July Book Club Favorites

This month the Ladies Reading Speculative Fiction book club read Redwood and Wildfire by Andrea Hairston. We haven’t picked our August book yet so stay tuned!

Here’s what some of us enjoyed this month outside of our book club read.

Roses and Rot by Kat Howard. This hit all the right buttons for me: an artists’ colony on the edge of Faerie? Where do I sign up? Although, like any “true” tale of the Fae, that attractive idea is more of a snare than a treat. The voice of the novel manages to feel real and contemporary while weaving in all the peril and beauty of fairy tales. Excerpts of the main character’s own writing project insightfully explore the themes of those evergreen stories. Echoes of Tam Lin foreshadow the climactic struggle of artists from all disciplines competing to be good enough for the Fae. Anyone who has asked themselves why they work so hard to “make it” in the arts will understand the stakes. Add to the mix a “stage mom” worse than any stepmother, and a sister-love better than Anna and Elsa – Roses and Rot kept me enthralled. One of my top reads this year. –Juniper


Watership Down by Richard Adams. There’s a Seanan McGuire quote about Watership Down, which is roughly that it takes an extraordinary book and an extraordinary writer for a book about rabbits to be more reflective of the human condition than most books about humanity, and it’s completely spot-on. I’ve read this book so many times that I can’t even begin to count them all, and each time has been equally precious and important to me. There’s a tendency for people to look at Watership Down and think, “ah, a kids’ book about rabbits, this won’t be that rewarding,” and that tendency is incredibly unfortunate. Watership is one of the most rewarding books I’ve ever read, which is why I  keep coming back to it. It’s about rabbits, yes, and you can absolutely read it to your children. However, its success lies in things that appeal to ten-year-olds and fifty-year-olds alike: This is a story about danger, war, camaraderie, loyalty, death, and need. It’s about refugees setting up in new territory, being welcomed and rejected in turn, and figuring out how it is that they must live their lives in their new home. It leans heavily on the loyalty and love between those who leave home together and fight together to find a new place in the world, and it always returns to hope, joy in the smallest things in life, and the bonds between us. -Anie

As for me. I thoroughly enjoyed Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi. It was a heartbreaking story told in 300 years of one family from Ghana. I loved the changing POVs as it moved from one generation to the next. You get a sense of how each character saw themselves and how then they were perceived by their descendants as well as how their choices (and in some cases their lack of freedom to make choices) affect the next generation.

What were your favorite books of the month?

May Book Club Favorites

This month the Ladies Reading Speculative Fiction book club read Ancient, Ancient by Kiini Ibura Salaam. Our next pick is Redwood and Wildfire by Andrea Hairston.

Here’s what the ladies enjoyed this month outside of our book club read.

Come as You Are: The Surprising Science That Will Transform Your Sex Life by Emily Nagoski. I can say that the subtitle is entirely apt. It sounds like a self-help book, but it’s more like a self-acceptance book – and that REALLY HELPS! We all tend to think we’re at least a little bit broken, so…just read this. And then gush about it to your partner. –Juniper



Fable” by Charles Yu. A few years ago I picked up Yu’s How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe on the recommendation of my friend Oliver. I’ve read a lot of science fiction and it’s rare that I read something truly surprising, but Yu’s novel was rich, complex, innovative, and heartfelt. So when I heard this week that Yu had a story in the New Yorker, I immediately went to check it out. “Fable” took my breath away. Yu deconstructs allegory in his stories. Instead of disguising the true content of his narratives, he presses the edges of them by meticulously unwinding the metaphorical veneer surrounding them, stitch by stitch. “Fable” is simultaneously a surreal and true-to-life tale about the nature of love, heartbreak, and family and how we work our way through it. He wields a plain, seemingly simplistic writing style defiantly, revealing the deeply moving story underneath. It’s well worth a read. –Clara

 


As for me. Binti by Nnedi Okorafor. I knew I loved Nnedi’s books after reading Who Fears Death and The Book of Phoenix, but Binti just made it even more so. I got to dish about it a lot during Bout of Books and was thrilled when someone read it on my recommendation and loved it. It’s a wonderful feeling. She’s also a favorite of the book club (we got to meet her when she came to speak at UCSC a couple months ago). Nnedi’s worldbuilding is so intricate, even in a less than 100 page novella. I can’t wait until January for book 2.

What were your favorite books of the month?

April Book Club Favorites

This month the Ladies Reading Speculative Fiction book club read The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin. It was a club wide hit. Our next book will be Ancient, Ancient by Kiini Ibura Salaam.

Here’s what the ladies enjoyed this month outside of our book club read.

Prince of Thorns (The Broken Empire, #1) by Mark Lawrence. I don’t know if you have to come into this book already liking “grimdark,” but I’m sure it helps. Jorg is the ultimate anti-hero, especially considering he’s only 13 in the first book. Looking at who he is from the outside, he’s utterly repulsive. So what makes Jorg charming despite his deeds? A cheerfully self-incisive voice, and the enigma of his free will. It also doesn’t hurt that Mark Lawrence has an incredibly deft hand with prose. Just about every paragraph is a lean, mean vehicle that delivers characterization, worldbuilding, and plot advancement with a clever twist of gallows humor. This was a fast-paced and disturbingly compelling read. Juniper



The Fifth Season
(The Broken Kingdoms, #1) by NK Jemisin.
 This was everything I wanted and more. A non-linear tale with three perfectly converging stories; imaginative, gorgeous world building; characters that I adored and who developed so brilliantly over the course of the book; amazing suspense; graceful prose that I kept pausing to mark down; and the best god damned last line. Add in the part where Robin Miles is an immensely talented narrator and I just – everyone read this book, now. Anie

 


Fire Touched (Mercy Thompson, #9) by Patricia Briggs. I like the series because Mercy Thompson is a shapeshifting coyote in a werewolf world and she’s sort of an underdog compared to the werewolves, however, she always manages to pull off whatever it is she is trying to accomplish through sheer will and the occasional help of fey friends. I enjoyed the mixing of Native American lore around Coyote with the lore behind werewolves, witches, vampires and the fey. Patricia also imagines what life would be like both politically and emotionally for those who chose to “come out” as less than human. –Karly


As for meHamilton: The Revolution by Lin-Manuel Miranda and Jeremy McCarter. Remember how I said i liked behind the scenes stories, this is a great piece about  the hit Broadway play Hamilton from its inception to closing curtain on opening night on Broadway. Filled with essays about the cast and costumes and staging as well as personal annotations from Lin on the full lyrics from the play, if you’re a Hamilton fan, you need this book. Be warned it is out of stock on several places so you may need to do some digging.

What were your favorite books of the month?

March Book Club Favorites

March’s book for the Ladies Read Speculative Fiction Book Club was Passenger (Passenger, #1) by Alexandra Bracken and April’s book is The Fifth Season (The Broken Earth, #1) by N.K. Jemisin if you want to read along with us.

Here’s what the Spec Fic Ladies loved this month.

Frozen in Time: An Epic Story of Survival and a Modern Quest for Lost Heroes of WWII by Mitchell ZuckoffThis book. Holy hell THIS BOOK. It’s fantastic. I find that the term “gripping” tends to be overapplied, but it’s accurate in this case. I read this out loud with my boyfriend, and we both choked up at several points while reading; this is an intense and occasionally heart-rending story, one which makes nothing seem so perfect as a quiet and ordinary life. There’s plenty of laughter as well, and anyone with an appreciation for history – especially WWII history – or Arctic adventure will have a great time with this. Whole-heartedly and enthusiastically recommended. Anie 

The Vegetarian by Han Kang. It’s the story of a woman who, after a lifetime of passive acquiescence, stops eating meat to the distress of her family. Short but fascinating, The Vegetarian is packed with rich and strange detail and no small amount of trauma. It’s a testament to the power of a sparse writing style (not to mention a great translator). Highly recommended. – Clara

 

 

 


The Case for God by Karen Armstrong. Possibly the most important scholarly work of the present day, certainly one of the most important messages I’ve heard. Looking at religion as it has been practiced throughout the millennia brings contemporary spirituality into sharp contrast with its original purpose, context, and practice. The divisive literalism so prevalent in several sects today is apparently, for the most part, a very recent development and not part of their mainstream traditions. I found the epilogue alone to be worth the price of admission; it’s a summation that brings home her point about looking to the past for the value of “unknowing” and the importance of practice to bring meaning to the mystery. My intellectual curiosity about religion has now warmed into a greater respect. – Juniper 


All the Single Ladies: Unmarried Women and the Rise of an Independent Nation by Rebecca Traister.  It’s thought provoking and at this point in the book, I’m kind of shocked at how much I didn’t know, and how recently  some of the rights we enjoy today were put into effect. Even more disturbing are some of the battles still going on today. I recommend reading, based on what I’ve read so far, if only to get a history lesson you don’t learn about in school.  -Karly

 

 


As for me, A Gathering of Shadows (A Darker Shade of  Magic, #2) by V.E. SchwabSo far, Schwab has set up a world that reminds me (in a good way) to Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere. The characters are flawed which makes them interesting. I love Lila, the now pirate thief (or is that thief pirate?) and her attitude. Then there’s Kell with his loyalty to his brother which conflicts with his wish to be free of the situation he’s in. The new characters add instead of congest the story which sometimes happens in ensemble narratives. 

 

What were your favorite reads last month?

February Book Club Favorites

Here’s what the Spec Fic Book Club Ladies liked in February.

 The Melancholy of Mechagirl by Catherynne M. Valence. This.was.fantastic. Valente’s writing about Japan always reaches eerily into the bones — it’s so clearly personal and formative for her, and there is a passion and a need in these stories that is truly affecting. (There’s a real sense of Japan as a diverse place, and so much more than the typical stereotypes of what Japan is — which is pretty damn refreshing.) There’s so much great stuff in here. Obviously Silently and Very Fast is a well-lauded masterpiece of a novella, and “Thirteen Ways of Looking at Space/Time” deserves its accolades as well; but I especially loved some of the smaller pieces. “Killswitch” is a genuine phenomenon all on its own (look up “Killswitch game” on Google if you need proof), and “The Ghosts of Gunkanjima” and “Fade to White” both grabbed me in the heart-place. –Anie (Twitter: @diapasoun)


The Memory of Light by Francisco X. Stork. I knew going into this book that Vicky Cruz attempted suicide and that bonding with the fellow patients in her hospital’s mental disorders ward would help her recover from suicidal depression. Which meant that I knew there would be crying on my part. But I especially loved the way that Stork slowly unravels why each of patients are in the ward and how they can help each other. Each of their stories is heartrending, but he tells them so beautifully, helping to make them fully realized individuals with clear motivations based in their personal histories. In addition, I was struck by how rare it is to have an intersectional book on mental illness: All of the patients are Hispanic. But most importantly, I cried even more than I expected, because recovery is hard and there will always be setbacks, and now I’m probably going to go read all of the Francisco X. Stork books that I’ve been meaning to read since 2009. And probably cry more. –Mary


This Too Shall Pass by Milena Busquets (May 24). Every word of this gorgeous novel is colored by grief. It paints a vibrant picture of the way life stops and yet still marches on after a major loss. Milena Busquets’s beautiful prose twists and turns to avoid and face grief head on. In This Too Shall Pass, Blanca is adrift after the death of her mother. When a loved one dies, a lot of time is spent sorting out who they were and reconciling the difference in their last days. Blanca loves generously and, ultimately, it’s the people around her who bring clarity to an otherwise devastating life event. – Ivy 

 Da Vinci’s Tiger by L.M. Elliott. This is not a fluffy romance, or just for young adults, it’s a well-researched work that transported me to Florence just as the Renaissance was kicking into high gear. I have felt a connection to Leonardo in general since I was a teen, and this portrait in particular when I discovered it features a juniper tree (a pun on Ginevra’s name). I had no idea it was such a groundbreaking work of art however, it’s Leonardo’s very first portrait and it broke many conventions, boldly presenting Ginevra as a thinking, feeling subject. – Juniper (Twitter: @JuniperNichols)


As for me:The Queen of the Night by Alexander Chee. This book. It was highly anticipated and did NOT fail to meet the expectations. I have a  kryptonite when books are about the arts so a novel about an opera singer? I was done. Also the main character, Lilliet, is a survivor. Whatever life throws at her, she figures out a way to move forward, no matter what it means for her. I don’t want to say too much without giving things away so hurry up and go pick up this book.

 

 

What was your favorite book of February?

January Book Club Favorites

I’ve written before that I am in a book club that is comprised of ladies who read speculative fiction by ladies. I thought it would be fun, since we have such a broad range of interests to see what their favorite book they read this month. January’s book club pick was The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet by Becky Chambers. Technically it was also December’s pick, but the holidays got us all busy and we thought it was a novella due to an article we found (it is most definitely not). We all mostly enjoyed it even with some of the shortcomings that we agreed on (summary: not enough conflict, but fun and full of feels).

Dare to Disappoint: Growing up in Turkey by Ozge Samanci. At first I was drawn in by the slice-of-life in a country I find fascinating but know little about, but by the end everything tied into a powerful and universal message. I will be lending and rereading this one a lot. – Juniper (Twitter: @JuniperNichols)

 The Best American Essays 2015, edited by Ariel Levy. I would really love to have dinner with each of these essayists, which I think maybe sums up my experience with this book – what a group of minds and perspectives. The essays were thoughtful and often beautifully subtle, with great touches of humor, and they really hit on topics that I wanted to hear about. –Anie (Twitter: @diapasoun)

 All The Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders. Charlie Jane Anders’s mastery of language is incredible. She drops you into an incredibly lush and wildly imaginative world, one I wanted to live in for much longer than the book lasted…At its heart, it is a story of relationships. The disparate yet similar forces of nature and technology, past and future, and, most importantly, between two people marked by childhood as they attempt to survive and live in our strange world. –Ivy

As for me:

American Housewife by Helen Ellis. This book made me chortle most unladylike. From the Book Club chapter to the story about the woman whose husband is “The Fitter,” someone who can fit you to the perfect bra, the tongue-in-cheek asides about what being a “housewife” were hilarious and smart. My favorite is a passive aggressive email exchange between two women sharing a common hallway between their apartments.

 

What was your favorite book of January?