Kevin Boyle, Arc of Justice: A Saga of Race, Civil Rights, and Murder in the Jazz Age. And speaking of not-cheerful...housing integration in Detroit and a black family and its friends on trial for what it viewed as self-defense and the white media at the time viewed as senseless killing...how could that fail to be anything but chipper and upbeat? There was a moment in the middle when Clarence Darrow showed up, and I thought, "Oh good, possibly these people will not all die horribly." And Clarence Darrow did indeed do his Clarence Darrow job, but...despite the criminal justice system eventually sort of behaving itself slightly better than you might predict for African-Americans in the Roaring Twenties, the ending post-trial sort of knocked me into Fred Savage voice, going, "Jesus, Grandpa, what'd you read me this thing for?" Except this was not one of Grandpa's. And I read it because of context and filling in gaps, and because the endings we don't want are still there in history, all over the place.
Sarah Beth Durst, Vessel. There are some authors who do a perfectly good job writing books, and those books don't happen to connect with particular readers. And after three, I think I have to say with regret that Sarah Beth Durst is one of those authors for me. The synopses of her books always sound like just the sort of thing I would want to read, and then the actuality...is a fine book that doesn't really speak to me. It happens. It's sad and frustrating, and as a writer it's sad and frustrating too, because when somebody is going, "Ooh, I want to read that!" and then they do read that and go, "Oh. Okay," rather than, "Yay!", that's somehow worse than if they weren't enthused in the first place. So this one is about a Destined Chosen One whose destiny does not arrive on schedule. It's got a lot of vivid desert magic. There are good things about this book. I am just not the right reader for it, I think.
Juliana Horatia Gatty Ewing, The Brownies and Other Tales. Kindle. More of Mrs. Ewing, all in a similar vein. There's overlap in the collections I downloaded, so I can skim some of the twisting and turning and showing the elf. Still, she's good fun.
Tony Faber, Faberge's Eggs: The Extraordinary Story of the Masterpieces that Outlived an Empire. This is another book I wanted to be something different. I wanted a lot more focus on the Faberges and the other craftspeople in their workshop--their lives, their art. Instead I got a fairly shallow history of the late-period Romanovs through the lens of the Easter egg gifts. Meh. I already knew that level of history of the late-period Romanovs, and if I wanted more, there would have been better and deeper sources. Somewhat over halfway through the book, the last of them died, and the focus of the book shifted to provenance and art dealing. This also interests me less than the creation of the art. So if you're interested in the people who buy art--and there is nothing wrong with being interested in the patrons--this might well be a reasonable book to pick up. I was hoping for more talk about the art itself, and was disappointed.
T.H. Huxley, Coral and Coral Reefs. Kindle. Starting to catch the voice of the science lecturer of that era. There's a lot to be had of his lectures for free online, so the projects that want that should be easy to get the voice right on. It did not, however, teach me much about coral; that was not really the point.
Diana Wynne Jones, Earwig and the Witch. This is very short and very light. If you already like DWJ, by all means read this one: orphan girl, magic and witches, okay. If you don't know, don't start with this one. There's nothing really wrong with it, but it would give a limited and less rich view of what she can do than a number of others.
Ursula K. LeGuin, Gifts. I picked this up after bouncing off a couple of other library books, and it was such a relief. The twist ending is not very twisty, but the story is well-told and moves along, and I will be glad to get on to the rest of the series and see what else she decides to do with the world and characters.
S.K.S. Perry (sksperry), Harbinger. Kindle. Novella featuring a Marisa who rides around attempting to kick butt and sometimes needs some help from her butt-kicking friends; why would this resonate with me? Seriously, this is a fun fantasy adventure novella, and if you're looking for adventure fantasy that will not make you want to throw things and does not believe that "fantasy adventure" has to mean "1200 pages," you should check it out.
Cherie Priest (cmpriest), The Inexplicables. Discussed elsewhere.
Sarah Rees Brennan, Unspoken. I think that even if Rees Brennan (um? is Rees her middle name? have I misparsed her last name? if so, sorry) had not put a reference to Veronica Mars on the dedication page, her inspiration from VM would have sung out loud and clear to me. Specifically it looks to me like her favorite part of VM is the Veronica/Logan banter, because that's what I was getting a lot of from Unspoken. I know that there are those among you who are really feeling short of Veronica/Logan banter. I mention this for your benefit. (Me, I was a big fan of Keith, Weevil, Wallace, and Mac. So it was not really hitting my VM stuff as directly, but that's okay too. I would rather have the friends being distinct, as they were, than have the supporting cast trying to replicate characters from a different context.) What it is not, however, is a book that is full of in-jokes about the show, so if you are not a VM fan, I don't think it should particularly disqualify you from enjoying this one. I particularly liked Holly and Angela, the protagonist's girl friends, and also Ten, her middle brother. There are other reasons to keep reading the series, but for me, Holly and Angela and Ten would be enough. I did feel like the middle was a bit abrupt and the end a bit predictable in referential context, but that didn't detract from having a good time with the book and wanting to go on with the characters and their story.
Simon Schama, Rembrandt's Eyes. I am glad I read this, but uff da, what a wrist-buster. It was 700 large-scale pages of text and illustration, focusing on Rembrandt sort of. Sort of. Simon Schama, bless him, never met a digression he didn't like, so there's something like a solid 150 page digression about Peter Paul Rubens towards the beginning. And this is relevant in the points he's making about Rembrandt and his similarities and differences to other artists of his time. It's also interesting. It's just--when you think you've got your hands on a bio of Rembrandt, and suddenly you're not that many pages into the huge thing and he starts in on what Jan Rubens did with Anna of Saxony to get his family exiled, it's a little jarring. But if you can take that sort of thing in stride--which, frankly, those of you who converse with me in person ought to be able to--Schama really goes into influences on Rembrandt's work in a detailed and interesting way, particularly with the wars of religion at the time and the depiction of various religious figures (compared side by side with his contemporaries' treatments of the same subjects). And unlike the MIA exhibit of Rembrandts we saw earlier this year, he did not seem to be convinced that Rembrandt could do no wrong, and that therefore anything good was Rembrandt and anything bad or dubious was an apprentice. So that was also refreshing.
Hampton Sides, Blood and Thunder: An Epic of the American West. Grandpa's. Most of this book is about Kit Carson and the US conquest of what we'd now call the American Southwest. It was sort of a vague hole in my knowledge, and if you have the same sort of vague hole, this is one of the reasonable places to start filling in. (Up side: it's a lot more complicated than the lines: "and annex the land the Mexicans command" or "he seized the whole Southwest from Mexico" in They Might Be Giants' song about James K. Polk--we all know that, but this is a good deal of how. Down side: the Polk presidency is of substantial interest here, and if you're a TMBG fan reading this book, you're likely to get the song in your head for as long as it takes.) Sides made me feel relieved very early on when it became clear that both he and his main subject Carson understood that there is no such thing as "Indians" on a geographical scale that large--that the Utes and the Paiutes were not the same, and neither of them were the same as the Hopi and so on. When you're talking about groups who were sometimes bitter enemies, trying to lump them together for the convenience of white ignorance is not very functional, and Sides dodged that pit of stupidity here, recognizing different cultural assumptions and alliances. He also consulted the diaries of female settlers and other interesting people along the way, so while Kit Carson ends up shouldering a lot of the book, there's a good bit of triangulation.
James Treadwell, Advent. This reminded me of nothing so much as a more grown-up and creepier version of The Dark Is Rising. It was clearly not a retelling of that story, but there were just notes and pieces that struck me as very similar. But much creepier. It looks like it's going somewhere Pacific Northwest-ish, which was a surprise after all the Cornwall, so I will be interested to see where that leads us. I picked it up because I had the feeling that there aren't many stories about magic coming around as something new--magic is either dying off, has always been around, or used to be around and is coming back. This is one of the last category, so it's not really what I was looking for, but that's not really the book's fault; it's a perfectly good one of those.