A timely post for once! And also a better list than I had last month, by far.
In Ashes Lie, Marie Brennan. Re-read for Sekrit Purposes. A Natural History of Dragons, Marie Brennan. Re-read for copy-editing purposes.
Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers, Mary Roach. Popular nonfiction about the things we do with dead bodies (like surgical practice and crash-test dummies and alternative funeral arrangements). Generally enjoyable, though I did feel her humour was a bit too forced in places. Parts of it are definitely not for the squeamish.
The Book of Air. Another L5R book. AEG continues to put out fairly interesting supplements; this one was a hair on the thin side, as they’re doing a series of Element-related books and you can see where they’re stretching to find things they can metaphorically link to Air and then talk about for at least a page or two, but on the whole I’m pleased with what I get for my money.
The World of Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time, Robert Jordan and Teresa Patterson. Discussed elsewhere.
Geekomancy, Michael R. Underwood. A friend’s soon-to-be-published first novel, read for blurbing purposes. The premise is that there are weird kinds of magic in the world, and the one the protagonist develops is “genre emulation”: she can read a book/watch a movie/etc and temporarily borrow a power from within the story. Probably the most entertaining instance of this was when she watched the BBC Sherlock and started seeing text popping up in her field of vision, analyzing everything she was looking at. If that sounds entertaining to you, this one comes out as an e-book soon.
Avatar: The Last Airbender — The Lost Adventures, various authors and artists. A graphic novel collection of short vignettes taking place around the episodes of the original TV series. Most of them are very short, and if you told me some of them are basically just jokes or C-plots that got left on the script-editing floor, I wouldn’t be surprised. Slight, but entertaining, and there are a few stories with more substance (of which the earthbending contest between Toph and Bumi is possibly my favorite).
Avatar: The Last Airbender — The Promise: Part One, Gene Luen Yang (author) and Gurihiru (artist). First volume of a sequel story to the original series, which addresses the problem of Fire Nation colonies in the Earth Kingdom. I can’t form a final opinion without reading the other two parts, but I like the fact that the beginning of the story acknowledges how it isn’t a simple matter of “Fire Nation people should go back home” — not when some of them are second- or third-generation residents of those colonies.
Nightshifted, Cassie Alexander. A friend’s recently-published first novel. I read the opening of this in our crit group a while back, and the thing that hooked me then is still there: it is about a nurse on a secret hospital ward that cares for supernatural critters, and it is written by a professional nurse. So it is chock-full of vivid, concrete detail — some of it squicky, but not as much as you might think — instead of being a standard set of tropes assembled out of the Urban Fantasy Playbook. The protagonist’s life was a bit too much “one thing going wrong after another” for my personal taste, but that is definitely a taste thing, not a flaw in the book.
The African Mask, Janet E. Rupert. I’m never quite sure what to say when I read a children’s book. My knee-jerk impulse is to criticize things about the writing that may or may not just be part of How One Writes for Children; I don’t read enough of the things to tell whether they’re being done poorly or well. So I will just say that this is set in eleventh-century West Africa, and if you’re looking for stories of that kind, this is one. Non-fantasy, and it should have had a different title; The African Mask is kind of insultingly generic (although there is indeed a mask that plays a central role).
The Africans: An Entry to Cultural History, Basil Davidson. Same guy who wrote the history I read last year. I’m glad I did that one first, even if I find this one the more interesting book, because (as I said at the time) I needed the 101-level history lesson so I’d have a framework to hang things on.
This book is much more anthropological, and exatly what I need for my current writing purposes: an overview of cultural patterns that are common, if not quite universal, across the continent. It is, in part, an answer to the eyebrow I raised while reading the history; Davidson does have some evidence to back up his claim of pan-African motifs. Not quite enough for me to fully get behind the scope of that claim; apart from the fact that very little of what he discusses here applies to anything in or north of the Sahara, there are regions of the continent about which not enough was known when he wrote this book in the 1960s for him to really cite them more than occasionally. But he does succeed in showing that certain things — like the structure of lineages and ancestor cults, or witchcraft beliefs, or age-sets — are at the very least widespread. He’s very good about telling you where his evidence is coming from (there’s even a map with numbers showing where the various societies are or were located), and moderately good about telling you when it came from (as he mixes historical evidence with more recent). On the whole, I recommend this.