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Book Club: The Memory Trees by Kali Wallace

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!

The Memory Trees

Once upon a time, the Sirens theme was “hauntings.” And there were ghosts and spirits and things that go bump in the night. We all read The Haunting of Hill House. We all talked for days about how, for more than a century, women disguised women’s issues as phantoms and shadows and slowly creaking doors. We all learned an awful lot about that liminal space where fantasy meets horror.

But that year, the aspect of “hauntings” that spoke to me was never the ghosts or the spirits or the bump-in-the-night things. Like everyone else, I did read The Haunting of Hill House. I did delve into its use of a supernatural manifestation as a proxy for Eleanor’s boundless mommy issues. I did marvel at Shirley Jackson’s cleverness and defiance. But I also failed to, as Edith Wharton might demand, meet Ms. Jackson “halfway among the primeval shadows”—and I couldn’t figure out why the book was supposed to be scary. After all, aren’t we all used to being undermined, shamed, ordered about? Even if by people who are perhaps more tangible? Is this because I read Hill House in a hotel room in Manhattan? Don’t @ me.

Rather, the part of the “hauntings” theme that resonated with me was the idea of being haunted by something somewhat less spectral: A family rift. A mistake made. A memory half-remembered. And then binding that up in a fantasy world, where magic is yet another, perhaps more limitless, opportunity to explore our more human connections. Such as in Redwood and Wildfire, where there are ghosts, yes, but where Redwood’s haunting is far more profoundly about overcoming her family’s history with slavery and lynching. Or in The Monsters of Templeton, which also did include ghosts, just a bit, but was really about trying to go home again and the roiling, barely-hidden monstrousness that you might find there.

Thus, why I chose to read The Memory Trees by Kali Wallace—and why I think it’s one of the best examples of both a non-ghost hauntings book, but also a fantasy book where the magic and the impossible provide another avenue of exploration. Let me tell you about it.

Sorrow Lovegood lives in Miami with her father and her step-family. But Sorrow has lived there only half her life: She spent her first eight years living with her mother in the matriarchal Lovegood family apple orchard in Vermont … until something terrible happened, something that Sorrow can’t remember, and she ended up in Miami. She has not been to Vermont, or seen her mother or maternal grandmother, since.

Sorrow is a fascinatingly unreliable narrator. Her memories of her first eight years are hazy at best, blank spaces or even false at worst, presumably rendered by the terrible event that precipitated Sorrow’s move to Florida. Even better, Sorrow knows she’s an unreliable narrator. (And even better than that, Wallace avoids the trap of having her heroine, in the fog of her memory, focus single-mindedly on her frustration for several hundred pages.) Sorrow’s unreliability allows, neatly, for both a first-person point-of-view and a mystery to be solved.

Sorrow, driven by her muddled memory, suddenly demands to return to Vermont, to the apple orchard, to the mother and grandmother she hasn’t seen in half her lifetime. And thus, the book truly begins.

Wallace quite cleverly sets, and then frequently twists, the tone of Sorrow’s time in Vermont. Sorrow’s hometown is much like many small American towns, and Sorrow’s return in summer plays, deliberately, on readers’ (presumably) nostalgic memories of their own (presumably) happy vacations in similar towns. But, despite the tourists and the ice cream and the annual town play (focused both hilariously and horrifically on the generations-long feud between the Lovegoods and their neighbors), Sorrow’s time in Vermont is most certainly not a vacation. The more time she spends there, the more she remembers: the orchard’s sometimes uncanny intricacies, the often shocking family history, how suffocating a small town can be—especially when your family is just a bit different. Memory, you can almost hear Wallace assert—perhaps smugly as the reader attempts to deconstruct what is on the page from what their own brains have oh-so-unhelpfully supplied—is a powerful tool.

Much like in The Monsters of Templeton, Wallace sets most of her book in the present, but some of it in the past. Chapters are dedicated to the history of Sorrow’s family, from the point of view of her female ancestors who founded and then held the orchard against the neighboring family’s onslaught). These chapters give the reader insight into the history of Sorrow’s family—and equally importantly, the orchard itself—even as Sorrow begins to (re)learn her own.

In the end, both Sorrow and the reader learn what happened eight years ago, and without spoiling too much, the true lens of the mystery, of Sorrow’s missing memory, of the struggles of her family, both past and present, is grief. Over the course of the book, as she learns pieces of her memory that she has lost and then found, Sorrow’s heart shatters again and again.

The Memory Trees is, in turn, going to shatter your heart. It’s a harrowing portrait of grief, loss, and the very best of what a hauntings book can be—even sans ghosts.

Amy
 


Amy Tenbrink spends her days handling strategic and intellectual property transactions as an executive vice president for a major media company. Her nights and weekends over the last twenty-five 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 eight 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.

 

Where Are They Now: 2011 Guests of Honor

This fall will mark our tenth year of Sirens. With our conference theme of reunion, it’s the perfect chance to reflect on past conferences and revisit some old friends. In this series, we check in with our past Guests of Honor to see what they’ve been up to these days. If you attended Sirens that year, please share with us your memories of 2011 in the comments or on social media, and take a stroll with us down memory lane!

In 2011, our theme was monsters, and our Guests of Honor were Justine Larbalestier, Nnedi Okorafor, and Laini Taylor.

Justine Larbalestier

Justine LarbalestierMy Sister Rosa

Justine’s latest novel is My Sister Rosa, which came out in November 2016 and was recently released in paperback in December 2017. In this contemporary young adult thriller, Che begins to suspect that his “smart, talented, pretty” ten-year-old sister Rosa is a psychopath, while their parents brush off the warning signs as her “acting out.” My Sister Rosa was a Kirkus Reviews Best Teen Book of 2016 and a Publishers Weekly Best Young Adult Book of 2016. It also recently won the 2018 Adelaide Festival Young Adult Fiction Award.

Where She Is Now: Living in New York City with occasional returns to Sydney.

 

Nnedi Okorafor

OkoraforBinti: The Night Masquerade

Nnedi’s popular Binti trilogy concluded in January 2018 with Binti: The Night Masquerade. The series’s first two novels have received several accolates; Binti won the Hugo and Nebula awards for Best Novella, and Binti: Home is a Hugo and Nommo award finalist for 2018. All three novellas will be reissued in hardcover with brand new covers—and a foreword from 2017 Sirens Guest of Honor N. K. Jemisin—on July 24, 2018.

For young readers, Akata Warrior, the sequel to Akata Witch, was released in October 2017. It recently won the Locus Award for best young adult novel.

Nnedi is also making a huge splash in the comics world, having written four issues of Black Panther: Long Live the King and contributed to Marvel’s Venomverse War Stories No. 1 anthology with “Blessing in Disguise.” She also has several projects in the works or announced and coming later this year: Antar: The Black Knight, LaGuardia, and Wakanda Forever (of which the first issue was just released).

Filmmakers and studios are also adapting Nnedi’s work: her short story “Hello Moto” was turned into a short film by award-winning filmmaker C.J. “Fiery” Obas called “Hello, Rain.” Nnedi’s award-winning novel Who Fears Death has been optioned by HBO and is now in early development as a TV series with George R. R. Martin as executive producer. You can also check out Nnedi’s unmissable TED talk, on “Sci-fi stories that imagine a future Africa,” which was recorded last November.

Where She Is Now: She lives in Chicago with her daughter Anyaugo and family. Nnedi is also a full professor of creative writing and literature at the University of Buffalo.

Upcoming Appearances: Special Guest at AMA-Con, held August 4-5, 2018 in Amarillo, TX. Speaker at the Sigma Tau Delta International Convention in March 2019.

 

Laini Taylor

Laini TaylorMuse of Nightmares

Laini’s most recent work is Strange the Dreamer, an “epic fantasy about a mythic lost city and its dark past,” featuring a junior librarian and a blue-skinned goddess who appears in his dreams. Originally published in March 2016 as an instant New York Times bestseller, it went on to win a 2018 Michael L. Printz Honor for excellence in young adult literature in the United States. Laini recently appeared at the American Library Association’s annual conference in New Orleans to accept her award. The paperback of Strange the Dreamer was released this past May.

The second and final book, sequel to Strange the Dreamer, is Muse of Nightmares, which comes out on November 27, 2018.

Fans of the Daughter of Smoke and Bone trilogy will be delighted to know that Night of Cake and Puppets, the novella featuring Karou’s friends Zuzana and Mik and originally published electronically, came out in hardcover in September 2017.

Where She Is Now: “I live in Portland, Oregon, USA with my husband Jim Di Bartolo, who is an amazing illustrator and who I’m always begging to draw me things, and with our wee droll genius, Clementine Pie.

Upcoming Appearances: With author Jeff Giles, at Powell’s Books at Cedar Hills, Oregon on July 12.

 

New Fantasy Books: July 2018

We’re excited to bring you a roundup of July 2018 fantasy book releases by and about women and genderqueer folk. Let us know what you’re looking forward to, or any titles that we’ve missed, in the comments!

 

As always, we’d love to hear from you. If you’ve sold a fantasy work, read a great recently-released story, discovered a fantastic link that we missed, or if you’ve got a book or story review to share, feel free to leave a comment below!
 

Sirens Support

When we created Sirens, we created something boldly aspirational: something smart, something friendly, something inclusive. Something that is as much a community as it is a conference. An inviting space full of respect, brilliance, and inspiration, where people both speak and listen, and where many people now feel at home.

In order to foster that community, we include elements in Sirens such as our keynote addresses that bring all attendees together, often over a shared meal. These elements raise Sirens’s costs significantly.

Yet, despite these costs, we remain committed to keeping the price of Sirens as low as possible, so that more individuals have an opportunity to attend our conference and participate in our community. As a result, we run an unusual budget structure: the costs of presenting Sirens exceed our registration revenue by over $15,000. In fact, every time someone registers for Sirens, we lose money.

We’re here to ask for your help. Each year, Sirens covers that monetary gap by raising funds, in three ways, from those who can perhaps provide a bit more support. These funds go directly to covering Sirens’s costs, and are critical to our ability to continue providing registrations at lower prices so that our community can continue to flourish.

We hope that you’ll consider supporting Sirens this year in one or more of the following ways.

 

MONETARY DONATIONS

Each year, thousands of dollars of the costs of presenting Sirens are offset by monetary donations, in amounts ranging from $5 to $1,500. The donors are members of the Sirens community, friends and family, and even strangers who simply believe in our mission of providing a space to discuss and debate the remarkable, diverse women of fantasy literature. All monetary donations go directly toward the elements of Sirens that provide immediate value for attendees: catering, t-shirts, registration bags, audiovisual equipment, event insurance, and so forth. (In fact, it’s worth noting that Sirens does not incur many of the indirect expenses that most events incur, such as salaries or office space rental, as our staff are volunteers who not only donate their time, but also use their personal computers, cellphones, and living space to plan Sirens.)

If you’d like to make a donation, in any amount, please visit our donations page. We will acknowledge you on our website, in our program book, and at Sirens.

For those of you particularly interested in programming, very soon you will be able to sponsor individual presentations for $35, and in doing so, support and encourage particular presenters or the inclusion of particular topics on our schedule. If you’d like to sponsor a programming presentation, please visit our accepted programming page. (We expect to begin posting summaries of accepted presentations very soon!) We will acknowledge you in connection with your chosen programming presentation on our website, in our program book, and at Sirens.

For those of you particularly interested in other elements of Sirens, we’re always happy to discuss sponsorship of programming and events. If you’re interested, please email us at donate at sirensconference.org. Please note that, to include your support in our program book, we must have your donation by August 15.

 

AUCTION

The Sirens auction has become an unexpected source of significant revenue in recent years, and one that we especially love: while raising money for Sirens, we’re also providing attendees the opportunity to obtain amazing items and services. Our auction includes both a silent component, culminating at our Reunion Ball, and a live component, which provides an always-raucous element to our final breakfast.

2017_Auction_Oct-28-1 2017_Auction_Menagerie

All items in our auction are donated by individuals: Sirens staff, Sirens attendees, and other Sirens supporters. These items are frequently fun, sometimes one-of-a-kind, occasionally startling, and often a terrific deal on professional services. We’ve featured everything from unique articles such as t-shirts, pillows, journals, and jewelry; to professional services such as manuscript critiques to query letter reviews; to art pieces such as custom digital artwork, character naming rights for upcoming books, and original watercolors.

The sky’s the limit, and if you are interested in donating an item or two for our auction, please email us at donate at sirensconference.org no later than October 1. (We need the advance notice for recordkeeping reasons. Thanks for understanding!)

 

NARRATE BOOKSTORE

A few years ago, Narrate Conferences, Inc., the presenting 501(c)(3) charitable organization behind Sirens, began operating the Sirens bookstore as a fundraiser. This gives us the opportunity to use the bookstore profits to support Sirens, and it also gives us the opportunity, in defiance of the commercial market, to stock our bookstore almost exclusively with fantasy books written by, or featuring, amazing women—books that we and the Sirens community love.

2016_Bookstore_Oct-20-1 2017_Bookstore_BookSurprise

In many ways, our bookstore operates like any other bookstore: we acquire new books for sale just like any other store. But in two ways, our bookstore is different. First, our community frequently donates new books, just to make sure that the bookstore includes them in its inventory; sometimes these attendees work for publishers, but more often, these attendees are simply Sirens supporters who want to help make our bookstore as wonderful as possible. Second, we have a used section of our bookstore where we offer gently used fantasy books for $5 each. That section of our bookstore is stocked entirely through donations.

If you would like to donate books to our bookstore, please send those books to the following address, to arrive no later than August 1, so that we can include them in our inventory. (Again, thanks for understanding about our need for the advance notice!) And remember, if you’re shipping only books, the USPS media mail option is terrifically cheap, but terrifically slow, so please leave time for your package to arrive

Sirens
c/o Narrate Conferences
P.O. Box 149
Sedalia, CO 80135

2017_Bookstore_Oct-27-2 2017_Bookstore_Oct-27-3

 

TAX DEDUCTIONS

Narrate Conferences, Inc., the presenting organization behind Sirens, is a 501(c)(3) charitable organization. Therefore, all donations to Sirens are eligible for tax deduction in accordance with U.S. law.

 

THANK YOU

Regardless of whether you are able to provide us with additional support this year or not, and if so, regardless of the type or amount of that additional support, we thank you. This community means the world to us, and we’re both honored and humbled to say that we’re presenting our tenth year of Sirens this October.

 

Sirens Newsletter – Volume 10, Issue 7 (June 2018)

In this issue:

 

GUEST OF HONOR: ANNA-MARIE MCLEMORE

We’re interviewing each of our 2018 Guests of Honor about their inspirations, influences, and craft, as well as the role of women in fantasy literature, as befits their corresponding reunion theme.

Earlier this month, we spoke to Anna-Marie McLemore on lovers, found families within the LGBTQ+ community, her lyrical, transcendent writing style, and, as a Latina queer woman, not having the option to leave politics out of her art: “I want to write fairy tales for my communities. I want to write stories that are honest—in all their blood and history—and also hopeful—in placing LGBTQ+ characters and characters of color at their centers, in giving them space to claim the magic that belongs to them.”

Our feature on Anna-Marie also includes a review of When the Moon was Ours by B R Sanders, a list of books we feel would be friends with Anna-Marie’s books (in a new feature titled “Book Friends”), and a fantasy book list curated by Anna-Marie on the lovers theme!

 

WHERE ARE THEY NOW: GUESTS OF HONOR

This fall will mark our tenth year of Sirens. With our conference theme of reunion, it’s the perfect chance to reflect on past conferences and revisit some old friends. In this series, we check in with our past Guests of Honor to see what they’ve been up to these days. In 2010, our theme was faeries, and our Guests of Honor were Holly Black, Marie Brennan, and Terri Windling.

Read the Full Post

 

REGISTRATION AND TICKETS UPDATE

Our Sirens Supper is sold out, and we currently only have 8 tickets remaining for the Sirens Studio. If you’d like to register or purchase a ticket, we recommend you do it soon!

To individuals who have submitted programming proposals, a reminder that you have until July 10, 2018, to register and be paid in full for this year’s conference.

Register or Purchase Tickets

 

PROGRAMMING

After the presenter registration deadline of July 10, we’ll be revealing this year’s highly-anticipated presentations on our Twitter and on the Accepted Programming page! If you proposed programming and missed the email with the result of your proposal, please email (programming at sirensconference.org) right away. Thank you again to everyone who proposed programming, whether it was your first or tenth time, for another wonderful year of presentations!

 

SIRENS BOOKSTORE, ATTENDING AUTHORS, AND BOOK DONATIONS

A few years ago, we began stocking our own bookstore as a fundraiser for Sirens. This allows us, in defiance of the commercial market among many other benefits, to stock our bookstore exclusively with fantasy books written by, or featuring, amazing women. Bookstore stocking is well underway for this year’s conference!

If you are an attending author with published books, we’d like to make sure your books are in our bookstore! Please email Amy at (amy.tenbrink at sirensconference.org).

In many ways, our bookstore operates like any other bookstore: we acquire new books for sale just like anyone else. But in two ways, our bookstore is different. First, the Sirens community frequently donates new books, just to make sure that the bookstore includes them in its inventory; sometimes these attendees work for publishers or are donating books that they’ve written, but often, these attendees simply want to help make our bookstore as amazing as possible. Second, we have a used section of our bookstore where we offer gently used fantasy books for $5 each. That section of our bookstore is stocked entirely through donations.

If you would like to donate books to our bookstore, please send your books to the following address, to arrive no later than August 1, 2018. (And remember, if you’re shipping only books, the USPS media mail option is terrifically cheap, but terrifically slow, so please leave time for your package to arrive.)

Sirens
c/o Narrate Conferences
P.O. Box 149
Sedalia, Colorado 80135

 

BOOKS AND BREAKFAST

Sirens veterans know that we select a variety of popular, controversial, and just plain brilliant books related to our theme—and invite attendees to bring their breakfast on conference mornings and discuss them. Here are this year’s selections:

Hauntings

The Memory Trees by Kali Wallace
An Unkindness of Ghosts by Rivers Solomon

Rebels and Revolutionaries

Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi
Her Body and Other Parties by Carmen Maria Machado

Lovers

A Crown of Wishes by Roshani Chokshi
Passing Strange by Ellen Klages

Women Who Work Magic

The City of Brass by S. A. Chakraborty
Spellbook of the Lost and Found by Moïra Fowley-Doyle

Please check out the first Books and Breakfast post on the blog, here.

 

AMY’S BOOK CLUB

The Prey of Gods

This month for her book club, Sirens co-founder Amy Tenbrink reviews Nicky Drayden’s The Prey of Gods: “To envision a realistic world, set in the near future, that includes both sentient AI and a living mythology, and then to envision that world saved by an almost random group of often-marginalized people is an act born of tremendous ambition.” More thoughts on the blog and on Goodreads.

 

READ ALONG WITH FAYE

Her Body and Other Parties

Communications Director Faye Bi reads Carmen Maria Machado’s Her Body and Other Parties for her reading challenge this month, which she describes as “punch-you-in-the-face, unabashedly feminist. Darkly hilarious. Sex-positive. Queer. Smart as hell. More often than not, brutal … [these stories] know exactly what they are and do not have the time—or patience—to beat around the bush.” Read her full review on the blog and on Goodreads.

 

SIRENS REVIEW SQUAD

From Unseen Fire

Our Logistics and Art Director Manda Lewis reviews Cass Morris’s debut, From Unseen Fire, the first of her Aven Cycle trilogy; she found Morris’s historical research of a Romanesque republic particularly noteworthy: “I was easily pulled into the world with her rich descriptions of the city, its people, the architecture, the food, and even the fabric!” Read her full review here.

 

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).

 

Read Along with Faye: Her Body and Other Parties by Carmen Maria Machado

Each year, Communications Director Faye Bi attempts to read the requisite 25 books to complete the Sirens Reading Challenge. In 2018, a Reunion year, she’ll be reading books from the past four years’ themes: hauntings, revolutionaries, lovers, and women who work magic. Light spoilers ahead. If you’d like some structure—or company—on your own reading goals, we invite you to read along!

Matilda at age nine. The Protector of the Small series at ages 12–14. Daughter of Smoke and Bone at 22.

These are landmark books for me, books that I found at exactly the right time in my life, that now comprise my reading identity. At each of these moments, they were definitive—formative, even. They represented not just what I liked to read, but what I looked for thereon after. At nine, I wanted witty, plucky heroines who were whip-smart and got revenge on mean people who didn’t understand or care about them. In my early teen years, I wanted strength against bullies, deep friendships and family relationships, and a strong ethical core in my protagonists. When I had just graduated college, I was unsure about pretty much everything—as an ambitious person who didn’t know what the next chapter held, I wanted beauty, magic, and a feeling of wonder, even if it was beyond my control. I still love all these books like I love my limbs.

These days, I have a full-time job, a spouse, and a dog. I have bills to pay, white supremacy to dismantle, and patriarchy to smash. My time is limited; between sharing (and negotiating sharing) household management, working, keeping up with our social calendar, and planning for the future, gone are the days when I could read 100 books a year. So, there are books I no longer pick up if I don’t have to: books by men or unwoke white women, books that are super sad or pretentious, or books that do the same-old, same-old.

Carmen Maria Machado’s short story collection Her Body and Other Parties is brazenly none of those things. The stories are punch-you-in-the-face, unabashedly feminist. Darkly hilarious. Sex-positive. Queer. Smart as hell. More often than not, brutal. Her protagonists are easy for me empathize with and to cheer for. The stories, as I suspect Machado does too as in “The Resident,” know exactly what they are and do not have the time—or patience—to beat around the bush.

Having just turned 30, I consider Her Body and Other Parties a new landmark book.

I could wax poetic about several of the stories, and indeed, I will be presenting a paper at Sirens on “The Husband Stitch,” so I’ll be brief here. I read it, then made my husband read it, and then waited until my (male) friend visiting for cocktails also read it. The symbolism, voice, literary and cultural references, raw emotion, and agony of truth made it one of the best stories I’ve ever read. “Inventory,” a catalog of the narrator’s sexual encounters set against the backdrop of a zombie apocalypse, was so clever and tender I could only bow my head in awe.

Over and over again, Machado addresses the fears, insecurities, and horrors women and queer people often have. In “Motherhood,” a woman’s female ex-lover confronts her with a baby they’ve conceived, possibly out of their imagination. In “Real Women Have Bodies,” Machado creates a world where a pandemic renders no-longer-young-and-beautiful women invisible. (This one hit me like a metaphorical ton of bricks.) “Eight Bites” made me weep; as someone whose friends are starting to have babies, I can see just how fragile and toxic it can be to pass on your own self-loathing to your daughters. In “Difficult at Parties,” a young woman turns to pornography to cope and heal after her sexual assault. The only slight misstep, for me, was “Especially Heinous,” the Law and Order: SVU parody, which was funny after a few pages but went on a bit too long after that.

There’s too much to unpack in the confines of one review—each story deserves its own paper. There could be the running thread of gaslighting, body image, the female realm of domesticity, the influences of fairytale and folklore, or the grand tradition of ghost stories handed down by Shirley Jackson and Angela Carter. For women and queer people, the fears in Her Body and Other Parties are a day-to-day reality, and Machado’s stories give them validity, truth, and wings. Of her collection, Machado said in a previous interview, “I think of it as surreal, liminal horror about being a woman or a queer person in the world.” For men, shut up. Listen. Believe us.

Next month’s book: The Case of the Missing Moonstone by Jordan Stratford, illustrated by Kelly Murphy


Faye Bi is a book-publishing professional based in New York City, and leads 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.

 

Books and Breakfast: Spotlight on Hauntings

Each year, we select a variety of popular, controversial, and just plain brilliant books—and then, during Sirens, invite our attendees to bring their breakfast and discuss them. Over the years, this program has highlighted the depth and breadth of each of our annual themes and given attendees yet another opportunity to deconstruct, interrogate, and celebrate what women and nonbinary authors are doing in fantasy literature.

This year, our Books and Breakfast program will feature eight books, with two dedicated to each of the themes of our past four years: hauntings, rebels and revolutionaries, lovers, and women who work magic. The complete list of our selections is below, but we’ll also be featuring these books over the next few months so you can pick which ones you might like to read before Sirens!

 
2018 BOOKS AND BREAKFAST SELECTIONS

Hauntings

The Memory Trees by Kali Wallace
An Unkindness of Ghosts by Rivers Solomon

Rebels and Revolutionaries

Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi
Her Body and Other Parties by Carmen Maria Machado

Lovers

A Crown of Wishes by Roshani Chokshi
Passing Strange by Ellen Klages

Women Who Work Magic

The City of Brass by S. A. Chakraborty
Spellbook of the Lost and Found by Moïra Fowley-Doyle

 
SPOTLIGHT ON HAUNTINGS

Our two Books and Breakfast picks focused on hauntings are Kali Wallace’s The Memory Trees and Rivers Solomon’s An Unkindness of Ghosts. Do you plan on picking these up soon? Let us know! Tweet @sirens_con or use the hashtag #Sirens18!

 
The Memory Trees by Kali Wallace

The Memory Trees

Sorrow Lovegood spent the first eight years of her life in an orchard in Vermont, wrapped in not only the love of her mother, grandmother, and older sister, but also the suffocating history of her matriarchal ancestors. The women of her family have lived in this same orchard for twelve generations, despite their harrowing misfortune and a legendary feud with the neighbors.

Then, something awful happens, Sorrow’s heart shatters, and she’s sent to live with her father in Miami. Eight years later, Sorrow, frustrated by her hazy memories of her childhood, returns to the orchard to confront her lost memories, her family’s history, and her haunted heart. What she learns, with the orchard’s help, is both revelatory and devastating: the truth of a tragedy centuries in the making.

The Memory Trees is, in turn, going to shatter your heart. Wallace’s decision to make Sorrow, with her lost memory, the narrator was a smart choice: Sorrow’s heart rends over and over again as she discovers incremental details about what happened eight years ago, and Wallace is such a skilful craftsperson that, every time Sorrow’s heart breaks, so does the reader’s. Much like The Monsters of Templeton, Wallace also uses an unusual narrative structure to convey information in bite-size chunks: She alternates contemporary chapters from Sorrow’s point of view with historical chapters depicting Sorrow’s female ancestors and the origins of the family’s neighborhood feud and perhaps related misfortune. The result is a harrowing portrait of grief, loss, and the very best of what a hauntings book can be—even sans ghosts.

 
An Unkindness of Ghosts by Rivers Solomon

An Unkindness of Ghosts

While Sirens is a fantasy conference, sometimes we can’t help ourselves. Thus, An Unkindness of Ghosts, an Afrofuturist science-fiction novel set on the HSS Matilda, a leviathan of a space vessel that has been shuttling its inhabitants to a mythical Promised Land for the past thousand years. The Matilda strongly resembles the antebellum South, with the wealthy, white Sovereign and similar inhabitants both occupying the upper levels of the ship and imposing vicious regulations and hash indignities on the inhabitants—people of color, queer people, neuroatypical people—who live on the levels below. Indeed, many of those lower-level inhabitants even farm the land of the colossal vessel under the authority of cruel overseers.

In case you were wondering if An Unkindness of Ghosts would be pulling any punches, it opens with Aster, a healer on the ship and our protagonist, amputating the foot of a child, an extreme surgery made necessary by nonsensical and dehumanizing rules, but a surgery that Aster, the child, and the child’s grandmother nevertheless take in stride. Brutality can make the extraordinary seem ordinary, even when that means carrying an amputated foot around in a cooler. This normalcy of Solomon’s world makes us immediately check our assumptions, our expectations, and our humanity.

An Unkindness of Ghosts is, as you might anticipate, a deconstruction of our society, an interrogation of our values, and a cautionary tale. After all, please remember that its fundamental premise is an Afrofuturist spaceship that replicates the antebellum South. Historical trauma looms large in this book, and Solomon’s examination of race, slavery, and prison is just as incisive as, say, Jesmyn Ward’s in Sing, Unburied, Sing. Similarly, Solomon considers issues of power and control through the lenses of gender, sexual identity, race, class, and ability. As Aster realizes that she can better her world, but only if she’s willing to foment a civil war, we’re all in.

 

Sirens Review Squad: From Unseen Fire by Cass Morris

The Sirens Review Squad is made up of Sirens volunteers, who submit short reviews of books (often fantasy literature by women authors) they’ve read and enjoyed. If you’re interested in sending us a review to run on the blog, please email us! Today, we welcome a review from Manda Lewis on Cass Morris’s From Unseen Fire.

From Unseen Fire

I’m not saying that while finishing Cass Morris’s From Unseen Fire that I donned a toga and took my meals lounging on a couch (chairs are so old-fashioned!), but I’m not saying that I didn’t either. I think those who know me know which is most likely.

At its heart, From Unseen Fire is a story about a woman discovering the depths of her own power, while overcoming abuse and repression to forge a new path instead filled with purpose and love. This is the story of Latona of the Vitelliae. Latona, a mage in the city of Aven who has spent years in the court of a vicious dictator, has traded her body for the protection of her family. When that dictator dies, she is free of his maltreatment and manipulation. Can she settle back into a loveless marriage of convenience and into the life of a noblewoman, supporting the political aspirations of her father, brother, and husband? It seems that the Goddesses who have blessed her with Spirit and Fire magic have other plans for her. Latona’s long repressed magic starts to manifest more powerfully, and with it, the drive to help her city and its citizens.

There were many things I enjoyed about Morris’s debut novel, which is part historical fiction and part fantastic re-imagining of a Romanesque republic. Aven is in a state of flux, as exiled leaders race back to the city in the wake of the dictator’s death. The Aventan society will have to weather rebellion, the threat of war, and political power struggles between several factions as it recovers from the terror under which it was living. I was easily pulled into the world with her rich descriptions of the city, its people, the architecture, the food, and even the fabric! Morris’s historical research shines through when showing us Latona’s day-to-day life, along with her family and several other power players in the republic.

Mostly, I was taken with the relationships between these players and how they affected the city. I enjoyed seeing Latona’s devotion to her two sisters and the interplay between them, as well as her new friendship with Sempronius Tarren, a recently returned senator who has his sights set on a praetorship and military power. In regards to Latona’s newfound power, Morris does a great job contrasting the support from Sempronius, her sisters, and the high priestess at the temple of Venus against the objections of her father, her husband, and the restraints of their society. I found myself asking: to whom will Latona acquiesce, and more importantly, will she follow her own heart?

I must admit, I did stumble a bit over the names of the many characters while reading, which sometimes meant I had to go backwards to remind myself who was whom. This made the early part of the book a little slow-going. Midway, I switched to the audiobook version, which helped me a lot with the pronunciations and keeping the characters straight. That said, their complexity lent to the historic authenticity and the Romanesque feel of the entire culture.

From Unseen Fire gives us an intriguing beginning to Aven Cycle, and Morris has much more to tell us in future novels. I look forward to seeing how Latona evolves and grows, both in her strength of magic and strength of character. I hope that we will see more of her working with the Aven people of different classes as she carves her place in the world; I also hope to see more of Sempronius, and how war and his growing relationship with Latona changes him. Then, the biggest question: will they do what they must to secure a prosperous future for Aven, or will it fall to ruin?


Manda Lewis holds a BS degree in aerospace engineering and a Masters of Tourism Administration, and served in the Air Force for seven years. She currently works for a children’s museum in Raleigh, North Carolina, hosting after-hours special events. She is also the caretaker of two small humans who look like her and often have dragon tea parties. Manda has always made it a habit to draw, color, and doodle on just about everything within reach and loves themes far more than anyone really should. Manda has been a volunteer for Phoenix Rising, Terminus, and Sirens for the last ten years.

 

Where Are They Now: 2010 Guests of Honor

This fall will mark our tenth year of Sirens. With our conference theme of reunion, it’s the perfect chance to reflect on past conferences and revisit some old friends. In this series, we check in with our past Guests of Honor to see what they’ve been up to these days. If you attended Sirens that year, please share with us your memories of 2010 in the comments or on social media, and take a stroll with us down memory lane!

In 2010, our theme was faeries, and our Guests of Honor were Holly Black, Marie Brennan, and Terri Windling.

Holly Black

Holly BlackThe Cruel Prince

Holly returns to the dark world of faerie featured in Tithe with The Cruel Prince, which was an immediate bestseller when it came out in January 2018. First in the Folk of the Air trilogy, it features “a mortal girl who finds herself caught in a web of royal faerie intrigue.” Holly went on a six-city author tour for The Cruel Prince—check out a recap here! Fans of Holly’s previous tales of faerie will be delighted to know that this takes place in the same realm as Tithe, Valiant, and Ironside, as well as the standalone, The Darkest Part of the Forest. Book two, The Wicked King, releases next January 9, 2019.

In addition to her young adult novels, Holly co-authors the Magisterium series with Cassandra Clare for middle grade readers. The conclusion of the series, The Golden Tower, comes out September 11, 2018.

Where She Is Now: Working on, we’re sure, books two and three of the Folk of the Air trilogy; living in Massachusetts with her husband Theo and her son Sebastian in a house with a secret library. Also, did you know that Holly has real life elf ears now?

Upcoming Public Appearances: Special Guest at ArmadilloCon in Austin, TX

 

Marie Brennan

Marie BrennanWithin the Sanctuary of Wings

We’ll let Marie share the exciting news herself: “It’s been a busy eight years since I had the honor of being a guest at Sirens! My most recent series, the Memoirs of Lady Trent, has done really well: the first book, A Natural History of Dragons, was a finalist for the World Fantasy Award and won the Prix Imaginales for Best Translated Novel in France; the second book, The Tropic of Serpents, was also nominated for the Prix Imaginales as well as the Grand Prix de l’Imaginaire; the fifth and final book, Within the Sanctuary of Wings [editor’s note: published April 2017], recently won the Romantic Times Reviewers’ Choice Award; and the series as a whole is a finalist for the Hugo Award for Best Series, with results to come at WorldCon in August.”

Marie also contributes episodes to the Serial Box serial fiction novel, Born to the Blade, of which the first season is available now.

Where She Is Now: “I just finished writing a standalone sequel to the Memoirs, a book about Lady Trent’s granddaughter, black market antiquities smuggling, and the translation of a lost epic from the Draconean civilization. I also bought my first house a couple of years ago, which has been an adventure all on its own!”

 

Terri Windling

Terri WindlingDartmoor Mythic Arts

Terri began a Patreon as of Fall 2017, which provides a wealth of glimpses into her life in the Devon countryside. Terri has several projects in the works, including:

  • A lightly illustrated novel for middle grade readers “set in a magical version of rural Devon,” involving her “bunny girl” and animal spirit characters

  • The Moon Wife, a novel for adults, loosely connected to her award-winning The Wood Wife

  • A Story of Stories, a collection of Terri’s essays on folklore, fairy tales, and fantasy

  • With Ellen Kushner, “Rat and Blade,” a novella for Bordertown, a shared-world urban fantasy series for teens

  • Paintings, collages, prints and cards, including a “bunny girls” coloring book

In May 2016, Terri gave the fourth annual Tolkien lecture at Oxford, titled “Tolkien’s Long Shadow: Reflections on Fantasy Literature in the Post-Tolkien Era.”

Where She Is Now: From Terri’s Patreon Overview page: “I live in a small village on Dartmoor surrounded by mythic artists and sheep. I work from The Bumblehill Studio, my faithful hound usually curled up beside me, and I write a daily blog about myth, art, and nature, called Myth & Moor.”

 

Book List: Anna-Marie McLemore

For our 2018 theme of reunion, we chose Guests of Honor with work exemplifying the themes of the past four years: hauntings, rebels and revolutionaries, lovers, and women who work magic. Today, Guest of Honor Anna-Marie McLemore shares the book list she curated for the lovers theme. If you enjoy her work, we hope you check out these other reads!

 

The Secret of a Heart Note
1. The Secret of a Heart Note by Stacey Lee
A mother-daughter team of perfume artists, a character who feels so deeply you’ll fall in love alongside her, and a touch of magic that shines through this heart-warming book.
Furyborn
2. Furyborn by Claire Legrand
The word ‘epic’ doesn’t even begin to do justice to Claire Legrand’s latest fantasy, which will pull you completely into its world, and have you swooning into its pages.
Undead Girl Gang
3. Undead Girl Gang by Lily Anderson
In this contemporary fantasy, you’ll find love interests depicted with the same detail and brilliance Anderson brings to every character, but the love for the ages in this novel is the best friendship between Mila and Riley.
The Prince and the Dressmaker
4. The Prince and the Dressmaker by Jen Wang
A designer who’s equal parts innovative and endearing, a prince who loves wearing brilliantly crafted gowns, in a book that has historical atmosphere and romantic chemistry spilling from the pages.
Picture Us in the Light
5. Picture Us in the Light by Kelly Loy Gilbert
This one comes from the contemporary side, but it so beautifully captures the romantic longing that simmers between two best friends, set within an incredibly moving story about family.
Like Water for Chocolate
6. Like Water for Chocolate by Laura Esquivel
I know this one has made Sirens reading lists before, but I have to include it here, both as an essential work of magical realism, and a depiction of love and heartbreak so visceral you’ll taste it.

 

Anna-Marie McLemore is the Mexican-American author of The Weight of Feathers, a 2016 William C. Morris YA Debut Award Finalist; 2017 Stonewall Honor Book When the Moon Was Ours, which was longlisted for the National Book Award in Young People’s Literature and won the 2016 James Tiptree, Jr. Award; and Wild Beauty, a fairy tale of queer Latina girls and enchanted, murderous gardens. Blanca & Roja, a magical realism reimagining of Snow-White & Rose-Red meets Swan Lake, is forthcoming in 2018.

Anna-Marie’s historical short stories are forthcoming in the anthologies All Out, The Radical Element: Twelve Stories of Daredevils, Debutantes & Other Dauntless Girls, and Toil and Trouble. Her shorter work has previously been featured in The Portland Review, CRATE Literary Magazine’s “cratelit,” and Camera Obscura’s Bridge the Gap Gallery, and by the Huntington-USC Institute on California and the West.

For more information about Anna-Marie, please visit her website or Twitter.

 

Presented by Narrate Conferences, Inc.

 

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