Book reviews: a fantastic new Latinx SFF book, depression, and more

Sisters of Shadow and Light by Sara B. Larson. 1/5
Two sisters grow up in a derelict castle surrounded by a sentient hedge, where their controlling mother sulks a lot and tells them nothing about their missing father–who happened to be from another plane. One of the girls is presented as normate, while the other has superpowers in healing and growing and is presented as neurodiverse, although not in a positive way. When two men are able to get through the hedge, seeking knowledge, the hedge absorbs one of them, leaving the younger to serve as a hero and potential love interest for the sisters. There is much melodrama and wow emotions and more italics than any single book should ever have, I found it ableist and weirdly centered on men as heroes and women as victims and neither of the narrators–the sisters–are particularly interesting and serve mostly to induce the melodrama.

Freedom Libraries by Mike Selby. 1/5
This is a great topic for a book and it deserves a solid, scholarly, complex treatment. It does not get one in this book, which jumps around chronologically within chapters. includes anecdotes and asides, and displays a lot of hero worship by the author for his subjects. Simply stating–in often gushing tones–the importance of these libraries and telling dramatic stories about who in the Civil Rights movement learned to read where and how they got their library cards doesn’t approach the kind of depth at which the freedom libraries should be studied, analyzed, and presented. I hope one day there is a book that does that.

The Lost Book of Adana Moreau by Michael Zapata. 5/5
This is a beautifully written and crafted mystery, love story, homage to Latinx SFF and history, and a joy to read. Follow the stories of writers, pirates, parents, children, physicists, journalists, and the other rich and complex characters of this novel and learn about the glory of writing from the imagination, the past, and the hoped-for future. In the 1910s, Adana Moreau writes SFF with a decidedly personal twist, calling up her childhood in the Caribbean. In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, Saul and Javier search for her son, trying to return his mother’s last manuscript to him. Zapata’s writing about the Caribbean, New Orleans, and Chicago is evocative and gut-wrenching, and his voice–through Adana Moreau–is a beautiful attempt to honor the women of SFF and particularly Latinx SFF who have been neglected.

The Almanack by Martine Bailey. 2/5
A tedious and overlong murder mystery focusing on a small English village in the 18th century, The protagonist, who had escaped the village to London, where she became a sex worker, returns at her mother’s request only to find her mother dead and having left cryptic messages behind. The protagonist, her stalker, her putative suitor, and others are part of a complex and unnecessary tangle of past relationships and grudges that complicate the story. The characters are awkward and flat and inconsistent in their behavior, the plot is unnecessarily dragged out, and much of the writing uses over-sued ideas, phrases, and set pieces.

The Silent House by Nell Pattison. 3/5
A murder mystery set in a Deaf community in England. The protagonist was fairly well-developed, as we secondary characters. i liked the information given on interpreting from BSL to English and vice versa. A quick read for folks who enjoy thrillers and mysteries.

The Virgin of Prince Street by Sonja Livingston. 1/5
In this wandering, disorganized, often hard-to-follow memoir, a woman searches for religious meaning in the Catholicism of her youth. Not my cup of tea, but more importantly not well-written.

The Body by Bill Bryson. 2/5
It’s nice to read a new book by Bryson in which he seems to have gotten over the bitterness (especially about aging) that made several of his most recent books unpleasant. And while The Body is written in something similar to his old, familiar, entertaining style, there are several issues that will keep me from buying it for friends. 1. it’s hard to be precisely up-to-the-minute with books on science, but a lot of the data Bryson cites is quite old and misleading. Referring to the BMI, for example, is problematic because it is known to be a terrible indicator of, well, anything, and it’s been long-condemned by medical professionals. There are other errors of fact as well: it’s “Down syndrome,” not “Down’s,,” for example. 2. It’s ableist and sexist. The book could have used a sensitivity reading by a disabled person, who would have asked Bryson to remove a lot of the language of “suffering” and “lack” that appears. Bryson often refers to measurements and statistics about women by citing men first and then portraying women as the different or other. Although he does an excellent job of pointing out gender bias in scientific studies, his framing is redolent of those studies themselves. 3. It’s not really necessary: as Bryson himself cites numerous other, recent books about the human body and human health, it’s unclear why he though his addition was needed. Sure, the historical anecdotes are interesting, but they’ve been used numerous other times in other books on the same topic.

From Chernobyl with Love by Katya Cengel. 1/5
This memoir by a journalist who has worked in various locations in the former Soviet Union should have been fascinating. Instead, it’s disorganized an disjointed, a badly stitched-together collection of anecdotes that are rarely connected to anything larger or more important beyond the author’s trite observations and apparent need to document the dating scene for young women at the places she worked. It reads like a badly or hastily written blog–or both–and needed a much heavier developmental edit before hitting the shelves.

Apple, Tree by Edited by Lise Funderburg. 1/5
Give that the authors in this collection are generally excellent, their writing about their own parents was surprisingly boring. This wasn’t interesting in the context of the authors’ works. nor was it terribly interesting as biographical, anecdotal, or other reading.

Rabbits for Food by Binnie Kirshenbaum. 5/5
I’m late to review this, but it is everything great other reviewers are saying. Rabbits for Food is a smart, often funny novel that is nonetheless a no-holds-barred examination, description, writing-out, rumination on, discussion of, testament to depression and what it does and feels like. It is impeccable.

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