very funny and acerbic, of two Soviet citizens driving across the US in 1935. They were already well known for two satirical novels and were well-regarded journalists in the Soviet Union. This was during a brief period of cooperation between the US and the USSR. The US was lending technical experts to large hydroelectric and industrialization projects in the USSR. The Stalinist purges hadn't begun, and relations were fairly cordial. So the writers were both free to experience the US and free to write about that experience when they returned. Many of their observations are still accurate, which brings on a laugh-to-avoid-crying feeling. The writing is good, the photography is a little snap-shotty. The original negatives were long ago lost, and the surviving prints have been doctored in many ways for different publications (magazines, books, etc.). In some cases, there were no surviving prints of some photographs.
Well, there you go. I was going to do a statistical wrap-up of the year, but don't feel like it. Maybe later.