Category Archives: SF and SpecFic

What I’ve Been Reading

I’ve been remiss: I have not been reviewing* what I read this year. (I keep wondering if I ought to, or even could, port those entries over here; however, this isn’t generally to be a book blog.) The asterisk is there because I keep running across so many posts that want to tear apart the idea of the reader review–it’s not in academic format X, one should have a certain background to review books, if you’re not going to give things five stars you shouldn’t tell people about them…argh. I agree to an extent that there are “reviews” that aren’t; posting jacket copy isn’t a book review, and my shorthand reviews are often more reminders for me when I return to a post than an in-depth examination on the page. Reader reaction to a book, even bad or ill-informed, can be a useful input. I quit Goodreads because I got tired of following the “rules” and having people think that a 3-star “I liked it” or 2-star “It was okay” were negatives, and let’s not even talk about why I don’t give Amazon the benefit of my mental energy anymore, except to say harassment, bots, and scraping.

All of that sounds cranky, doesn’t it? More than I’m feeling at the moment, anyway. So, let me give you the highlights of this spring and summer’s reading that you can currently buy. As always, I don’t get to reviewing more than a fraction of what I read, and disclaimer that due to school and work right now, I am not taking any outside requests to review books.


In FallingIn Falling Snow, Mary-Rose MacColl

Iris Crane, from Australia, goes to France during World War I to fetch her underage brother home. Once there, she is–distracted, I suppose–into the service of a women-run and women-staffed hospital, where she serves as a nurse and an assistant to the hospital director. Reveling in becoming her own, she neglects to expose her very happy brother, who is himself finding a place in the world. But the war looms over them, and they can’t see the threat approaching. In the seventies, Iris’s granddaughter Grace is an ob-gyn in a man’s world, and has to find a way to care for her family and her career as they teeter on the brink of disaster. Big, sweeping multi-generation family story, told with an awry sense of POV and tense that makes perfect sense to show Iris’s perspective. A very feminist story.

That’s a big picture, so I’m switching to thumbnails…



courtCourt of Fives, Kate Elliott

I read this in ARC and couldn’t put it down. Sometimes, you know when a story has really taken a step ahead, and when it re-sets the starting line. I could tell you this is fantasy Little Women mixed up with Greco-Roman history and American Ninja Warrior (YEAH), or I could tell you that this is the real daughter of The Hunger Games (ALSO YEAH). My reading tip: pay attention to the peoples, their history, and their culture as they are introduced. I didn’t, and spent a lot of the book getting people confused. (Note: reader error. I actually did this on the book below, too, so I had a muzzy couple of weeks until I settled down and just read.) Luckily for me, that means a re-read. First in…a set of some number that I don’t actually know. Absolutely, positively worth your time, and I wouldn’t be surprised at all to see this as a Cybils finalist this year, at the very least.

wrathThe Wrath and the Dawn, Renée Adieh

I really didn’t think I was going to like this; how many times have you read some big retelling and had it not work? Or, perhaps more accurately, had it not bring anything new to the table? I am picky, maybe too picky, about retellings. I want the story to be re-told, not simply told again with some details changed. I want the story to be transformed. I–maybe–don’t want it to be clear that something is a retelling, even. In this story, the great Shahrzad vows vengeance on the king who kills his wives, but finds herself in a more complicated relationship with the king than she anticipated. What makes this story work is that the author really, really knows what to do with romantic tension, and that is: pull the rubber band tight and aim it, but keep you wondering if and when the snap and flight will happen. Also, if you see a  physical edition, check out the really glorious cover treatment. Set to be a duology.


egyptThe Egypt Game, Zilpha Keatley Snyder

I don’t think I read this growing up, so I rectified that. A group of kids in 1960s Berkeley gathers in a seemingly-empty backyard space and plays at Egypt, as they know it from books about ancient history. There are kids of different races, single parents, and free-range afternoons. But there’s a child killer on the loose, and it could be someone who’s watching all of them more closely than even their bright minds could have imagined. (And that’s the weakest part of the book; I think the murderer could have been a bit bigger part of the book and that plot line not so squished into its brief pages at the end, all without hitting gory or too scary.) I love the look back at kids before the time of the helicopter parent, and I think that–a limited amount of freedom coupled with the knowledge that there are caring adults around–is an experience that, with parenting style changes and cell phone ubiquity, few will have again. I love, too, the variety of people and households that appear in this book. Not everything holds up perfectly, as you can imagine, but there were some good surprises. I think, too, that the author really gets how kids learn (live?) for/through imaginative play, and their Egypt is clearly only their Egypt, standing in for real life where it’s harder for each of them to navigate and negotiate the same thoughts and feelings. That said, since the follow up is titled The Gypsy Game, I think I’m going to skip it.

Twesting gamehe Westing Game, Ellen Raskin

I’m reading all the game books this summer, yes. My first note: don’t get the Puffin Classics edition of this and then read the front matter, because there’s a piece about the book and author that actually spoiled, for me, the puzzle of the story. Not all of it–and if I told you why and you haven’t read, I’d spoil you–but enough to be irritating. I’m afraid that this wasn’t a great read for me; maybe I missed the right age to first read it, maybe I wanted more with more of the characters, maybe I thought the format wasn’t quite right (repackage this written for an older audience, and I might be all over it), maybe I wasn’t fond of aspects of the writing style. Maybe I thought it too weird that there wasn’t enough emphasis on the lives of children for this to be for children, because if a book for children stars adults, I want there to be some childlike aspect to the adult that appeals to the interests and cares of people of a younger age. I also felt like some of the way the mystery was handled was a stretch, and I didn’t understand (all of) what Westing wanted. Sorry, folks. I’m disappointed in me too.

HookHook’s Revenge, Heidi Schultz

Apparently, I have been on a middle grade streak, people (I also had a nice time re-immersing in The True Meaning of Smekday and Smek for President by Adam Rex in the late spring/early summer, but I’m going to assume you already know how fun those are). Here’s the tough thing: I find Peter Pan to be a difficult story all around. Barrie was a weird guy. There are hardly any girls, and they are servants in one way or another. Tiger Lily and her tribe are nasty stereotypes, and neither erasure nor amplification seems to be the way to go forward. That out in front, Hook’s Revenge is the story of Hook’s daughter, who has been left to relatives and boarding school, but who is absolutely not a pretty, coddles princess. When she is called upon to exact Hook’s revenge, you couldn’t ask for a more willing and eager…pirate. Jocelyn Hook is DELIGHTFUL, and the voice of the book utterly delightful too. Especially recommended for girls who think they need to be a certain way. Also my BFF should read this one.


to the seaTo the Sea, Cale Atkinson

This is a lovely, vivid picture book about friendship and loneliness. The illustrations are deep and beautiful and, at least in color, unexpected. Pair it with its book trailer to extend understanding a bit. One of the favorites of at least one small person’s summer reading.



MimiMimi and Bear in the Snow, Janee Trasler

The spoiler alert on this is that I cry every time I read it. Look, people, if it comes with pictures, those “little” emotions, like happiness, sadness, worry, fear, joy, well, they stab me right in the gut every time. I read a review of this before it came out and put it on my to-buy list, and wasn’t sorry. Mimi and Bear are separated; will Mimi find Bear again? Waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah.



Now, off to tackle chores and that pile of email that’s glaring at me from the corner.

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Filed under Adult Books, Fantasy, Historical, MG, Picture Books, Reading, SF and SpecFic, YA

Sirens Reading Challenge 2015: What I’m Going to Read

I am involved in a nonprofit, Narrate Conferences, that puts together literature events. One of these is Sirens. I’ve been a little swamped lately, so I’ve tried to advise more than be staff, but that doesn’t always work out; I end up coming back for more. This year, I’m working mostly on programming-related things. The other thing I’ll be doing is reading, reading, reading. In fact, staff members are absolutely required to know what’s going on in fantasy, particularly as it relates to women in fantasy, and particularly women in fantasy works that are related to the annual theme, which this year is rebels and revolutionaries. It’s not only essential to know the literature so we can understand and enjoy all the great discussion that comes up at Sirens, it’s essential to be aware of what that literature has been and where it’s going. It’s the best way to support readers, authors, and professionals whose work is so often considered to be less worthy, I think.

So, each year, we put together a general reading list for people interested in the guests of honor and in getting to know more about what women are reading and writing in fantasy, and we put together a (researched) list for staff that’s a little more focused, because it’s all too easy to read narrowly. I read a lot more middle grade and young adult work, because that’s what I’m interested in and the community I follow most closely, than I do work targeted at adults. If I wanted to look for books in a big chain bookstore, my selection by/about women very, very limited, and I’d miss out on some really good books, as well as, frankly, all those books that I don’t personally love, but that are important, and worthy, and to be (re)commended. If I only shopped on Amazon, I’d get lots of links to work that’s very, very closely related to the book I searched for, instead of a more curated, more diverse, more exploratory selection.

The staff list gets split up into chunks, and you select so many books from each chunk to read, beyond any of the selections you’ve already read. The idea is that you’ll be exposed to work that you might not otherwise have picked out for yourself. And, of course, you can recommend all these neat books to other people.

This year, we’re offering up a challenge for anybody to take part in, with bragging rights and buttons for conference attendees. Read 25 new-to-you books, expand your mind, read great fantasy work by women. I’m in grad school and working, and my pleasure-reading time is…small, but I’m going to try to complete the challenge as it is anyway. For a lot of the books I haven’t read, I’ve actually read chunks or excerpts, so it should be easier! If you’d like to try out the challenge too, the details are below, and here. If I crossed out a book, I’m counting it as read, or eliminating it from the pick-so-many sections, but I’m happy to share thoughts on them if you need a recommendation!


If you’re looking for a bit more structure for your Sirens reading, or you simply love a challenge, you’re in the right place. Each year, our staff reads a wide selection of fantasy works written by women, some within our theme and some more broadly. This year, we invite you to take our challenge!

To take the challenge, simply read 25 books, in accordance with the rules below, by September 12, 2015. Once you’ve finished, send us an e-mail to help @ with Reading List Challenge as the subject line, and let us know that you’ve finished the challenge and the books that you read to do so. We’ll give all timely finishers a special button at Sirens, suitable for gloating. Game on.

To purchase these books, please consider using the links below on the website, which will take you to the website of the Tattered Cover, Denver’s renowned independent bookstore. If you use those links and then purchase books or other items, Sirens will receive a referral fee from the Tattered Cover.


In each required category, you must read—or have previously read—each work listed. In each category of selections, you must select books by authors who are new to you. If you cannot reach the required number of selections without selecting authors you have already read, you may select works you haven’t read by authors you have read before. If you cannot reach the required number of selections without selecting books you’ve read, bravo, and please read as many new-to-you books as you can to complete the challenge.

Guests of Honor: Required

Rae Carson: The Girl of Fire and Thorns

Kate Elliott: Cold Magic or Court of Fives

Yoon Ha Lee: Conservation of Shadows

I have read parts of the other books, and of course I want to read the work by the guests of honor! But for now, let’s count this as one book to read.


Rebels and Revolutionaries: Required

Margaret Atwood: The Handmaid’s Tale

Alaya Dawn Johnson: The Summer Prince

Ann Leckie: Ancillary Justice

Melina Marchetta: Finnikin of the Rock

Nnedi Okorafor: Who Fears Death

Tamora Pierce: Trickster’s Queen

G. Willow Wilson: Alif the Unseen

I thought I had this nailed, but I might have only read Trickster’s Choice, and not Trickster’s Queen. So, conservatively, 3 books to finish.


Rebels and Revolutionaries: Select Five

Katherine Addison: The Goblin Emperor

Victoria Aveyard: Red Queen

Kelly Barnhill: Iron Hearted Violet

Elizabeth Bunce: StarCrossed

Sarah Beth Durst: Vessel

Sarah Fine: Of Metal and Wishes

Catherine Fisher: Incarceron

Shira Glassman: Climbing the Date Palm

Kameron Hurley: The Mirror Empire

N. K. Jemisin: The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms

Erika Johansen: The Queen of the Tearling

Intisar Khanani: Sunbolt

Marie Lu: The Young Elites

Laurie J. Marks: Fire Logic

Jodi Meadows: The Orphan Queen

Sara Raasch: Snow Like Ashes

Sabaa Tahir: An Ember in the Ashes

Sherry Thomas: The Burning Sky

Nahoko Uehashi: Moribito II: Guardian of the Darkness

Kit Whitfield: In Great Waters

I’ve read a couple of these, and have a couple more partly read. I’m going to pick, for the challenge, these five: Of Metal and Wishes, Sunbolt, An Ember in the Ashes, Climbing the Date Palm, and The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms. But I will probably read more here.

Middle Grade/Young Adult: Select Five

Lindsey Barraclough: Long Lankin

Franny Billingsley: Chime

Stephanie Burgis: Kat, Incorrigible

Emily Carroll: Through the Woods

Cinda Williams Chima: The Demon King

Corinne Duyvis: Otherbound

Jessica Day George: Tuesdays at the Castle

Hiromi Goto: Half World

Shannon Hale: Book of a Thousand Days

Rosamund Hodge: Cruel Beauty

Ambelin Kwaymullina: The Interrogation of Ashala Wolf DONE

Laura Lam: Pantomime

Margo Lanagan: Yellowcake

Grace Lin: Where the Mountain Meets the Moon

Juliet Marillier: Wildwood Dancing

Patricia McKillip: Ombria in Shadow

Dia Reeves: Bleeding Violet

Heather Tomlinson: Toads and Diamonds

Leslye Walton: The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender

Ysabeau Wilce: Flora Segunda

Funnily, I have read parts of a lot of these, too, but not the whole things, and I have a lot of these on hand to read. I’m tentatively going to read these five for the challenge: The Interrogation of Ashala Wolf, Otherbound, Half World, Flora Segunda, and Cruel Beauty. Though I do love Juliet Marillier and that’s one I haven’t read, and the Ava Lavender book won some awards…


Adult: Select Five

Lauren Beukes: The Shining Girls

Lois McMaster Bujold: Paladin of Souls

Ronlyn Domingue: The Mapmaker’s War

Emma Donoghue: Kissing the Witch: Old Tales in New Skins

Eugie Foster: Returning My Sister’s Face: And Other Far Eastern Tales of Whimsy and Malice

Charlie N. Holmberg: The Paper Magician

Mary Robinette Kowal: Shades of Milk and Honey

Violet Kupersmith: The Frangipani Hotel

Kelly Link: Get in Trouble

Karen Lord: Redemption in Indigo

Kushali Manickavel: Things We Found During the Autopsy

Seanan McGuire: Sparrow Hill Road

Erin Morganstern: The Night Circus

Helen Oyeyemi: Mr. Fox

Ludmilla Petrushevskaya: There Once Lived a Mother Who Loved Her Children, Until They Moved Back In

Kiini Ibura Salaam: Ancient, Ancient: Short Fiction

Sofia Samatar: A Stranger in Olondria

Delia Sherman: Young Woman in a Garden

Karin Tidbeck: Jagannath

Helene Wecker: The Golem and the Jinni

And another set of books where I haven’t fully read many, but know a lot. Tentatively picking Foster, Kowal, Kupersmith, Link, Oyeyemi, Petrushevskaya, Samatar, and Sherman, which is eight but I like some of all their work that I’ve sampled, SO THERE.


Self, you have like ten minutes to shower, eat, and get to class because you chose blog instead of do things, so get cracking.

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Filed under Adult Books, Fantasy, Just for Fun, MG, Reading, SF and SpecFic, YA