“The Rabbit Listened” by Cori Doerrfeld

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Recommended to me by: Leah K. Walsh

A heart-warming children’s book with few words and spacious illustrations that perfectly convey emotion through body language. Young Taylor (gender unspecified) has a creative disaster, and all the animals have ideas about how to offer comfort. Finally, the rabbit sits nearby and listens, and Taylor begins to feel better.

Available at Powell’s Books.

“Dreyer’s English” by Benjamin Dreyer

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Subtitle: An Utterly Correct Guide to Clarity and Style

Recommended to me by: Jesse-the-K’s rave review

This book is both a useful guide to writing well in English, and an entertaining quick read that includes the occasional jab at the current occupant of the White House. Benjamin Dreyer is persnickety and opinionated, as befits the Copy Chief at Random House. He holds forth on grammar rules that can be safely ignored and ones that can’t, easily misspelled words, easily misspelled names, and words that tend to be confused with each other.

One can see his process of becoming more educated on social justice issues. There is one inexplicable balk at using work-hours instead of man-hours (seriously?!) but otherwise his language in the book is inclusive of women. He admits that he also balked at using singular they until he had a colleague who uses they pronouns.

Recommended for writers and others interested in the vagaries of the English language.

Available at Powell’s Books.

“The Raven and the Reindeer” by T. Kingfisher

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Recommended to me by: Redbird

A slant-wise retelling of the Snow Queen story originally by Hans Christian Anderson. It’s been a long time since I read the original, but I remember a sense of heavy oppressiveness. The beginning of this book has the same feeling to it, but fortunately veers away from that after the first few (short) chapters.

Young Gerta thinks of Kay as her best friend, and Kay barely notices her. That’s a big part of the oppressiveness. It’s a great depiction of the shame that arises from associating with a narcissist. The book does not use the word narcissist (“frost in his eyes and frost in his heart”), but Gerta does name the shame she feels, and she breathes through it until it passes.

As in the fairy tale, Kay gets taken by the Snow Queen and Gerta goes after him. First thing, she gets caught by a milder kind of narcissist who is kind, but delays Gerta for her own purposes. “Gerta’s desire to be useful was an open road down which nearly any magic could walk.”

After she gets away, she still has difficulties and there is some violence, but she has more agency and less shame and the book is more comfortable to read. Her relationships with the allies she finds are delightful and kind.

Overall the book is engaging and beautifully written and surprising and inclusive. Highly recommended.

Available at Powell’s Books.

“The White Cat and the Monk” by Jo Ellen Bogart, illustrations by Sydney Smith

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Subtitle: A Retelling of the Poem “Pangur Bán”

Recommended to me by: The White Cat and the Monk: A Lovely 9th-Century Ode to the Joy of Uncompetitive Purposefulness, Newly Illustrated

A lovely picture book, well-described by the recommending article, about a monk and his white cat. I could see it leading to a lot of questions if read to a small child, about monks, and cats catching mice. The drawings are enchanting.

Available at Powell’s Books.

“Unraveling” by Karen Lord

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Recommended to me by: James Davis Nicoll

A murder mystery is being unraveled by supernatural beings with human allies. Not at all my sort of thing, but it’s a followup to Redemption In Indigo so I gave it a try. Unlike that book, which started off slowly for me, this one pulled me in immediately and I read it all in one sitting.

It tackles some serious topics along with the fast-moving plot. A class system that values land owners over everyone else. Paying attention to who matters and who doesn’t. Adjusting to disability, with a lot of support.

I enjoyed the ride! Stepping back, I didn’t quite follow some of the twists and turns of causality in the plot, and I’m not sure I agree with some of the deeper implications.

Available at Powell’s Books.

“The Arrival” by Shaun Tan

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Recommended to me by: Sarah Pinsker

This book has no words, only illustrations. Whimsical and menacing by turns, the images tell the story of an immigrant’s parting with his family and arrival in a new land where everything is unexpected and askew. It was unclear until the end whether the macabre or the whimsy would win.

This book is far more serious than “picture book” would imply. The sepia-toned art is magnificently expressive.

Available at Powell’s Books.

“The Steerswoman” by Rosemary Kirstein

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Recommended to me by: Sumana Harihareswara

A fun fantasy book, first of a four-book series. The main protagonist is an intelligent, curious, capable woman, and the book easily passes the Bechdel Test. There was more casual violence than I’m comfortable with these days, although it wasn’t enough to make me stop reading.

It reminds me of The Riddle-Master of Hed series by Patricia McKillip, except with more explicit violence than I remember in that series.

You can read the first chapter for free here.

ETA: I have been reading the rest of the series as they become available at the library. The second was even more violent than the first. The third is a little less violent, but there is still mayhem. Nevertheless the world, characters, and relationships pull me through the books.

Available at Amazon.

“My Brother’s Husband Volume 2” by Gengoroh Tagame

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Recommended to me by: Reading Volume 1

This graphic novel is the second half of Mike’s visit to his dead husband’s brother’s family in Japan. It’s a quick read, and at the same time touches on a lot of emotionally powerful themes. The meaning of “family.” Making things right after a family member has died suddenly. Being in the closet, and out of it, as a gay man in Japan. Politeness, and its difference from kindness and courage.

For example, young Kana and her friends openly welcome her gay uncle Mike, in contrast to the more guarded welcome of the adults. Yaichi (Kana’s father) does come around in the end.

Recommended for learning more about Japanese culture, and for seeing how hidden homophobia can change under gentle pressure.

Available at Powell’s Books.

“The Fated Sky” by Mary Robinette Kowal

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Recommended to me by: Sequel to The Calculating Stars

Elma York goes to Mars. Like in The Calculating Stars, the characters in this book do not flinch from talking about racism and sexism in a system and society they can’t fight or escape.

The plot is more action-driven than the first book. Some characters grow and change in surprising ways. Grief is included as a major emotional force, rather than being glossed over as happens in many books.

The subject is brought up directly in the book, but there is still a big hand-wave on the impracticality of evacuating even a small percentage of the earth’s population to another planet, and how the resources required for that would take away from resources to address problems on earth. Of course the usual biases would affect who stays, who goes, who gets help and who doesn’t.

I still love that Elma’s Judaism weaves through the book with an ongoing cascade of familiar details. I love the conscious inclusiveness of Black characters, a Muslim character, a relationship between men, (minor) characters with disabilities.

I can’t imagine that an organization would put people with known major relational stresses on a 3 year mission together in a small ship. I can’t imagine that people would be able to manage that. Makes me wonder how sailors handle it on long trips.

My suspension of disbelief wobbled on this book. The contrast between doing calculations by hand and making a colonizing mission to Mars was too big. Still a fun read!

Available at Powell’s Books.

“The Tightrope Walker” by Dorothy Gilman

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Recommended to me by: Rachel Manija

A well-plotted murder mystery story plus a quickly developing romance plus a young woman main character who is healing from childhood trauma. It’s not nearly as grim as all that makes it sound. I like the way the main character, Amelia Jones, observes the world and herself from slightly outside it all, and moves from conversation to conversation as she unravels the mystery.

Highly recommended as an entertaining read with an underlying understanding of the effects of neglect on children.

Available at Powell’s Books.