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Just in Time for Halloween, 13 Spooky Speculative Books

Halloween is here, and even though 2020 is scary enough as it is, we couldn’t resist gathering a list of thirteen of our favorite spOoOoky books. Turn off the news for a bit, shut the computer down, and check out some of these fictional scares instead!

We’ve included links to those works at Bookshop in the titles. Bookshop supports both Sirens and independent bookstores, so if you’re looking to purchase any of these titles, they’re a great option!

1. Anna Dressed in Blood by Kendare Blake

Anna Dressed in Blood Cas hunts ghosts. But when he meets rage-filled, vengeful haunt Anna, everything about his too-tidy life changes. The revelation of this work is Anna, Blake’s study in dichotomies, in violence, in victimization, and in heroism.

2. Black Cranes ed. by Lee Murray and Geneve Flynn

Black Cranes Black Cranes collects beautifully eerie, darkly real works by Southeast Asian authors. These stories run the gamut from nightmarish folktales to chilling futurism, but they all revolve around the horror of cultural expectations.

3. Cemetery Boys by Aiden Thomas

Cemetery Boys A Latinx trans boy with a traditional family tries to prove he’s a brujo by summoning a ghost. But he summons the wrong boy—and falls for him instead! A spooky yet cozy and heartfelt book about strength, affirmation, and honoring your truth.

4. Gideon the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir

Gideon the Ninth Gideon hates every fucking second of her time as cavalier primary to Harrowhark, master necromancer, as they navigate an impossible puzzle in a house of death in space. Muir’s work is gloriously, ferociously ambitious, defiant—and hilarious.

5. How to Recognize a Demon Has Become Your Friend by Linda Addison

How to Recognize a Demon Has Become Your Friend A collection of horror poetry and prose, How to Recognize a Demon Has Become Your Friend absolutely nails the low, creeping dread of giving yourself away in pieces. It’s not death itself that serves up the fear here, but what comes after.

6. Into the Drowning Deep by Mira Grant

Into the Drowning Deep A missing ship and crew. A scientific excursion to the Mariana Trench. Tory Stewart just wanted to learn what happened to her sister, and instead finds bloodthirsty mermaids. A gory, scary tale of how far one will go for revenge.

7. Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

Mexican Gothic In 1950s Mexico, socialite Noemí finds herself trapped in a house of horrors both supernatural and all-too-human. This exploration of invasions, colonization, and ultimately autonomy is the pulsing heart of modern feminist horror.

8. The Luminous Dead by Caitlin Starling

The Luminous Dead Caver Gyre is trapped below ground on a far-flung planet, with only expedition director Em in her ear—Em, who lies, who manipulates, who injects Gyre’s body with unknown drugs. An utterly suffocating, utterly magnificent horror novel.

9. The Girl from the Well by Rin Chupeco

The Girl from the Well “I am where dead children go,” begins Chupeco’s debut novel about a potent spirit who uses all her deathly power to punish those who hurt kids. A must-read for anyone who’s ever sympathized more with the ghost than the people it haunts.

10. The Scapegracers by Hannah Abigail Clarke

The Scapegracers When Sideways Pike is paid to do magic at the cool girls’ party, it goes gloriously right. But magic going right has consequences. Feral, delicious, and queer af, this hard-edged ode to fierce female friendship is a whole vibe.

11. The Unspoken Name by A.K. Larkwood

The Unspoken Name An ambitious fantasy, smeared across a hundred vibrant worlds, acknowledging the old tropes of the genre and then soundly subverting them. The Unspoken Name reads like Larkwood asked herself what scared her the most—and the answer was “gods.”

12. Vassa in the Night by Sarah Porter

Vassa in the Night In a world of creeping night, Baba Yaga runs a chain of nightmare convenience stores in Brooklyn—and she’s all too happy to behead shoplifters. Headstrong Vassa stubbornly takes on a suicide mission for lightbulbs. Enter bravery and cleverness.

13. Wilder Girls by Rory Power

Wilder Girls Power’s quarantine book might be a bit much right now, but her exploration of female friendship, queer love, and resilience through a little mystery and a lot of body horror is stunning, revelatory, a must-read.

Sirens at Home: Villains Books

Villains

In 2021, Sirens will examine villains, especially with respect to what that means for people with marginalized identities, with Guests of Honor Kinitra D. Brooks, Rin Chupeco, Sarah Gailey, and Fonda Lee, as well as Sirens Studio Guest of Honor Joamette Gil. We’ll deconstruct classifications of villainy and expectations of redemption, and how those differ based on a person’s gender, not to mention other axes of oppression.

Sirens currently suggests a number of books to expand your reading on villainy. For Sirens at Home, though, we want to feature 10 books that we think have something to say about gender and villainy, and how we so easily view those with marginalized identities as villains. Here are those books, as well as their opening words—and we’ve included links to those works at Bookshop in the titles. Bookshop supports both Sirens and independent bookstores, so if you’re looking to purchase any of these titles, they’re a great option!

1. A Feast of Sorrows by Angela Slatter

A Feast of Sorrows “My father did not know that my mother knew about his other wives, but she did. It didn’t seem to bother her, perhaps because, of them all, she had the greater independence and a measure of prosperity that was all her own. Perhaps that’s why he loved her best.”

2. American Hippo by Sarah Gailey

American Hippo “Winslow Remington Houndstooth was not a hero. There was nothing within him that cried out for justice or fame. He did not wear a white hat—he preferred his grey one, which didn’t show the bloodstains. He could have been a hero, had he been properly motivated, but there were more pressing matters at hand.”

3. Beneath the Rising by Premee Mohamed

Beneath the Rising “My earliest memory of her smells like blood. I remember just enough.”

4. Gideon the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir

Gideon the Ninth “In the myriadic year of our Lord—the ten thousandth year of the King Undying, the kindly Prince of Death!—Gideon Nav packed her sword, her shoes, and her dirty magazines, and she escaped from the House of the Ninth.”

5. Jade City by Fonda Lee

Jade City “The two would-be jade thieves sweated in the kitchen of the Twice Lucky restaurant. The windows were open in the dining room, and the onset of evening brought a breeze off the waterfront to cool the diners, but in the kitchen, there were only the two ceiling fans that had been spinning all day to little effect. Summer had barely begun and already the city of Janloon was like a spent lover—sticky and fragrant.”

6. Queen of the Conquered by Kacen Callender

Queen of the Conquered “My mother kissed my forehead with a smile when I cried, upset that the party would carry on as I was sent away to sleep, and while I lay awake in my bed of lace, huddled beneath my covers and shivering in the cool trade-winds breeze, I heard when the tinkling piano stopped and when the laughter turned to screams.”

7. Slice of Cherry by Dia Reeves

Slice of Cherry “Fancy only allowed three people in the whole world to get close to her: Daddy, who was on death row; Madda, who was working the graveyard shift; and Kit, who was dead to the world in the bed next to hers. And so when she awoke to find a prowler hanging over her, violating her personal space, her first instinct was to jab her dream-diary pencil into his eye.”

8. The Bone Witch by Rin Chupeco

The Bone Witch “The beast raged; it punctured the air with its spite. But the girl was fiercer. She held no weapons except for the diamonds glinting like stars above her brow, against hair like a dark mass of sky. She wore no armor save a beautiful hua of mahogany and amber spun from damask silk, a golden dragon embroidered down its length, its body half-hidden by her waist wrap. She raised her arm, and I saw nothing. But the creature saw, and its wrath gentled, until it did little but whimper.”

9. The Poppy War by R.F. Kuang

The Poppy War “‘Take your clothes off.’
Rin blinked. ‘What?’
The proctor glanced up from his booklet. ‘Cheating prevention protocol.’ He gestured across the room to a female proctor. ‘Go with her, if you must.’
Rin crossed her arms tightly across her chest and walked toward the second proctor. She was led behind a screen, patted thoroughly to make sure she hadn’t packed test materials up any orifices, and then handed a formless blue sack.”

10. The Shadows Between Us by Tricia Levenseller

The Shadows Between Us “They’ve never found the body of the first and only boy who broke my heart. And they never will.”

For more information about our 2021 conference, please see our website.

Sirens at Home: Heroes Books

Heroes

In 2019, Sirens examined heroes in all their forms, but especially what it means to be a hero when you have multiple marginalized identities—and we did so with Guests of Honor Mishell Baker, Ausma Zehanat Khan, Rebecca Roanhorse, Suzanne Scott, and for the first time, a Sirens Studio Guest of Honor, Roshani Chokshi. As we interrogated what it means to be a hero, and explicitly rejected the traditional, hypermasculine notions of heroism, we discovered a pantheon of more revolutionary, but no less valuable, BIPOC, LGBTQIAP+, disabled and neurodivergent, and other heroes worthy of discussion and celebration.

In 2019, we suggested a number of books that portrayed this new definition of hero. For Sirens at Home, though, we want to feature 10 books that we think have something to say about what it means for anyone to be a hero, but especially those who haven’t been privileged as such in the past. Here are those books, as well as their opening words—and we’ve included links to those works at Bookshop in the titles. Bookshop supports both Sirens and independent bookstores, so if you’re looking to purchase any of these titles, they’re a great option!

1. A Pale Light in the Black by K.B. Wagers

A Pale Light in the Black “Commander Rosa Martín Rivas pasted another smile onto her face as she wove through the crowds and headed for her ship at the far end of the hangar. She and the rest of the members of Zuma’s Ghost had weathered the post-Games interviews with as much grace as a losing team could, answering question after question about how it felt to come within three points of beating Commander Carmichael’s SEAL team without ever breaking expression. That wasn’t entirely true. Jenks had slipped once, muttering a curse and giving the reporter a flat look.”

2. A Song Below Water by Bethany C. Morrow

A Song Below Water “It feels redundant to be at the pool on a rainy Saturday, even though it’s spring, and even though it’s Portland, but maybe I’m just more of a California snob than I want to be. Back home I went to the beach on more than one cloudy day. I’d stand on the cold sand, burrowing my toes beneath the surface as though there’d be some warmth there, and I’d listen. Just like I’m doing now.”

3. Aru Shah and the End of Time by Roshani Chokshi

Aru Shah and the End of Time “The problem with growing up around highly dangerous things is that after a while you just get used to them. For as long as she could remember, Aru had lived in the Museum of Ancient Indian Art and Culture. And she knew full well that the lamp at the end of the Hall of the Gods was not to be touched.”

4. Borderline by Mishell Baker

Borderline “It was midmorning on a Monday when magic walked into my life wearing a beige Ann Taylor suit and sensible flats. At the time I had more money than sense, and so I had been languishing at the Leishman Psychiatric Center in Silver Lake for just over six months. The Center had a rigid routine, and there was a perverse comfort in knowing what misery of boredom to expect and when.”

5. Every River Runs to Salt by Rachael K. Jones

Every River Runs to Salt “I keep an ocean in a jar on my nightstand and a handful of coffee beans in my pocket. My roommate Imani once held the Pacific Ocean hostage in our living room, but that was before she died and I followed her down to the Under-Ath to fix the mess she left.”

6. Star Daughter by Shveta Thakrar

Star Daughter “Sometimes keeping secrets was the hardest thing in the world. Sheetal Mistry decided to make a break for it. Right past the mirrored walls that reflected one another until the swanky banquet hall expanded into infinity—a horribly overcrowded infinity made of noisy kids, successful aunties and uncles, and gossiping grandparents. Everyone watching, everyone talking and laughing.”

7. The Bloodprint by Ausma Zehanat Khan

The Bloodprint Seven. Eight. Six. Arian traced the numbers in the sand. She was crouched behind a dusty ridge, surveying the land ahead. The wide, flat plains extended in every direction, broken in places by sparse shrubs, the faintest traces of greenery and life. She passed her field glasses to the coal-skinned woman perched to her right. ‘Do you see it?’”

8. The Candle and the Flame by Nafiza Azad

The Candle and the Flame “The muezzin’s call pierces the thinning night air, extracting Fatima from dreams of fire and blood. Her eyes open to the darkness, and for a moment, she is caught in the dark space between sleep and wakefulness. This space is filled with beautiful snarling faces, fear as vast as the night sky, and grief only just realized.”

9. The Light at the Bottom of the World by London Shah

The Light at the Bottom of the World “Hope had abandoned them to the wrath of all the waters.”

10. Trail of Lightning by Rebecca Roanhorse

Trail of Lightning “The monster has been here. I can smell him.”

For more information about our 2019 conference, including the programming presented that year, please see our 2019 archive page.

Sirens at Home: Magic Worker Books

Magic Workers

In 2017, Sirens examined those who work magic—witches, sorceresses, enchantresses, and more—with Guests of Honor Zoraida Córdova, N.K. Jemisin, and Victoria Schwab (and in our 2018 reunion year, Guest of Honor Leigh Bardugo represented magic workers). While the foundation of our 2017 theme was witches—and how, even in the wholly new worlds of speculative spaces, the word “witch” is still a slur—we sought all examples of magic-working in fantasy literature by women, nonbinary, and trans folks, and focused on how magic in speculative spaces is so often an analog for power.

In 2017, we suggested a number of books that portrayed this wide variety of magic workers. For Sirens at Home, though, we want to feature 10 books that we think have something to say about magic and power, especially across axes of oppression. Here are those books, as well as their opening words—and we’ve included links to those works at Bookshop in the titles. Bookshop supports both Sirens and independent bookstores, so if you’re looking to purchase any of these titles, they’re a great option!

1. A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab

A Darker Shade of Magic “Kell wore a very peculiar coat. It had neither one side, which would be conventional, nor two, which would be unexpected, but several, which was, of course, impossible.”

2. Labyrinth Lost by Zoraida Córdova

Labyrinth Lost “The second time I saw my dead aunt Rosaria, she was dancing. Earlier that day, my mom had warned me, pressing a long, red fingernail on the tip of my nose, ‘Alejandra, don’t go downstairs when the Circle arrives.’ But I was seven and asked too many questions.”

3. Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo

Six of Crows “Joost had two problems: the moon and his mustache. He was supposed to be making his rounds at the Hoede house, but for the last fifteen minutes, he’d been hovering around the southeast wall of the gardens, trying to think of something clever and romantic to say to Anya.”

4. Snapdragon by Kat Leyh

Snapdragon “Our town has a witch. She fed her eye to the devil. She eats roadkill, and she casts spells with the bones. That’s the kind of bull the dumb kids at school say. Witches ain’t real. She’s just an old loony. But…they also say she eats pets.”

5. Spellbook of the Lost and Found by Möira Fowley-Doyle

Spellbook of the Lost and Found “Daylight is only just touching the tips of the trees when the bonfire goes out. I am leaning against a bale of hay upon which someone I don’t know is sleeping.”

6. The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin

The Fifth Season “Let’s start with the end of the world, why don’t we? Get it over with and move on to more interesting things.”

7. The Lost Coast by Amy Rose Capetta

The Lost Coast “The first time I saw a redwood, I had a brand-new feeling—like discovering a color you’ve never seen before, or smelling snow for the first time if you were raised in a world without cold. Mom and I were driving up Highway 101 in a mostly good mood. We’d called Dad from the airport, and he hadn’t sounded tragic, even though I knew he missed me. And I’d seen a dozen rainbow flags between San Francisco and this stretch of wildness. Every single one felt like a welcome sign.”

8. The Memory Trees by Kali Wallace

The Memory Trees “Beyond the window, the morning was bright and glittering, the sky a breathless blue, and the hotels on Miami Beach jutted like broken teeth across the water, but all Sorrow could see was the orchard. There were trees whispering behind the walls of the office, and she almost believed if she turned—if she was quick—she would glimpse their sturdy thick trunks and rustling dead leaves from the corner of her eye.”

9. The Queer Witch Comics Anthology edited by Joamette Gil

The Queer Witch Comics Anthology “We banished darkness outside the walls.
Inside our walls, the people followed Așa and worshipped light.
‘Where there is light, there is growth.’
‘Where there is light, there is truth.’
As future Așa, I was eager to learn.
Especially from her.”

10. We Ride Upon Sticks by Quan Barry

We Ride Upon Sticks “Two minutes into the second half, Masco’s #19 took an indirect shot on our goal. For a moment we lost sight of the ball in the scrum of players huddled in front of the net, the air blurry with sticks as if a hundred defenders were trying to clear it and a hundred others were trying to score. Considering how the first half went down, there really wasn’t any reason for those of us on offense to keep watching, our defense porous as a broken window. True, our opponents, the Masconomet Chieftains, hadn’t officially put it in the net, but it was a foregone conclusion, the ball already as good as in, another Masco goal adorning the scoreboard. Girl Cory turned and started the humiliating trek back to midfield. A few of us began to follow.”

For more information about our 2017 conference, including the programming presented that year, please see our 2017 archive page.

Sirens at Home: Rebel Books

Rebel

In 2015, Sirens examined rebels and revolutionaries, and what it takes to stand against oppressors, with Guests of Honor Rae Carson, Kate Elliott, and Yoon Ha Lee (and in our 2018 reunion year, Guest of Honor Kameron Hurley represented rebels). We cast a wide net in our definition of rebels and revolutionaries, seeking not just traditional fantasy uprisings, but more revolutionary notions of rebellion as well.

In 2015, we suggested a number of books that portrayed this wide variety of rebels and revolutionaries. For Sirens at Home, though, we want to feature 10 books that we think have something to say about what it means to rebel or revolt, especially for those with marginalized identities. Here are those books, as well as their opening words—and we’ve included links to those works at Bookshop in the titles. Bookshop supports both Sirens and independent bookstores, so if you’re looking to purchase any of these titles, they’re a great option!

1. Alif the Unseen by G. Willow Wilson

Alif the Unseen “The thing always appeared in the hour between sunset and full dark. When the light began to wane in the afternoon, casting shadows of gray and violet across the stable yard below the tower where he worked, Reza would give himself over to shuddering waves of anxiety and anticipation.”

2. An Accident of Stars by Foz Meadows

An Accident of Stars Sarcasm is armour, Saffron thought, and imagined she was donning a suit of it, plate by gleaming, snark-laden plate. ‘Nice undies,’ leered Jared Blake, lifting her skirt with a ruler. No, not a ruler—it was a metal file, one of the heavy ones they were meant to be using on their metalworking projects. He grinned at her, unrepentant, and poked the file upwards. The cold iron rasped against her thigh. ‘Are you shaved?’

‘Fuck off, Jared,’ Saffron shot back. ‘I’d rather have sex with an octopus.’”

3. An Unkindness of Ghosts by Rivers Solomon

An Unkindness of Ghosts “Aster removed two scalpels from her med-kit to soak in a solution of disinfectant. Her fingers trembled from the cold, and the tools slipped from her grasp, plopping ungracefully into the sanitizer. In ten minutes’ time, she’d be amputating a child’s gangrenous foot. This shaking and carrying on would not do.”

4. Bitch Planet: Extraordinary Machine by Kelly Sue DeConnick and Valentine De Landro

Bitch Planet: Extraordinary Machine “‘Excuse me?’
‘Pardon me?’
‘I’m so very sorry!’
‘She’s not there?’
‘No, and she’s got 10 seconds to walk through that door before I read the damned thing myself. 10…9…8…’”

5. Conservation of Shadows by Yoon Ha Lee

Conservation of Shadows “It is not true that the dead cannot be folded. Square becomes kite becomes swan; history becomes rumor becomes song. Even the act of remembrance creases the truth. What the paper-folding diagrams fail to mention is that each fold enacts itself upon the secret marrow of your ethics, the axioms of your thoughts. Whether this is the most important thing the diagrams fail to mention is a matter of opinion.”

6. Court of Fives by Kate Elliott

Court of Fives “We four sisters are sitting in the courtyard at dusk in what passes for peace in our house. Well‐brought‐up girls do not fidget nor fume nor ever betray the least impatience or boredom. But it is so hard to sit still when all I can think about is how I am going to sneak out of the house tomorrow to do the thing my father would never, ever give me permission to do.”

7. The Geek Feminist Revolution by Kameron Hurley

The Geek Feminist Revolution “‘Persistence.’ It was the answer to a question posed to science fiction writer Kevin J. Anderson in an interview about what he thought a writer required most in order to succeed in the profession. I read that interview when I was seventeen, hungrily scouring the shelves of the local B. Dalton bookseller for advice on how to be a writer.”

8. The Girl of Fire and Thorns by Rae Carson

The Girl of Fire and Thorns “Prayer candles flicker in my bedroom. The Scriptura Sancta lies discarded, pages crumpled, on my bed. Bruises mark my knees from kneeling on the tiles, and the Godstone in my navel throbs. I have been praying—no, begging—that King Alejandro de Vega, my future husband, will be ugly and old and fat.”

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

The Order of the Pure Moon Reflected in Water “There was a brief lull in the general chatter when the bandit walked into the coffeehouse. This was not because of the knife at his hip or his dusty attire, suggestive of a life spent in the jungle. It was not the first time Weng Wah Coffeehouse had seen a bandit and it would not be the last.”

10. We Set the Dark on Fire by Tehlor Kay Mejia

We Set the Dark on Fire “Daniela Vargas woke at the first whisper of footsteps coming up the road. By the time the sound of shattering glass in the courtyard alerted the campus to the presence of intruders, she was dressed and ready. For what? She wasn’t sure. After a childhood of heavy-footed military police in close pursuit, she knew better than to mistake the luxury of her surroundings for safety.”

For more information about our 2015 conference, including the programming presented that year, please see our 2015 archive page.

Sirens at Home: Hauntings Books

Hauntings

In 2014, Sirens examined hauntings and what it means to be haunted, with Guests of Honor Kendare Blake, Rosemary Clement-Moore, and Andrea Hairston (and in our 2018 reunion year, Guest of Honor Violet Kupersmith represented hauntings). We interrogated the history of hauntings books—and the vital impact that women played in the popularization of the ghost story and the importance of hauntings stories, originally sold as pulp fiction, to gender studies.

In 2014, we suggested a number of books that portrayed hauntings. For Sirens at Home, though, we want to feature 10 books that we think have something to say about what it means to be haunted, especially as a woman or nonbinary person. Here are those books, as well as their opening words—and we’ve included links to those works at Bookshop in the titles. Bookshop supports both Sirens and independent bookstores, so if you’re looking to purchase any of these titles, they’re a great option!

1. A Dash of Trouble by Anna Meriano

A Dash of Trouble “Leo sprinted to the hallway bathroom, slammed the door, and locked herself in, just in time. An angry knock followed, ‘Hey, hurry up in there!’ Leo let out a cackle to match her Halloween witch costume. Marisol, Leo’s sixteen-year-old sister, banged on the door. She could huff all she wanted; Leo had no plans of letting her in.”

2. Anna Dressed in Blood by Kendare Blake

Anna Dressed in Blood “The grease-slicked hair is a dead giveaway—no pun intended. So is the loose and faded leather coat, though not as much that as the sideburns. And the way he keeps nodding and flicking his Zippo open and closed in rhythm with his head. He belongs in a chorus line of dancing Jets and Sharks. Then again, I have an eye for these things. I know what to look for, because I’ve seen just about every variety of spook and specter you can imagine.”

3. Cemetery Boys by Aiden Thomas

Cemetery Boys “Yadriel wasn’t technically trespassing because he’d lived in the cemetery his whole life. But breaking into the church was definitely crossing the moral-ambiguity line. Still, if he was going to finally prove he was a brujo, he had to perform the rite in front of Lady Death.”

4. Elatsoe by Darcie Little Badger, illustrations by Rovina Cai

Elatsoe “Ellie bought the life-sized plastic skull at a garage sale (the goth neighbors were moving to Salem, and they could not fit an entire Halloween warehouse into their black van). After bringing the purchase home, she dug through her box of craft supplies and glued a pair of googly eyes in its shallow eye sockets. ‘I got you a new friend, Kirby!’ Ellie said. ‘Here, boy! C’mon!’ Kirby already fetched tennis balls and puppy toys. Sure, anything looked astonishing when it zipped across the room in the mouth of an invisible dog, but a floating googly skull would be extra special.”

5. Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

Mexican Gothic “The parties at the Tuñóns’ house always ended unquestionably late, and since the hosts enjoyed costume parties in particular, it was not unusual to see Chinas Poblanas with their folkloric skirts and ribbons in their hair arrive in the company of a harlequin or a cowboy. Their chauffeurs, rather than waiting outside the Tuñóns’ house in vain, had systematized the nights. They would head off to eat tacos at a street stand or even visit a maid who worked in one of the nearby homes, a courtship as delicate as a Victorian melodrama. Some of the chauffeurs would cluster together, sharing cigarettes and stories. A couple took naps. After all, they knew full well that no one was going to abandon that party until after one a.m.”

6. Redwood and Wildfire by Andrea Hairston

Redwood and Wildfire “‘I can’t keep running.’ Christmas moonbeams snuck through a break in the live oak trees, and Redwood Phipps planted her eleven-year-old self in the cold silvery light. Long legs and all, she was bone tired. Big brother George, her teary cousins, and wild-eyed grownups were leapfrogging through grandmother oaks, much wider than they were tall and so tangled up in one another, could have been a square mile of one tree. A maze of moss-covered boughs going every which way at once tripped up any fool aiming for speed. Redwood pressed her feet into the muck and felt fat ole roots holding down the ground.”

7. Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward

Sing, Unburied, Sing “I like to think I know what death is. I like to think that it’s something I could look at straight. When Pop tell me he need my help and I see that black knife slid into the belt of his pants, I follow Pop out the house, try to keep my back straight, my shoulders even as a hanger; that’s how Pop walks. I try to look like this is normal and boring so Pop will think I’ve earned these thirteen years, so Pop will know I’m ready to pull what needs to be pulled, separate innards from muscle, organs from cavities. I want Pop to know I can get bloody. Today’s my birthday.”

8. Sparrow Hill Road by Seanan McGuire

Sparrow Hill Road “There’s this vocabulary word—‘linear.’ It means things that happen in a straight line, like highways and essays about what you did on your summer vacation. It means A comes before B, and B comes before C, all the way to the end of the alphabet, end of the road…end of the line. That’s linear. The living are real fond of linear. The dead…not so much.”

9. Texas Gothic by Rosemary Clement

Texas Gothic “The goat was in the tree again. I hadn’t even known goats could climb trees. I had been livestock-sitting for three days before I’d figured out how the darned things kept getting out of their pen. Then one day I’d glanced out an upstairs window and seen Taco and Gordita, the ringleaders of the herd, trip-trip-tripping onto one of the low branches extending over the fence that separated their enclosure from the yard around Aunt Hyacinth’s century-old farmhouse.”

10. The Frangipani Hotel by Violet Kupersmith

The Frangipani Hotel “The only photograph I have of my father doesn’t show his face. He and his two brothers stand with their backs to the camera before their father’s grave on a sunny day in April 1973. My grandfather was killed when a building collapsed during the bombings that December, and the incense on top of his tomb—just visible over my uncle’s right shoulder—is almost all burned down. All three of the brothers are wearing their traditional silk jackets and trousers, but the trousers are white and don’t show up well because of the brightness of the sun and the pale marble of the cemetery all around them. It tricks my eyes whenever I look at it—for a moment I always think they are floating.”

For more information about our 2014 conference, including the programming presented that year, please see our 2014 archive page.

Sirens at Home: Tales Retold Books

Tales Retold

In 2012, Sirens examined tales retold, with Guests of Honor Kate Bernheimer, Nalo Hopkinson, and Malinda Lo (and in our 2013 reunion year, Guest of Honor Guadalupe Garcia McCall represented tales retold). We interrogated retellings of myths, legends, and fairy tales from around the world, including their successes and failures in bringing greater insight and understanding to our own world.

In 2012, we suggested a number of books that retold a variety of tales. For Sirens at Home, though, we want to feature 10 books that we think have something to say about what it means to retell, reinterpret, and reclaim a tale as your own. Here are those books, as well as their opening words—and we’ve included links to those works at Bookshop in the titles. Bookshop supports both Sirens and independent bookstores, so if you’re looking to purchase any of these titles, they’re a great option!

1. Ash by Malinda Lo

Ash “Aisling’s mother died at midsummer. She had fallen sick so suddenly that some of the villagers wondered if the fairies had come and taken her, for she was still young and beautiful. She was buried three days later beneath the hawthorn tree behind the house, just as twilight was darkening the sky.”

2. Circe by Madeline Miller

Circe “When I was born, the name for what I was did not exist. They called me nymph, assuming I would be like my mother and aunts and thousand cousins. Least of the lesser goddesses, our powers were so modest they could scarcely ensure our eternities. We spoke to fish and nurtured flowers, coaxed drops from the clouds or salt from the waves. That word, nymph, paced out the length and breadth of our futures. In our language, it means not just goddess, but bride.”

3. Gingerbread by Helen Oyeyemi

Gingerbread “Harriet Lee’s gingerbread is not comfort food. There’s no nostalgia baked into it, no hearkening back to innocent indulgences and jolly times at nursery. It is not humble, nor is it dusty in the crumb.”

4. Midnight Robber by Nalo Hopkinson

Midnight Robber “Oho. Like it starting, oui? Don’t be frightened, sweetness; is for the best. I go be with you the whole time. Trust me and let me distract you little bit with one anasi story.”

5. My Mother She Killed Me, My Father He Ate Me edited by Kate Bernheimer

My Mother She Killed Me, My Father He Ate Me “Despite its heft, this collection is a tiny hall of mirrors in the world’s giant house of fairy tales. Fairy tales comprise thousands of stories written by thousands of writers over hundreds of years. A volume published in the mid-twentieth century that purported to catalog every type of folktale in existence had more than twenty-five hundred entries; since then, countless new stories have joyously entered the world via new translations, folkloric research, and artists working in a multitude of forms.”

6. Never Look Back by Lilliam Rivera

Never Look Back “If it’s a Saturday, then two things are true. First, trains heading uptown will forever be late, no matter what. Deadass. It’s as if the MTA decides anyone going past 125th Street must not be worth the trouble. So what if you thought the train you got on downtown was an express 5? It doesn’t matter. Right now, it’s a local. No, wait, scratch that. Right now the train you’ve been chilling on for the past half hour has decided to not even enter the Boogie Down. Who cares if you have things to do?”

7. Summer of the Mariposas by Guadalupe Garcia McCall

Summer of the Mariposas “Juanita reacted first. Being fourteen and only second oldest, she didn’t usually take charge. But when she felt the corpse floating beside her, she started pulling Pita out of the water as if she were a sopping Raggedy Ann doll.”

8. The Girl and the Goddess by Nikita Gill

The Girl and the Goddess “In This Story

There is a girl who is stubborn

And strong-willed and who makes

Mistakes enough to fill an ocean.”

9. The Merry Spinster: Tales of Everyday Horror by Mallory Ortberg (now Daniel Lavery)

The Merry Spinster: Tales of Everyday Horror “Daughters are as good a thing as any to populate a kingdom with—if you’ve got them on hand. They don’t cost much more than their own upkeep, which you’re on the hook for regardless, so it’s not a bad strategy to put them to use as quickly as possible.”

10. Through the Woods by Emily Carroll

Through the Woods “When I was little I used to read before I slept at night. And I read by the light of a lamp clipped to my headboard. Stark white and bright, against the darkness of my room. I dreaded turning it off. What if I reached out…just past the edge of the bed and something waiting there, grabbed me and pulled me down, into the dark.”

For more information about our 2012 conference, including the programming presented that year, please see our 2012 archive page.

Sirens at Home: Monster Books

Monster

In 2011, Sirens examined monsters and their meaning in speculative literature, with Guests of Honor Justine Larbalestier, Nnedi Okorafor, and Laini Taylor (and in our 2013 reunion year, Guest of Honor Alaya Dawn Johnson represented monsters). We deconstructed the monsters and the monstrous feminine, discussing how frequently society deems both femininity and a refusal to conform to feminine “ideals” monstrous.

In 2011, we suggested a number of books that included feminine monsters. For Sirens at Home, though, we want to feature 10 books that we think have something to say about monstrousness and how society uses that construct to oppress marginalized identities. Here are those books, as well as their opening words—and we’ve included links to those works at Bookshop in the titles. Bookshop supports both Sirens and independent bookstores, so if you’re looking to purchase any of these titles, they’re a great option!

1. Liar by Justine Larbalestier

Liar “I was born with a light covering of fur. After three days it had all fallen off, but the damage was done. My mother stopped trusting my father because it was a family condition he had not told her about. One of many omissions and lies. My father is a liar and so am I. But I’m going to stop. I have to stop.”

2. Monstress: Awakening by Marjorie Liu and Sana Takeda

Monstress: Awakening “It took three years to find a name. Another two years to find the person. And now I’m here.”

3. Sawkill Girls by Claire Legrand

Sawkill Girls “Everyone knows about the island of Sawkill Rock: The silly old legends of its healing waters, which are impossible to altogether dismiss when one considers the people of Sawkill themselves—their hard white teeth and supple limbs. The brazen, easy way they walk and shop and love. Their flagrant indifference toward life beyond the Rock, and their deft handling of even the bleakest tragedy: Oh, what a shame that was, they say, and bow their shining heads for a moment before gliding on, untroubled.”

4. Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor

Strange the Dreamer “On the second Sabbat of Twelfthmoon, in the city of Weep, a girl fell from the sky. Her skin was blue, her blood was red.”

5. The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker

The Golem and the Jinni “The Golem’s life began in the hold of a steamship. The year was 1899; the ship was the Baltika, crossing from Danzig to New York. The Golem’s master, a man named Otto Rotfeld, had smuggled her aboard in a crate and hidden her among the luggage.”

6. The Luminous Dead by Caitlin Starling

The Luminous Dead “She’d never gone this deep. Gyre wriggled her armored body another centimeter into the crevice, then eased her bag of gear after her. The plating on the back of her calf scraped over the stone, and she winced at the noise. Nobody had warned her that the opening to the lower cave system was so small—or empty. To be fair, she hadn’t gotten a lot of warning or preparation. She’d been too eager to get below the surface to question if there should have been more than the limited orientation she’d received.”

7. The Mere Wife by Maria Dahvana Headley

The Mere Wife Say it. The beginning and end at once. I’m facedown in a truck bed, getting ready to be dead. I think about praying, but I’ve never been any good at asking for help. I try to sing. There aren’t any songs for this. All I have is a line I read in a library book. All shall be well and all shall be well and all manner of thing shall be well.”

8. Trouble the Saints by Alaya Dawn Johnson

Trouble the Saints Seven. That’s what we’re starting with. I woke with the dream late on a Thursday night, sometime in July. It’s a good one, as far as sevens go. The angel joker for the zero, plus seven of spades, that’s seven, clean as the air you breathe. Well, cleaner, if you breathing in Harlem.

9. Who Fears Death by Nnedi Okorafor

Who Fears Death “My life fell apart when I was sixteen. Papa died. He had such a strong heart, yet he died. Was it the heat and smoke from his blacksmithing shop? It’s true that nothing could take him from his work, his art. He loved to make the metal bend, to obey him. But his work only seemed to strengthen him; he was so happy in his shop. So what was it that killed him? To this day I can’t be sure. I hope it had nothing to do with me or what I did back then.”

10. Wilder Girls by Rory Power

Wilder Girls “Something. Way out in the white-dark. Between the trees, moving where the thickets swarm. You can see it from the roof, the way the brush bends around it as it rustles to the ocean.”

For more information about our 2011 conference, including the programming presented that year, please see our 2011 archive page.

Sirens at Home: Faery Books

Faery

In 2010, Sirens examined faeries, with Guests of Honor Holly Black, Marie Brennan, and Terri Windling (and in our 2013 reunion year, Guest of Honor Ellen Kushner represented faeries). We analyzed traditional and new texts, and the myriad, often villainous roles that faery literature permits those who are not cisgender men, not to mention the pantheon of personality traits that faeries display, from the Seelie Court to the Unseelie and around the world.

In 2010, we suggested a number of books that included faeries in their many guises. For Sirens at Home, though, we want to feature 10 books that we think have something to say about faeries, from brownies to queens to kitsunes. Here are those books, as well as their opening words—and we’ve included links to those works at Bookshop in the titles. Bookshop supports both Sirens and independent bookstores, so if you’re looking to purchase any of these titles, they’re a great option!

1. A Face Like Glass by Frances Hardinge

A Face Like Glass “One dark season, Grandible became certain that there was something living in his domain within the cheese tunnels. To judge by the scuffles, it was larger than a rat and smaller than a horse. On nights when hard rain beat the mountainside high above, and filled Caverna’s vast labyrinth of tunnels with the music of ticks and trickles and drips, the intruding creature sang to itself, perhaps thinking that nobody could hear.”

2. All of Us with Wings by Michelle Ruiz Keil

All of Us with Wings “Pallas sat sidesaddle on the kitchen counter, velvet ankle boots resting daintily in the deep porcelain sink. Pressing her nose against the dark kitchen window, she glared at the hulking cyclops creeping steadily toward Eris Gardens, its single working headlight illuminating the carriage house and steep gravel drive.”

3. An Enchantment of Ravens by Margaret Rogerson

An Enchantment of Ravens “My parlor smelled of linseed oil and spike lavender, and a dab of lead tin yellow glistened on my canvas. I had nearly perfected the color of Gadfly’s silk jacket.”

4. Desdemona and the Deep by C.S.E. Cooney

Desdemona and the Deep “Four stories above the Grand Foyer of the Seafall City Opera House, each painted panel in the barrel-vaulted ceiling depicted a scene from one of the three worlds. Which world it happened to be depended on the tint and tone of the panel: daylight was for Athe, the world of mortals; twilight represented the Valwode, where the gentry dwelled; and midnight belonged to Bana the Bone Kingdom, home to all the koboldkin. Through these wheeling coffers of world-skies—day dancing into dusk, dusk swirling into night, night into day again—cavorted the bright-winged, the beautiful, the bizarre. In that ceiling, at least, human and gentry and goblin all intermingled together, like they had in olden days before the doors between worlds were barred and the boundaries set.”

5. Midnight Never Come by Marie Brennan

Midnight Never Come “Fitful drafts of chill air blew in through the cruciform windows of the Bell Tower, and the fire did little to combat them. The chamber was ill-lit, just wan sunlight filtering in from the alcoves and flickering light from the hearth, giving a dreary, despairing cast to the stone walls and meagre furnishings. A cheerless place—but the Tower of London was not a place intended for cheer.”

6. Returning My Sister’s Face by Eugie Foster

Returning My Sister’s Face “Buddha teaches that this existence is one of suffering. And of all the Middle Kingdom, my people, the Clan of Bótù, bear the greatest burden of suffering. We are fodder for all—tiger and owl, fox and man—and only those with fleet limbs, strong hearts, and good fortune survive.”

7. The Falconer by Elizabeth May

The Falconer “I’ve memorized their every accusation: Murderess. She did it. She was crouched over her mother’s body, covered in blood.

8. The Faery Reel co-edited by Terri Windling

The Faery Reel “Where do faeries come from? Folklorists, philosophers, historians, mystics and others have debated this question for centuries. No one really knows how faeries originated—unless it’s the faeries themselves, and they’re not telling. What we do know is that tales of the faeries can be found on every continent around the globe, and that belief in the existence of the ‘Hidden People’ is surprisingly widespread today.”

9. Thomas the Rhymer by Ellen Kushner

Thomas the Rhymer “I’m not a teller of tales, not like the Rhymer. My voice isn’t smooth, nor my tongue quick. I know a few tunes, everyone does, but nothing like his: from me you’ll never hear songs of gentle maidens fording seven rivers for their false lover so bittersweet as to make the hardest old soldiers weep; nor yet merry ones of rich misers tricked out of their gold, with the twist of a word and a jest so neatly turned that the meanest old uncle that ever pinched a dowry still laughs without offense.”

10. Tithe by Holly Black

Tithe “Kaye took another drag on her cigarette and dropped it into her mother’s beer bottle. She figured that would be a good test for how drunk Ellen was—see if she would swallow a butt whole.”

For more information about our 2010 conference, including the programming presented that year, please see our 2010 archive page.

Sirens at Home: Warrior Books

Warrior

In 2009, our inaugural year, Sirens examined warriors, with Guests of Honor Kristin Cashore, Tamora Pierce, and Sherwood Smith (and in our 2013 reunion year, Guest of Honor Robin LaFevers represented warriors). We delved deep on what it means to be to a warrior, especially as that construct intersects with gender and gender expression.

In 2009, we suggested a number of books that considered gender and warrior archetypes. For Sirens at Home, though, we want to feature 10 books that we think have something to say about warriors, not to mention gender and other axes of oppression. Here are those books, as well as their opening words—and we’ve included links to those works at Bookshop in the titles. Bookshop supports both Sirens and independent bookstores, so if you’re looking to purchase any of these titles, they’re a great option!

1. A Blade So Black by L.L. McKinney

A Blade So Black “Alice couldn’t cry. She couldn’t scream. All she could do was run.”

2. Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi

Children of Blood and Bone “Pick me. It’s all I can do not to scream. I dig my nails into the marula oak of my staff and squeeze to keep from fidgeting. Beads of sweat drop down my back, but I can’t tell if it’s from dawn’s early heat or from my heart slamming against my chest. Moon after moon I’ve been passed over. Today can’t be the same.”

3. Crown Duel/Court Duel by Sherwood Smith

Crown Duel/Court Duel “I hope any of my descendants reading this know exactly what the Covenant and the Code of War are, but there is always the chance that my story has been copied by the scribes and taken to another land that will consider Remalna distant and its customs strange.”

4. Dark Triumph by Robin LaFevers

Dark Triumph “I did not arrive at the convent of the Saint Mortain some green stripling. By the time I was sent there, my death count numbered three, and I had had two lovers besides. Even so, there were some things they were able to teach me: Sister Serafina, the art of poison; Sister Thomine, how to wield a blade; and Sister Arnette, where best to strike with it, laying out all the vulnerable points on a man’s body like an astronomer charting the stars.”

5. Dread Nation by Justina Ireland

Dread Nation “The day I came squealing and squalling into the world was the first time someone tried to kill me. I guess it should have been obvious to everyone right then that I wasn’t going to have a normal life.”

6. First Test by Tamora Pierce

First Test “Alanna the Lioness, the King’s Champion, could hardly contain her glee. Baron Piers of Mindelan had written to say that his daughter wished to be a page.”

7. Graceling by Kristin Cashore

Graceling “In these dungeons, the darkness was complete, but Katsa had a map in her mind. One that had so far proven correct, as Oll’s maps tended to do.”

8. The Tiger’s Daughter by K Arsenault Rivera

The Tiger’s Daughter “Empress Yui wrestles with her broken zither. She’d rather deal with the tiger again. Or the demons. Or her uncle. Anything short of going north, anything short of war. But a snapped string? One cannot reason with a snapped string, nor can one chop it in half and be rid of the problem.”

9. We Hunt the Flame by Hafsah Faizal

We Hunt the Flame “People lived because she killed. And if that meant braving the Arz where even the sun was afraid to glimpse, then so be it.”

10. We Rule the Night by Claire Eliza Bartlett

We Rule the Night “Revna didn’t realize the war had come to them. Not until the factory stopped.”

For more information about our 2009 conference, including the programming presented that year, please see our 2009 archive page.

Presented by Narrate Conferences, Inc.

 

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