Ladies Reading Ladies Who Write Speculative Fiction

Remember when I said I have a love/hate relationship with book clubs and that I’d just joined a new one? The new club is comprised of a group of ladies reading speculative fiction written by women writers. I was invited to join after I’d tweeted about how I was adding more diversity to my reading. This is another added benefit of befriending your local booksellers as the person who invited me works at the local indie. From there I’ve also been exchanging tweets with another member so now it’s a double rainbow of awesome. Not only am I expanding my literary horizons, but I’m getting opportunities to talk books with other readers and make new friends.

Book friends got the hookup.

 

Our first book pick was Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler which was so fucking amazing to me that I immediately read the sequel Parable of the Talents. I wasn’t able to attend the first meeting due to a previous promise to attend a friend’s baby shower.  This month’s book was The Lathe of Heaven by Ursula K. Le Guin which I found to be pretty straightforward science fiction. Le Guin spelled out everything she wanted the reader to know so there wasn’t a lot of brain work being done. Not a bad book, but it could have been a bit longer.

I will get to what actually happened at the meeting, but I wanted to give a little background here. Wikipedia defines speculative fiction as “a broad literary genre encompassing any fiction with supernatural, fantastical, or futuristic elements.” I tried to get some stats on female authors in speculative fiction, but Wiki for one, seemed to just focus in on the science fiction angle instead of the other sub categories.  However, I stumbled upon the Internet Speculative Fiction Database and on their statistics page, it looks as if in 2012 they had over 98 thousand author entries. They unfortunately do not break it up by gender which would have been extremely helpful as well as adding in some kind of way of finding out their ethnicity.

Thanks for making it easy to get numbers….not.

 

The fact that speculative fiction is such a broad category is remarkable as it allows a lot of different fans in. I was thrilled to find out historical fiction tends to be considered speculative fiction as I’ve been reading that for years. Also literary fiction has representation also as in such books as Life After Life by Kate Atkinson since the main character Ursula seems to reboot her life whenever she dies which is completely fantastical. I also am a pretty big fan of urban fantasy which apparently is also considered speculative fiction. Suddenly I’m not as big of a newbie as I thought.

But I’m trying!

In addition to that, you know my commitment to reading more diverse authors as well. So it would be great to keep it going within the book club. Along with the aforementioned Le Guin and Butler, and our next pick is Catherynne M. Valente’s Deathless so we are at a 33% ratio of reading diverse authors which would be nice to see maintained since we know the discrepancy of diverse authors in publishing and I assume it’s an even greater gap in genres like science fiction and urban fantasy (Daniel José Older put together a list of diverse urban fantasy writers and about 50% were female, but the list was only 33 names). Goodreads has this list that I’d like to be able to pull some names from.

Some diverse titles in our TBR suggestion list

  • The Woman Who Thought She Was a Planet by Vandana Singh
  • Lagoon and Who Fears Death by Nnedi Okorafor
  • The Killing Moon by N.K. Jemisin
  • Mindscape by Andrea Hairston

On to the meeting!

Six of us met at a local bakery that has delicious food, sat outside and got started. I admitted I felt a bit out of my element with science fiction. I’m a relative newbie in the genre and want to learn more so the discussion of scifi themes and tropes is new to me. I’m trying to learn more about dissecting books and their metaphors. Luckily as I mentioned before The Lathe of Heaven is pretty straight forward. In the meeting I was spellbound listening to these other five ladies debate evil vs inaction and gush over turtle-shaped aliens. Everyone was really polite with one another and let each other talk and even when they disagreed, there was respect. I’ve been in some groups where this does not happen. Feelings get hurt when someone doesn’t like a point you make or there is the opposite where no one wants to have an opposing opinion because they don’t want to be wrong. I didn’t see this happen, but I believe what will happen is no one will be judgmental of the person who was inaccurate. All in all I can’t wait for our next meeting.

What speculative fiction titles would you suggest? What do you like to see in your book clubs?

Giving Agency to Women in BDSM Erotica

I’m new to the erotica scene. Or more accurately the BDSM erotica scene. I had my fair share of romance novels back in the day. The ones where the hero ravishes her even though she’s telling him no. I’ve only recently come back to the fold with authors like Sarah MacLean giving the genre a new shine (hello consent!). But BDSM erotica was definitely not something I’d really experienced aside from reading Anne Rice’s Sleeping Beauty trilogy back in my early twenties for which I was extremely ill prepared for at the time. So when Tiffany Reisz was introduced it was an eye opener. I read The Siren, the first book in her Original Sinners series and oh wow.

There’s a lot about the book to talk about, but the thing that attracted me the most was the main character Nora’s ownership of her sexuality. This is no 25 year old virgin who flushes at the idea that she might have sexual feelings, a trope usually found in romances that frustrates me to no end. As soon as Nora is on the page she screams “Not only do I have sex and I enjoy it, but it’s kinky sex.” I was stunned. I’d never met a character like Nora in a vanilla romance novel. I was so stunned it took me a bit after I had finished the book to decide if I liked it (the book, not Nora’s sex positive attitude). Not only is Nora in full control of her sexuality, she’s also a professional dominatrix so she’s also “in control” of other people’s. I quickly read not only The Siren, but the rest of the series. Nora, throughout the series, continued to never doubt her sexual urges. She wrestled with a great number of other things, but not that.  This was amazing to me.

Audrey knows what I’m talking about

I was curious. Did other BDSM erotica writers also have their female characters doing the same thing? Is there something particular about BDSM in erotica that enables this easier by sheer necessity? I did a little nonfiction research because that’s how I roll and the answer was yes. BDSM requires consent from both sides, the submissive (sub) and the Dominate (Dom). The sub is pretty much required to own their sexuality since they have to tell their Dom what their limits are in the beginning (usually but not always done by a formal contract). To do this a sub has to own up to what rings their bells and what makes them flee.

Tickle torture? I’m out.

I hit up Reisz’s website and even the woman herself via Twitter for more recommendations to see if I could find this in other like books of the genre. Two of the names I received were Roni Loren and Cherise Sinclair. Loren writes a series called Loving on the Edge and Sinclair’s is called Club Shadowland respectively. As a note: both series feature women primarily in sub positions which is generally the case in real life. A sub position, most agree is the true power position in a D/s (Dom/sub) dynamic as they’re the ones with the safeword to make the action stop.

There were a few exceptions to the rule, but I did find that the majority of these women owned their sexuality. Even if at first they were a little skittish with the idea of BDSM, they usually started communicating their discomfort which allowed for their Doms to help them figure out how to embrace what they wanted. Often was the case the woman had been harboring the shame for feeling the way they do and the BDSM opened them up to owning their own personal kink or just that they liked sex in general. We have this habit in society to tell women they’re not sexy enough and then once they change to become “sexy” we call them sluts. This is reflected in our media including books.

Alison, you read my mind.

 One in particular that comes to mind is from Loren’s Melt into You. The main character, Evan is very sexual and kinky. She already knows this. The problem is that she’s marrying her best friend who is gay. He’s helped her out in the past and now she’s helping him by being his beard while he gets a television show being a relationship guru. The angst she suffers from the entire time has nothing to do with what she’s into sexually only that she’s in love with a childhood love again who broke her heart (and his best friend) and that she’ll hurt her fiancé. Even later in the series when Evan and her men make an appearance, you see how much she reveals in her sexuality.

I also saw a lot of body acceptance which tied to women claiming their sexuality. It’s hard to feel sexy if you feel you’re ugly. Rainie, in Cherise Sinclair’s Show Me, Baby: 1001 Dark Nights is more lushly built than what’s usually described in romance novels. Even though she struggles with it in flashbacks as a teen, in her adulthood she owns her body. And her Dom, adores her for every curve. This doesn’t happen very often in any genre. The last time I read a full figured character in romance whose lover makes it obvious he loves her for her was in Jennifer Crusie’s Bet Me (Min + Cal 4ever!). I loved the ownership she had as she was putting on some sexy ensemble that highlighted her lushness. Also as her Dom points out, he needs a woman who is able to take the “attention” he doles out. A little twig of a woman probably wouldn’t fit that requirement he tells her.

The last example I found of a wonderful example of women owning their sexuality was in Stephan Šejić’s comic Sunstone which is about a lesbian BDSM couple. On both main character’s parts they own who they are and what turns them on. First timers in the lifestyle Ally has brief worries about her ability to Dom (it’s a lot of work, yo) and Lisa struggles with how private or public to make her relationship with Ally, but they have agency in their sexuality.

Have you found this to be the case in any other types of erotica? Do you have any other author recommendations?

Oyster’s 100 best books of the decade (so far)

When I saw Oyster did a best books list, I was on it like Donkey Kong. I have a soft spot for “best of” lists and also a soft spot for Oyster. Out of the 100, I’ve read 21 and DNF 1 (My Brilliant Friend).

Read:

  1. Life After Life by Kate Atkinson
  2. The Tiger’s Wife by Téa Obreht
  3. A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan
  4. Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell
  5. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot
  6. Boy Snow Bird by Helen Oyeyemi
  7. Swampandia by Karen Russell
  8. Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng
  9. Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay
  10. Tiny Beautiful Things by Cheryl Strayed
  11. Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Achidie
  12. Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel
  13. Bossy Pants by Tina Fey
  14. The Good Lord Bird by James McBride
  15. Home by Toni Morrison
  16. Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn
  17. Gulp by Mary Roach
  18. The Flamethrowers by Rachel Kushner
  19. Mr. Penumbra’s 24 Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan
  20. The Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro
  21. This is How You Lose Her by Junot Diaz

I agree with most of these. I think I’ve gushed about Americanah and Bad Feminist to everyone I know. Station Eleven was probably my most surprising like since generally I’m not an apocalypse girl. I like the diversity shown. I like that it seems to be pretty equally split between women and men. There are a lot of books still I need to get to.

To Read.

  1. The Empathy Exams by Leslie Jamison
  2. Billy Lynn’s Halftime Walk by Ben Fountain
  3. Salvage the Bones by Jesmyn Ward
  4. Cleopatra: A Life by Stacy Schiff
  5. A Girl is a Half Formed Thing by Eimear McBride
  6. NW by Zadie Smith
  7. The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer
  8. The Round House by Louise Erdrich
  9. Changing my Mind by Zadie Smith

I’m probably going to add to this list since there are a few books that I’m not familiar with. I’d like to see Oyster make a list on their app with the books they have available to make it easier.

 

Do you agree with this list? How many of your favorites are on here? How many are on your TBR? Any you want to talk me into reading?

Comfort Reads

I just spent the last few days suffering from stomach flu I received from my loving husband who we think got it from our beautiful children. I’ll spare you the details, but basically it left me in bed and miserable. So when I wasn’t… you know, or sleeping, I had time to read. I found I wasn’t able to focus on anything heavy or detailed. Here’s what I was able to read.

  • Rereads of favorite books. Wild Things by Chloe Neill. A little violence and snark always makes me feel better.
  • Romance novels. Loretta Chase was recently recommended by Rebecca Schinsky at Book Riot so I thought I’d give her a go. I only got into the beginning of The Lion’s Daughter, but it was perfect for a sick day.
  • Ready Player One by Ernest Cline. I don’t have a category for this. I’ve been told to read this and it didn’t disappoint. The content is fun and adventurous.
  • Comics. Hello Sex Criminals Vol 2. Which is the closest I felt to being frisky at all.

 

What do you like to read when you’re sick (if you feel up to reading)?

April’s TBR bookshelf

Every month I decided to pick out the print books I want to get to sooner rather than later. Sometimes there’s a theme. April is a free for all.

April’s TBR

  • Behind the Scenes at the Museum – Kate Atkinson
  • The Elegance of the Hedgehog – Muriel Barbery
  • Kindred – Octavia Butler
  • Ready Player One – Ernest Cline
  • In Real Life – Cory Doctorow
  • Henna House– Nomi Eve
  • Trigger Warning -Neil Gaiman
  • The first Bad Man – Miranda July
  • The Secret Life of Bees – Sue Monk Kidd
  • The History of Love – Nicole Krauss
  • We Are Called to Rise – Lauren McBride
  • Becoming Madame Mao – Anchee Min
  • Sacré Bleu – Christopher Moore
  • Island of a Thousand Mirrors – Nayomi  Munaweera
  • The Audacity of Hope – Barack Obama
  • Dept. of Speculation – Jenny Offill
  • The Quick – Lauren Owen
  • The Geek’s Guide to Dating – Eric Smith
  • A Hundred Secret Senses – Amy Tan
  • Rules of Civility by Amor Towles

Of course this doesn’t count comics, ebooks, or audiobooks I might want to get to. Because that ALWAYS happens.

What books are you hoping to read this month?

March at a Glance

As I summed up before, I used March to get into books by diverse authors. I read a couple urban fantasy books that were just released as well that I’d been waiting for, but the rest were by PoC. The majority were by women of color or about women of color as it was also Women’s History Month. I didn’t get to as many as I thought. I recently discovered an interest in cross stitch and that sewed up my time. (What? Stop groaning. It wasn’t that bad.)

Here is what I read in March.

  • The Twentieth Wife and The Feast of Roses by Indu Sundaresan. Both were about Empress Nur Jahan and Emperor Jahangir. The first is about them before their marriage and the latter is during their marriage. There is one more in the trilogy that I want to get to as well.
  • A Concise Chinese-English Dictionary for Lovers by Xiaolu Guo. Told by a Chinese woman who goes to England to learn English and finds herself in a relationship with an Englishman, this was amazing to read. I already have a few of her other novels on my list.
  • Come Together, Fall Apart by Cristina Henriquez. I read The Book of Unknown Americans last year and it made me sob. This collection of short stories didn’t do that, but it did give me a case of the feels. I generally don’t seek out short stories, but it is stories like these that start convincing me to.
  • Parable of the Sower and Parable of the Talents by Octavia Butler. I started reading PotS for the new speculative fiction by ladies book club I am in. My very first Octavia Butler and I see what all the fuss was about. I read it in probably a day and then immediately sought out the sequel, read that in a day then went out and bought Kindred which I hope to get to this month.
  • Self-Inflicted Wounds by Aisha Tyler. I had heard of Aisha Tyler and read raves about this book, so when I found it on Scribd as an audiobook I decided it was time. I swapped between the audio and ebook, mostly because of the fact the audio wasn’t one for my kids to listen to, but I totally recommend the audio if you can. Tyler narrates and pushes her own humor into her stories. Since then I’ve seen her on an episode of Table Top playing Cards Against Humanity and then started listening to her podcast Girl on Guy. I think she’d be a blast to hang out with.
  • Half-Resurrection Blues by Daniel José Older. I had bought HRB on ebook when it came out, but never got around to it, then I started following him on Twitter, found out he was going to be at Book Riot Live, and got a paperback copy of HRB in my Quarterly box. The stars aligned. I read a lot of urban fantasy and it’s hard to impress me these days. This book did. The storyline was fresh. The hero was intriguing. There was a wide cast of supporting characters who were diverse and fleshed out. I want book 2 in my hands right now! Until then I have a collection of his short stories Salsa Nocturna to keep me busy.
  • The Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro. I have a weird relationship with Ishiguro novels. I’ve read Never Let me Go and An Artist of the Floating World. I don’t hate them, but I don’t love them either. They’re not bad books. I want to stress that. I keep reading them though, and I’m never sad that I do. TBG is another I didn’t hate, didn’t love, but I’m glad read it.
  • We Need New Names by NoViolet Bulawayo. For a debut novel, Bulawayo did amazing. I really felt like I was seeing the world through her protanist’s eyes to see how it might feel to live in Zimbabwe and then move to America. I definitely look forward to anything else she will write.
  • The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl by Issa Rae. I saw Issa Rae on the Nightly Show with Larry Wilmore. As I have an affection for fellow geeks, picking up her book seemed like a no brainer. I’ve yet to watch her show after the similar name, but reading her book moved me closer to doing so (I generally don’t get into a lot of the youtube content). She shared pieces of her life that were hilarious at times as well as poignant.

I’m definitely not going to stop reading so diversely, but I am going to be less strict about the other books I want to read. I still have a few books on my To Be Read Sooner Rather Than Later (RBRSRTL doesn’t really roll off the tongue, does it?). I still want to read China Dolls by Lisa See, A Hundred Secret Senses by Amy Tan, and Sula by Toni Morrison in April. And I’m sure there will be others that I decide to add in.

How was your reading in March?