From sci-fi and Russian horror, to Sherlock Holmes fan fic and tear-jerkers: a lady writer reading list

January 9 | Guest post by Heron

lady writer reading listDarlings, as usual, my reading list for for the year was a study in contradictions.

Four Horsemen smut, to Man Booker Nominee.

Magnum opi, to video game popular fiction.

But as I review my Goodreads list, I see that this year was really the year of the ladieeeez.

I'm late to the party for some of these authors, long-time follower of others, and excited to discover a few more…

Late to the party

Octavia Butler: The Xenogenesis Trilogy
I am super ashamed to have only jumped on the Butler bandwagon this late, but dear Gaia in heaven, this is the most gorgeous, heartbreaking hard scifi series I have ever read. Butler is a female writer of color and she writes with all of her being. Her futures are believable and terrifying because they are grounded in our present, in our complex cultural identity.

Housekeeping A NovelMarilynne Robinson: Housekeeping

One of my friend's favorite books in the world, Housekeeping came into my life at an odd time. Robinson's writing is lush and claustrophobic, filling your brain with a world of melancholy and confusion. I read the climax of the book on the night of the Boston Marathon Bombings and lay in bed afterwards, not crying, simply letting my eyes rid themselves of the tears that had been building up all day. Housekeeping doesn't let you escape its influence. While some may enjoy the sensation of bathing in rich prose, I found it too emotionally enveloping.


Long-time reader

a casual vacancyJ.K. Rowling: A Casual Vacancy

With time, it will get easier to stop comparing everything Rowling writes to Harry Potter, but while reading A Casual Vacancy, I recognized her intricate voice, her well drawn and conspiratorial teenagers, her flawed and regretful adults, her fully-fleshed micro communities, her tightly woven plots. This was a sad book. Life is sad and death is inevitable and those that die are wiped of their sin. So were Harry's parents, so was Sirius, and so was Barry Fairbrother. And those of us who live struggle in the shadow of their reputation, torn between the false memory of their life and the horrible knowledge that we will never live up to it.

garment of shadowsLaurie R. King: Garment of Shadows: A novel of suspense featuring Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes

I've been reading the Mary Russell series for 15 years; it's my first Sherlock fanfic, when I really think about it. Mary is smart and funny and everything a 15-year old girl could imagine herself to be. Sherlock loves her for all her ugly quirks and together they trot around the globe in the 1920s solving mysteries.


New Discoveries

There Once Lived a Woman Who Tried to Kill Her Neighbors Baby
Ludmilla Petrushevskaya: There Once Lived a Woman Who Tried to Kill Her Neighbor's Baby

Petrushevskaya has been writing and publishing in Russia for 30 years and this collection of her short stories became a NY Times Best Seller when it was published in the US in 2009. Reading like the Russian, grown-up version of Scary Stories to Tell In the Dark, these short ultra-creepy tales are everything good about Russian fairy tales, with terrifying modern twists. War, poverty, political dissent, jealousy, grief are contrasted with love and duty. To country, to family, to neighbors.

Astrid and VeronikaLinda Olsson: Astrid and Veronika

I read this right after Housekeeping, which probably wasn't great for my mood or my empathy for grieving white ladies. Astrid and Veronika is a gorgeous peek into one year of these women's lives. As they share and mourn together, we share and mourn with them. I found the style a little demonstrative — sometimes I felt as if Linda Olsson was telling, not showing me the story. But I came away knowing the characters and pondering Veronika's future, hoping for the best for her.


Bonus book by a dude

coveringKenji Yoshino: Covering: The Hidden assault on American Civil Rights

I wrote a law review article on the 10th anniversary of Yoshino's famous article on bisexual invisibility, but only this year got around to reading his seminal book. Covering is an argument for a new direction of civil rights advocacy: protecting individuals' ability to live their full selves in our society. Yoshino argues that as much as we should protect minority populations from facing discrimination because of the color of their skin or who they love, we should not require individuals to "cover" the characteristics that align them with their minority population — traditional African-American hairdos, for example, or lack of makeup for a less stereotypically feminine woman. Yoshino weaves his argument with threads from his own lived experience as a gay man and an Asian-American man. He describes his own journey from conversion (hoping and pretending to be straight), through passing (recognizing his own identity, but never sharing), to covering (being out, but acting as "straight" as he feels society requires him to act).

As a bisexual, less stereotypically feminine woman, I can identity all three phases in the journeys of many of my myriad identifies. But what I will take away from this book and treasure in my heart is Yoshino's unapologetic demand for justice. He quotes Justice Brennan's dissent to the Supreme Court in a death penalty case: when the majority spurned the use of studies showing racial bias in criminal sentencing for fear that it would lead to challenges to all dimensions of criminal sentencing, Brennan offered that this argument seemed "to suggest a fear of too much justice." Yoshino analogizes to civil rights, proposing that the same could be said about too much protection against discrimination.


My wish list

I am always super inspired by the Brain Pickings blog, for which I have to thank many books on my 2014 wishlist:

Got some classics on my list:

As well as some new hotness:

So how about you? What did y'all read in 2013 and what are you looking forward to in 2014? What should I add to my must-read list and what did I TOTALLY get wrong?

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  1. Woooooo!!! Mah books! Seriously folks, give me your 2014 recommendations. And I want to be your friend on Goodreads! I'm at Heron Greenesmith.

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    • I've never heard of Rainbow Rowell! Do you have a recommendation about where to start?

      I've read Prodigal Summer and the Book Thief and the other two are for sure on my to-read list. I actually didn't like Prodigal Summer very much. What did you think about it? I really love her other books, especially the Poisonwood Bible, and Prodigal Summer felt very self-serving in a way. Tell me what you liked about it and maybe it'll change my mind!

      And yay for goodreads friends!

      • I am a HUGE fan of hers and I also wasn't fond of Prodigal Summer. Her latest, The Lacuna, is better, I think. Although denser and just very different from her other work.

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      • Rainbow Rowell is on my list, too! I have a friend whose taste in books aligns well with mine, I read a lot she recommends. Here's a linky to her review of one book, with links to two others on that page. Kid Lit Geek: Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell

        I am a huge LRK fan. I love Russell and I'm thrilled they're reissuing the Kate Martinelli books. But my favorite books of hers are the two San Juan books (Folly, Keeping Watch). A Darker Place is also good, her virtual book club is reading it this month, I think. No new books until 2015, though, huge bummer.

        What do you think of Kerry Greenwood? Australian, two main series. One has a TV show that's a decent interpretation, Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries. 1920's Australia, very fun main character.

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        • I adore Kerry Greenwood! I can't chose between Miss Fisher and Corrina Chapman for a favourite though, they're both very unique characters. I also fangirl over the diversity in her books, same with one of my other favourite authors: Kylie Chan.

      • I actually preferred Prodigal Summer (my first Kingsolver) over The Poisonwood Bible. I loved the descriptions of rural America and nature. It's so different from my own very (sub)urban Dutch life. I'm now reading a href="http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B007HBY89E/ref=as_li_ss_tl?ie=UTF8&camp=1789&creative=390957&creativeASIN=B007HBY89E&linkCode=as2&tag=offbeatbrid0a-20">Flight Behavior and loving it for exactly that reason. Probably also why Annie Proulx's Wyoming stories always resonate so well with me.

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        • I agree! I liked reading about farming and husbandry and all that stuff I've never done/will never do.

      • It took a few chapters for me to get into Prodigal Summer, but then I really enjoyed it. I read Bean Trees and liked it, but haven't read anything else by her. I think I have Poisonwood Bible on my bookshelf, so I'll have to put that on the immediate to-read list.
        Rainbow Rowell has only written three books, but Eleanor and Park is my favorite. I do have to say, they are all a bit gushy romantic at times. It worked for Eleanor and Park because they were teenagers experiencing first love, but with the others, I sorta rolled my eyes at those parts. Ha!

      • I loooooooove the Sookie Stackhouse series. Ended up flying through the books last year.

        The Kate Conner series (California Demon, a href="http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00DO1OS1O/ref=as_li_ss_tl?ie=UTF8&camp=1789&creative=390957&creativeASIN=B00DO1OS1O&linkCode=as2&tag=offbeatbrid0a-20">Demons Are Forever) is pretty awesome as well. Basically, it's the life of a soccer mom who also happens to be a demon hunter. It's hilarious at times and a pretty quick read. <3

    • I couldn't put Every Day down. I think I wasn't all that happy with the ending, but I read it a while ago, so I can't quite remember!

    • I totally support Omens. I just finished it after waiting way too long to read it. Fantastic start to a new series.

  2. My favorite Marilynne Robinson is Gilead. I loved the slow unfolding and revelation of what the story was really about. "There are a thousand thousand reasons to live this life, every one of them sufficient." It's sad, but ultimately life affirming.

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    • I'd love to read Gilead but I think I need to put some time between it and reading Housekeeping to make sure I can enjoy it for itself.

  3. A while back, somewhere here on one of the Offbeat sites, Ariel recommended Neil Gaiman's American Gods to another commenter. Having just finished and enjoyed his The Ocean at the End of the Lane, I hit it up on my kindle that night. I can now say that American Gods was the reason I went to work for two days with almost no sleep. I could not put that book down! Since then I have been on a mission to read all things Gaiman. I also really enjoyed his Anansi Boys.

    My other favorite book of the year was Life After Life. The moment I finished it, I turned back to the beginning and started reading it over again. I have only done with a few books in my entire life.

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    • I love me some Neil Gaiman. Neverwhere is my favorite book by him. There is actually an AMAZEBALLS radio play produced by BBC with James McAvoy, Benedict Cumberbatch, and a ton of other ridic British actors. It's not available for streaming anymore, but rumors are they're making a CD.

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  4. If you like Petrushevskaya, check out My Mother She Killed Me, My Father He Ate Me, which is a fantastic collection of new and retold fairy tales. Hers is especially sad and creepy. Really, all the stories are great. Plus, the format made it easy for me to read one or two when I had some free time, without feeling pressured to keep the thread of a complex plot over the course of a novel.

    Also in the supernatural Russian department: Sergei Lukyanenko's Night Watch series.

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    • I adore the Night Watch series. So lush. I just added My Mother She Killed Me to my "To-Read" list. Thank you!!

    • I love that collection! I've seen Petrushevskaya's collection in stores before and the similar cover design stood out to me. I should really add her book to my wishlist.

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    • I really must remember to hunt the Night Watch books out at our local library. Thanks for reminding me that I wanted to read them!

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  5. I had written an awesome long comment, but the damn Internet LOST it.
    So here is a quick summary, because I have to get to work soon:

    This year I read theChaos Walking series by Patrick Ness, which was so thrilling that it had me sneak readings at work. I believe the characters could have been more fleshed out, but there is always a twist waiting for you to keep you going. I read it because I heard they were going to be made into a film in a few years.

    I also read River of Stars, by Guy Gavriel Kay, the suite et fin to Under Heaven. He is (often) my absolute favourite author. His historically inspired (read months to years of research) fantasies are a delight with nuanced and multifaceted characters. He just gets the subtle play of feelings inside human beings that will make us act, or not. He's a genius. My personal favourite is Tigana. I've been known to read it all in one night and part of the next morning. (and when you see it, you'll know how extraordinary that is).

    Oh, Neil Gaiman, how we love you! I have GOT to get my hands on that radioplay. The The Ocean at the End of the Lane was of course on the reading list this year.

    I realize there aren't many ladies on this list, yet. I'm shaping up to read Aki Shimazaki's latest books, but I'll have to start back at Tsubaki, since it has been a while. Her short novels chronicle a Japanese family's story, starting with a girl who lived in Nagasaki. Her minimalist prose is breathtaking.

    Also, I re-read Sylvie Bérard's Terre des Autres. I see it has been translated to Of Wind and Sand, but I haven't read that version. It is one of my favourite books…like ever. It is the story of humans crash-landing on a planet and experiencing culture shock as they live in close proximity with the lizard species of the planet over a great number of years. I highly recommend it.

    Also, if you haven't read the Tyranaël series by Élisabeth Vonarburg, you're in for a treat! I read the books many years ago (I was 18 or 19), but I am preparing to read them again with a new adult perspective. It also revolves around colonization of a new planet, but the shock is more about adapting to a hostile environment and unlocking the mystery of the planet's previous inhabitants' vanishing. Maybe the answer lies in the colonists' strange dreams? The premise reminds me a lot of the Darkover series by Marion Zimmer Bradley, which I also enjoyed, but it goes in a completely different direction, and of course the style is immensely different. It is a 5 book series starting with Dreams of the Sea. It was originally written in French and later translated. Vonarburg is actually the French translator for Guy Gavriel Kay 😉

    Happy reading!

    • I read Chaos Walking this year, too and was ready to be TOTALLY BLOWN AWAY!! I really liked it, but I think you're right: the main characters could have totally been more fleshed out. I didn't even get around to reading the second and third books of the trilogy. They're at my library, tho, so maybe I'll make it a goal this year to read them before the movie comes out. Tyranaël sounds super interesting! I'll put it on my list.

      • You won't regret it. I hope the translation reflects the particular rhythm of Vonarburg's prose. The storyline just flows like uninterrupted threads, sort of like the tapestry weaving myth at the heart of many of Kay's works.
        I liked Tyranaël the best, but a lot of people actually preferred her Queen of Memory series. In that one, there is a family chronicle in a parallel world where magic exists and the main religion of Europe is the Geminite faith of Jesus…and His sister Sophia. It's hard to describe but here's the official synopsis.
        I liked it too, but it just didn't resonate as much as her earlier works for me.

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  6. Hey, how do you guys create clicky links in your posts? It's neat and practical, but I guess I'm not an advanced enough commenter 😛

    • Insider secret: Editors are usually the ones creating the clicky links behind the scenes. Some times we add helpful links when none were provided, some times I just go in create clicky links instead of having a plain URL. I'm kind of OCD about the latter, for some reason. So don't feel bad! It's not you, it's me! 😉

      • You mean that if I had provided the links for all the excellent books in my longer comment, you would have replaced them all?! I'll be sure to exploit your OCD-ness in the future lol

        Jokes aside, I should have provided the links for the readers (and they were in the original post the Internet lost…).

        EDIT : And now I see you've added them in. Thank you!! As a reader I really appreciate when you do this for us. 🙂

  7. I did my 2013 reading wrap up on my blog – here's my top 3

    Who Fears Death – Nnedi Okorafor Post-apocalyptic fantasy coming of age novel including discussion of genocide, rape and female circumcision. Incendiary, or at least uncomfortable topics, but I liked this book.

    Maledicte – Lane Robins I'm not sure I can remember reading another novel with such intense emotions that didn't involve me sobbing empathetically. The cover says this is a novel of love, betrayal and vengeance. I'd say mostly vengeance, but there was plenty of love. Just not the floofy romance kind. The burn up the sheets and kill anyone who keeps us apart kind. The my lady is a transvestite and everyone in court is scandalized by two men making out in public but I don't care kind. I went looking for what else Lane Robins had done after stumbling across her short story Road Test on Strange Horizons, and I'm glad I did.

    Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell – Susanna Clarke Neal Stephenson-levels of complexity, Jane Austen setting, and every footnote (there were many footnotes) of Louis de Bernieres level peculiar and yet familiar whimsy. I should have saved this book for a long flight, preferably one across at least eight timezones, for after a slow start I was utterly lost. However, I have verified that my husband would notice if I were to spend half my time and energy in fairy land.

    And just this week I spent a whole day reading Two Serpents Rise by Max Gladstone, and the more I think about it, the more I like it. I wasn't sure how to describe his work until I saw something he wrote online that included the term "legal-thriller fantasy," which works.

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