A Bookshelf of Writing Books

Reading Railroad: August’s Reading

You may have noticed that I haven’t been posting as much lately. With 3 jobs, a baby on the way, and wanting to finish up my novel by the end of the year, I’ve had to cut down on my blogging. But I do hope to blog more in the future, and I’ll keep posting my monthly reading updates. And of course I still write at least two posts a month for Book Riot.

I also haven’t had as much time for reading. I’ve only read 5 books this month, which isn’t bad, but it also means I’m running behind on my goal to read 100 books this year, a goal I’ve met since I started keeping track a few years ago. But I’m not so behind it’s hopeless, so I’m considering reading shorter books, and more young adult and middle grade. Maybe. Sometimes the books I crave aren’t short, and I want to read the things that make me happy! And do numbers really matter that much? What do you think?

In August, I read two books in particular that I really enjoyed, and I’ll review those first. And all but one are new releases (and the only one that isn’t was published just last year).

Novels

Book cover for The Strange Case of the Alchemist's Daughter by Theodora GossThe Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter by Theodora Goss. Published August 10th, 2017. Rating: 4/5

This is such a fun romp through classic horror fiction. I couldn’t wait to read it, and put it on hold months ago with the library so that I could have a copy as soon as it came out. The central cast includes: Mary Jekyll, Diana Hyde, Justine Frankenstein, Catherine Moreau, and Beatrice Rappaccini (though I should not forget Mrs. Poole — the housekeeper — and Alice — a house maid). These monstrous daughters team up, with the occasional help from Sherlock Homes and Watson, to solve a series of murders that may or may not be wrapped up in their own past.

This first in what I can only hope will be a series sets up all the characters and their stories. These women are unique, outspoken, smart. Exactly my kind of mystery. Despite the grizzly theme, it maintains a lighthearted Victorian-era tone that made it a fast read. I look forward to more such books! Maybe I need to be reading more light-hearted mysteries (not typically my genre).

Book cover of When the Sea Turned to Silver by Grace LinWhen the Sea Turned to Silver by Grace Lin. Published in 2016. Rating: 4/5

Another charming middle grade novel by Grace Lin. Influenced by Chinese folklore and mythology, it’s full of fairy tales, magical creatures, and amazing characters. Pinmei, the storyteller’s grand daughter, must learn confidence in her quest to save her grandmother from an evil overlord. Stories have power, and as Pinmei retells the stories her grandmother has taught her, she starts putting pieces together of a larger story. The illustrations are lovely (Grace Lin does those as well). I’ve already read the companion novel Where the Mountain Meets the Moon, and am looking forward to reading Starry River of the Sky. While Where the Mountain Meets the Moon is the first chronologically, they can be read in any order. I did pick up connections that I otherwise would’ve missed, but then, you would pick up the same connections by reading the series backward. 🙂 I will definitely be buying these for my own shelves, and I’m looking forward to reading them to Marian! (Well, I did read bits of it to her, but I doubt she grasped all the complexities of the story.)

Book cover of A Secret History of Witches by Louisa MorganA Secret History of Witches by Louisa Morgan. Published September 5th, 2017. Rating: 3/5

An entertaining, generational family history of witches. Each section features one of five Orchiére daughters and their story of how their magic develops, and how they find love in their lives (or not). But witches must always hide their powers from everyone else, for a woman with that kind of power is a danger to society. The novel begins in Brittany and ends in London, and moves from early 19th century all the way to WWII. It’s at its strongest when the history comes alive and plays an integral part in the women’s lives. This happens at the beginning and the end. The middle fails to utilize the rich history of the time periods they take place in, but it’s still fun, especially if you’re looking for a light read with romance and witchcraft, and nothing too heavy. I enjoyed it overall, even if it left me craving a little more substance.

Thanks to Netgalley and Redhook for providing me with a free copy in exchange for an honest review.

Book cover of The History of Bees by Maja LundeThe History of Bees: A Novel by Maja Lunde. Published August 22nd, 2017. Rating: 3/5

In The History of Bees, Maja Lunde traces the eventual extinction of bees through three story lines. William, a myopic, British biologist who eventually begins building bee hives, set in 1852; George, an American myopic (this is a general theme) beekeeper in 2007 who experiences Colony Collapse Disorder; and Tao, a Chinese pollinator in 2098, on a desperate search to find her young son.

What all three of these characters have in common is the inability to communicate basic human emotions, and seeing their children not as human beings, but as ideal versions of themselves. Tao is the most sympathetic of these characters, since she’s only allowed an hour a day with her son. With such a short amount of time, it’s impossible to really get to know your child. But George and William have no excuse, and come across as idiots much of the time. And of course they have bees in common, but the bees end up more of a set piece to these characters.

I originally picked this up expecting something more along the lines of The Bees by Laline Paull, especially with it being compared to Station Eleven and Never Let Me Go. What I found instead read more like a family drama. Which is fine, it just didn’t meet my expectations.

I also feel like the translation might have made it a clunkier read. Here’s an example: “The yellow color was completely real, nothing I was imagining. It came from the brocade tapestry my wife, Thilda, had stuck up on the walls when we moved in a few years ago. We’d had a lot of space at that time.”

Okay, there’s nothing wrong here, but it’s not very engaging or inspiring prose.

Despite these reservations, I did like the concept of weaving three stories together to tell the history of bees.

Thanks to Touchstone and NetGalley for providing me with an advance copy in exchange for an honest review.

Short Story Collections

Issue cover of Uncanny Magazine Issue 17Uncanny Magazine Issue 17: July/August 2017. Published July 4th, 2017. Rating: 3/5

The two stand out stories from this edition were Children of Thorns, Children of Water by Aliette de Bodard and The Worshipful Society of Glovers by Mary Robinette Kowal. Both were rich in context, with complex characters. And if you like birds, then you should read A Nest of Ghosts, a House of Birds by Kat Howard. There were also 2 poems I would recommend: Starskin, Sealskin by Shveta Thakrar and Sara Cleto and Questions We Asked for the Girls Turned to Limbs by Chloe N. Clark. You can also read my review of every story, essay, and poem in this edition.

What have you been reading lately?

Book cover of Women Who Read are Dangerous

Reading Railroad: July’s Reading

I read 8 books in July, and so many were good!  5/8 are 2017 releases. One book made it to my favorites’ list. And dystopias are definitely in right now; 3 out of 5 of the novels were dystopian, and 2 of those came out this year. But I like a good dystopia.

Novels

Book cover of When the English Fall by David WilliamsWhen the English Fall by David Williams. Published July 11th, 2017. Rating: 4/5

There tend to be 2 kinds of apocalypse novels: 1) traveling across an apocalyptic landscape and 2) diary of survival at home. When the English Fall ‘falls’ (ahem) into the second category.

The community and religious identity of the protagonist makes this one unique from other survival diaries I’ve read. Jacob’s Amish. He and his family live in Pennsylvania in an Amish community. His daughter Sadie foretells the coming climate-driven apocalypse, which also knocks out everything  electrical. The Amish have obvious survival advantages over their ‘English’ (non-Amish) neighbors. They’ve already acclimated to the lifestyle the coming days and months require. But they’re not ready for the violence of their neighbors, nor will they condone the killing of thieves in the name of ‘justice.’

With so many ‘do whatever it takes to survive’ apocalypse novels, this one provides a breath of fresh air to the genre. It gives a different way of surviving, a way that embraces the humanity in everyone. Also, the author is Amish, and even though I know very little about their lifestyle, it felt authentic to me as I read. I could tell he knew the culture, and I felt like I learned something about that way of life.

I wonder….will there be a 2nd? I really want to know what happens to Jacob and his family, even though I realize the constraints of a ‘found’ dairy mean that’s very unlikely.

Thanks to Netgalley and Algonquin Books for providing me with a free copy in exchange for an honest review.

Book cover for Amatka by Karin TidbeckAmatka by Karin Tidbeck. Published June 27th, 2017. Rating: 3/5

After reading Jagannath: Stories by Karin Tidbeck years ago, I knew I wanted to read anything of hers published in English. It’s still one of my favorite short story collections. I believe Amatka is the only other one of her works published in the U.S. (she’s Swedish), though I could be wrong.

Amatka is both similar and different than Tidbeck’s short stories. It has the same subtlety, the same unique world building, and the same ambiguous ending (which I loved). I missed out on the lyricism of Tidbeck’s short stories, and I never felt engaged with the main character, Vanja. But I also think Vanja isn’t the kind of person who lets others become fully engaged with her. She holds herself off with only occasional lapses into humanness, which should be more heartbreaking because of how rare they are, but I admit I didn’t find them so.

The dystopian world discourages emotional connections with others as well. I don’t want to go into more detail about the world building, because that aids in the novel’s mystery, but the culture suppresses emotion and creativity — for a reason.

What Tidbeck does really well in this novel is maintain intrigue in the seemingly mundane. Vanja has been sent to Amatka to investigate and report on sanitation habits. Several of her reports are included throughout the novel. What should be a boring investigation is actually quite interesting, and slowly develops into Vanja’s continued investigation into areas she hasn’t been hired for.

Overall, I enjoyed reading it, and would recommend it to anyone looking for unique world building in their dystopias.

Thanks to Netgalley and Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group for providing me with a free copy in exchange for an honest review.

Book cover for The Refrigerator Monologues by Catherynne M. ValenteThe Refrigerator Monologues by Catherynne M. Valente. Published June 6th, 2017. Rating: 4/5

Inspired by Gail Simone’s term ‘refrigerated’ — for all the women in superhero comics who die to further a superhero’s story — and Eve Ensler’s The Vagina Monologues, The Refrigerator Monologues takes a hard feminist look at how women are defined in not only comics, but also in life. In each chapter a dead woman from a superhero universe gets her chance to speak, to tell her story. Yet no matter how different their personalities, these women all made the same mistake. They lost their identities by helping the men in their lives.

And guess what? I know a lot of women who do that. Though most of the time, I see it with their children, not their spouses. But many women struggle with the problem of ‘helping’ people to the point of no longer helping herself.

I know very little about superhero comics. I watch Arrow and Flash. I’ve watched the Batman movies, and Wonder Woman. I’ve tried others, but found them boring. I’ve attempted to read superhero graphic novels, but am inevitably disappointed. But that’s, in part, because the women are refrigerated. And also all the characters seem to lack depth, in general, to me. Because of my limited knowledge, I didn’t get all Valente’s inside clues as to who these women really are. I know they correlate to superhero characters, because I read an interview with Valente where she said that, but I’m just not knowledgeable enough about comics. However, that didn’t stop me from enjoying the book.

Book cover of The Hate U Give by Angie ThomasThe Hate U Give by Angie Thomas. Published February 28th, 2017. Rating: 4.5/5

This is such an amazing novel, receiving a lot of well-deserved attention.

In case you’ve missed all the novel’s hype, 16-year-old Starr witnesses a cop murder her friend Khalil. She’s the only witness. And when the media starts portraying Khalil as a stereotype, and her neighborhood rises to protest his death, Starr decides she needs to let the world know the Khalil she knew, and her story of the shooting.

Meanwhile, Starr is struggling with friendships as the only black girl in the school she attends as well as her relationship with a (fantastic) white boy who goes to the same school. She has one voice when she’s in Garden Heights, and another at school. And then she’s got such a rich and wonderful family; I loved them all. It’s fantastic to see a YA novel with loving, caring parents, and especially a black family (since the media often portrays black families as ‘broken.) Starr’s dad is a Black Panthers’ fanatic, and wants to rebuild Garden Heights, starting with his grocery store. Her mom is a full-time nurse and has such a wonderful sense of humor. Her little brother is a brat, as all little brothers are, and her half-brother Seven is part brat and part protector. Uncle Carl is a police officer who loves them as his own. So Starr knows not all officers see a black man and assume his life is worth less than theirs. Her uncle isn’t like that, but that doesn’t help her anger.

Angie Thomas is a stellar writer. You could really hear the characters’ voices, and the pacing is fast but also nuanced. This is one of those books I think everybody needs to read.

Book cover of Night of the Animals by Bill BrounNight of the Animals by Bill Broun. Published July 2016. Rating: 2.5/5

Well, that was weird! And I like weird. But the pacing was weird too, and while I dig weird content, it rambled in some places, and breezed over really important developments in others.

The main character, Cuthbert, is a 90-year-old addict who hears animals talking. And he’s convinced his long-dead brother Drystan is an otter. In this future dystopia, animals are rapidly becoming extinct, and to make matters worse, a pervasive suicide cult tries to kill off the remaining animals. The animals ask Cuthbert to release the animals in the London Zoo, which is the last remaining zoo.

Interspersed with Cuthbert’s story is that of Dr. Bajwa, his psychiatric doctor, and Astrid, a police inspector.

In the beginning the pace is sluggish, with flashbacks to Cuthbert’s childhood, his struggles with Flot addiction, and his visits with Dr. Bajwa. It takes FOREVER to get to the zoo breakout. And then suddenly all the plot developments happen. Astrid and her motivations are given cursory explanation, and then once she and Cuthbert start interacting it’s like reading an acid trip (I guess. Not really speaking from experience here!). But some things really needed development.

And what’s with the footnotes? I could easily understand all the footnoted terms in context.

I don’t regret reading this. I enjoyed Cuthbert as an unreliable narrator, and I actually wish the authorial voice had stepped in less often during his pov chapters, so I could fully question what was real vs. what Cuthbert imagined was real. Cuthbert is a loveable guy, and I enjoyed his character. I also love animals, so that was fun. (Though some of the philosophical discussions with Muezza the sand cat could’ve been cut.)

Short Story Collections

Book cover of The New Voices of Fantasy edited by Peter S. Beagle and Jacob WeismanThe New Voices of Fantasy edited by Peter S. Beagle and Jacob Weisman. Published August 8th, 2017. Rating: 4/5

An excellent collection of contemporary fantasy short stories. I’d already read 8 out of the 19 stories, but I enjoyed rereading them. I’d also already read 15 of the authors, so it’s nice to know I’m keeping up with new fantasy authors!

If you’re on the hunt for some new authors, this is a great collection to read. It’s also interesting to note that of the 19 stories, only 2 were 2nd world fantasy. The other 17 stories were rooted in this world. But what all of these stories tend to do is use fantasy as a metaphor for something about living, and I love that. There are some really powerful stories in this collection. You can also check out my reviews of each story. Many of them are excellent.

Fairytale Collections

Book cover for Italian Folktales by Italo CalvinoItalian Folktales compiled by Italo Calvino. First published in 1956. Rating: 5/5 A New Favorite!

Wow! It’s hard to even know where to begin reviewing this collection. I started reading it in 2015 for a group read, and finished about a third it then. I set it aside meaning to return to it, but never did. At the start of this year, I decided I would read 10 fairy tales from it between every print book I finished. And 7 months later, I’m finished! I enjoyed the process so much I’m going to start doing that with another fairytale collection.

And I literally read it to pieces. Both the front and back cover have torn off, and now a chunk at the beginning fell out. I’m going to have to upgrade to a hardback version!

These tales are magical. If you’re someone only familiar with the Grimms, you have to read this. Or any fairytale fan needs to read this. Or if you think you’re not a fairytale fan, then maybe you should read this.

So much fun and weirdness.

Nonfiction

Book cover of Women Who Read Are DangerousWomen Who Read Are Dangerous by Stefan Bollman. Published in 2008. Rating: 4/5

More than anything, this is an art book. The forward by Karen Joy Fowler provides a general overview of the history of women who read, while the rest of the book shows artwork that depicts women with books, and a brief commentary and interpretation of the art by, I assume, Stefan Bollmann. I did not always agree with his interpretations, but I loved looking at the art and making up my own stories about the women painted, and how the painting came to be. That’s what drew me to the book in the first place. It would make a really great coffee table book.

 

What good books did you read last month?

Wonder Woman

Books to Read if You Like Wonder Woman

This is a repost. I originally published this article for Book Riot.

My introduction to Wonder Woman was the animated Justice League TV series. She was my hero. I mean, she’s such a badass in that show, constantly swooping in and flying a grumpy Batman around. Should I confess to having dreams where I’m Wonder Woman, flying and fighting and saving the world? Oops, too late now.

If you’re wanting more badass women like Wonder Woman in your reading life (and why wouldn’t you?), here are 15 books featuring Amazonian warriors, gunslingers, and feminist fighters of many stripes, and in many genres.

Book Cover of Wonder Woman: Warbringer by Leigh BardugoWonder Woman: Warbringer by Leigh Bardugo. This is the most obvious pick. The author of Shadow and Bone and Six of Crows writes the first Wonder Woman novel in the DC Icons series. To be released August 29th.

Sister Light, Sister Dark by Jane Yolen. Born an Amazon, Jenna chooses the warrior’s path. Is she the one foretold in prophecy? Will she change the lives of her fellow Amazons, and if so, in what way?

Six-Gun Snow White by Catherynne M. Valente. A gunslinging Snow White treks across the west to escape her evil stepmother.

The Palace of Illusions by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni. A retelling of events from the Mahabharat from a female perspective, Panchaali, the wife of 5 brothers, is destined to cause a world-destroying war.

The Spectacular Sisterhood of Superwomen by Hope Nicholson. A history of women superheroes, that of course also features Wonder Woman.

The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden. Vasilisa Petrovna’s independent and adventurous spirit sets her apart in her patriarchal Russian village. But as fairy tales turn into reality, she may be their only hope.

She-Wolves: The Women Who Ruled England Before Elizabeth by Helen Castor. A very readable and well-researched history of badass early women rulers in England.

Midnight Robber by Nalo Hopkinson. A young Tan-Tan loves to pretend to be the Robber Queen, but when she’s stranded on another planet after her father commits a crime, she really becomes the Robber Queen.

Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie. Breq, a starship’s consciousness in human form, seeks revenge. But as she encounters people and memories from her past, her revenge turns into something more complicated, more like protection. This is the first in a completed trilogy.

The Wolf Road by Beth Lewis. In an apocalyptic future, Elka flees across a landscape straight out of a Western in order to escape her serial killer adoptive father and the woman who hunts him.

Uprooted by Naomi Novik. After being chosen by the Dragon, a magician, Agnieszka is forced to live with him in his tower. As her own magical powers develop, corruption spreads in the woods surrounding her village. Can she protect her people?

Sorcerer to the Crown by Zen Cho. A fantasy romp set in Regency era England, where two magicians — Zacharias and Prunella — try to discover why England is losing magic. But even though Zacharias is meant to be the teacher and Prunella the student, her magic far surpasses anything he’s ever seen.

 

Book Cover of Forgotten Queens of Islam by Fatima MernissiForgotten Queens of Islam by Fatema Mernissi translated by Mary Jo Lakeland. A nonfiction history of some of the awesome, powerful women in Islam.

The Darkest Part of the Forest by Holly Black. Hazel has a secret only she and her brother Ben knows: she’s a knight who fights evil fae creatures. When the mysterious horned boy trapped in a glass coffin disappears, strange things start occurring, even more strange than usual in this town where the fae and humans live side by side.

Want to read a Wonder Woman graphic novel? Charles Paul Hoffman has suggestions.

What books would you add to this list?

Shelves of fairy tale books.

Reading Railroad: June’s Reading

I only read 5 books in June, wah wah wah. I read 11 in May, so maybe it evens out? I’ll have to do better in July.

Novels

Mama DayBook cover for Mama Day by Gloria Naylor by Gloria Naylor. Published 1989. A really mixed read for me. On the one hand, Naylor writes a wonderful, hilarious character in Mama Day, a 90-year-old respected healer in the small Georgia island she lives on. She and her sister Abigail carry a sorrowful history between them, but manage a productivity that rivals people half their age. And they’re very funny. And then there’s Cocoa/Ophelia, Abigail’s granddaughter, and her beau George. Cocoa and George live in New York City, and could not be more stereotyped and boring. I hated reading their chapters, and wish I could’ve just stayed with Mama Day, who had a much more interesting personality, and much more interesting things going on. Overall, I’m glad I read it for the Mama Day sections, and I enjoyed the small town island life and the unique characters that lived there. But I was truly bored and fed up with the Cocoa/George sections. I almost quit reading because of them. 2.5/5

BannerlessBook cover of Bannerless by Carrie Vaughn by Carrie Vaughn. Published July 11th, 2017. This is marketed as a dystopia, but I actually didn’t find the post-apocalyptic society particularly dystopian. In fact, it’s pretty stable and egalitarian. I would live in this future, except minus all the past deaths due to environmental collapse, of course. Enid is an investigator, and she and her friend and fellow investigator Tomas travel to what looks like an idyllic town to investigate a rare murder. The title comes from the banners awarded households who have contributed to their community enough to be able to support a child. The banners allow households to have children, but only the households who can contribute. So a household where no one works wouldn’t be awarded a banner. At the age of 12, girls are put on birth control. When a household receives a banner, an adult woman is chosen to have her birth control removed until she conceives. There are ways to spin that as dystopian, but in the world of the novel, it seems perfectly practical. The banners did make me wonder about the households with family members who are unable to contribute to earning a banner — those unable to work due to disability. However, disabled people apparently don’t exist in this world. The murder mystery was a bit unmysterious, but it still kept me reading. I enjoyed the setting and Enid’s character enough to want to know what happened next. The world building is clunky in the beginning, but once it settles into a story, it’s a fun read. Thanks to Netgalley and John Joseph Adams/Mariner Books for providing me with a free copy in exchange for an honest review. 3.5/5

Book cover of The Wood Wife by Terri WindlingThe Wood Wife by Terri Windling. Published in 2003. This is one of those wonderful, contemporary mythic novels that blurs the boundaries between reality and folklore. I went through a phase where I only wanted my folklore in vaguely historical realms — much like the stories themselves — but lately I’ve begun preferring them mixed into contemporary life and living. Maybe this mirrors my own self now, a folklore lover that also works 3 jobs, lives in a city, and wants to know there can still be some magic in my life. In The Wood Wife, writer Maggie inherits the remote Arizona home of her favorite poet Cooper, who she’s never met but has been corresponding with for a long time. She fell in love with his poetry collection The Wood Wife, and ever since the two have exchanged letters. And can I just say, I want to read all of this fictional poetry collection! Windling gives little snippets, but not enough for me. It reminded me of Songs for Ophelia by Theodora Goss, but with an underlying story to each poem. Maggie is a city-smart cosmopolitan traveler, yet she ends up falling in love with Arizona. In Cooper’s house, she finds snippets of poems, and also a room full of the magical paintings of Cooper’s long deceased wife, Anna Naverra (whose work is often compared to Leonora Carrington, one of my favorite artists). Anna’s paintings and Cooper’s poems hint at magical and folkloric creatures that haunt the Arizona wilderness. And a mystery that Maggie must solve. If you like art and folklore in your fiction, then you’re bound to enjoy this. It reminded me a lot of Charles de Lint, particularly Memory and Dream, as well as the newish novel Roses and Rot by Kat Howard. 4/5

Book cover for The Changeling by Victor LaValleThe Changeling by Victor LaValle. Published June 13, 2017. It’s difficult to review this book, because the action that propels the ‘horror’ in this novel occurs well into the plot. But you know changeling folklore, right? If you don’t, essentially, goblins steal a newborn child and leave a look-alike in the baby’s place. The parents then have to trick the baby-goblin into revealing itself. Apollo, the main character in The Changeling, knows this folklore from a book his absent father gave him before he disappeared, Outside Over There by Maurice Sendak. This is my favorite Maurice Sendak children’s book. Apollo lives in New York City, and works as a book dealer. He falls in love with Emma at a library. She’s a librarian. So lots of bookish references to enjoy! While marketed as a horror novel, it’s a light one. The tone is easy, Apollo funny and relatable, and while there’s a supernatural creature and bloody scenes, I never felt scared. Or alarmed. However, if you have issues with violence against children, you may want to skip this one. Oddly, I enjoyed reading the first half more than the second, even though the main action doesn’t start until well into the novel. I enjoyed Apollo’s voice and reading about his life and his relationship with Emma, and his experience being a ‘new father,’ aka dads who actually spend time with their kids. Maybe I enjoyed reading the first half since those are things I’m looking forward to experiencing soon! I recommend this to anyone who likes folklore mixed into modern settings, and who doesn’t mind a little bit of horror. Thanks to NetGalley and Spiegel & Grau for providing me with a free copy in exchange for an honest review. 4/5

Short Story Collections

Magazine cover for Uncanny Magazine Issue 16Uncanny Magazine Issue 16. Published May 2, 2017. In this issue, stories shift between talking swords, vampires, and body enhancements, but all focus on self-identity and how others perceive us. I especially enjoyed Hiromi Goto’s “Notes from Liminal Spaces,” which is liminal in many ways. Extra nonfiction essays appear in this issue — 10 total! They range from political advice to SFF commentary. My favorite of these was the very last — “How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Eat the Damn Eyeball” by DongWon Song, about food and colonization in SFF. Of the poems, Theodora Goss once again writes a lovely, perfect poem in “Seven Shoes,” a poem about the magical bargains we make, and how often life moves in such a way that we may forget them. I highly recommend these 3 in particular. My review of each story is posted on Goodreads. 4/5

What did you read in June?

Image of my Bookshelves

Best Books of the Year…So Far

Wow, halfway through the year already! I’m a little behind on my reading goal of 100 books; so far, I’ve read 45. However, that’s not a big enough gap for me to worry. I think I’ll still make my goal.

Also, I’ve only given 2 books 5 stars this year! By the end of last year, I’d given 8 books 5 stars. Hmm. Maybe that means I’m going to read some really awesome books the rest of this year?

Here are my 2 lists: my top five reads published in 2017, and my top five reads of the year so far regardless of publication date.

Top 5 Published in 2017

Book Cover of Exit West by Mohsin HamidBook Cover of The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine ArdenBook Cover of The Wanderers by Meg Howrey

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Exit West by Mohsin Hamid. Refugees, war; magic doors, love. A must read for the year.

The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden. I read this last year, but it was published in January. Features fairy tales set in historical Russia, with a rebellious protagonist. Atmospheric and fun.

The Wanderers by Meg Howrey. Space! Except, not space. Rather, a psychological study of astronauts in a simulation to Mars. Very interesting. I preferred it to The Martian because of the character depth, but it’s supposedly a similar read.

Book Cover of The Djinn Falls in Love and Other Stories

Book Cover of Wicked Wonders by Ellen Klages

The Djinn Falls in Love and Other Stories edited by Mahvesh Murad and Jared Shurin. A collection of short stories about — you guessed it — djinn! And no, not like in Aladdin, though a few do come out of lamps. Some of these stories still haunt me, even though I read it early this year.

Wicked Wonders by Ellen Klages. Short stories with subtle hints of magic. Most of these feature YA characters, but can be enjoyed whatever your age.

I’ve only read 12 books published in 2017, so not that many. All but Exit West came from Netgalley. Since I work at a used bookstore, I tend to be a year or two behind recent releases. However, I have 5 queued up in Netgalley (and many more requested), and there are 3 more I know I’m going to want to buy, and I can’t wait to read. I will at least double that number by the end of the year.

Top 5 of the Year So Far, Regardless of Publication Date

Book Cover of Century of Struggle by Eleanor Flexner

Book Cover of A Monster Calls by Patrick NessBook Cover of The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey

Century of Struggle: The Woman’s Rights Movement in the United States, Enlarged Edition by Eleanor Flexner. A history of women’s suffrage in the United States. Broad in scope, and very informative. The first of my 5 star ratings.

A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness. A YA novel that made me cry A LOT! Magical and wise, and the illustrations by Jim Kay are great. I still haven’t seen the movie, but the book’s so good I’m not really that interested in the movie. This is the 2nd of my 5 star ratings.

The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey. A fairy tale set in 1920s Alaska. Beautifully written. Ivey is now on my ‘read everything she writes’ list.

Exit West by Mohsin Hamid.

The Djinn Falls in Love and Other Stories edited by Mahvesh Murad and Jared Shurin.

Both of these 2017 reads made this list too! But will they make the end of the year best of list???

What have been your favorite books of the year so far?

Collection of books read in May 2017

Reading Railroad: May’s Reading

I read 11 books in May! That’s a ton for me. And 5 of them were released in 2017.

Novels

Book cover for Exit West by Mohsin HamidExit West by Mohsin Hamid. Published March 7th 2017.  Wow. This is such an amazing book. It will probably end up on my end of the year favorites. In an undisclosed war torn country (I pictured Syria, especially after watching this mini-doc about the Syrian refugee crisis), Saeed and Nadia fall in love. Both are students at a local college, and even as war and in-fighting threaten to tear their city apart, they’re drawn to one another — Nadia, independent and alone; Saeed, religious and familial. And then doors begin leading to other places. A door to a closet might suddenly open to Australia instead, or London, or Greece. With their city no longer recognizable as theirs — and losing friends and family — Saeed and Nadia decide to enter one of these doors, and become refugees. This is such a bittersweet, human story. I recommend reading it in 1-2 sittings. It’s a fast read, and it’s easy to become swept into Hamid’s lyrical prose. Despite the war, loss, and grief the characters experience, it’s still a hopeful read. It makes me think that maybe the world can be a better place; that we can learn to all be human together. 4.5/5

Book cover for Little Nothing by Marisa SilverLittle Nothing by Marisa Silver. Published in 2016. A couple finally conceives with the help of gypsies, but their daughter isn’t what they wanted. Pavla is a dwarf. After several years both parents finally learn to love their daughter, but not enough to love her as she is. They want to change her into ‘normal.’ What follows is a series of transformations and forced exile as Pavla moves from a traveling circus to a pack of wolves to a prison. Along the way her story becomes entwined with Danilo, or rather, his story becomes entwined in hers. When Danilo’s twin brother dies, his parents force him to leave, and like Pavla, his exile leads him to wonder aimlessly from place to place. The first 2/3rds of the novel were enthralling, but part of the problem with a novel like this is every time I became wrapped up in the story, something would change and I was in an entirely new story. Thus, by the end of the novel, I was experiencing readerly jet lag. I just want to discover more about each part, not have the story start all over again. And the first three settings/transformations were far more interesting than the final one, to me. I would still recommend this to those who enjoy weird novels. Definitely worth the read. 3.5/5

Book cover for Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini TaylorDaughter of Smoke & Bone by Laini Taylor. Published in 2011. Karou was raised by Brimstone, a chimaera who looks like a devil, in his magic shop that opens between worlds. Some doors open into the human world, where Karou goes to art school in Prague and also collects teeth for Brimstone. Another door opens into Brimstone’s world, and she’s not allowed to enter. Karou’s life changes when angels descend to her world, and begin marking the doors with black handprints. When she spars with the angel Akiva, sparks fly–both from anger and from love. Daughter of Smoke and Bone reads fast; each chapter kept me on the edge of my seat. It’s also not a black/white, good vs. evil narrative, which is refreshing for YA. The ‘love at first sight’ and ‘our love can save our kingdoms’ plot lines are a little silly to me, but I’m sure appeal to a lot of people. I’m just the kind of person who likes more nuance in love. It ends on a cliffhanger, so I’ll eventually have to read the next one in the trilogy. But it’s not high on my priorities. 4/5

Book cover for House of Names by Colm ToibinHouse of Names by Colm Tóibín. Published May 18th 2017. A re-imagining of the events that follow Agamemnon’s return home, the novel rotates perspectives as each player contemplates their rage, grief, and revenge — from Clytemnestra to Orestes to Electra. Tóibín’s strongest voice is, unsurprisingly, Clytemnestra’s. Her grief and rage is the strongest, after all. The other characters fall flat in comparison, their personalities pale shadows to their mother’s. They lack motivation, drive, any kind of desires. Tóibín modernizes the myth by taking the gods out of it. They’re mentioned, but only in terms of this being a time when the gods have passed; they no longer participate in human lives. An interesting choice, though it takes a little bit of the magic away from the story, which I think was the point. What you have left are characters delegated to the periphery of events , trying to find meaning in the absurd violence that surrounds them. It’s a good retelling, and my first book by Tóibín. Thanks to Netgalley and Scribner for providing me with a free copy in exchange for an honest review. 3.5/5

Book cover for Sealskin by Su BristowSealskin by Su Bristow. Published May 1st 2017. The most popular selkie legend goes like this: A man finds a group of women dancing by the sea, with sealskins beside them. They flee when they see him, slipping into their skins and swimming away, but he keeps one skin, and brings home a selkie wife. Without her skin, she cannot leave. She bears him children, and when they’re older the children find where he’s hidden the skin and show it to their mother. She takes the skin and returns to the sea in her true form as a seal, abandoning her husband and children. Bristow’s retelling focuses on the man who steals the skin, Donald, a Scottish fisherman. It’s easy to hate the men in selkie legends, but Bristow humanizes Donald, showing his struggles with guilt, his history of being bullied, his deep regret. Donald and his sealwife’s building relationship is well-written, and it’s a very atmospheric read. I sank into the world. But while I like redemption stories, I have issues with this particular type, and you can read my spoilery review of that on Goodreads. Thanks to Netgalley and Orenda Books for providing me with a free copy in exchange for an honest review. 3.5/5

Book cover for Music of the Ghosts by Vaddey RatnerMusic of the Ghosts by Vaddey Ratner. Published April 11th 2017. This is one melancholy book, as it would have to be. Almost 40 years have passed since the genocide of the Khmer Rouge regime in Cambodia. Teera, who escaped with her aunt to the U.S. as a child, now returns to Cambodia, haunted by her past and struggling with grief after her aunt’s death. A man called The Old Musician claims to have several instruments of her father’s, and wants to return them. The novel weaves between their perspectives as both grapple with the past while trying to find hope and meaning in the present. While this is a melancholy novel, it’s not a hopeless one. In her afterward, Ratner says that if In the Shadow of the Banyan is a story of survival, than this is a story of surviving. I did enjoy In the Shadow of the Banyan more because of how it weaved mythology into the narrative, but Music of the Ghosts is a strong follow up, and many will enjoy it more than her first. Thanks to Touchstone and Netgalley for providing me with a free copy in exchange for an honest review. 3.5/5

Short Story Collections

Book cover of Wicked Wonders by Ellen KLagesWicked Wonders by Ellen Klages. Published May 16th 2017 (my birthday!). I’ve never read Ellen Klages before, but the short stories collected here are so good! I’m surprised I haven’t come across her before. The stories I liked best captured what it feels like to be a child. My favorite of these is the very first piece — “The Education of a Witch” — about a little girl who identifies with Maleficent more than Sleeping Beauty. I also enjoyed “Woodsmoke,” about two girls at summer camp. Overall, Klages stories are grounded in realism, with hints of the weird or strange. They’re sweet and powerful and fun, and I’ll be seeking out more of her work. I’m thankful to Netgalley and Tachyon Publications for providing me with a copy in exchange for an honest review. You can read my take on each story here. 4/5

Nonfiction

Book cover for Men Explain Things to Me by Rebecca SolnitMen Explain Things to Me by Rebecca Solnit. Published 2014. I didn’t mean to read this immediately after buying it. I often read the first paragraphs of new books as I place them on the bookshelf, but this time I didn’t stop reading. Her prose style is mesmerizing. It’s a powerful collection of feminist essays, and I highly recommend reading it. You can read my longer review on Goodreads. 4/5

 

 

 

Book cover for Expecting Better by Emily OsterExpecting Better: Why the Conventional Pregnancy Wisdom Is Wrong–and What You Really Need to Know by Emily Oster. Published in 2013. I picked this up after reading several reviews describe at as ‘if you read a single pregnancy book, this should be the one.’ And I completely agree. THERE ARE SOURCES! I swear, it never occurred to me that the vast majority of pregnancy books would cite no sources whatsoever. I don’t care if you’re a doctor. Lots of people call themselves doctors and I’m not going to take their advice. On top of that, pregnancy books often say things like “Ask your doctor.” I’m reading this so I can go to my doctor’s appointments informed. Don’t just tell me to talk to my doctor. Why bother reading a book then? Anyway, Expecting Better is written by an economist. She was similarly frustrated by the lack of evidence given in pregnancy books, or even by her doctors. She decided to research the main questions so she could make informed decisions. In each chapter she presents multiple case studies and weighs all the different decisions new parents can make. She doesn’t tell you whether you should or shouldn’t get on epidural, or drink coffee, etc, but rather what research shows so parents can make their own decision. So far, this is the only pregnancy book I’ve read worth reading. 4.5/5

Book cover for Expectant Father by Armin A. BrottThe Expectant Father by Armin A. Brott and Jennifer Ash. Published in 2001. I bought this book for Ryan as we’re expecting our first baby. We both read it. I found it generic, he found it insulting and humorous. Here are some of his favorite tips for dads:

  • If you need a break because you’re overwhelmed by your wife’s pregnancy and emotional state, take a vacation on your own. Go to the beach. (This will probably become one of the many in-jokes in our pregnancy.)
  • You’re a hero if you go to the doctor’s appointments with her. (When we went to our first appointment, every pregnant woman had their SO with them.)
  • Your pain can be just as difficult as hers, because you can experience the same difficulties as she due to empathy. (More belly laughs from him about this one, especially after I throw up!)

Frankly, Ryan found the book insulting. He doesn’t need lame platitudes and the casual sexism that says ‘you’re a male hero for doing the things that you should be doing.’ When I asked for his review, he said “terrible.” I also read this book, and found the information to be generic and easily found online. I agree that it’d be nice if there were a book for dads, but it needs to be researched and informed and to treat parents with respect. 1/5

Book cover for Your Pregnancy and ChildbirthYour Pregnancy and Childbirth: Month to Month by The American College of Ob/Gyn. Published in 2010.  You can find the exact same information in this book on websites. My favorite websites so far are Baby Center and The Bump. The book contains generic, easily found basics. No need to read it. 2/5

 

What were your favorite reads in May?

Shorts on a Theme: The End of the World

I’m not sure why I enjoy reading end of the world scenarios so much, but they’re one of my favorite sub-genres. I mean, I just took an hour walk outside admiring the springtime green, my neighborhood’s lovely flowers, the birds singing, and what do I do when I get home? Decide to write a post recommending end of the world short stories and poems. Because, of course.

So if you only have 10-20 minutes to read, here are 10 online short stories and poems about the end of the world. Afterward, remember to take a breather and admire nature…while it’s still here.

Short Stories

From Tor.com Illustration by Yuko ShimizuAs Good as New by Charlie Jane Anders

Charlie Jane Anders just won a Nebula for her end of the world novel All the Birds in the Sky, one of my favorite novels from 2016. But that wasn’t her first time writing about the end of the world. In “As Good as New,” Marisol — a washed-up playwright who managed to survive the apocalypse — finds a jinni in a bottle. Can her 3 wishes save the world?

So Much Cooking by Naomi Kritzer

A mom’s food blog chronicles her struggles to feed her growing pack of children as H5N1 spreads, causing massive food shortages. A really creative way to write about the apocalypse!

The Machine Stops by E.M. Forster

Originally written in 1909, this short story feels like it could’ve been written yesterday. A highly technological human settlement, run by The Machine, lives in an air-ship after some kind of apocalypse. Vashti’s life changes when her son starts questioning The Machine.

From Lightspeed Magazine by Melanie UjimoriThe Red Thread by Sofia Samatar

Sahra records her travels with her mom in letters to her disappeared friend Fox. She and her mom are traveling between human settlements, teaching the remaining children and trying to convince the settlements to live safely. But is Fox receiving Sahra’s letters? And why did he abandon them? This short story is also recently published in Sofia Samatar’s first short story collection — Tender: Stories.

Don’t You Worry, You Aliens by Paul Cornell

An elderly librarian maintains his library even when no one is around to enjoy it. And there’s a dog but he doesn’t die!

Poems

when the end is near by Amber Atiya

“i will miss
the woman-lined walls
of tony’s pizza

jewel-tone mouths
ordering zeppoles extra
sweet, will miss the urge

to fry bacon in my vegan
lover’s favorite pan”

Gloves by Lisa Rosinsky

“When I dreamed of the apocalypse, the end
came like a liquefying of the sky, the sunrise
and sunset palettes swirling all together”

The Future of Terror / 5 by Matthea Harvey

“In the lantern-light, the lawn speckled
with lead looked lovely. We would live this
down by living it up. My pile of looseleaf
was getting smaller—I wrote in margins,
through marmalade stains, on the backs of maps.”

A Song on the End of the World by Czeslaw Milosz

“On the day the world ends
Women walk through the fields under their umbrellas,
A drunkard grows sleepy at the edge of a lawn,
Vegetable peddlers shout in the street
And a yellow-sailed boat comes nearer the island,
The voice of a violin lasts in the air
And leads into a starry night.”

How it Ends: Three Cities by Catherine Pierce

“This morning we woke to the grackles. Their mouths open, tails oil-black against the blacker pavement. Some had closed their eyes; others had died staring. Cars stopped on Congress and were left, hunched like boulders. The elms, always bright with cries, were still.”

 

What are some of your favorite end of the world shorts?