Tag Archives: books

One Dollar and Eighty-Seven Cents by Ratesjul

One Dollar and Eighty-Seven Cents. That’s the opening sentence of O Henry’s “The Gift of the Magi”, first published in December 1905 in a “The New York Sunday World” newspaper (though the title then, if Wikipedia can be believed, was “Gifts of the Magi”).

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Until a few days ago, while I knew the story and the author, I hadn’t thought about it that much beyond that. I knew it had been written “a while ago”, but not when. Certainly I didn’t have much of an impression of the buying power of Della’s one dollar and eighty-seven cents. (For those of you who aren’t familiar with the tale of the young couple who each – no, wait, spoiler alert. If you haven’t read the story, go read it now. You can find many versions of it online, some with slightly different text to others. It won’t take you long.)

But when I ran across the story in a book of assorted Christmas themed stories, articles and poetry recently, the first line struck me in a way it never had before. I dug through my collection of assorted coins in many currencies and pulled out as many pennies as I could find. While I couldn’t get close to the 60 or so pennies Della had collected over many bargaining (or “bulldozing”) sessions with butchers and vegetable men, I amassed a small collection. Then I eked this collection of pennies out to the assigned one dollar and eighty-seven cents, using as many coins as possible.

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About two thirds of these coins are from the US, the rest are Canadian (I live in a country where neither American nor Canadian change is easy to come by). It gave me a small picture of how much change Della might have amassed. How carefully she had to count it (once, twice, three times) to be sure of the total.

One of my aunts, for whom this is a favourite story, challenged me to find out how much this one dollar and eighty-seven cents might be worth today. This required two pieces of information – where and when was this tale set? I was almost certain of where – the story talks of “Broadway”, and to me that had to mean New York. As for when, sources pointed to December 1905. 110 years ago. Inflation? I could make a guess at 3%, but that’s a lot of years to pick an average target for. The marvellous website “in2013dollars.com” uses more than a stab in the dark to come up with inflation calculators.

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Della’s $1.87 in 1905 equates to $48.62 today. That seems to me to be a reasonably respectable amount to spend on a Christmas gift, though perhaps not as much as you might wish to have as a spending limit for your husband.

Out came the collection of change again. Still using as many pennies as I could find (but sticking to a single currency this time), I pulled together a collection of cash to make up what Della started out with today.

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For further illustration, using the same calculator, I began converting some of the other figures in the story. James Dillingham Young’s $20 a week salary equates to $520.03 today. Their $8 a week furnished flat, pier glass mirror and all, would be $208.01 a week.

A platinum fob chain (“simple and chaste in design, properly proclaiming its value by substance alone and not by meretricious ornamentation”) cost Della her hair (which “grows so fast, Jim!”), and $21 ($546.03). Today on the internet I can find antique platinum watch fobs from $495 through twice that and more.

It’s hard to know what Della’s combs cost Jim, other than his watch, because the story doesn’t put a price on them. I found a copy of the script for the musical, where the set of combs, “pure tortoiseshell, with jewelled rims” are quoted as costing forty-seven.
But because you really appreciate them, forty-two.
But because you really love your girl, thirty-seven.
($47=$1,222.07, $42=$1,092.06, $37=$962.06)

With so much fake tortoiseshell available now, it’s hard to link this to a cost in today’s market. One final note from my research – O. Henry was the pen name for William Sydney Porter, and the name of the “Oh Henry!” chocolate bar might be an homage to him.

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Ratesjul is an avid reader (of almost anything) and keen amateur (emphasis on the amateur) photographer. She loves looking through collections of family photos and hearing family stories – and is in awe of her aunt’s collection of photo albums.

 

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The Curious Intimacy of Sharing Books by Liyana

I read Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse because Suzan-Lori Parks—the Pulitzer Prize winning playwright—told me to.

Okay, I exaggerate. Suzan-Lori Parks didn’t tell me, specifically, to read To the Lighthouse (although she did shake my hand, sign my copy of her novel, and offer some encouraging words when I told her I was studying acting, and believe me, I was walking on air for the rest of the night after that, because I am a shameless Suzan-Lori Parks fangirl). But when she lectured at my university, she mentioned that even though she had always wanted to be a writer, she had been so discouraged by her high school English teacher that she entered college as a biology major, which lasted until she read To the Lighthouse and was so incredibly blown away by it that she walked straight over to the English department and changed her major.

When she told that story, I immediately thought, “That’s it. If To the Lighthouse convinced someone as brilliant as Suzan-Lori Parks that she had to be a writer, then I need to read it.” So, the following summer, I found myself a copy at a used bookstore, and I fell in love with this strange, lush, modernist piece of literary glory. I loved To the Lighthouse on its own merits. But I also loved the experience of reading it while knowing how deeply it had affected a writer I admired, imagining which parts had spoken to her and influenced her. In reading To the Lighthouse, I got to have two reading experiences at once: my own and (my imagined version of) Suzan-Lori Parks’s.

Which is precisely why, even though I love reading books that friends recommend specifically for me, I also harbor a deep and abiding love for reading books that have been important to other people, regardless of whether or not they are books I would have chosen for myself. I love seeing a book through someone else’s eyes and understanding what it meant to them…and then comparing that to what it means to me.

And it’s taken me to some fascinating literary places.

I read Anita Diamant’s The Red Tent last summer because a good friend pressed it into my hands and said, “You haven’t read it? You need to read it. I had to stop reading it during my commute, because it would just make me sob on the bus. It made me feel so connected to other women, like I was part of this incredible sisterhood.” I thoroughly enjoyed reading The Red Tent, but while I enjoyed the story and the writing, the thing I enjoyed most of all was noticing the places that evoked womanhood-as-sisterhood and how connected that made me feel to my friend.

Paulo Coelho’s The Alchemist is probably not a book I ever would have read if left to my own devices. But a close college friend handed me her copy and told me that it had helped her through a rough patch while she was dealing with depression and recovery from addiction. Ordinarily, I would have found Paulo Coelho’s particular brand of self-help-thinly-disguised-as-literature simplistic and grating, but when I filtered The Alchemist through my experience of my lovely, thoughtful friend and the knowledge that she found it inspiring, it became a sweet, gentle fairy-tale about one way out of the dark woods of the soul. (I do still like the Rumi poem it was based on better, though.)

I’ve had Juneteenth by Ralph Ellison on my to-read list for years, ever since one of my most brilliant acting teachers brought it to class with him one morning. He explained that several years before, he had taken it to the gym with him to read on the treadmill and ran across a passage that discussed using speech to communicate something deeper than just the words that perfectly expressed his feelings about acting. He read us the passage and then said simply, “I read that…and I fell off the treadmill.” And I knew that someday I would have to read the book that affected someone I respect that much so deeply.

There’s a difference in intimacy between sharing a favorite book with a friend because the two of you have a shared love of action-packed science fiction or lyrical prose or swashbuckling, badass queer ladies and in saying, “This book was important to me. It changed my life/shaped my thinking/perfectly captured my feelings.” Sharing the books that inspired us to make changes in our lives or that made us lose control of our feelings or our bodies is a profoundly intimate act. It’s like saying, “Here’s a piece of my soul. Please look at it.” When our listeners read that book, they reaffirm that intimacy with us, effectively saying, “You matter to me. I see you, and I want to know you better.” This shared intimacy can transform a mediocre reading experience into a good one, and a good read into a sublime one.

Have you ever loved a book because of the person you knew who loved it? Come tell me about it.

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Liyana is a queer actor, aerialist, bookworm, and tea enthusiast. She lives in the Pacific Northwest and is confused by the concept of “free time.”

 

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Why You Should Consider Becoming a Hugo Voter by Glory

hugo_blogThis year will be my third year participating in the Hugo process. So far, I’ve really enjoyed it, and I think you might enjoy participating too.

First, let me offer a quick summary of the awards and how to vote. The Hugo Awards are probably the most widely recognized speculative fiction awards. Awards are given for Best Novel, a variety of lengths of short fiction, Best Dramatic Presentation, and more. (A list of all the categories is here: http://www.thehugoawards.org/hugo-categories/ ) They are voted on by members of the World Science Fiction Convention, or WorldCon. But you don’t have to go to WorldCon to vote; you can buy a supporting membership for $40, which comes with Hugo voting rights. The Hugo selection process takes part in two stages. The first stage is nomination. Each person can nominate up to five things in each category. The five things with the most nominations go on to become the finalists. In the second stage, voters chose between the finalists using ranked choice voting. Most voting is online, though paper ballots are available for people who want them. The winners are announced at a ceremony at WorldCon. If you become a supporting member before January 31, then you can nominate for the 2015 Hugo awards (for works published in 2014). If you join after that but before voting closes, then you can vote in the second stage and nominate next year.

Now that I’ve explained what the awards are, I’m going talk about why I think you might want to take part. The first and foremost reason you should consider voting is because it is fun. I enjoy the process because it encourages me to read books and stories as they come out. If it weren’t for the Hugos, I would not read and recommend nearly as much short fiction. For me, nominating is about reading things  and then telling people about the works you loved. Voting is fun too and gets me to read stuff I might not otherwise read and find new writers and new stories.

One of the most fun things about the Hugo Awards is talking about them on the internet. Lots of people write about works they recommend, how they feel about the ballot and how they feel about the results. I read a lot of things that I don’t have many people to talk to about, but I love talking about what I’m reading. So having a lot people reading for the Hugos helps to create a community of readers all reading the same works, which is awesome.

Another reason to participate is because of the Hugo Voters Packet. For the last decade or so, WorldCon Members have received a voting packet consisting of electronic copies of the works on the short list and examples of the finalists in categories where the award goes to a person rather than a work. This doesn’t always include everything. Last year, it only included samples for three of the novels (out of five). But it does generally include all the hard to find short works, a good bit of non-fiction, quite a few novels, and also art. Many people think the voter packet is worth the $40 by itself.

Award design and photo by Deb Kosiba.
Award design and photo by Deb Kosiba.

The final reason I think you should consider becoming a Hugo voter is to represent your taste. There are a lot of groups that have historically been under-represented as Hugo voters, such as women, people of color, and people from outside the US. Those voices are especially needed to help the Hugos reflect the broader SFF community. Even if you aren’t part of one of those groups, you have unique taste and a unique perspective on science fiction. So I strongly encourage you to consider voting. Don’t be shy.

If you read (or watch) Science Fiction and Fantasy and have opinions about what you read (or watch), then the Hugos are a great place to express those opinions. You don’t have to have read all the things to nominate. No one can read all the things. But if you read something that you loved that was published this year, you could nominate it. It doesn’t take that many nominations to get on the ballot. Last year, the novel with the fewest nominations that qualified as a finalist got less than 100 nominations. And the short story with the most nominations had only 79. So your one vote really can matter in nomination.

And, of course, your vote will also matter in choosing among the finalists. The Hugo Awards are ranked choice voting, which means your relative opinion of each work matters. Some people find the system a bit confusing, but I like that it means that more than just your first choice matters.

So voting for the Hugos is fun, you’ll get some reading material and you can represent your unique taste. I know not every budget has $40 to spare, but if yours does, I hope you’ll consider voting. Participating in the process has given me a lot of pleasure and helped build my online community.

Please note: “Hugo Award,” The Hugo Award Logo, “World Science Fiction Convention,” and “WorldCon” are service marks of the World Science Fiction Society, an unincorporated literary society.

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Glory is graduate student who studies ecology, history, and community planning. She also spends too much time reading and loves science fiction and fantasy.

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Very Specific Book Recs: Food History by Glory

I like both food and history, so I’ve read quite a few books about food history. Since food is part of our lives in many ways, there are many approaches to the history of food. How we eat, what we eat, and our philosophy of eating have all changed over time. The books in this post explore those changes. I’ve picked books that I think are accessible to a non-academic audience, which look at the history of food from several angles.

belasco_blogMeals to Come: A History of the Future of Food by Warren Belasco

What is it about? This book discusses how people have viewed the future of food, and how those visions have shaped arguments about population and feeding the hungry. Belasco starts with Malthus and includes futures from speculative fiction, amusement parks, and world’s fairs.

Read If: All of the above sounds fascinating, and you want a better understanding of the arguments people are making about how to feed the world.

Don’t read if: You really want a book about strange sci-fi food, not about more general ideas about the future of food.

shapiro_blogSomething from the Oven: Reinventing Dinner in 1950s America by Laura Shapiro

What is it about? This book is a history of cooking in the 1950’s in the US. It’s not all strange casseroles made from canned soup. Shapiro looks at changes in cooking in the US within the context of women’s social history. She explains how “modern cooking” using convenience products was prestigious, but also explores the movement away from cooking starting with packages and cans. One thing I found especially interesting is the story of Poppy Cannon, a cookbook writer who took part in both extremes of 50’s cooking.

Read if: You want a nuanced understanding of American cooking in the 1950’s.

Don’t Read if: You just aren’t interested.

wilson_blogConsider the Fork: A History of How We Cook and Eat by Bee Wilson

What is it about? This history focus on the implements we use to cook and eat: pots for cooking, knifes for cutting, forks and chopsticks for eating, and more. The book is organized by technology, not chronologically.

Read if: You take a wide view of what technology is. You’d like general survey of the history of cooking and eating written in a chatty style.

Don’t read if: You want something very in depth. The book tends to skim along history, often lumping decades and even centuries together. Also, the author is from the UK and writes from that perspective. If you are not one of “we fork users,” the book might feel as though it is excluding you.

bobrow_blogWhite Bread: A Social History of the Store-Bought Loaf by Aaron Bobrow-Strain

What is it about? Like it says on the tin, this book is a history of white bread in the US. Bobrow-Strain uses bread to talk about ideas of purity and what “good food” has meant over time. I really love how this book uses the past to better understand the present and critique current food movements.

Read if: You are interested in the history of food-based reform movements and what current reformers should be learning form the past.

Don’t read if: I can’t think of any reason why not. (Yes, ok, you might think the whole idea of food history isn’t for you, but if you think it is maybe even a little bit for you, this is a great book!)

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Glory is graduate student who studies ecology, history, and community planning. She also spends too much time reading and loves science fiction and fantasy.

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I Like Big Books and I Cannot Lie

MobyDickIf you haven’t read a big book in a while, I suggest you pick one up soon.

Big books are the warm bubble baths of the book world, but they’re often talked about as if they’re itchy woolen snowsuits instead. Sinking into a big, dense book should be a pleasure, not a headache-inducing nightmare.

What makes a book big? Size, obviously—let’s say (arbitrarily) 600 pages or more—but also, to a lesser extent, complexity. Although Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows pushes 800 pages (and I loved it dearly), I would hesitate before calling it a big book; it followed too easily the path laid out for it by its six prequels; it tied up too neatly every loose end with an escapist epilogue. But then again, the bigness of big books may lie in the heart of the reader. For me, the really big books are those that intimidate the reader, the ones that feel like a challenge at the start, but a best friend by the finish, the ones that most closely mimic an actual marathon; instead of churning legs over terrain for 26.2 miles, readers of big books sprain their fingers flipping pages and mentally race through page after page to the triumphant end.

As usual, the public reluctance to engage with big books can perhaps be traced back to high school (what problem can’t, really), when a deadline imposed on the reading of a big book like The Grapes of Wrath or The Iliad or Ulysses is a significant threat to getting any other homework done. Students dread large reading assignments, a feeling that usually persists throughout college and beyond.

On the other hand, there are those who see a big book as a challenge to overcome rather than a pleasure. They might read one big book a year, and then talk incessantly about how they read it, leaving out the fact that they haven’t read anything else that year except their Twitter feed. These people may or may not usually be men with scruffy beards who just finished David Foster Wallace’s The Pale King. Avoid conversation with them at all costs.

Here’s a list of some of my personal favorite big books, broken up by genre. What big books would be on your list?

Contemporary Literature
Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides
Freedom by Jonathan Franzen

Historical Fiction
Sacajawea by Anna Lee Waldo
The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay by Michael Chabon
Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell

Classics
Moby-Dick by Herman Melville
East of Eden by John Steinbeck
Middlemarch by George Eliot
Daniel Deronda by George Eliot
The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
Les Misérables by Victor Hugo

Fantasy
Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien
Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke

These books are all dear to me in their own ways, but they share one thing in common: they contain entire worlds and generation-spanning sagas so richly and completely imagined that they become real, and so real that they become road maps for navigating my own world.

So put a big book in your To Be Read pile–not just because it’s a classic or an award winner, though that’s a good enough reason, too—but because it’s epically, gloriously, luxuriously big. Sink it to it. Let it sweep you away.

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Marie is a writer and editor who lives with her feral cat, and, like most people, prefers dance parties to homework.

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Who is Your Favorite Fictional Villain?

Today, some of the Sheroes Blog editors dive into their favorite fictional villains and sheroes.

Zoë says: 

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My favorite villain is Hell (or an aspect thereof) from the book Summon the Keeper (Book #1 of The Keeper’s Chronicles) by Tanya Huff. The Keeper’s Chronicles are an incredibly engaging comic-fantasy trilogy, and the first book features the adventures of Claire, her feline sidekick, and a cast of other well-developed characters after Claire is called to deal with a gateway to you-know-where in the basement of a Guest House in Kingston, Ontario.  Hell (or some incarnation thereof) is discovered to be hanging out in the basement, sealed in by the actions of a previous Keeper, but trying quite persistently to escape.  Huff imagines this aspect of Hell as a multi-personalitied, witty, but not altogether brilliant “villain” desperately trying to encroach on the minds of the inhabitants of the Guest House.
Read this if you like light, witty fantasy along the lines of Diana Wynne Jones, Terry Pratchett, or Patricia C. Wrede.
Ratesjul says:
coverI always find it hard to pick favourites of anything, whether it’s books or authors or characters (or even specifically villains)…. So I’ll give you two. One of my favorite characters is Paksenarrion Dorthansdotter of Three Firs (Elizabeth Moon’s Sheepfarmer’s Daughter and sequels). I like Paks because, well, she’s human. She has flaws, and admits to them, and strives to better herself. She goes from little or nothing to honors, and back again. She stumbles into traps, and extricates herself, but will also give in, when it seems best. I guess what I like most about her is that she fights, she doesn’t really give up (and giving in is not giving up), and even as a mercenary she won’t just follow blindly.

20020712022127_105Another favorite character is Elizabeth from V M Caldwell’s The Ocean Within and Tides. I like Elizabeth because she struggles to continue to be herself, to fit within a tug of war between her need to not let anyone matter in case they go away, and to find her place. Particularly when it comes to a small boy who calls her turtle and worms his way into her heart. I read somewhere that there was originally a third book, set between the two of these, and I’d love to read it and see how the family changed in between. Even discovering these books as an adult, I love the characters.

TamLinAs for a favorite villain, I’m not so sure…. So many of them don’t really stick with me as much as the heroes and sheroes do. (I guess I like the happy endings!) One that sticks the most is Tam Lin, who doesn’t particularly have much of a choice in the matter of being a villain. In some ways he isn’t the villain – he is a product of the life he lives (or is forced to live) – but to Janet, in some ways, I guess he is.

Marie says:

119322Compelling villains are the backbone of good literature! I don’t even know where to start. I’m always most taken in by insidious, surprise villains, where you don’t know they’re bad until close to the end. Mrs. Coulter from Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy is one of those villains. You can almost feel how evil this cloying, beautiful woman is but it’s not until the main character herself figures it out that you realize just how truly horrible Mrs. Coulter is.

As for a favorite character, again, I could pick a thousand! But I’ll stick with His Dark Materials, since those books are fantastic and if you haven’t read them yet and you like young adult fantasy that is deep and sweet and smart, you need to read them ASAP. My favorite character is Lyra Belacqua, the main character,  the girl-who-saves-the-world. She does this, with extreme personal sacrifice, at the age of twelve. She is wild and tough and vulnerable and loving and her sharp as a knife little-girlness is pitch perfect, as is her wrestle with what it means to grow up.

 

We want to know: who is your favorite fictional villain? Who is your favorite fictional shero?

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Marie, Ratesjul, and Zoë are Sheroes Blog editors who fight crime…er…read a lot of books in their free time.

 

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Books with Hats: Part One

Back when we first considered a feature like Very Specific Book Recs one of the examples tossed out to illustrate the idea was “Books with Hats.” This was surprisingly popular with Sheroes. So today by popular demand we bring you “Books with Hats.” This post was fun to research. We got to revisit old favorites and check out new books from the library. One of the nice things about this topic is that it allows us to cut across genres. Some these books are picture books, some are fantasy, and some are non-fiction.  Hopefully you will find something to enjoy.

 MadeleineMadeline and The Bad Hat by Ludwig van Bemelmans

You could pick just about any of the Madeline books if you wanted to find one with a hat. After all, twelve little girls with little yellow boaters in two straight lines are something of a feature of these books. But in this story the twelve little girls gain a neighbor with a tall Spanish hat. And, well, story ensues.

CapsforSaleCaps for Sale told and illustrated by Esphyer Slobodkina 

This picture book featured a cap peddler carries all of his caps on the top of his head who takes a nap and is surprised when monkeys steal his wears. The pictures of the peddler with all the caps on his head and of the monkeys wearing caps are delightful. Glory read this many times as a child, and now enjoys reading it to her niece.

howlsmovingcastleHowl’s Moving Castle by Dianna Wynne Jones

Sophie is the oldest of three sisters and thus convinced that she will never make her fortune. When her father dies she stays and helps her step-mother in the family hat shop. There she makes different kind hats for different buyers, some of which have surprising effects. However her adventures really began when the Witch of The Waste comes to the shop and curses her. This book is one of Dianna Wynne Jones most popular, and features her trademark topsy-turvy plot, with mix of silly and serious.

TopHatandTaiahaTop Hat and Taiaha and other stories – Leslie Chapman

The title story is set in a small historic house in the middle of nowhere, where a schoolgirl is caught by imagination and plays a trick… Involving a Top Hat and a Taiaha. But there are a great number of other stories in this collection, set in all manner of places, and each providing a glimpse into another world. We  often think that  of the marks of a good short story is wishing there was more, and many of these tales met that.

FinishingtheHatFinishing The Hat by Stephen Sondheim

Look I Made A Hat by Stephen SondheimlookIMadeaHat

These two collections of lyrics, comments, principles, anecdotes, miscellany etc are chock full of all you might expect of a collection of notable Sondheim music and lyrics, and a little more besides!  Ever wondered about the differences between the West Side Story of the stage and that of the silver screen? And where did the idea for Jack’s song come from? Or how about the collaboration process between composer and lyricist? Well, here’s where you’d come to find out the answers to all those questions, and many more you didn’t even think of asking.

These two collections are more to be books to dip into for an insight into the lyrics of your favorite Sondheim musical, than as books to read cover to cover….

Probably more delightful for the music you already know than for the songs you don’t.

 Wyrd-sisters-coverWyrd Sisters by Terry Pratchett

How can one have a blog post about books with hats, and thus, books with people known for wearing hats, and thus witches, without mentioning Terry Pratchett? This is the first of Pratchett’s Discworld books to feature all three of his trio of whiches: Granny Weatherwax, Nanny Ogg and Magrat. (Granny Weatherwax first appears in Equal Rites.) The three are delightful together as they bring out the best and the worst of each other. The three must work together to save the kingdom.  Of course, witches hats aren’t the only hats of importance in Wyrd Sisters. The story has barely opened before Magrat points out the significance of the ‘spiky bits’ on the crown found along with a two year old boy – and it’s the crown which is of vital importance to the story.

“When shall we three meet again?”

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Glory is graduate student who studies ecology, history, and community planing. She also spends too much time reading, and loves science fiction and fantasy.  Ratesjul is an avid reader (of almost anything) and keen amateur (emphasis on the amateur) photographer. She loves looking through collections of family photos and hearing family stories – and is in awe of her aunt’s collection of photo albums.

Very Specific Book Recs: Historical Queer Ladies

When I was about 5 years old, my father read Watership Down out loud to me. I was way into the characters, the epic adventures they had, and even the stories they told each other about Ancient Rabbit Heroes With Unpronounceable Names, but I was less enamored of the long descriptive passages. According to my dad, I’d sit patiently for a paragraph or two of description, but if Richard Adams’s depiction of the countryside went on any longer than that, I’d interrupt with a plaintive, “But Daddy, where are the rabbits?”

Much as I love the genre, that’s generally how I feel when I read historical fiction as an adult, only replace “rabbits” with “queer ladies.” At least 1/10 of the ladies in history must have been queer, so where the hell are they? And why doesn’t the author of the book I’m reading seem to care? And if the author doesn’t care about what was happening to people like me during the time period they’re writing about, how much do I care about what happens to any of their straight characters? (Spoiler alert: probably not that much, unless they are a Naguib Mahfouz level literary genius, because I am a cranky queer feminist, and that’s how I roll.)

Fortunately for me (and for you), there are some brilliant historical fiction writers who have not only considered my “But where are the queer ladies?” question, but have answered it with, “Right here, being awesome!” Here are some of my all-time favorite books starring historical queer ladies:

1. Hild by Nicola Griffith

9780374280871_custom-dba405fdd210ea13df71aefd93403eaf3d8501dc-s6-c30What it’s about: The first book in a planned trilogy about the life of Britain’s St. Hilda of Whitby, Hild traces the title character’s life from age 3 to age 19 as she and her family navigate war, court politics, and religious shifts in 6th century Britain.

Read this if: You want a gorgeously written, immersive experience that will make you feel like you’re navigating serious sociopolitical issues and intense emotional journeys right along with Hild, and/or you’re intrigued by the idea of a writer combining historical research with science-fiction-honed world-building skills to breathe the 6th century into life.

No, really, read this even if: You’re intimidated by trying to navigate Anglo-Saxon and Old Irish names and places on this large a scale, because never fear! Nicola Griffith has created a wealth of supplemental materials to help you through.

Steer clear if: You will find discussion of rape and consent issues triggering, or you’re not feeling up to reading about the realities of war.

2. The Color Purple by Alice Walker

ColorPurpleWhat it’s about: Through a series of letters spanning several decades, Celie chronicles her life in early 20th century Georgia, from her girlhood with an abusive father to her arranged, exploitative marriage to her coming into her own, finding her voice, and creating a community for herself.

Read this if: You want a breathtakingly beautiful and compulsively readable novel about passion, love, unconventional families of choice, the discovery of self, and the survival of terrible things, and/or you are tired of white ladies hogging the historical fiction spotlight.

Steer clear if: You will find depictions of physical abuse, rape, and virulent Jim-Crow-era racism triggering.

3. The Last Nude by Ellis Avery

10836810 What it’s about: Rafaela Fano, a young Italian-American fleeing an arranged marriage, accepts a job modeling for Neoclassical Cubist painter Tamara de Lempicka in 1920s Paris. Great art, love, and betrayal ensue until World War II ruins everything.

Read this if: You want a passionate story of intense love and loss that might remind you of your own first love, and/or you find the idea of running into Gertrude Stein (and the rest of the era’s famous ex-pats, including an alternate-universe Hemingway) in a social context thrilling.

Steer clear if: You find unreliable narrators irritating or will find depiction of prostitution, rape (both statutory and otherwise), and anti-Semitism triggering.

4. Life Mask by Emma Donoghue

9781443406956What it’s about: Celebrated actress Eliza Farren, convention-defying sculptor Anne Damer, and peer of the realm Edward Smith-Stanley navigate high society and weather scandal (including accusations of lesbianism against the ladies) in 18th century London.

Read this if: You want a slow-paced, slice-of-life exploration of high society social interactions and artistic pursuits written in such a pitch-perfect historical voice that excerpts from the characters’ real-life letters are woven in seamlessly.

Steer clear if: You will be annoyed that you have to wait more than 400 pages for it to be confirmed whether any of the ladies are actually queer, let alone for any queer ladies to make out with each other.

5. Patience and Sarah by Isabel Miller

f23860What it’s about: Two young women fall in love in early 19th century New England and overcome class differences, societal expectations, and homophobia in order to build a life together.

Read this if: You want a sweet, well-written love story with plenty of hot lesbian sex scenes, and/or are intrigued by the idea of 19th century non-binary gender expression.

Steer clear if: You will find depiction of sexual assault and violently homophobic families triggering.

6. Tipping the Velvet by Sarah Waters

9781860495243What it’s about: When she falls in love with a professional male impersonator, Nancy King leaves her life as an oystergirl in small town, Victorian-era England and begins an odyssey of self-discovery that includes drag show performance, cross-dressing prostitution, forays into the high society lesbian kink scene, and socialist organizing.

Read this if: You want characters who are beautifully, infuriatingly real and unpredictable, compelling plots.

Steer clear if: You are not in the mood for a potentially-disturbing detour into the seamy underbelly of the Victorian kink scene.

7. Stone Butch Blues by Leslie Feinberg

9781555838539_custom-5c027f71c8b1d234dfc81f043c01bb8afc5dc50b-s6-c30 What it’s about: After growing up working class in a small town in the 1950s, labor organizer Jess Goldberg navigates life in the violently transphobic and homophobic mid-century United States first as a butch lesbian, then as a trans person.

Read this if: You want a front row seat for the development of the LGBT rights movement, both pre- and post-Stonewall, brought to life through such vivid description of individual experience you’ll feel like you’re living it along with Jess.

Steer clear if: You don’t think you can handle being hit with the emotional equivalent of a sledgehammer right now. ALL OF THE TRIGGER WARNINGS APPLY. NO, REALLY. ALL OF THEM.

~~~~~~~~~

Liyana is a queer actor, aerialist, bookworm, and tea enthusiast. She lives in the Pacific Northwest and is confused by the concept of “free time.”

 

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Very Specific Book Recs: Food Memoirs

I spend a lot of time thinking about food. I love to cook, to eat, and to feed people.  Since I love to read, I also spend time reading about food. While I do read academic books about food (especially history), I also read a fair number of food memoirs. These books center the experience of food: growing, cooking and eating.  Many have recipes.  Food is very universal and also very personal.  I enjoy learning what other people are eating, because it tells me a lot about them and their culture. Also, I love imagining eating yummy things.

animalvegetablemiracleAnimal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life by Barbara Kingsolver

What is it about?  Barbara Kingsolver and her family moved from the southwest to Appalachia and decided to eat locally for a year.  They had an extensive garden and keep chickens and other fowl.  This is one of the books published in the early 2000’s that helped start the current food movement.

Read if: You like well-crafted prose and descriptions of gardening.

Don’t Read if:  You are uncomfortable with descriptions of killing animals.

farmcityFarm City: The Education of an Urban Farmer by Novella Carpenter

What is it about? Novella Carpenter moved to Oakland, California and started her own urban farm, including growing vegetables, keeping bees, and eventually raising rabbits and pigs.  As well as learning new farming skills, Carpenter had to deal with urban living issues like getting along with the neighbors and potential soil contamination.

Read If: You like funny books about urban living.

Don’t read if: You don’t want descriptions of killing rabbits and pigs.

 garlicandsapphiresGarlic and Sapphires: The Secret Life of a Critic in Disguise by Ruth Reichl

What is it about? Ruth Reichl moved from California to NYC to take up the mantel of New York Times Restaurant critic. To do her job, she wore disguises so that she wouldn’t be recognized by staff at the restaurants.  Reichl found that each disguise altered her personality. Through all of this, she also had to navigate relationships with her family and friends.

Read if: You like to hear about what other people eat in restaurants.

Don’t Read if:  The restaurant scene is not for you.

 relishRelish: My Life in the Kitchen by Lucy Knisley

What is it about? In this graphic memoir,  Lucy Knisley uses a series of vignettes to  explore her relationship with food. Her mother was a professional chef, and Knisley grew up in a household with a strong appreciation for food.  The stories are not strictly chronologically but thematically arranged. The art is a bit cartoony but really shows the characters’ emotions and the food. I tried the chocolate chip cookie recipe, and it turned out great.

Read if: You want to try Knisley’s family recipes.

Don’t Read If: You aren’t into comics.

 bentoboxintheheartlandBento Box in the Heartland: My Japanese Girlhood in Whitebread America by Linda Furiya

What is it about? Linda Furiya grew up as part of the only Japanese family in small town Indiana during the 1960’s and 70’s.  Her parents loved traditional Japanese food and went out of their way to create it, growing their own vegetables and often driving long ways get ingredients.  In addition, Furiya had to deal with being clearly different form her classmates.  She was often teased and worried about fitting in.

Read if: You want to know more about growing up a minority in small town.

Don’t read if: The injustice of the casual racism Furiya faced will upset you.

talkingwithmymouthfullTalking with My Mouth Full: Crab Cakes, Bundt Cakes, and Other Kitchen Stories by Bonny Wolf

What is it about? Bonny Wolf grew up Jewish in the Midwest, and then later lived in New England, Texas and Washington, D.C.  Here she talks about food experiences from her life cooking for her family. She also talks to friends and family about what they cook. The book includes recipes for bundt cake made with pudding mix, real Texas barbecue, chopped liver, zucchini bread, and much more.

Read if: You love learning about other people’s everyday cooking

Don’t read if: You don’t want to know about Jell-o salads and recipes made with cake mix and pudding mix.

———–

Glory is graduate student who studies ecology, history, and community planing. She also spends too much time reading, and loves science fiction and fantasy.

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Feminist Science Fiction and Fantasy Starter Kit

I have always loved reading Science Fiction and Fantasy (SFF); I loved exploring what it might be like to live in a completely different world.  At some point I began to realize that the genres I loved didn’t always love me back. The most respected stories were by men and about men, and women were often not portrayed at all, as in early Asimov, or portrayed in problematic ways, e.g. Heinlein’s women who are incredibly othered.  Newer books may be a bit less blatant, but their portrayal of women can still be really problematic. Female characters often seem like afterthoughts and women’s stories are rarely given center stage.  SFF offers a lot of ways to explore gender, yet a few months ago, when Alex Dally MacFarlane posted on Tor.com suggesting the gender binary should not be the default for SFF, she was attacked.

As a teen I read lots of books that I would now avoid. I read quite a few problematic books. I read what I could find in bookstores and libraries and on my parents’ shelves.  Some of what I read was lovely, but most of my teen reading was really sexist. Books by women and books with feminist themes were not always easy to find. Over time, I’ve figured out new ways of finding books to read so I can avoid these issues. I joined online communities (like Sheroes!) where people talked about feminist books, and I started reading SFF blogs with a feminist focus. But I know it can still be hard to find feminist books that aren’t pushed through the main channels, especially older books.

This post is for people who like the idea of feminist Science Fiction and Fantasy but aren’t quite sure where to start. I attempted to include a mix of older classics along with some newer favorites of mine. These books consider feminism and gender in a variety of ways. There are books that foreground female characters or explore gender and society.

200px-woman_on_the_edge_of_time_book_coverWoman on the Edge of Time by Marge Piercy: Simultaneously dystopic and utopic, this book is about a woman in a mental institution who visit a utopic future. The mental institution is as grim as any dystopia; however, the future she visits is very feminist with roles such as “mother” being detached from the gender of the person performing the role.  The book also explores how women are disempowered and how even people who feel powerless can shape the future.

A-door-into-oceanJPGA Door Into Ocean by Joan Slonczewski: This book uses and subverts the planet of women trope.  The planet is called Shora and the women are purple and have the most awesome eco-tech. The women have a managed ecosystem that provides for all their needs. As someone who studies ecology, I especially loved this aspect of the book. Slonczewski’s Quaker values are very much in evidence, as the main characters attempt to resolve their problems with nonviolence.

41A2XSAMWHLSlow River by Nicola Griffith: All of Griffith’s work is amazing and worth checking out, but this one happens to be my personal favorite. It’s about troubled families and finding one’s place in the world, and also using bio engineering microbes to treat sewage. I love it when the science in science fiction is biology! The main character is a queer woman, who was kidnapped and is now estranged from her family, and must work to find herself again. (Trigger warning: Child abuse)

4b98224128a0b3494b677010The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin: All of Le Guin’s work touches on feminist themes, but this one deals with gender most directly. The book features a planet were the people are physically sexless most of the time, except for a few days a month, when they become either male or female bodied in order to procreate. It is beautifully written.

 

spiritwalker

The Spiritwalker Trilogy by Kate Elliott: This series engages with feminism in a much more political sense than the works I’ve discussed so far, and features more direct discussion of the legal rights of women. This book offers a complex alternative earth, were the ice age didn’t end, the intelligent descendants of dinosaurs are still with us, Rome didn’t defeat Carthage, and, oh, there is magic. I loved Cat, the main character, who is fierce and unapologetic, and has an important relationship with her cousin, Bee.

12974372A Natural History of Dragons: A Memoir by Lady Trent by Marie Brennan: This book is secondary world fantasy about a young woman in a restricted society who wants to be a scientist. The book addresses the obstacles she faces in a very feminist manner. Brennan has a background in anthropology and folklore, which really shows in her world building.

 

cover_red_stationOn a Red Station, Drifting by Aliette de Bodard: This book is a study of two women in power. It’s also an awesome story about a complex family that lives on a space station that makes its own fish sauce.  I find the focus on domestic issues, such as running a household and planning dinner parties, traditionally women’s work, to be very feminist.

 

908311The Female Man by Joanna Russ: An under-rated classic, The Female Man mixes together the stories of women from different timelines, including the female-only society of Whileaway. Russ really focuses on feminist issues like presenting oneself as feminine and saying no to men. This book is postmodern and can be a bit hard to follow in places.

 

Bonus Nonfiction:

51aLzdI9XfL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_The Battle of the Sexes in Science Fiction by Justine Larbalestier: A great history of feminism and SFF that looks at not only how stories have been used to discuss gender, but also the role of feminist debate within science fiction fandom. The history of women participating in SFF is often erased, so I found it very valuable to have this resource.  This book acknowledges that women have always been part of SFF, both reading and writing.

~~~~~~~~~~

Glory is graduate student who studies ecology, history, and community planing. She also spends too much time reading, and loves science fiction and fantasy.

 

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Very Specific Book Recs: Bringing up babies

Throughout human history, all over the world, babies have started out life pretty much the same – slimy, squishy, and totally unable to take care of themselves.  Whether their first moments are in a sterile operating room or a tent with a dirt floor, newborns want to be warm, full, and snuggly.  But from that first breath onward, the way adults perceive and treat children varies tremendously between cultures.  As a nanny, I love reading about childrearing practices of all types – it’s a good reminder that there’s no “right” way to raise a child!  Here are some of my favorite books and movies for the baby-crazed.


Babies ‘round the world

12470851How Eskimos Keep Their Babies Warm by Mei-Ling Hopgood

What it’s about: A journalist and mom combines personal experiences with research to cover childrearing practices from a variety of world cultures.  It’s a quick read with lots of anecdotes about babies all over the world.

Read this for: An overview of styles without any preaching.

Don’t read this if: You’re looking for something comprehensive or scholarly.

 

 

 Bringing Up Bébé by Pamela Druckerman13152287

What it’s about: An American mom raising her young daughter in France discovers the significant differences between parenting styles in each county.  Interestingly, the common French methods fall well into line with RIE or respect-based parenting, but the French parents Druckerman talks to don’t see their parenting as following any specific philosophy.

Read this for: A personal exploration of French and American parenting styles

Don’t read this if: You’ll be offended that she has strong preferences and opinions about the two philosophies.

 

Cinderella Ate My Daughter by Peggy Orenstein8565083

What it’s about: Raising girls in an era of “princess culture.”  Orenstein discusses the Western focus on pretty pink princesses, early sexualization, advertising to children, and the negative effect on girls. This is easily my favorite book on the list, possibly my favorite nonfiction book of any sort, and I wish every American parent and caregiver would read it!

Read this for: A very readable feminist smackdown.

Don’t read this if: You are fiercely loyal to Disney.

 

Babies, then and now

15594 A Midwife’s Tale by Laurel Thatcher Ulrich

What it’s about: A biography of an 18th century New England midwife by historian Laurel Thatcher Ulrich (author of the now-famous quote “well-behaved women seldom make history”).  Martha Ballard kept a daily record of her life and work as a Maine midwife and nurse for nearly 30 years, and, amazingly, the diary has survived to the present.  It gives a remarkable look into the untold history of women’s lives in an era defined by men’s political actions.  There’s an associated PBS documentary which I recommend as well.

Read this for: A scholarly historical work.

Don’t read/watch this if: You are looking for a light, quick read, since it’s long and quite dense.

 

 6114607The Midwife by Jennifer Worth

What it’s about: A memoir of a midwife in 1950’s London – this is the book and the woman that the popular British TV show Call the Midwife is based on.  Worth was a district nurse and midwife in one of the poorest areas of post-war London, delivering babies in often miserable conditions before the advent of birth control or hospitalized birth.

Read this for: A world of bicycles and babies that will make you want to join a convent.  Then watch the TV show!

Don’t read/watch this if: You are easily grossed out by birth, blood, or grime.

 

Bonus! documentary

Babies (2010) babies-documentary

What it’s about: A documentary that follows 4 babies from the US, Japan, Mongolia and Namibia for their first year of life.  It’s entirely footage of the babies, and the simplicity of the format emphasizes the differences in parenting and the similarities in the babies themselves.  You might be surprised at which practices you identify with!

Watch this for: The babies.  Duh.

Don’t watch this if: You will be bored by the lack of narration or plot.

 


Stellata is an infant/toddler nanny living in Washington, DC.  When she’s not baby-wrangling, she loves baking, handcrafts, reading, and museum-hopping.  Online, she is on the Sheroes Blog editorial team and serves as the Sheroes Central rep to the Board of Directors.  Her book blog can be found at The TBR Shelf.

 

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When authors change the story

tumblr_n0ccm949431r4j6u0o1_500

Not too long ago, JK Rowling, beloved author of the even more beloved Harry Potter series, confirmed that hindsight is, indeed, 20/20. In an interview for the February/March 2014 edition of Wonderland magazine conducted by Emma Watson (the acclaimed actress who played Hermione Granger in the eight-part Harry Potter film series), Rowling revealed that, if given her druthers, major supporting characters Hermione Granger and Ron Weasley would not have ended up as a romantic couple. Even worse, she went so far as to suggest that Hermione might have been better off paired with the main man himself, Harry Potter.

Putting aside both the fact that this is straight-up blasphemy to Harry Potter lovers worldwide, and the fact that speaking of a kick-ass female heroine in terms of which one of the boy-heroes she should’ve married undermines her important role in the series, there are other, more philosophical reasons why Rowling’s opinions on the matter are irrelevant.

The furor over this situation in the world of Harry Potter fandom brings up really interesting questions about the nature of literary characters and of literature itself, as well as an author’s authority over his or her own works of literature. Is an author always “right” about his or her characters? Can characters exist outside of their text? They are born in an author’s mind, but are they really brought to “life,” so to speak, until they are published and read?

If the answer to the latter question is “no,” as I think it must be (for example, Hamlet would no more exist in the literary canon if Shakespeare hadn’t been widely read and published than the crush I wrote about in my diary at age 12), then, by the same token, characters are contained, or “live,” wholly within the published works in which they feature. What an author says or thinks outside of those works amounts to nothing whatsoever. For example, imagine John Green saying, twenty years for now, “It’s okay, fandom. Ansel Elgort Augustus Waters actually lives.” Do we reinterpret our understanding of The Fault in Our Stars based on the author’s opinion of his own work?

Of course not. While the above is an extreme example, it demonstrates that if authors hold an incorrect opinion about their own books, they’re not granted any more “rightness” than anyone else just because of their relationship to the material. Once a piece of literature exists, its interpretation is passed into the hands of its readers. An author’s opinions may be considered secondary or tertiary or completely irrelevant when it comes to an interpretation. Like any other reader, an author may correctly or incorrectly analyze a given work, even if that work is his or her own creative property.

So when Rowling says that Hermione and Ron might not have worked out together after all, even though there is an (admittedly poorly written) epilogue in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows that says that they did, readers are rightfully infuriated. Their vital role in the conversation between text and reader is being ignored, while Rowling is failing to take up her proper place as a reader like anyone else. However, it should soothe readers to realize, even if Rowling doesn’t, that as a reader, she is just as susceptible to wrong or unsupported interpretations of her own text as anyone else.

Harry Potter is finished (as much as it pains me to admit it). Not just finished, but edited, published, and offered for sale in both physical and digital versions. Had Rowling still been drafting the novels at the time of the Wonderland interview, her opinion on the matter would have the utmost importance, and she could have gone home and rewritten the scenes that so clearly demonstrated Hermione and Ron’s growing attraction and affection for one another. However, given that the complete series has been available for public consumption since 2007 (and new paperback editions with gorgeous cover art were just released in August 2013), the content of those books are now outside her control.

Then again, Rowling owns her characters and she can do whatever she wants with them by asserting her absolute authority in published writing that reaches a widespread audience as an obvious continuation of the series. While her interview comments are irrelevant, readers should beware: she could always wave her magic wand and conjure up a new novel in which Hermione and Ron divorce and split their wizarding belongings between them.

~~~~~~~~~~

Marie is a writer and editor who lives with her feral cat, and, like most people, prefers dance parties to homework.

 

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Very Specific Book Recs: Queer ladies who kick ass and take names

We’ve all been in that “I want to read a very specific kind of book” mood and then had to go on a mini-quest through the wilds of the internet to figure out which books might hit the spot. Since books about stompy, badass queer ladies who kick ass and take names own one of the happiest places in my heart, I’ve spent an inordinate amount of time searching them out and now have a short list of all-time, hit-the-spot favorites to show for it. So, if that’s the mood you’re in, allow me to shorten your quest! If you want some Stompy, Badass Queer Ladies Who Kick Ass and Take Names (and really, who doesn’t?!), here’s what you should read.

1. Aud Torvingen Books (The Blue Place, Stay, and Always) by Nicola Griffith

blueWhat they’re about: Aud Torvingen, a Norwegian-American ex-cop turned sometime-PI, sometime-bodyguard, and all-the-time-badass, solves mysteries, kills people who need killing, falls madly in love, makes good friends, and tries to deal with having feelings she can’t shut down for the first time.

What’s awesome about them: Nicola Griffith’s breath-catchingly glorious writing, which creates the immediacy of a first-hand experience. Aud Torvingen’s complete and total badassery and amazingness. The well-rounded cast of supporting characters. The attention to detail. The intricate and true-feeling emotional journeys. The everything.

What’s not so awesome: These are some of my favorite books ever, so I’m going to say everything about them is awesome. But you should be warned that not all of the books end happily, some of them get very dark indeed, and the second and (to a lesser extent) third books deal heavily with emotional and physical abuse and rape. (It’s handled very responsibly, but it’s there, it’s disturbing, and it could potentially be triggering.

2. Santa Olivia by Jacqueline Carey

santa oliviaWhat it’s about: Born in a militarized, no-man’s-land, dystopian quarantine zone between the United States and Mexico, Loup Garron uses her secretly enhanced DNA, fearlessness, and general badassery to go on a crusade to get justice for her people through secret vigilantism and competitive boxing.

What’s awesome about it: What’s not to like in a book about a queer social justice fighter sticking it to The Man? The dystopian aspects are well-developed and completely believable, and the writing style is spare, straight-forward, and lovely—modern-day speculative fiction really seems like Jacqueline Carey’s forte to me! Loup and her friends/chosen family are real, complex, flawed-but-lovely people. The plot is intricate and navigates multiple strands of character concerns with seamless grace. And while I generally give exactly zero fucks about boxing,  Loup and Santa Olivia made me care while I was reading this book.

What’s not so awesome: Again, I’m going to go with everything is awesome! However, be warned that there are some sexual assault triggers (again, handled responsibly). Oh, and the ending clearly leaves space for a sequel, but after hearing my good friend’s thoughts on how bad-fanfic-y and strange the sequel is, I’ve decided to pretend that it doesn’t exist.

 3. God’s War by Kameron Hurley

9359818What it’s about: Nyxnissa so Dasheem—a badass, hardass, bisexual war veteran in a country fighting a centuries-old religious war—starts off as a government assassin, becomes a bounty hunter, and is offered a bounty by the government. Then all hell really breaks loose.

What’s awesome about it: Feminist dark-and-gritty-realities-of-war speculative fiction! Planet exclusively colonized by Muslims, most of whom are people of color! Completely badass and heartbreakingly awesome protagonist! Plotting and world-building so intricate that any brief summary feels woefully inadequate. Characters so real that it hurts. Nuanced exploration of gender roles, race, power, oppression, religion, and a whole host of other social issues, all integrated seamlessly into the story and never given easy answers.

What’s not so awesome: The fact that I haven’t had time to dive into the sequels yet? Honestly, I think everything about this book is awesome!  But you should know going in that it is pretty fucking dark, and it is not the book to read if you want an uncomplicatedly happy ending. Sexual violence is also hinted at a few times but always handled responsibly.

 4. Ascension by Jacqueline Koyanagi

ascensionWhat it’s about: A down-on-her-luck woman of color starship mechanic with a chronic pain disorder stows away on a cargo ship whose crew is looking for the mechanic’s metaphysically gifted sister. Interstellar intrigue and action sequences, complicated sibling relationships, and adorable polyamorous romances ensue.

What’s awesome about it: Queer, disabled, completely badass woman of color protagonist! Insubstantial starship pilots! People who might be wolves who might be people! Really hot, really competent, really badass starship captains! Sisters who are really different and can’t stand each other, but still love each other fiercely and will do anything to protect each other! Polyamory!

What’s not so awesome: If you spend more than five seconds thinking critically about the world-building, the character development, the plot progression, or the villain’s motivations and actions, the entire thing will collapse in a heap of inconsistency and “Wait, what??” But who needs to think critically when there are badass poly queer ladies running around blowing things up? Not me!

5. Gossamer Axe by Gael Baudino

790426What it’s about: A 6th-century Celtic harper who escaped from Fairyland discovers that the way to free her lesbian lover, who is still trapped there, is to form an all-women ‘80s metal band in Denver, Colorado.

What’s awesome about it: ‘80S METAL BAND IN DENVER, COLORADO FIGHTS FAIRIES THROUGH THE POWER OF ROCK AND ROLL. Do I really need to say more? I especially love this because heavy metal makes me ridiculously happy, so badass queer ladies being literal rockstars and making close female friends and fighting evil fairies with minor-key power chords is just kind of a trifecta of things that make me happy.

What’s not so awesome: Everything about the way the one major character of color is written is racist and paternalistic. Also, there is a bunch of pretty explicit “Wicca and paganism are the best, most enlightened religions ever!” proselytizing. Also, trigger warnings for physical and sexual abuse apply.

 6. Dust by Elizabeth Bear

2353644What it’s about: Two extraordinary women with biotechnologically-derived super powers (and their allied angels) battling it out with their evil, corrupt, super-powered relatives (and their allied angels) for control of a stranded generation spaceship.

What’s awesome about it: Centuries-old, half-forgotten biotech giving rise to a mythos of angels, basilisks, necromancers, knights, and chivalry on a spaceship, all narrated in gorgeous prose. Lots of badass ladies with specialized knowledge of everything from swordplay to science! People with genetically-engineered wings! Asexual and sexual people creating relationship structures together that work for all of them! Nonbinary characters!

What’s not so awesome: The main romance is between women who are biologically half-sisters, and even though they didn’t grow up together and incest is culturally common among their family and justified by the world-building, it’s still a little weird. Also, Dust is the first book in a trilogy, and while the trilogy as a whole ends fairly happily, Dust doesn’t…and the two sequels are not quite as well-written or fun, so it takes a little slogging to get to the happier ending. (I don’t actually mind that Dust doesn’t end 100% happily, but I think it’s only fair to warn you guys.)

 7. The Privilege of the Sword by Ellen Kushner

185867What it’s about: Katherine’s eccentric ducal uncle invites her to court, but instead of giving her the traditional court debut and young noblewoman’s social season she expects, he orders her trained as a swordsman.

What’s awesome about it: Courtly intrigue and swordplay! Katherine’s determination to make the best of her weird, not-what-she-would-have-chosen situation  and carve out an unconventional place for herself in high society. The close female friendships with undertones of feudal vassalage, which are really rare in a fantasy novel about women. Katherine’s innocent and joyous discovery of her own sexuality in a completely no-fuss, “Hey, I think I like those girls! And this boy! Whee, this is fun!” sort of way.

What’s not so awesome: Even though Katherine is bisexual, this is not the book to read if you’re in the mood for queer lady-on-lady action. Also, it deals a lot with sexual assault and its aftermath, and even though they are handled very responsibly, there is an unrelated sex scene later on which sets off all of my “WHOA, BACK UP, THAT WAS NOT CONSENT!” alarm bells, even though the writer very clearly meant it to be a consensual scene.

~~~~~~~~~~

Liyana is a queer actor, aerialist, bookworm, and tea enthusiast. She lives in the Pacific Northwest and is confused by the concept of “free time.”

 

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