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Archive for September 2020

Sirens Newsletter—Volume 12, Issue 9: September 2020

This month:

Whether you’re a pumpkin spice latte or apple cider sort of person, or eschewing fall-themed beverages altogether, the equinox has come and gone, and change is on the wind. Whatever patterns your life may be falling into these days, Sirens hopes we can provide you with some entertainment, some intellectual stimulation, and some companionship, even across the miles.

2020 Sirens at Home

The big news this month is Sirens at Home! We may not be able to convene in Denver, but we can come together in virtual space. From October 22nd to 25th, we have a schedule of events designed to show off the best of what Sirens is: a warm, supportive community celebrating fantasy fiction and those who love it. During the weekend, we’ll be sharing essays, hosting panels full of brilliant minds, giving book recommendations, and gathering in groups both large and small, both general and specific, for discussion and merriment!

If you haven’t attended Sirens before, or if you’re trying to convince a friend or colleague to join us, this is a fabulous opportunity to get a taster of what Sirens is all about. The weekend is a veritable sampler of what you’d get at a full in-person conference – and it’s totally free. That’s right! Anyone can attend with an absolutely no-charge registration.

How should you do that? Well, all you need to do is register, and we’ll send you all the info you need to join the online events.

The Sirens staff is so excited about the online programming we’re putting together, and we hope we’ll see many friends, old and new, on our screens in October!

Sirens Chats

Sirens at Home isn’t your only chance to see your fellow Sirens! We’re also holding more Zoom chats in October and November. These video meet-ups have been very chill and sociable, a chance to blow off a little steam, connect with far-flung friends, and trade recommendations on books, binge-watching, recipes, child-and-pet-wrangling, and more.

Here are the dates and times for the next two Zoom chats. If you’re not yet on the list to receive reminders, email help at sirensconference.org, and you won’t miss a thing.

  • Saturday, October 3, at 12 p.m. PDT/3 p.m. EDT
  • Monday, November 16 at 5 p.m. PST/8 p.m. EST

We also have a text-only chat option, ideal for the camera-shy or just camera-exhausted! On Thursday, October 8, 9 p.m. EDT/8 p.m. CDT, we’ll have a spooky-themed Twitter chat! Simply follow #SirensChat and answer questions with the hashtag to join in!

Books

It’s starting to be cozy-up reading season, isn’t it? Maybe you get to curl up on a porch with a blankie, breathing in the crisp autumn air and letting a pleasant chill settle over you as you leaf through the pages of a new adventure – or maybe you’re huddled inside, seeking refuge from tumultuous weather. Whatever your reading situation is, we hope we can bring you some delights and give you something to chat about with your fellow Sirens.

We’re even doing Books and Breakfast for Sirens at Home! Check out the seven 2020 releases being featured, and if you’d like to take part on Friday, October 23rd, pick one to read, make sure you’re registered for SAH, and join the discussion.

Book Recommendations and Reviews:

  • Amy Tenbrink calls Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia “a must-read for anyone interested in both female horror and its evolution.” Read the full review.
  • Tina LeCount Myers gives us a reading list featuring stubborn, willful, goal-oriented heroines.
  • September gave us a whole slate of fantastic new releases by women and non-binary authors! Check out our round-up if you need some inspiration.

Our staff members are full of excitement for some of October’s new releases. Here’s what we can’t wait to get our hands on:

Erynn’s Pick: Burning Roses by S.L. Huang

Burning Roses

Enjoy a dark adventurous escape into the fairy tale world of Rosa, aka Red Riding Hood, a recovering assassin, and Hou Yi the Archer from Chinese mythology. These once-gloried heroines are queer, middle-aged, tired, and full of angst over the past. Instead of relaxing away their retirement, they must team up against deadly sunbirds, sent by Hou Yi’s former apprentice, ravaging destruction through the countryside.

In the midst of chaos, Rosa reminisces guilt over her associations with scam artist Goldie (of three bears fame) and marriage to Mei, a foreign beauty who was imprisoned by a prince-turned-beast. Meanwhile, Hou Yi, finds opportunity to make amends to her family following her ruthless chase of immortality. Burning Roses is a quick read with a big feel, written by MIT mathematician and professional weapons expert/stuntwoman, S.L. Huang.

Cass’s Pick: The Once and Future Witches by Alix E. Harrow

The Once and Future Witches

There’s no such thing as witches – but maybe there could be. When the Eastwood sisters join the suffragist movement in New Salem, they begin a process of melding magic into their political efforts. Invoking ancient rites and the strength of their words, they seek to open new avenues to power for women. Their actions might change the course of history, if they can evade the dark forces lining up against them.

Having read The Ten Thousand Doors of January this past winter and absolutely eaten it up with a spoon, I’m so excited to read Harrow’s next effort. Her prose is gorgeously spell-binding, and the witchy theme should make this a perfect October read.

This newsletter is brought to you by:

 


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

 

Don’t Tell Me I Can’t Do It!

The Sirens Review Squad is made up of Sirens volunteers, who submit short reviews of books (often fantasy literature by women or nonbinary authors) they’ve read and enjoyed. If you’re interested in sending us a book list or review to run on the blog, please email us! Today, we welcome a book list by Tina LeCount Myers.

I have a penchant for willful, stubborn, go-against-the-grain heroines. Especially those with a goal or a vision. I enjoy reading these characters because they act as a reminder to me about what is possible when one stops being nice and says NO to others and YES to self. Seen as selfish or unreasonable by those around them, these heroines often struggle, not only against the outside world but also their intimate circle of family and friends. These heroines rarely have it easy: They suffer the consequences of their actions and convictions. But ultimately, they have a richer life for saying, “Don’t tell me I can’t do it!”

If you share my affinity for these kinds of heroines, you might like to read:

 

A Natural History of Dragons
1. A Natural History of Dragons by Marie Brennan

“Don’t tell me I can’t go on a scientific expedition to study dragons!”

In this Victorian-esque fantasy, main character Isabella Trent chafes under what is expected of a proper lady. While she agrees to marry, she does so for the man’s library and not his wealth. And when she grows tired of the social expectations of a wife, she convinces her husband that an expedition to find rock-wyrms (dragons) is just the ticket. Although Isabella tries to balance social norms with her own desires, it is her calling as a dragon naturalist that takes precedence. Her recounting of the expedition unfolds much like the diaries of intrepid British male explorers of the 19th nineteenth century. This is a book for readers who enjoy maps, illustrations, and crisp writing with their cup of tea.

Gods of Jade and Shadow
2. Gods of Jade and Shadow by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

“Don’t tell me I can’t have a life of my own!”

The roaring twenties in Mexico are alive with jazz and ancient gods in this book. Main character Casiopea Tun dreams of a life away from her small, dusty town in southern Mexico, where she is treated like a servant in her family. When she inadvertently frees the God of Death, she is drawn into his quest to regain his power. Acting as his ally, Casiopea risks her own death to get the life she has always dreamed of. This is a beautifully written book with tension at every turn. It is a story for readers who enjoy magical realism and a walk through the shadows of the underworld and perhaps a companion piece for those who have read Labyrinth Lost by Zoraida Córdova.

Binti
3. Binti by Nnedi Okorafor

“Don’t tell me I can’t go to the best university in the galaxy!”

There is a world out there to explore, but while Binti’s people are focused on gaining knowledge, they do not leave Earth. However, main character Binti, who is mathematically gifted, has the chance to attend Oomza, a prestigious university on a distant planet. With her isolationist-family set against it, if Binti leaves, she risks hurting them. If Binti goes, she knows she will face deep prejudice. Although it is a novella, released in a series, this book has more world-building in 96 pages than most with 500 pages. A quick, engrossing read for those who enjoy Africanfuturism and the short stories of Octavia Butler and Ursula Le Guin. This book proves that small can be powerful.

The Guns Above
4. The Guns Above by Robyn Bennis

“Don’t tell me I can’t command a military airship!”

This steampunk novel comes with cannon-fire, dirigibles, and a snarky heroine. Meet Auxiliary Lieutenant Josette Dupre, who has good reason to have an acerbic outlook. While the Air Signal Corps of Garnia is co-ed, women are only allowed “auxiliary” roles. Josette, however, has her eye on command and nothing is going to stop her, not a dubious crew nor a dandy spy. Josette is tough, canny, and ready to trade barbs and pistol-fire—whatever it takes to win. I read and listened to this book in tandem. Both versions merit a “Huzzah.” Readers who enjoyed Naomi Novik’s His Majesty’s Dragon will appreciate the military detail, this time with a woman at the helm and one who has a sense of humor.

Steeplejack
5. Steeplejack by A.J. Hartley

“Don’t tell me I can’t care for a baby and solve the theft of an artifact and the death of a young boy!”

In this post-colonial steampunk story, the scales are stacked against main character Anglet Sutonga. She’s an immigrant, she’s a female steeplejack, and she’s the third daughter—a curse to her family. When she finds her apprentice dead on the day an artifact disappears, she is not only convinced they are linked, she is determined to find out the truth. Caught between the machinations of apartheid leaders and the care for her sister’s baby, Anglet must convince others what she knows in her heart. She can do it. Readers of Nisi Shawl’s Everfair and Justina Ireland’s Dread Nation will find a heroine who does not take no for an answer


Tina LeCount MyersTina LeCount Myers is a writer, artist, independent historian, and surfer. Born in Mexico to expat-bohemian parents, she grew up on Southern California tennis courts with a prophecy hanging over her head: Her parents hoped she’d one day be an author. Tina lives in San Francisco with her adventurer husband and two loud Siamese cats. The Song of All is the first book of her epic fantasy trilogy, The Legacy of the Heavens. You can follow Tina on Twitter @tlecountmysters and learn more about her work on her website.

 

Sirens at Home: Books and Breakfast Selections

Each year at Sirens, we offer a Books and Breakfast program where attendees bring their breakfast and join us to talk books: timely books, popular books, even controversial books. While we’ll be saving all of our villainous selections for Books and Breakfast in 2021 (when we will, indeed, convene on a theme of villains), we’ve chosen different books for this year: seven 2020 releases that we think are all pretty terrific.

On Friday, October 23, 2020, we will hold our Books and Breakfast program online as part of Sirens at Home. If you’d like to join us, please do! All you need to do is register for Sirens at Home, read one of the following selections, grab your breakfast, and join the online discussion.

 
Sirens at Home Books and Breakfast Selections

Elatsoe

Elatsoe
by Darcie Little Badger (illustrations by Rovina Cai)

Elatsoe, or just Ellie, is your average teenager trying to figure out her place in the world and what she wants from life—except that her contemporary America has ghosts, vampires, and fae, and Ellie herself can raise the ghosts of dead animals. Think really dead animals, like mammoths and trilobites, not merely Ellie’s more recently dead dog, Kirby. As Little Badger’s work opens, Ellie’s cousin dies surprisingly and violently, confirmed first by paranormal reverberation that shocks Kirby and a dreamland visitation of Ellie’s. In a bit of a backward mystery, Ellie’s determined to find the clues that will lead to what she already knows: who killed her cousin. Little Badger’s work incorporates the traditions and legends of the Lipan Apache tribe (of which she is an enrolled member) and makes them integral to both her fantastical America and Ellie’s deductive skills. You’ll love Ellie—and you’ll clamor for a book about Six Great, her fabled foremother who looms large in Little Badger’s America.

Never Look Back

Never Look Back
by Lilliam Rivera

A contemporary retelling of Orpheus and Eurydice featuring Afro-Latinx characters in the Bronx, Never Look Back hums with bachata rhythms and the pulsing possibilities of hazy summer nights. Pheus, the popular golden-voiced bachata singer among his circle of friends, is drawn to Eury, a newly arrived girl from Puerto Rico. Eury is processing the trauma of her family losing everything in Hurricane Maria, and she’s haunted by a spirit whose only desire is to have her with him, always. Mythologies intertwine in this straight-talk novel fused with magical realism, and Rivera seamlessly weaves in examinations of colonialism, toxic masculinity, class, and mental health. This is both a romance and a book about community, and the relationships that strengthen it are a highlight—particularly Eury’s relationship with her cousin Penelope, and Pheus’s with his father. You already know what happens at the pivotal climax; Eury’s agency and empowerment makes this read as catchy as the tunes within.

The Order of the Pure Moon Reflected in Water

The Order of the Pure Moon Reflected in Water
by Zen Cho

Though a greater war bleeds beyond its pages, The Order of the Pure Moon Reflected in Water centers a small group of roving bandits who, at the story’s beginning, convene in a coffeehouse for a job and encounter a former-nun-turned-waitress. The ensemble cast will please lovers of found family, though the narrative is driven by Tet Sang, a bandit with a past of his own who feels compelled to pull Guet Imm, the waitress, into the group. Cho’s novella is a masterclass in subtlety; instead of an epic volume that features wealthy nobles or expert warriors, it spotlights everyday people who make individual choices in the name of survival. There’s magic and violence—secondary to the interpersonal relationships among the characters—and a delightful queer romance woven so intricately within the action that you never forget there’s a bigger set piece. Reading this book is like becoming one of the crew.

Remembrance

Remembrance
by Rita Woods

By debut author Rita Woods, Remembrance is an ambitious blend of historical fiction and fantasy ultimately about the safe haven created by Black women throughout—and beyond—time. The multiple points of view give the work tremendous scope (and will appeal to fans of epic fantasy in particular): Gaelle in present-day Cleveland, Margot in 1857 New Orleans, Abigail in 1791 Haiti, and the mysterious Winter. As the characters face plagues, rebellion, slavery, death and separation of loved ones—and disenfranchisement in the most extreme sense of the word—we’re introduced to Remembrance, a refuge for slaves who do not make it out of the Underground Railroad. As the narratives converge, you’ll appreciate Woods’s thorough research and delicate hand, and how each of the women comes into her magic. She relates what we know to be true: Black women have been building sanctuary for their communities throughout generations.

Snapdragon

Snapdragon
by Kat Leyh

You already know Kat Leyh’s work as a cowriter and cover artist for the inimitable Lumberjanes comic series, but you’re about to know her for Snapdragon as well. In this graphic work, Snapdragon, an angry, ostracized girl, encounters Jacks, the town witch, while looking for her lost dog. Jacks has Good Boy, sure enough, but only because she found him on the side of the road and patched him up. When Snap, desperate for friends, finds orphaned possums, she ends up back at Jacks’s house—and Jacks strikes her a deal: She’ll help Snap care for the possums if Snap helps her with her business recovering dead animals and assembling their skeletons for sale on the Internet. That’s just the beginning of a work that weaves—through all of Snap’s anger and Jacks’s isolation, Snap’s mother’s trying to balance everything and Snap’s friend’s coming out, and a surprising thread of magic—a delicately human story about finding yourself, whoever that person might be, and finding a community, however unexpected that might be. In the end, Snapdragon is a sob-fest, happy-ending story about giving folks a chance, and sometimes even two.

Star Daughter

Star Daughter
by Shveta Thakrar

Sheetal’s mom is a star. A real, live star, who lives in the heavens and left Sheetal alone with her father when Sheetal was a little girl. Now a teenager, full of big dreams and bigger feelings, Sheetal finds herself torn between her modern desi-girl American life, full of expectations and accomplishments and a forbidden boyfriend, and staring at the night sky, wishing for her mom—and wishing that she didn’t have to dye her starlight hair dark and hide that the stars call her name. Lately that call has become stronger, and Sheetal finds herself caught up in something she doesn’t understand. She accidentally harms her father and must ascend to the sky to heal him. But of course none of this happened by chance: Her star family wishes for Sheetal to compete for them in a competition that will determine control of the stars for years to come. In all of this, Sheetal is a dang delight: all too real, and by turns flattered, confused, and furious with her star family. And as she navigates the politics of the stars, her nascent relationships with her family, and her erstwhile romance with her boyfriend, she’s the sort of heroine who’s always in charge of herself, no matter what her maternal grandmother might think.

Unconquerable Sun

Unconquerable Sun
by Kate Elliott

If “genderflipped Alexander the Great in space” doesn’t grab you, then perhaps “genetically engineered human-aliens, cutthroat galaxy-spanning politics, queernorm worldbuilding, and imaginative future tech” will. An exciting opening to a new series, Unconquerable Sun has plenty of Easter eggs for those with interest in classical studies, but provides a standalone, fully realized world—nay, an entire galaxy, with deep roots and evocative details. Our protagonist Sun is an astonishing hero: charismatic, decisive, brilliant, sharp; the cast that surrounds her is equally grand, from the wily Persephone to the handsome Alika, and all the rest of Sun’s Companions. Elliott has taken some risks in the way she handles the various point-of-view characters, changing person and tense in a way that helps the reader feel the soul-deep shifts between each character. It pays off: The book is an enthralling adventure from start to finish.

Mexican Gothic Holds the Precise, Beating Heart of Modern Women’s Horror

Each year, Sirens chair Amy Tenbrink posts monthly reviews of new-to-her fantasy books by women and nonbinary authors. You can find all of her reviews at the Sirens Goodreads Group. We invite you to read along and discuss!

Mexican Gothic

On page 186 of Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s Mexican Gothic, Noemí, our heroine, is mid-conversation with Virgil, the heir apparent of High Place, a crumbling family mansion in rural Mexico. She is in Virgil’s bedroom in the middle of the night, after experiencing a disturbingly vivid sexual dream featuring Virgil and his aggressive masculinity. The first words of the following exchange are Noemí’s:

“Were you in my room?”
“I thought I was in your dream.”
“It did not feel like a dream.”
“What did it feel like?”
“Like an intrusion,” she said.

As a reader, this is the sort of revelatory writing that requires that you put the book down and find something, anything—in this case, a Bath and Body Works coupon—to mark the page. Because this exchange is the precise, beating heart of modern women’s horror.


Let’s begin with a bit about Mexican Gothic. Noemí is a socialite in 1950s Mexico, mostly happy with her rounds of dresses and parties and beaux, but still, always, a girl who wants more: currently, a master’s degree in anthropology. When her family receives a nonsensical letter—troubling for all its nonsense—from her cousin, Catalina, Noemí’s father agrees to permit her to pursue that master’s degree, if only she’ll go check on Catalina and her new husband, Virgil, at High Point. Noemí takes the deal and is soon on a train, suitcases in tow.

Moreno-Garcia draws Noemí cleverly: She’s an assertive girl, but also a pretty one, and one who is accustomed to things being just so, one who thrives on appearances and flirtations and delicately upending social niceties with just the right amount of perceived danger. Because of who Noemí is, High Point reads initially as simply off-putting: dusty, moldy, faded, the home of an impoverished family unable to keep up with either cleaning or modern conveniences like electricity. Similarly, the household’s exacting rules—no talking during meals, no unsupervised time with Catalina, no second medical opinions—are designed to imply merely that Noemí has encountered a society foreign to her, one that a pretty girl cannot manipulate with smiles and teasing. But over time, through alarming conversations with her cousin, who seems only sometimes lucid, and forbidden conversations with locals, who share legends and mysteries, but rarely more, Noemí realizes that High Point is more menacing than simply unkempt, and the rules more dangerous than simply irritating.


Shirley Jackson’s seminal work of feminine horror, The Haunting of Hill House, was published in 1959, the same decade as the setting of Moreno-Garcia’s Mexican Gothic. In 60 years, though, women have gained new terrors—and new insight into familiar terrors. Jackson’s work is about mothers, domineering, demanding mothers who, even after death, haunt our lives. How almost quaint, through a 2020 lens, to focus on the issue with mothers, rather than the issues with the heteropatriarchy that so often make them that way. Moreno-Garcia’s work, while clearly an heir to Jackson’s, goes deeper and is not so willing to elide the roles that men play in women’s terrors.

Mexican Gothic is a work about intrusion, specifically a work about men’s innumerable intrusions into women’s lives. Without spoiling the mystery or the jump scares, Moreno-Garcia’s work turns on the many, many things that men take from women and the sacrifices that women are required to make to perpetuate men’s power. This isn’t a work about Noemí’s mother, who is nearly absent from the book, even in reference. It is a work about her father, in his wealthy naivete; Howard, the ailing, racist head of the High Point family; Virgil, the skillfully abusive heir apparent; and Francis, the weak-willed cousin. And it’s a work about the women who enable them—Florence, Francis’s mother and the household disciplinarian, and Catalina, Noemí’s compliant cousin—and Noemí, who does not.

At its best, Mexican Gothic uses its horrors to lay bare the quotidian horrors of women, forced to endure a lifetime of male intrusions.

At its worst, we need to talk about Moreno-Garcia’s use of rape, attempted rape, and sexual assault. Mexican Gothic is about male intrusions into women’s lives and, in many ways, very specifically about male intrusions into women’s bodily autonomy, both small (you may not take the car alone, you may not speak during dinner) and large (you may not leave High Point). In exploring those themes, Moreno-Garcia turns, often, to rape, attempted rape, and sexual assault. With a single exception (the final horror imposed on a woman, revealed at the book’s climax), in this work that is so much about bodily autonomy, Mexican Gothic assumes that rape is the ultimate intrusion that a man can force upon a woman. Regardless of whether you agree with that, Mexican Gothic uses rape, attempted rape, and sexual assault liberally—and in my view, too often. We know that Howard and Virgil are threats and, by the midway point of the book we know enough about High Point’s history to know that they are both sexual threats. Because we know that, most of these scenes read as unnecessary, no longer a horror that Howard or Virgil is imposing on Noemí, but a horror that Mexican Gothic imposes on its readers. Men intrude on women’s lives in so many ways; must the second half of Mexican Gothic rely so heavily on this one?

Setting aside its arguable overreliance on the horrors of sexual assault—if you are able to, of course—Mexican Gothic is a must-read for anyone interested in both female horror and its evolution. Moreno-Garcia takes Jackson’s themes from 60 years ago and transforms them, erasing the mother in favor of striking at the heart of the heteropatriarchy itself. In a world where we are all told to be more likeable, where our options are always limited, and yes, where we all fear assault, Moreno-Garcia’s house of horrors will be all too familiar.


Amy TenbrinkBy day, Amy Tenbrink dons her supergirl suit and handles strategic and intellectual property transactions as an executive vice president of a major media company. By night, she dons her supergirl cape, plans literary conferences, bakes increasingly complicated pastries, and reads 150 books a year. She is a co-founder and current co-chair of Sirens, an annual conference dedicated to examining gender and fantasy literature. She likes nothing quite so much as monster girls, flagrant ambition, and a well-planned revolution.

New Fantasy Books: September 2020

We’re excited to bring you a roundup of September 2020 fantasy book releases by and about women and nonbinary folk. Let us know what you’re looking forward to, or any titles that we’ve missed, in the comments!
 

Presented by Narrate Conferences, Inc.

 

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