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?

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?