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Book Club: The Graces by Laure Eve

The Graces

Each year, Sirens chair Amy Tenbrink posts monthly reviews of new-to-her books from the annual Sirens reading list. You can find all of her Sirens Book Club reviews at the Sirens Goodreads Group. We invite you to read along and discuss!

I love a good mean girls story.

You know the ones: they’re usually set in high school or college, featuring a queen bee and some sidekicks, boys who are largely props, and a girl who wants so badly to be part of the clique – so badly, in fact, that she inevitably does something catastrophically stupid, or betrays her friends, or reinvents herself into something shallow and vile, wrapped in the ultimate evil of female trappings: hairspray, glitter eyeshadow and miniskirts. You know, something a girl can redeem herself from.

These are stories born of female power, and they almost always evidence our discomfort with that same power: after all, almost all of these stories start by casting the powerful girls – hot girls with dangerous tongues and relentless ambitions – as villains, and then end with the outside girl – that same girl who wanted all that desire and access and dominance – rejecting all of those things in favor of being a good girl with a heart of gold. It’s a uniquely female story – and, I think, a uniquely hateful story that requires that a woman forego her power in order to achieve redemption. And redeemed from what? Why, her desire for that power in the first place. Of course.

So why do I love these stories? Because they are, fundamentally, inexorably, about women’s power. About inimitably feminine forms of power – the monstrous feminine, if you will, at its most potent – and our profoundly complicated relationship with that power. About how, in trying to be skinny and pretty and sexy and desired, what we’re really seeking is not only acceptance, freedom from our society-bred insecurities, but power, formidable, earth-shaking power. The power to walk down a school hallway – or a quad or a street or a corporate corridor – and have so much power and confidence and swagger that you know you’re indestructible. These stories, even when they’re ultimately dissatisfying, address a form of feminine power that almost all of us have wanted at one point in time or another. And much like I read “Bluebeard” over and over and over trying to find a feminist ending that doesn’t make me rage, I read mean girls stories over and over, seeking one where the outside girl, in the end, takes all that power that she’s busted her ass for – that she’s so often recreated her ass for — and revels in it. Because that’s what I want for her.

And that? That is how The Graces ended up on the 2017 Sirens Book Club list.

The Graces is cast just a bit differently: There’s no queen bee here, at least not one with a female hive of friends. Instead, we have the Graces, a nuclear family that is so mysterious and so aloof and so amazing that local lore says they’re witches. (As you do? I suppose in a fantasy book you must.) Thalia, Fenrin and Summer are the hive in The Graces, without a clear leader, but with all the sway and pull of a mean girls pack. Everyone in school wants them: to be their confidante, their friend, their lover.

River wants that, too. She and her mom have just moved to town – dad is not in the picture, and there’s some bitterness around that – and River’s in need of new friends. Like everyone else, River wants in with the Graces: in awe of Thalia, crushing on Fenrin, and ultimately, becoming uneasy best friends with Summer. But unlike everyone else, who has presumptively simple motives revolving around popularity and physical desire, River wants something else too: for the Graces to teach her magic.

The Graces is a dark book and a deliberately slippery one. River is an unreliable narrator, so wrapped up in what she wants to be true that it clouds the truth for the reader as well – and most of the book is spent in an uneasy will they-won’t they seesaw: Are the Graces really witches? Are the spells they’re doing actually magic? If it really is magic, can it be taught? Will they teach River? Or will River get too close to the Grace family secrets, causing them to cast her from their circle?

And ultimately, for me, a reader who badly wants the outside girl to do or be or want something other than a heart of gold in the end, this book satisfies. Because there’s a twist, a twist you might guess, but a twist that nevertheless has something to say about female power. (And a twist that, were there not so many other books to read, might make you want to read this book again for all the clues it surely contains.)

I don’t usually do read-alikes for books in this book club, but The Graces has some very similar literary sisters, in terms of the dark tone, the shifting truth, the unreliable narrator, the unclear magical elements, the strong desire to be something or someone else: The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer, Imaginary Girls, The Secret Sisterhood of Heartbreakers, The Accident Season. If any of those were in your wheelhouse, The Graces might be, too.

Why read it? If you, like me, are a sucker for an unreliable narrator. If you, like me, like your plot and your world to be a bit unknowable. If you, like me, like stories of girls chasing their power.

Amy
 


 
Amy Tenbrink spends her days handling content distribution and intellectual property transactions for an entertainment company. Her nights and weekends over the last twenty years have involved managing a wide variety of events, including theatrical productions, marching band shows, sporting events, and interdisciplinary conferences. Most recently, she has organized three Harry Potter conferences (The Witching Hour, in Salem, Massachusetts; Phoenix Rising, in the French Quarter of New Orleans; and Terminus, in downtown Chicago) and seven years of Sirens. Her experience includes all aspects of event planning, from logistics and marketing to legal consulting and budget management, and she holds degrees with honors from both the University of Southern California’s Thornton School of Music and the Georgetown University Law Center. She likes nothing so much as monster girls, Weasleys, and a well-planned revolution.

 

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Read Along with Faye: Revenge of the Mooncake Vixen by Marilyn Chin

RevengeoftheMooncakeVixen

Read Along with Faye is back for the 2017 Sirens Reading Challenge! Each month, Sirens communications staff member Faye Bi will review and discuss a book on her journey to read the requisite 25 books to complete the challenge. Titles will consist of this year’s Sirens theme of women who work magic. Light spoilers ahead. We invite you to join us and read along!

Marilyn Chin’s Revenge of the Mooncake Vixen’s subtitle is A Manifesto in 41 Tales, and I suppose we could start there—it’s a collection of short stories, vignettes, and parables loosely interconnected featuring Moonie and Mei Ling Wong, the Double Happiness Twins, and their fierce, cleaver-wielding grandmother from Hong Kong. Inspired by Buddhist and Taoist texts and Chinese ghost stories and folklore, mixed with a dollop of hilarious satire (OMG, that parody of pretentious academics killed me) and stylized violence of some manga, Revenge is a brilliant and irreverent musing on the Chinese first-generation immigrant experience… and a total surprise.

The first short story, “Moon,” sets the tone in the first five pages. We’re introduced to one twin, Moonie, a fat young girl, who just wants the attention of the two trashy-but-irresistible blond boys out on the beach. With (obviously) shady motives, they invite her on their boat, only to purposely tip her over so she falls in the water. Sniggering and laughing until the boys realize Moonie is drowning (and now twice as heavy now that she’s wet), they save her and expectantly wait for their reward as she regains consciousness. When she does not, in fact, feel gratitude towards them, they humiliate her further by ripping off her clothes and urinating on her. Fast forward to years later, Moonie, with mad kung-fu skills starts stealthily killing blond men in southern California until she finds the original culprits, vigilante-style.

“Your interpretation of this denoument,” Chin admits, “mostly depends on your race, creed, hair color, social and economic class and political proclivities—and whether or not you are a feminist revisionist and have a habit of cheering for the underdog.” Reader, I fucking cheered. I say this as someone who is completely squeamish about physical and sexual violence, but somehow revenge stories light a fire in me in a way that nothing else does. I fantasize about horrible murderers and rapists getting their due, crushed up under a semi or flayed alive by a bear.

Did I feel a bit bad about cheering? A little. Chin does this over and over again, in her book following Moonie and Mei Ling as they deliver Chinese-American food from their Grandmother’s restaurant. The two sisters can’t be more different, with Moonie the no-nonsense, possibly asexual tomboy with fists and Mei Ling the hypersexualized vixen (to call her promiscuous would be polite), as they navigate growing up and eventually settle and into their careers as academics at top universities. Some stories also centre around Grandmother Wong, whose history and character encapsulates the most crazy, wonderful, frightening matriarch personality you’ll find in a book. And can I tell you it’s funny? It’s so funny. Besides the really violent parts, the really thoughtful parts (there are some parables directly inspired by Zhuangzi and Buddha), the really ragey parts, and the really dirty parts (you might give tofu the side-eye after reading this), I could not stop cracking up.

With all that said, it may not be to everyone’s taste. It’s meandering, non-linear and to some, possibly confusing—the structure is loose, and the rough story is told in dream sequences, sexual encounters, fables, dialogue and poems. Much of it is whimsical, or depending how you look at it, nonsensical. You might not be happy with how Moonie’s weight or possible asexuality is dealt with, or the duality of Moonie and Mei Ling’s characters (personally, I had come to accept they would be caricatures and larger than life to make a point, just like Grandmother Wong). If you like the magical realism of the Latin Americans, you may like the intergenerational conflict between grandmother and granddaughters and the surreal occurrences that pass by without question.

For me, Revenge touched upon some deep-seated emotions of being one kind of Chinese immigrant in the United States—one whose family emigrated to escape hardship and toiled in the restaurant business or took otherwise low-paying jobs, was pushed to achieve academic success and then to eventually become successful, assimilate and validate the sacrifice of your forebears. Reading it made me confront the ridiculousness, guilt, hilarity, triumph and unbearable sadness that comes along with the territory of living perpetually in between identities.

Next Month: All the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders
 


 
Faye Bi works as a book publicist in New York City, and is a member of the Sirens communications team. She’s yet to read an immigrant story she hasn’t cried over, and is happiest planning nerdy parties, capping off a long run with brunch, and cycling along the East River.

 

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Narrate Conferences Boot Camp

Way back in January 2006—both a lifetime ago and somehow only the blink of an eye—many of the people that you know from Sirens founded Narrate Conferences. As some of you already know, Narrate, the presenting entity behind Sirens, is a 501(c)(3) charitable organization dedicated to creating interdisciplinary educational events that bring together people with many different perspectives to discuss and debate a given topic. Beginning in 2009, the event has been Sirens and the topic has been the remarkable women of fantasy literature. But before that, Narrate spent several years presenting giant Harry Potter conferences, complete with Quidditch tournaments, midnight movies, and 150 hours of academic programming.

Over the years, we grew up: went back to school, changed jobs, got promoted, got married, had babies, moved across the country, bought houses, read a thousand books. And over the years, some of us have stayed with Narrate, some of us have moved on—and some of us moved on, realized how much we missed Narrate, and have come back.

Similarly, over the years, new people have joined us, some for a year or two, some for the long haul. And over the years, we’ve gone from very ad hoc methods of developing new team members—all hands on deck for Quidditch tournaments!—to something more considered, if you will: boot camp. Which we’re betting sounds amazing and…just a bit intimidating.

A few years ago, Narrate created boot camp, a combination online conference-planning course and development opportunity for people who were interested in spending more time volunteering for our events. Our goal is to give participants the foundational information you need to jump into a more active role with our team—and to help you decide what kind of role you think that might be. As you might expect, some people have used boot camp to learn that conference planning isn’t really their thing—while others fell in love, joined our team, and have been making Sirens awesome ever since.

For a variety of reasons, we haven’t run boot camp for a few years. But this year, we’re back—this time with a Sirens-specific version!

What is Narrate’s boot camp?
An online course in Narrate-style conference planning, which means that you’ll learn things you might expect, like budgets and hotel contracts and social media, and you’ll also learn things you might not, like interdisciplinary educational theory and the non-profit tax code. This year, we’ll be focusing specifically on planning future iterations of Sirens itself.

What do participants learn?
We cover the basics of all aspects of planning Sirens: mission, scope, schedules, budgets, accounting, law, 501(c)(3) restrictions, educational validity, programming, websites, marketing and promotions, social media, art and design, customer service, systems development, venue selection, working with hotels and vendors, AV equipment, unions, menu selection, and building teams and keeping them on track.

How long is boot camp?
We’ll run a six-month course, starting March 5 and ending with an optional in-person meet-up over Labor Day weekend.

What is the time commitment?
Our boot camp is roughly the equivalent of taking an online, graduate-level course. We will address a topic a week, and each topic will have a reading component and a development component. Some weeks will take more time than others (budget weeks are notoriously difficult), but you can assume, for most weeks, that five hours will cover this.

What does it cost?
It’s free! All we ask is that, if you sign up, you make the commitment. Our staff will be dedicating many hours of their time, expertise, and experience to this endeavor, and we want to make that this is worth everyone’s while.

How do I sign up?
Email us! Just shoot an email to Amy (amy at narrateconferences.org) and Sabrina (sabrina at narrateconferences.org), with a brief explanation of why you want to do boot camp and your current resume attached. (Slots are not limited; we just want to get an idea of what your current education and experience looks like, so we can perhaps tailor boot camp a bit.)

What if I’m not sure?
We’re holding a chat next week so anyone can come, learn a bit more, ask some questions, and maybe decide if this is for you.

Date: Saturday, February 25
Time: 2–4 p.m. Eastern Time
Location: https://www.narrateconferences.org/bootcampchat/

Should I sign up?
You know we can’t tell you that! But we can share what some of our past boot camp participants (and current Sirens staff) have to say:

Faye Bi: It’s weird, but boot camp felt like family: a bunch of women sitting down (virtually), learning how we can put our smarts to work for our community, and becoming part of a terrific team.

Suzanne Rogers Gruber: If you think you know how conferences are planned, think again. Boot camp’s going to open your eyes and give you the tools you need to actually help create this fantastic conference!

Cora Anderson: Have you ever wondered how to give back to Sirens? This is it. I came out with both a new appreciation for what the Sirens team does and a concrete idea of how I could contribute.

I have questions!
Great! Please feel free to email Amy (amy at narrateconferences.org) or Sabrina (sabrina at narrateconferences.org). We’re happy to chat.

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Six Authors That Nail Folklore Retellings

By Casey Blair (@CaseyLBlair)

Fairytale and folklore retellings, while legion, are hard to do well. As with any kind of adaptation, it’s not enough to capture what makes the original work: authors have to bring something new to get me excited about the familiar and often highly problematic originals. These are some that I think nail it.

 

EntreatMe
1. I find Beauty and the Beast pretty creepy, but when I saw Grace Draven — hands-down my favorite fantasy romance writer — had written a take, I decided to give it a shot. Entreat Me doesn’t disappoint, engaging with the problematic tropes of the original and twisting them into a story I adored.
BryonyandRoses
2. In Bryony and Roses, T. Kingfisher (aka Ursula Vernon) accepts the source material’s problematic tropes outright and re-casts them, incorporating them as world-building obstacles our heroine has to overcome. I did not realize going in that with this take on Beauty and the Beast I was signing up for a straight-up comedy, but I snickered through the entire book. In this interpretation, our heroine is a gardener who couldn’t care less about fancy dresses but will declare war on invasive rose vines, and I for one would not dream of standing in her way.
Star-TouchedQueen
3. In The Star-Touched Queen, Roshani Chokshi draws on a number of Hindu myths (Savitri and Satyavan, Shiva and Parvati, and parts of the Ramayana, to name a few). Rather than retelling any particular story, Chokshi has taken threads from many and woven them together into a story that is thoroughly steeped in Hindu myth but also thoroughly unique, written in gorgeous, magical prose.
LettersToZell
4. Letters to Zell by Camille Griep also pulls from multiple sources, but this time they’re Disney princesses’ stories being woven together. This epistolary novel is an alternatingly hilarious and heart-wrenching story of three women learning to navigate the expectations their society has thrust upon them of what their happily-ever-after should look like and find their own path in a world that thinks their stories are over.
CrimsonBound
5. Rosamund Hodge’s Crimson Bound starts with seeds from Little Red Riding Hood — as well as a few other fairytales — and then veers sharply into its own direction. Rachelle is broken and dauntless and I love her to pieces. On top of all the magic and sword-fighting, in this dark fantasy Hodge also does great work with disability, class, and religion against a backdrop of a medieval French-esque culture.
TheWrathandtheDawn
6. Renee Ahdieh’s The Wrath and the Dawn shares a premise with A Thousand and One Nights, but this is not a simple retelling. Between the stories told at night, there is dark magic at work, and it’s up to the bold Shahrzad to keep their world from falling apart — and to save the caliph she wants desperately to hate. Romance and intrigue tie together to make for a thrilling story.

Casey Blair writes speculative fiction novels for adults and teens. She is a graduate of Vassar College and of the Viable Paradise residential science fiction and fantasy writing workshop. After teaching English in rural Japan for two years, she relocated to the Seattle area. She is prone to spontaneous dancing, exploring ancient cities around the world, wandering and adventuring through mountains, spoiling cats terribly, and drinking inordinate amounts of tea late into the night.

 

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Book Club: The Mistress of Spices by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni

The Mistress of Spices

Each year, Sirens chair Amy Tenbrink posts monthly reviews of new-to-her books from the annual Sirens reading list. You can find all of her Sirens Book Club reviews at the Sirens Goodreads Group. We invite you to read along and discuss!

As a daughter of the Midwest, I have a complicated relationship with the housewifely arts: namely, cooking, cleaning, and sewing. I practice all of these, in some fashion (though my cleaning is notably desultory), but none so well as to meet the expectations of my foremothers, for whom no speck of lint was too small to pick up, no embroidery too complicated to tackle, and Lord above, no cookie too perfect to try, try, try again. (It took me decades to realize that I don’t even really like cookies.)

But in the Midwest – and indeed, in many, many cultures around the world – those housewifely arts are, in fact, the highest possible form of female caretaking. You got a promotion at work? I baked you a cake! You have a solo in the church choir for Easter? I made you a new dress! How do I love you? Let me count the chores that I did this morning before you awoke…

For all that I struggle with the complexities of that caretaking, even now, when I’ve shed most of my upbringing for professional ambition, those deep-seated expectations turn up at the strangest times. When I want a challenge? I bake bread. When I feel the most like a failure? When my house is messy. What do I do while I watch TV? Cross-stitch. And I have the most unexpected soft spot for books about women who work magic with food…

I chose The Mistress of Spices, both for the 2017 Sirens Reading Challenge and for my book club, in large part because it is about a woman who works magic through a classic feminine art: in this case, spices. Tilo – short for Tilottama, or, in part, “sesame seed” – is already in the third act of her life, having spent her childhood as a seer and her youth as a pirate queen. Having grown disenchanted with piracy, Tilo makes her way to a remote island – and begs to be allowed to join the assembly of aspiring mistresses of spices: those Indian women who learn to work magic through correct application of the correct spices: ginger for courage and so on. Once they have learned enough, they sacrifice their youth, beauty and future relationships, and are sent around the world to help the Indian people. Tilo chooses Oakland.

Rather early on in the book, Tilo wakes up in her spice shop in Oakland, and the rules of her magic are clear: don’t leave the shop, don’t get to too close to your customers, don’t use the spices for yourself. And all is well, more or less. Tilo uses her skills to help immigrants struggling with a panoply of issues: racism, violence, arranged marriage, abuse. But then, one day, an American man walks into her store and she’s smitten – and despite her aged appearance, so is he. Suddenly, Tilo begins to learn that not all things are how you might intend and that, sometimes, the spices have a will of their own. Tilo’s intent clashes with the spices’ as she leaves the store for the first time, buys new clothes, worries about her customers, and begins seeing her American man.

In the end, I loved three things about The Mistress of Spices. First, as you would expect if you’ve read anything else by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni, the language is exquisite. Divakaruni’s craft, even in this, her first novel, is light years ahead of so many other authors: it has a poetry to it, the feel of a legend, and it’s a joy to read. Second, I loved that Divakaruni, an immigrant herself, addressed, unflinchingly, so many issues that face immigrant communities in America: racism, abuse, violence, trying to fit in, wondering if you should just go home – if you even know where home is anymore. Despite the pervasive magic in The Mistress of Spices, Tilo’s customers are real people, with real-world problems. Third, I loved that, to get to the climax of the book, Tilo had to battle her own magic. Despite her talent and her experience, the spices are sentient: rule enforcers, tricksters, who thwart Tilo in ways both obvious and quite subtle. So often, magic is the means to the end, something to be mastered and used, and it was a treat to read a book where a woman’s relationship with her power was very different, something to be coaxed, perhaps, or negotiated with.

And in the end, there was only one thing about The Mistress of Spices that I didn’t like as well: something I call the “Medea problem.” In the Greek Medea myth, Medea gives up everything – including being a princess – to help Jason of Argonaut fame steal the Golden Fleece from her father and run away with him. Later, she kills for him – and eventually, when he casts her aside, she kills their children. Which leads one to wonder: What kind of dude is so awesome that a woman would do all of that?

I’m predestined to be skeptical of a woman who’s willing to give up not only her business and her life as she knows it, but her magic and her immortality, for some guy. Must be some guy, right? And maybe that guy is out there, but Tilo’s American man isn’t that guy. He’s a restless former playboy who has made and spent millions: on houses, on cars, on girls. Falling in love with Tilo is, I suppose, meant to be his redemption, but it turns out that I don’t care about his redemption: I just want her to keep doing her, magic and all.

Is The Mistress of Spices worth a read? Absolutely. (Which is good, since it’s required for the 2017 Sirens Reading Challenge.) It’s a beautifully crafted folktale of an indomitable woman who battles her own magic to aid her people, and what’s not to like about that?

Amy
 


 
Amy Tenbrink spends her days handling content distribution and intellectual property transactions for an entertainment company. Her nights and weekends over the last twenty years have involved managing a wide variety of events, including theatrical productions, marching band shows, sporting events, and interdisciplinary conferences. Most recently, she has organized three Harry Potter conferences (The Witching Hour, in Salem, Massachusetts; Phoenix Rising, in the French Quarter of New Orleans; and Terminus, in downtown Chicago) and seven years of Sirens. Her experience includes all aspects of event planning, from logistics and marketing to legal consulting and budget management, and she holds degrees with honors from both the University of Southern California’s Thornton School of Music and the Georgetown University Law Center. She likes nothing so much as monster girls, Weasleys, and a well-planned revolution.

 

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Sirens Newsletter – Volume 9, Issue 2 (January 2017)

In this issue:

 

HAPPY NEW YEAR!

Happy New Year, Sirens! We hope you join us this year invigorated and resolute, with insightful, boundary-pushing, unabashed conversations on female and genderqueer identity in fantasy literature. If you need a place to get started, we recommend our Suggested Reading List and our 2017 Reading Challenge, a collection of titles that cover this year’s theme of women who work magic and fantasy literature in general.

 

SIRENS STUDIO

What if we were to tell you that our Sirens Studio faculty and workshop intensives would be live next month? Our Sirens Studio will take place on October 24–25, the Tuesday and Wednesday before the official start of the conference. Focused around two-hour, small-group workshop intensives on reading, writing, and career development, the Studio is a great way to do a deeper dive at a slower pace. We can tell you this right now: one current and three past Guests of Honor are among this year’s faculty.

 

SCHOLARSHIPS

As you know, Sirens awards scholarships each year to fans of color/non-white fans, exemplary programming presenters, and those with financial hardships. We’ll be doing a bigger push for scholarship donations in March, but please feel free to get a head start by donating here.

 

PROGRAMMING

We will be launching our programming series later this spring, but it never hurts to start brainstorming now. There will be a few changes to the submission process, including supplemental abstracts for panelists. Keep your eyes peeled for more information!

 

HOTEL REBRANDING

Important note! This year’s Sirens hotel, the Vail Cascade Resort and Spa, has completed their renovation for Spring 2017 and has been renamed the Hotel Talisa. We have updated the hotel page on our website with the change.

 

SIRENS BENEFIT ANTHOLOGY SEEKING SUBMISSIONS

Last year, a few of our attendees did the tremendous job of compiling, editing, and publishing Queens and Courtesans, a benefit anthology with all proceeds donated back to Sirens. This year, their anthology, Witches and Warriors, is currently seeking submissions, particularly across all areas of intersectional feminism. For more details, please visit the submission link.

 

AMY’S BOOK CLUB

The Mistress of Spices

Sirens co-founder Amy Tenbrink kicks off a new year of her book club with Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni’s The Mistress of Spices, which she considered “a beautifully crafted folktale of an indomitable woman who battles her own magic to aid her people: the Indian immigrants of modern-day Oakland.” Check out her review, coming tomorrow, on the blog and Goodreads.

 

READ ALONG WITH FAYE

All Our Pretty Songs

Communications staffer Faye Bi returns with her quest to complete the 2017 Reading Challenge! First up is Sarah McCarry’s All Our Pretty Songs; she found the “modern Orpheus and Eurydice retelling fused with sex, drugs and rock and roll… ultimately about friendship and love, though not the way one might suspect.” Check out her review on the blog and Goodreads.

 


Questions? Concerns? Please email general queries to (help at sirensconference.org) and questions about programming to (programming at sirensconference.org).

 

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Read Along with Faye: All Our Pretty Songs by Sarah McCarry

All Our Pretty Songs

Read Along with Faye is back for the 2017 Sirens Reading Challenge! Each month, Sirens communications staff member Faye Bi will review and discuss a book on her journey to read the requisite 25 books to complete the challenge. Titles will consist of this year’s Sirens theme of women who work magic. Light spoilers ahead. We invite you to join us and read along!

Happy January, dear Sirens. This month, I chose to read Sarah McCarry’s All Our Pretty Songs, which I knew very little about, but found quickly able to absorb the lush prose and evocative setting of the Pacific Northwest. Featuring an intentionally (I think) unnamed narrator, McCarry’s novel is a modern Orpheus and Eurydice retelling fused with sex, drugs and rock and roll—but is ultimately about friendship and love, though not the way one might suspect.

Our narrator has spent her whole life taking care of her best friend Aurora, whose rock star father à la Kurt Cobain died in a drug overdose. While the narrator believes herself unremarkable and tomboyish, Aurora is volatile as she is beautiful, the “it” party girl. We spend a lot of time learning the backstory of these two friends-practically-sisters. The unconventional family unit of Aurora, our narrator and their mothers (who have an incredible amount of painful baggage) was fascinating to read. When a talented musician named Jack enters their lives, he draws the attention of an otherworldly, skeleton-like music mogul named Minos who can grant him the success of his dreams. Our narrator falls in love with Jack; Aurora also attracts Minos’s attention—Minos who may also have had something to do with her father’s suicide.

One thing I can appreciate about All Our Pretty Songs is the way it blurs reality and metaphor. What is real, what is myth, and what is drug-induced hallucination? I confess I spent much of it lost in the prose, which was full of detail, oftentimes vague and occasionally meandering. I also confess this is a type of book I don’t connect personally with, having grown up as a goody-two-shoes with overbearing parents. I’m not sure that “scrappy, gritty YA” is something I can judge either, as I don’t know what’s authentic or what’s trying too hard, with its pulsing party scene (drinking, drugs, casual sex)—maybe this doesn’t even matter.

But the easy thing to appreciate about All Our Pretty Songs is the characterization. Our narrator’s relationship with Cass, her mother is superbly fraught and complicated. I can’t decide if the narrator’s friendship with Raoul is mutually flourishing or not, but he was so great I don’t even care. But most of all, ballsy narrator is ballsy in doing her best to rescue Jack and Aurora in this trance-y otherworldly underworld. (Spoiler, this is an Orpheus and Eurydice retelling; it doesn’t end happily). But this is easily one of the best passages:

I came here for my lover and the girl who is my sister, and they were mine before anyone else tried to take them from me, before this bony motherfucker showed up on my stoop and let loose all the old things better left at rest. Jack I will let go; Jack is on his own, now. But I will die before I leave Aurora down here.

That kind of sentiment deserves a fist pump don’t you think? And what’s great is that it seems to be a running theme in the other two books in the Metamorphoses series. Dirty Wings explores the story of Maia and Cass, Aurora and our narrator’s mothers, and I’ve heard extraordinary things about About A Girl. Time to get to it.

Next Month: Revenge of the Mooncake Vixen by Marilyn Chin
 


 
Faye Bi works as a book publicist in New York City, and is a member of the Sirens communications team. She’s yet to read an immigrant story she hasn’t cried over, and is happiest planning nerdy parties, capping off a long run with brunch, and cycling along the East River.

 

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Sirens Newsletter – Volume 9, Issue 1 (December 2016)

In this issue:

 

BELATEDLY

Sirens is a wonderful, amazing, demanding endeavour! While we adore it, it takes the vast majority of our staff’s time in September and October—which leads to a rebound effect in November and December as we catch up on the rest of our commitments to work, families, and friends. We’ll be back in earnest in January, but in the meantime, if you encounter sometimes significant delays in our returning communications, we hope you’ll forgive us.

 

THANK YOU

To all of you who attended and supported Sirens in 2016—thank you! Thank you for bringing your backgrounds, experiences, reading lists, opinions, and wisdom to our community. Thank you for speaking and listening, for discussing and disagreeing, and for doing so with respect and with inclusiveness. Thank you for presenting, for donating, for buying books and t-shirts and auction items. Thank you for leading Books and Breakfast discussions and helping presenters. Sirens is richer and more vibrant because of each of you.

A special thank you to our splendid 2016 guests of honor, Laurie J. Marks, Renée Ahdieh, and Kiini Ibura Salaam, who inspired us with their words—and their willingness to speak true, no matter how hard.

 

SIRENS IN 2017

Our 2017 Sirens website is live! Please visit www.sirensconference.org to learn about this year’s theme of women who work magic: witches, sorceresses, spellcasters, mages, illusionists, and more. Too often, women in fantasy literature are everyday humans navigating a world of wonder; for 2017, we’ll examine women who both have power and wield it. Zoraida Córdova, N. K. Jemisin, and Victoria Schwab will join us as our guests of honor.

Also this year, we’re returning to the recently-renovated luxury hotel, the Vail Cascade Resort and Spa in Vail, Colorado. The conference will run October 26–29, 2017, with the Sirens Studio on Tuesday and Wednesday, October 24–25, and the Sirens Supper on Wednesday, October 25. The Sirens Shuttle will run from the Denver International Airport on Monday night prior to the Studio and on Wednesday and Thursday afternoons; the return trip for all shuttle-riders will depart Vail at noon on Sunday, October 29. (We’re hoping to have Studio faculty announcements out early in 2017—so don’t purchase those plane tickets quite yet! Also, please note that due to renovations, hotel reservations are on hold until the end of the year; we’ll let you know the moment you can reserve a room.)

Registration is currently $190, and will remain that price until the end of the year. The Sirens Studio, the Sirens Supper, and the Sirens Shuttle tickets can be purchased separately. We hope you join us next October!

 

QUIET TIME

As we mentioned above, until the end of the year, the Sirens staff will be quieter than normal as we rebuild and ready ourselves for 2017. Our programming and volunteering systems are closed for maintenance, though we encourage you to keep up-to-date on all the news through our website, Twitter, and newsletter. We’re planning features on our guests, travel, programming, and theme, plus more informal Sirens meet-ups throughout the year. Feel free to grab a graphic to show your support! Of course, if you have any questions, suggestions, or feedback, please email us at (help at sirensconference.org).

We’d also like to remind you that, for a variety of reasons, if you have questions about Sirens, the best place to ask us is by emailing us at (help at sirensconference.org). As an all-volunteer organization, we are not always diligent about checking our social media—and the people who do check it often don’t have the answers that you’re seeking. Thanks for your help and understanding!

 

2017 READING

To keep you busy while we’re out, our 2017 Suggested Reading and Reading Challenge are also live! Check them out, get busy buying or borrowing books, and check back in January for the return of Amy’s Book Club and Read Along with Faye (who did finish the 2016 Challenge!).

 

SUCCESS STORIES

We’ve had many story ideas, personal projects, and career moves sparked by conversations at Sirens. Have you started or changed jobs? Published a book or paper? Gone back to school? Tell us! Shout your good news at the rooftops over at (help at sirensconference.org).

 

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT…

 


Questions? Concerns? Please email general queries to (help at sirensconference.org) and questions about programming to (programming at sirensconference.org).

 

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Books I Read for the 2016 Reading Challenge

By Faye Bi

This year’s Sirens conference has come and gone, and I’m excited to share that I’ve completed the 2016 Reading Challenge! I love that it encouraged me to read more widely, especially with that asterisk rule of needing to read authors whose work I hadn’t read before. That made several books—ones I was even looking forward to—ineligible for the challenge, so I had to look for new-to-me authors and not just ones I’m familiar with. Here’s my brief 5 question survey, which I encourage anyone else to also fill out and share.

fayereadingchallenge

Favorite Book: Kiini Ibura Salaam’s Ancient, Ancient, which was so bold, vibrant and full of pulsing energy.

Favorite Theme (Lovers) Book: Laura Ruby’s Bone Gap, for its stunning writing and deft handling of one of the hardest things for me to read (sexual violence).

Favorite New (Or New-to-You) Author: Moira Fowley-Doyle’s The Accident Season—I listened to this on audio and got lost in the words.

Favorite Female/Genderqueer/Non-Binary Character in a Book: Prunella Gentleman in Zen Cho’s Sorcerer to the Crown, who was unabashedly herself and gave zero shits.

Book that wasn’t what you expected: Lots. Too many! Sarah Pinborough’s Poison, which I did not know was horror; Jennifer Marie Brissett’s Elysium, which had one of the best in-world reasons for shifting narrator identities; Andrea Hairston’s Redwood and Wildfire, which… I don’t know what I expected, but turned out to be super awesome.

I’m ready for the 2017 Challenge!

Here’s the full list of what I read for the 2016 Challenge:

Guests of Honor: Required
Renée Ahdieh, The Wrath and the Dawn
Laurie J. Marks, Fire Logic
Kiini Ibura Salaam, Ancient, Ancient

Required Theme
Kendare Blake, Anna Dressed in Blood (read in a previous Sirens year)
Jennifer Marie Brissett, Elysium
Emma Donoghue, Kissing the Witch (read in a previous Sirens year)
Andrea Hairston, Redwood and Wildfire
Malinda Lo, Ash (read previously)
Erin Morgenstern, The Night Circus (read previously)
Ludmilla Petrushevskaya, There Once Lived a Girl Who Seduced Her Sister’s Husband, and He Hanged Himself

Additional Theme Books: Select Five
Zen Cho, Sorcerer to the Crown
Roshani Chokshi, The Star-Touched Queen
Mary Robinette Kowal, Shades of Milk and Honey
Sarah Pinborough, Poison
Laura Ruby, Bone Gap

Middle Grade/Young Adult: Select Five
Tracey Baptiste, The Jumbies
Susan Ee, Angelfall
Cat Hellisen, Beastkeeper
Faith Harkey, Genuine Sweet
Cherie Priest, I Am Princess X

Adult: Select Five
Aliette de Bodard, House of Shattered Wings
Moira Fowley-Doyle, The Accident Season
Helen Oyeyemi, Boy, Snow, Bird
Silvia Moreno-Garcia, This Strange Way of Dying
Ilana C. Meyer, Last Song Before Night

 


Faye Bi works as a book publicist in New York City, and is a member of the Sirens communications team. She’s yet to read an immigrant story she hasn’t cried over, and is happiest planning nerdy parties, capping off a long run with brunch, and cycling along the East River.

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Sirens Newsletter – Volume 8, Issue 6 (September 2016)

In this issue:

 

SCHEDULE
Before arriving in Denver, you might want to review the accepted programming and schedule for Sirens—and daydream about owning a Time-Turner or consider volunteering (see below). You might also want to review the Books and Breakfast list and pick something to chat about before the day’s programming starts. Or perhaps you’d like to squeeze in a few more books from this year’s themed reading list; after all, you have a couple more weeks!

 

UPCOMING INSTRUCTION EMAILS
If you’ve registered for Sirens, please keep an eye on your inbox during the weeks leading up to Sirens. We’ll be sending you emails about meeting the Sirens Shuttle, checking in for the Sirens Studio, finding the Sirens Supper, and claiming your Sirens registration. If you are a presenter, please keep an eye out for email communications from the programming team as well.

Also, if you’re riding the Sirens Shuttle and haven’t provided your flight information, please check your email for a note from the help desk or write to (help at sirensconference.org). We’ll track your progress toward Sirens and make sure that you haven’t run into any delays along the way!

 

VOLUNTEERING
We’d love your help at Sirens! Volunteer shifts vary in length and responsibilities, but most volunteer shifts are during programming and allow you to attend presentations. See the volunteers page on our website for more details. If you’re a returning volunteer, you don’t need to fill out the form—just follow the directions in the email sent through the Google Group.

We could really use your help filling a few remaining shifts. If you’re planning to stick to a room for the whole morning or afternoon anyway, and don’t mind flagging down help if any problems arise, we’d be thrilled to have you volunteer for a few hours, and so would the presenters! Thanks in advance for your help.

 

GUEST OF HONOR INTERVIEW
We’re interviewing our Sirens 2016 Guests of Honor about their inspirations, influences, and craft, to the role of women in fantasy literature as befits our 2016 focus on lovers and the role of love, intimacy, and sex. We can’t wait for you to meet them this October! Here’s the last of our interviews.

From our interview with Laurie J. Marks on the philosophy of aspects of Shaftal that powers the plot of her Elemental Logic series: “[I]t seems feminist to emphasize the importance of an entire community in accomplishing anything worth doing.”
 
 
 
 
 

You may find our interviews with our other 2016 Guests of Honor, Kiini Ibura Salaam and Renée Ahdieh, here and here.

 

BOOKS AND BREAKFAST
Each year, Sirens selects a variety of popular, controversial, and just plain brilliant books related to our theme—and invites attendees to bring their breakfast during the conference and have an informal conversation about those books. For 2016, we’ve kicked Books and Breakfast off early—so all of you have time to choose a couple books and read! This year, we’ve also launched a program to get these books into your hands prior to Sirens.

For extra motivation, we’re giving away copies of each Books and Breakfast book—two each month! Congratulations to @StellaLuna617 on Twitter for winning August’s Giveaway. Check out how you can win Pantomime and Like Water for Chocolate in our post here.

 

BOOKSTORE
Thank you to everyone who has donated books! We really appreciate your support for our mission, and we hope you’ll stop by during Sirens to browse and maybe find a new (or new-to-you) book to add to your collection. If you’re planning to shop, we’ll have books by the guests of honor, from the Books and Breakfast list, and by attending authors, as well as a selection of other really good reads.

 

AUCTION
Do you have an item to donate for this year’s auction? Please let us know by the end of the day on Thursday, October 20, so that we can get your donation onto the auction list. All sorts of items are welcome! If you’d like to donate an item or you have questions, please email Amy Tenbrink at (amy.tenbrink at sirensconference.org). She’d love to hear what you’re planning and address any concerns you might have. Thank you in advance for your support!

 

CONTACTING US DURING SIRENS
Many of our staff will be traveling to Denver as early as Friday, October 14, to prepare for Sirens. While we are in transit and when we’re on site unpacking and setting things up for the conference, we will not be able to monitor our emails as closely as we do at other times. If you have an urgent inquiry during this time, please send it to (help at sirensconference.org) and we will get back to you as quickly as possible.

During the conference, the best way to contact us is in person! While we do check our email, we’re only able to do so sporadically. If you have any questions or would simply like to chat, please stop by our information desk in the Inverness’s Summit D starting at 3:00 p.m. on Thursday, October 20.

 

TWITTER SCHEDULE
Beginning on Tuesday, October 18, we will be posting the Sirens Studio and conference schedule on our Twitter. If you prefer not to receive these reminders, you may want to mute or unfollow @sirens_con until Monday, October 24. (The schedule will not be posted on Facebook, though a few highlights might be.)

 

AMY’S BOOK CLUB

Assassin's Gambit

Last month, Sirens co-founder Amy Tenbrink read Amy Raby’s Assassin’s Gambit, full of fantasy romance, rebel assassins, and sex: “Assassin’s Gambit has solid fantasy world-building, pretty funny dialogue, and unlike a lot of fantasy heroines, a super-competent heroine who saves the world.” Check out her review on the blog and Goodreads.

 

READ ALONG WITH FAYE

Shades of Milk and Honey

Are you close to finishing the 2016 Sirens Reading Challenge? Faye is! Last month she read Mary Robinette Kowal’s Shades of Milk and Honey, which she found full of Jane Austen analogues and “familiar plot twists like secret arrangements, duels and carriage chases” but she was impressed by the masterful weaving of magic, or “glamour” into the worldbuilding. Check out her review on the blog and Goodreads.

 

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT…

 


Questions? Concerns? Please email general queries to (help at sirensconference.org) and questions about programming to (programming at sirensconference.org).

 

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