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Awesome Middle-Grade Reads

speculative middle grade recommendations

These books are from my middle school reading collection. This year has shown our school to be more diverse in identity than administration expected. It’s been my pleasure, along with our school librarian, to help students find books where they can find themselves in the story.

  • Pet by Akwaeke Emezi

    What if angels looked like monsters, but the real monsters were people? Jam, a Black trans girl, has to answer that question when the adults in her life refuse to believe reality.

  • Felix Ever After by Kacen Callender

    Felix Love, a trans boy, wants to be in love and to be loved in return. Through the novel, he learns he’s worthy of love, top scars and all.

  • Little & Lion by Brandy Colbert

    Colbert shows marginalizations overlap – Suzette is black, Jewish and bisexual, Emil is biracial (Korean/African-American) and hard of hearing due to Ménière’s disease, Lionel is Jewish and diagnosed with bipolar disorder, Rafaela is Latina and pansexual. Family keeps secrets, but should they?

  • George by Alex Gino

    More of an elementary book, this tells the story of Melissa, who wants to play Charlotte in her school’s production of Charlotte’s Web. However, since no one knows she’s a girl, she’s not even allowed to try out, but that doesn’t stop her.

  • Flamer by Mike Curato

    This graphic novel explores what it’s like to be a middle school boy that feels strongly about life and not having a place in it. The story takes place at summer camp, where he crushes on another boy and decides that he won’t let others’ opinions stop him from living his best life.

  • On a Sunbeam by Tillie Walden

    A love story told through two timelines and across deep space in a graphic novel. Mia falls for Grace way back in boarding school and finds her again as an adult.


 
Rook Riley

Former combat vet Rook Riley is a writer, game enthusiast, and all-around linguistic badass trained in Krav Maga and spoon warfare. They split their time between the Dallas-Fort Worth area and the family farm where the bulk of their writing is done. They are a member of the Dallas Defensive Shooters Club and the PTA. Hobbies include binge-watching Netflix and collecting tattoos.

11 Masterwork Collections of Speculative Short Fiction

Read With Amy

I’ve always been a reader—and until I went to law school, it didn’t matter how busy I was, I read anything, everything, voraciously, ravenously. I read on the school bus; I read between songs during the musicals I accompanied; I read during class; I read on planes, and in trains, and in the backseats of so many automobiles that my mother was certain when I started driving that I wouldn’t know how to get anywhere. I read constantly.

And then I attended law school. Law school, as it turns out, is a full-brain endeavor. One where you read and read and read some more, but case law, so much case law, and so many statutes and so many regulations. And to be successful, you need to stuff all those cases and all those statutes and all those regulations into your tiny brain and hope they don’t leak out your ears before your final—because in law school, that final is 100% of your grade and your grades determine who will even interview you in the first place, let alone hire you.

You might expect that I stopped reading in law school, but that’s not quite true. Even law school couldn’t dampen my reading entirely. But I needed something easier, something fluffier, not something less thoughtful, perhaps, but less challenging, something that required enough less of my brain that it didn’t interfere with all those cases and statutes and regulations.

So in law school, I read children’s literature and romance. And not really that much of either. But when I had time, it was children’s literature and romance.

And then after three years of cases and statutes and regulations, three years of children’s literature and romance, as I started in private practice, which didn’t really offer any additional time for reading, but at least no longer required that I reserve my brain entirely for memorization, I had to find my way back to reading more demanding works. I had to retrain my brain. To again start using it to think about things besides the law.

I did that through short fiction. My love of short fiction is premised on the challenge of building a world, a history, a people in such few pages. I love space in fiction, where my brain can work and think and construct. But foundationally, my love of short fiction is because it brought me back to reading after a time in my life when I mostly couldn’t. It was my way home.

And now, as we finally emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic, during which my brain was, for the second time in my life, categorically otherwise occupied, and I again need to find my way back to reading with any sort of focus or skill, I find myself again turning to short fiction.

So this month I want to offer you 11 masterwork collections of speculative works that I have loved. Maybe you will love them, too.

 

All the Names They Used for God by Anjali Sachdeva
1. All the Names They Used for God by Anjali Sachdeva

Sachdeva’s collection is delicate, balancing at that tenuous point where faith and fantasy overlap, where our need to believe in something larger than ourselves grasps at slippery threads, underscored by the inexplainable. These stories are full of wonder and awe: a man meets a mermaid, two girls practice something like witchcraft, a woman explores a subterranean cave. Sachdeva’s craft is beautiful, ineffable, inexorable.

Conservation of Shadows by Yoon Ha Lee
2. Conservation of Shadows by Yoon Ha Lee

In Conservation of Shadows, Lee uses his mastery of the short-story form to insistently reclaim the muddy awfulness of war from thousands of years of a shimmering veneer of grandeur. Lee’s protagonists are clever and determined, but so very fallible, propelled by duty and sacrifice, sometimes drowning in horror. Whether with spaceships or dragons, with far-flung science fiction or ancient myths, Lee always finds a way to reclaim our humanity from not only the awful specter of war, but our insistence on draping it in glory.

A Feast of Sorrows by Angela Slatter
3. A Feast of Sorrows by Angela Slatter

Slatter eschews the notion of reclaiming fairy tales, and with it, any conversation with the heteropatriarchal foundation of fairy tales. Instead, she—like her heroines—is too busy to discuss, criticize, or even chastise those who would impose conformance. Too busy being, if you will: being frightened and fearless, being brave and bold, being frail and fantastical. And A Feast of Sorrows, one of her collections of short fiction, features twelve of her finest, darkest, most transgressive fairy tales.

The Frangipani Hotel by Violet Kupersmith
4. The Frangipani Hotel by Violet Kupersmith

Kupersmith tackles history in her stunning collection, history fraught with war and displacement, so much fear and a stubborn determination to reclaim a culture from the aftermath of American aggression. Kupersmith’s work is born of her mother’s fleeing Vietnam after the fall of Saigon, her grandmother’s folkloric tales, and her own time in a Vietnam still rising after a millennium of occupation. The result is The Frangipani Hotel, a collection of sometimes terrifying, sometimes welcoming, always all-too-human ghost stories about a people emerging from the shadow of war.

Her Body and Other Parties by Carmen Maria Machado
5. Her Body and Other Parties by Carmen Maria Machado

Machado’s breathtaking, shattering work of fuck-you feminist stories opens with a virtuoso retelling of the Velvet Ribbon fairy tale as a fabulist, modern tale of privacy and the inevitability of male intrusions and never lets up from there. Machado incisively lays bare the constant oppressions and all-too-familiar compromises of women’s shared experiences, very aware that revolution can come only after fully realizing the rapacious horror of our quotidian lives.

And I Do Not Forgive You: Stories and Other Revenges by Amber Sparks
6. And I Do Not Forgive You: Stories and Other Revenges by Amber Sparks

Sparks’ collection is a clarion call cloaked in the glory of a battle cry: unapologetically feminist tales about ourselves—finding ourselves, prioritizing ourselves, caring for ourselves—somehow disguised as mere transgression and reclamation, wrapped in fairy tales and fables. As you spend time with Sparks’ firework of a collection, you realize that these stories may be called “revenges”—and they are—but they are also much, much more: a light in the dark, a reconnection with yourself, a beacon calling you home.

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

Lavery uses familiar tales—fairy tales, folklore, children’s classics—to unearth unavoidable truths. Here is someone who understands the original, cautionary nature of our stories and how stories travel societies unchanged, not to mention the everyday horrors of societal expectations, biased systems, and expected gender performance. Lavery deftly, dazzlingly detonates all that in The Merry Spinster: Here, people are people, and happiness is happiness, and societal expectations can be damned.

Revenge by Yoko Ogawa
8. Revenge by Yoko Ogawa

Ogawa is a national treasure in Japan but, despite a number of translations, tragically underread in the United States. Revenge is her weird, weird, breathtakingly weird collection of short stories and a terrific introduction to her larger body of work. As you traverse Ogawa’s eldritch landscape, you’ll stay up late wondering if these works are fantasy at all—or if they’re something far stranger, an examination of the quotidian macabre.

Sooner or Later Everything Falls into the Sea by Sarah Pinsker
9. Sooner or Later Everything Falls into the Sea by Sarah Pinsker

Pinsker’s masterwork—and it is a masterwork—thrives on isolation, nurtures it, consumes it. She has, with great care, woven the inescapable misery of isolation into thread that binds both her craft and your reading experience, a thin line where that isolation becomes desolation, where people cling fervently to hope, and when a single moment of human connection could have changed a life. Her stories are lonely, yearning, destructive, elegiac. Her collection is loss made tangible, in ink and paper.

Two Moons by Krystal A. Smith
10. Two Moons by Krystal A. Smith

Smith has crafted an utterly joyful, utterly delightful collection full of Black mysticism, queerness, and happy endings. In the opening, gorgeous work, a woman falls in love with the moon. Later, a woman births a goddess—and receives a surprising reward. In a surprise turn, a woman has a heart-to-heart…with her heart. Each work is a further pleasure, a further enchantment, a further chance to find a little bit of bliss. You’ll never want Smith’s collection to end.

What It Means When a Man Falls from the Sky by Lesley Nneka Arimah
11. What It Means When a Man Falls from the Sky by Lesley Nneka Arimah

Magnificent, highly perceptive stories, set in Africa or the United States, featuring Black characters and communities. Arimah skillfully deconstructs our need to be connected—sometimes to other people, sometimes to a community, sometimes to an idea of place or home or culture—and sets that against our all-too-real, all-too-destructive world. The first story alone is a gasp-aloud work: shocking, profound, heartbreaking.

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


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.

Hope, community, joy in tough times: Lily’s favorite pandemic reads

speculative fiction pandemic book recommendations

This is, quite simply, a selection of books that have brought me joy over the last year or so, a time when I particularly appreciated daring, hopeful speculative fiction. These books all have the sense of wonder that I love in the fantasy genre, whether that wonder comes from whisking you off to a new world or from making it feel like magic is just in your peripheral vision, waiting for you to recognize it. In addition to a strong sense of place, these stories feature characters that embrace their identities and forge connections and community. I hope that they continue to bring joy to new readers.

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

    After a run-in at a coffeehouse, Guet Imm, a devotee of the Order of the Pure Moon Reflected in Water, decides to join a company of bandits—regardless of what the bandits think of this idea. The world of this wuxia story, inspired by Emergency Malaya, is clearly vast and complex. Cho, however, cleverly zooms in on this group of characters. There is a charm and lightness to her prose that she uses to weave between banter and explorations of identity. The result is a character-driven story that reveals new layers to its protagonists through their developing relationships.

  • No Man’s Land by A.J. Fitzwater

    In World War II-era New Zealand, Dorothea “Tea” Gray arrives at a remote farm to work for the Land Service, where young women take on the jobs of men who have gone off to fight. As she gets to know fellow farm workers Izzy and Grant—who both worked with Tea’s brother before he shipped off to war—Tea starts to realize that the uncanny experiences she’s had on the farm speak to a magic within her. Tea’s magic, developing relationship with Izzy, and concern for her brother weave together into a moving conclusion that centers queer and indigenous identity.

  • Elatsoe by Darcie Little Badger, illustrations by Rovina Cai

    It is such a joy to pick up a book and be swept away by a unique voice, which was precisely my experience reading Elatsoe. In a slightly more uncanny version of our world, Ellie, an asexual, Lipan Apache teen, investigates the murder of her cousin. As her investigation unearths the secrets of a seemingly perfect town, she must discover the truth and protect her family. I love the portrayals of community in this book: Ellie’s family and the way they retell their stories; her comedic, nerdy banter with her best friend; and her bond with her pet, the ghost of her childhood dog. Rovina Cai’s chapter illustrations tell a beautiful story that runs parallel to the text.

  • Gods of Jade and Shadow by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

    I finally picked up not one, but three of Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s books in 2020. I enjoyed them all, but Gods of Jade and Shadow was my favorite, with a Jazz Age setting that reflects its explorations of tradition and change. In it, Casiopea Tun inadvertently pricks her finger on a shard of bone and frees the imprisoned Hun-Kamé, a Mayan god of the underworld. Bound together, they depart Casiopea’s home in the Yucatán and travel through Mexico as Hun-Kamé seeks to regain his former power. This book reads like an original fairytale and left me with a sense of beautiful melancholy.

  • The Midnight Bargain by C. L. Polk

    Beatrice Clayborn’s family is counting on her making an advantageous match this Bargaining Season, but that would mean abandoning her secret study of magic. Then she meets the Lavan siblings, catching the eye of handsome Ianthe. A lesser story might let Beatrice simply accept marrying for love, but Polk’s narrative takes a more nuanced route as Beatrice seeks a way to embrace her magical identity. This delightful fantasy romance blends Regency-style courtship (the costumes! the dances!) with magic and the fight for women’s rights. Polk is another author I kept returning to this past year, and I recommend their Kingston Cycle just as highly.

  • The Mermaid, the Witch, and the Sea by Maggie Tokuda-Hall

    The Mermaid, the Witch, and the Sea is a queer, anti-imperialist pirate story with sweeping adventure and lyrical romance. Flora has been sailing aboard the Dove as the pirate Florian. Evelyn’s imperial family has sent her away to marry an unknown man. When their paths cross, Florian and Evelyn not only fall in love, but also begin to reframe their views of themselves and their world. On their journeys, they encounter mermaids, magic, and lost memories. I adored so much about this book, from its queering of the “girl disguised as a boy” trope as an exploration of gender identity to its personification of the sea itself.


 

Lily Weitzman is a programming, outreach, and communications librarian in Boston, Massachusetts. On any given day, she might be found leading a poetry reading group, managing the science fiction and fantasy collections, teaching technology skills, or helping you find the title of that book you heard about on public radio. She has previously worked on a Yiddish oral history project and volunteered as an aquarium educator. Outside the library, Lily chairs the Yiddish Committee at Boston Workers Circle.

#SirensPride: 30 Queer AF speculative books to celebrate Pride Month

pride lgbtq speculative fiction recommendations

As a conference and community exploring gender in fantasy literature, with one of our primary goals to uplift works by women, nonbinary, and transgender people, we celebrate Pride all year long here at Sirens! We hope you know us as a destination for discovering glorious, wondrous, splendiferous books by LGBTQIAP+ authors, so we’re pleased to recommend 30 speculative works released in recent years.

It was nearly impossible to narrow this list down to 30, so please consider these works nothing more than a starting point in your glorious, wondrous, splendiferous trip through queer speculative fiction. Some listed here are new books by established favorites, others are dazzling debuts. Along the way, you’ll meet queer witches, nonbinary werewolves, angry bisexual dragons, trans necromancers, inclusive families, and queernormative worlds—as well as terrifying future worlds, reinterpretations of myth and folklore, complex political sci-fi, and bold, shimmering writing. (And if you’d rather get these recs on Twitter, we’ve been—and will continue!—tweeting a book out each day in the month of June at the hashtag #SirensPride.)

1. The Chosen and the Beautiful by Nghi Vo
The Chosen and the Beautiful by Nghi Vo Nghi Vo
Vo tackles Gatsby, folks, and it’s decadent, dangerous, utterly exquisite: a shining veneer of golf and champagne, a darker undercurrent of magic and mystery, all swirling around a queer, Vietnamese immigrant and socialite.

2. Cemetery Boys by Aiden Thomas
Cemetery Boys by Aiden Thomas Aiden Thomas
In Thomas’s celebration of identity and romance, trans boy Yadriel is determined to prove himself a brujo—and accidentally summons the wrong ghost. Now he’s stuck with a very cute, very uncooperative, and very dead bad boy.

3. Snapdragon by Kat Leyh
Snapdragon by Kat Leyh Kat Leyh
A delicately human graphic novel about finding yourself, whoever that person might be, and finding a community, however unexpected that might be—replete with skeletons, the town witch, and a sob-fest, happy ending about second chances.

4. The Unbroken by C.L. Clark
The Unbroken by C.L. Clark C.L. Clark
People, Clark’s alternate North Africa-set work is a sapphic epic, a brutal military fantasy, a searing deconstruction of colonialism—and an un-put-down-able tale chock-full of spies, lies, assassinations, rebellion, humanity, and love.

5. When We Were Magic by Sarah Gailey
When We Were Magic by Sarah Gailey Sarah Gailey
When We Were Magic opens with an accidentally burst penis, but what’s truly explosive about Gailey’s first foray into YA is the unrelenting hope. Six queer witches, despite the chaos around them, looking to the future with such anticipation.

6. A Pale Light in the Black by K.B. Wagers
A Pale Light in the Black by K.B. Wagers K.B. Wagers
Max’s Near-Earth Orbital Guard team, gearing up for the Boarding Games, is instead left shaken by a routine mission gone wrong, a mysterious enemy, and a dangerous secret. Rollicking, queer, propulsively readable hopepunk.

7. Mooncakes by Suzanne Walker, illustrated by Wendy Xu
Mooncakes by Suzanne Walker, illustrated by Wendy Xu Suzanne Walker Wendy Xu
This adorable graphic novel features two Chinese American teens, one a queer witch and the other a nonbinary werewolf, in a “spooky” New England town. Themes of family dynamics, young love, and finding yourself abound.

8. Firebreak by Nicole Kornher-Stace
Firebreak by Nicole Kornher-Stace Nicole Kornher-Stace
Firebreak is terrifying: a too-easy, too-near-future, siren-call book where corporations control what’s left of America. Aro/ace Mal is a low-level gamer scrabbling to get by in a war-torn city—and it all goes to hell from there.

9. Sorrowland by Rivers Solomon
Sorrowland by Rivers Solomon Rivers Solomon
Solomon’s consistently scorching dissection of the trauma inflicted upon Black bodies is on full, furious display in faer transformative new work. In fleeing a cult, intersex, pregnant Vern runs right into a Gothic nightmare.

10. Heartwood: Non-Binary Tales of Sylvan Fantasy edited by Joamette Gil
Heartwood: Non-Binary Tales of Sylvan Fantasy edited by Joamette Gil Joamette Gil
Gil curates a collection of nonbinary creators’ graphic works about finding yourself and your power in that most mystical of places: the wood. Buy the gorgeous gilt-edged hardcover if you can!

11. Burning Roses by S.L. Huang
Burning Roses by S.L. Huang S.L. Huang
In this fairytale remix, Huang gifts readers with two middle-aged lesbian heroes, called to service once more, but reckoning with their own monstrousness and the opportunity for forgiveness. A blazing, fierce, thought-provoking work.

12. In the Ravenous Dark by A.M. Strickland
In the Ravenous Dark by A.M. Strickland A.M. Strickland
Blood magic, undead spirits, and Greek influence abound in Strickland’s twisty YA fantasy. As pansexual Rovan seeks to escape her fate, she finds herself falling for both a captivating princess and a hunky undead guardian.

13. The Low, Low Woods by Carmen Maria Machado, illustrated by DaNi, with Tamra Bonvillain
The Low, Low Woods by Carmen Maria Machado, illustrated by DaNi, with Tamra Bonvillain Carmen Maria Machado, DaNi, Tamra Bonvillain
Machado’s trademark fuck-you feminism infuses this super-creepy, queer as hell exploration of secrets, misogyny, and small-town horror. The uncanny art alone will keep you up all night!

14. The Girl and The Goddess by Nikita Gill
The Girl and The Goddess by Nikita Gill Nikita Gill
Gill’s blazingly personal bildungsroman in verse draws upon Hindu mythology to help her queer heroine—struggling with everything from the heteropatriarchy to the wake of the Partition—gloriously, inexorably find herself.

15. Gideon the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir
Gideon the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir Tamsyn Muir
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 ferociously ambitious, defiant—and hilarious.

16. This Is How You Lose the Time War by Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone
This Is How You Lose the Time War by Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone Amal El-Mohtar Max Gladstone
Spy vs. spy, enemies to lovers, and nature vs. technology…and how they come together in a queer story about forging a connection beyond the boundaries of time. Wordplay fans, this one’s for you!

17. We Set the Dark on Fire by Tehlor Kay Mejia
We Set the Dark on Fire by Tehlor Kay Mejia Tehlor Kay Mejia
If you’ve ever wished that two girls fighting over a boy would just run away with each other instead, this YA fantasy’s for you! And the power dynamics, shifting alliances, and Latinx-inspired worldbuilding enthrall.

18. Tarnished are The Stars by Rosiee Thor
Tarnished are The Stars by Rosiee Thor Rosiee Thor
A rebel with a clockwork heart, the Commissioner’s son, and an assassin collide—and become friends—in this dangerous, secret-filled, steampunk YA that celebrates queerness (including aro/ace rep!), adventure, and rebellion.

19. Bestiary by K-Ming Chang
Bestiary by K-Ming Chang K-Ming Chang
Chang’s wildly inventive, fabulist debut opens with a girl who grows a tiger tail and proceeds to exquisitely decant a multi-generational story about immigration and belonging, roots and hauntings, queer stories and transformations.

20. Victories Greater than Death by Charlie Jane Anders
Victories Greater than Death by Charlie Jane Anders Charlie Jane Anders
Tina is literally a second chance: a secret clone of a renowned hero, disguised as an Earth human. But in Anders’ rollicking hopepunk, she’ll need her BFF, an amazing crew, and a cute girl to save the worlds.

21. Wicked As You Wish by Rin Chupeco
Wicked As You Wish by Rin Chupeco Rin Chupeco
Many clever fairytale retellings wrapped up into one all-too-real queer contemporary tale of magic, adventure, a lost kingdom, a dick firebird, ICE agents with magic, and a group of excellent, messy, hilarious warrior-teens.

22. Scavenge the Stars by Tara Sim
Scavenge the Stars by Tara Sim Tara Sim
In this queernormative, genderbent Count of Monte Cristo, Amaya, finishing her time on a debtor’s ship, is offered the opportunity for revenge. Plots, backstabbing, corruption, rich worldbuilding, and bravura characters abound!

23. Phoenix Extravagant by Yoon Ha Lee
Phoenix Extravagant by Yoon Ha Lee Yoon Ha Lee
Gyen Jebi paints, including magical sigils on automaton soldiers—until they learn of the government’s corruption and then they steal a dragon automaton… A magnificent story of the power of art, told with Lee’s peerless craft.

24. The Four Profound Weaves by R.B. Lemberg
The Four Profound Weaves by R.B. Lemberg R.B. Lemberg
Lemberg’s work impresses with its intricate worldbuilding, meticulously crafted language, and genuinely complex characters. Themes of healing, faith, family, and friendship echo throughout the thoroughly queer universe.

25. The Scapegracers by Hannah Abigail Clarke
The Scapegracers by Hannah Abigail Clarke Hannah Abigail Clarke
After doing magic at a party, misfit Sideways stumbles into, impossibly, friendship with her school’s queen bees. Queer witches, slippery magic, rage, revenge, and feminist transgression abound in Clark’s gritty, glittery debut.

26. We Are Satellites by Sarah Pinsker
We Are Satellites by Sarah Pinsker Sarah Pinsker
A single family—two moms, two kids—serves as a human touchstone in Pinsker’s nuanced SF exploration of technology and consequences. Pinsker shines at writing empathy, compassion, grace against the world—and she dazzles here.

27. The Deep & Dark Blue by Niki Smith
The Deep & Dark Blue by Niki Smith
After a political coup, twins go into hiding with women who spin the threads of reality—and one twin discovers her identity as a trans girl. Smith’s magical, affirming graphic novel cleverly unravels and weaves stories anew.

28. Dark and Deepest Red by Anna-Marie McLemore
Dark and Deepest Red by Anna-Marie McLemore Anna-Marie McLemore
McLemore’s gorgeous, lyrical craft continues to weave wonders—and in Dark and Deepest Red, they use red dancing shoes of fairy tales and a modern-day magical framework to tell a tale of history, identity, terror, and ultimately love.

29. This Poison Heart by Kalynn Bayron
This Poison Heart by Kalynn Bayron Kalynn Bayron
Bayron somehow stuffs deadly plants, a magical girl, a dilapidated house, family secrets, dangerous mysteries, nefarious strangers, awesome moms, and an enigmatic hot girl into a deliciously dark, compulsively readable YA.

30. Shatter the Sky by Rebecca Kim Wells
Shatter the Sky by Rebecca Kim Wells Rebecca Kim Wells
All we need to say, really, is angry bisexual dragon. But Wells’s smart, bold YA fantasy also critiques colonialism and entrenched power structures, and features a heroine who learns she’s more powerful than she ever imagined.

Is it on your TBR list? Isabel recommends 7 books she loves

We all have a To-Be-Read list. A list that gets longer and longer as new recommendations get added. Those new recommendations tend to rise to the top of the list and push older ones to the bottom. The works here have probably all been on your TBR list at some time, and you may even have read some of them. For those ones you haven’t yet read, here is your chance to go back and explore the stories and ideas that form the foundation of some of the newest things on your TBR list.

Ancillary Justice

Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie

This novel challenges your assumptions about gender and physical bodies as necessary to identity. As you get to know the characters, you will be surprised at the misconceptions and biases you hold that affect how you see the characters and their world.

Dawn

Dawn by Octavia E. Butler

This book asks what is essential to be considered fully human after an alien race seeks to restore the planet and rebuild the human race by interbreeding with them after the last war brings an apocalypse. At what point do you go from accepting help to make reasonable adaptations to survive, and when do those adaptations make you complicit in your own destruction?

Elysium

Elysium by Jennifer Marie Brissett

An intriguing and mesmerizing series of vignettes about two people whose gender and relationship changes and gets more complex as you learn who they are. You may want to re-read it immediately upon finishing it to experience it more deeply.

Her Body and Other Parties

Her Body and Other Parties by Carmen Maria Machado

The stories in this collection show the complexity of women’s relationships to their bodies and how those bodies are treated by others. From the ordinary to not so ordinary, the loving to abusive, light to dark, these stories speak to the mundane and the horrific. I recommend you read only one in a sitting to allow the full impact of each to sink in.

The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms

The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by N.K. Jemisin

Jemisin’s first novel about an unwanted barbarian relation who gets caught in a twisted power struggle with powerful cousins who seek to control the gods questions the boundaries between mortals and gods and redefines the fantasy genre.

Lady Astronaut of Mars

Lady Astronaut of Mars by Mary Robinette Kowal

You’ve probably heard about the Lady Astronaut series of books, now read an early novelette about an older lady astronaut that has to choose between staying on Earth with her dying husband or take what could be her last chance to go back into space. For anyone who has ever had to make a choice between a loved one or a career, between caring for someone else or for yourself, this story will break you.

The Sparrow

The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell

Like all well-intentioned missions, this team of scientists and Jesuit priests destroy that which they sought to save. Each of the characters in this narrative has a fully developed story, but it is the struggle with faith of the priest at the center of the story that will have even the most religious reader question just how much can we be expected to suffer and still survive. If I were exiled to a desert island and could only take three books with me, this would be one of them. This is the most painful book I’ve ever read. I recommend it to everyone.


 
Isabel Schechter

Isabel Schechter has attended and run fannish conventions for more than 20 years and is a frequent panelist at conventions. Isabel’s essays on race and representation in SF/F have been published in Invisible 2: Essays on Race and Representation in SF/F, Uncanny: A Magazine of Science Fiction and Fantasy, and several volumes of the WisCon Chronicles; and she is coeditor of The WisCon Chronicles Volume 12: Boundaries and Bridges. She is Puerto-Rican, feminist, child-free, Jewish, vegetarian, and a Midwesterner living in Southern California, and embraces the opportunity to represent the fact that no one of those identities excludes any of the others.

50 Shining, Speculative Works by AAPI Authors

In May, the United States celebrates Asian Pacific American Heritage Month—though at Sirens, we know that one month is not enough to ponder the people, histories, and cultures of such a vast region. To identify as Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) is to choose solidarity. How else can one compress hundreds of ethnic groups, languages, immigrant generations, income disparities, and consequences of American imperialism into one acronym?

Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders are not a monolith. We fully commit to uplifting Indigenous, Middle Eastern, Pacific Islander, South Asian, and Southeast Asian voices—aware that “Asian” is not synonymous with East Asian—as well as transracial adoptees, Black Asians, and multiracial Asians. And these past few months, from attacks on Asian elders to the horrific shootings in Atlanta, the devastation of COVID-19 in India to the violent apartheid in Palestine, the Asian community has been in pain. We must Stop AAPI Hate. But we must also cling to our joy—and to each other.

If you’ve already read your Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni, your Yōko Ogawa, and your Eugie Foster—and we hope you have!—allow us to suggest 50 shining works of speculative fiction by AAPI women, nonbinary, and trans authors. Tales that feature majestic tigers, mischievous tricksters, or vengeful ghosts—as well as overbearing aunties, brilliant generals, and fierce matriarchs. Stories that interrogate and smash stereotypes, or incorporate mythology and folklore from the author’s origin or acquired cultures. 50 incredible novels, short stories, and poetry collections that span epic fantasy, fairytale retellings, fabulist memoir, portal adventure, sci-fi thrillers, and contemporary with a magical twist. Most of these works feature characters living in the diaspora, some are translated into English—and believe us when we say this list is far from comprehensive; in compiling, we realized we could have included 50 more.

If you’d like to buy these books (and we hope you do!), you can find a list of Asian- and Pacific Islander-owned bookstores, courtesy of We Need Diverse Books. You can also support AAPI voices at the Asian American Writers’ Workshop and the Asian Author Alliance.

In solidarity and rest,

Faye Bi
Communications Director

1. The Frangipani Hotel by Violet Kupersmith
The Frangipani Hotel by Violet Kupersmith Violet Kupersmith
Ghost stories, yes, but also retold Vietnamese folktales, an indictment of the Vietnam War, an exquisite exploration of loss. Kupersmith’s settings are palpable, her characters human, her work unforgettable.

2. Wicked As You Wish by Rin Chupeco
Wicked As You Wish by Rin Chupeco Rin Chupeco
Many clever fairytale retellings wrapped up into one all-too-real contemporary tale of magic, adventure, a lost kingdom, a dick firebird, ICE agents with magic, and a group of warrior-teens you will love every bit as much as Bardugo’s Dregs.

3. We Ride Upon Sticks by Quan Barry
We Ride Upon Sticks by Quan Barry Quan Barry
In 1989 Massachusetts, a truly terrible girls’ field hockey team makes a deal with the devil—and starts winning. Barry’s clever, hilarious romp tackles necessary themes of transgression, stereotypes, power, and claiming yourself.

4.The Bloodprint by Ausma Zehanat Khan
The Bloodprint by Ausma Zehanat Khan
An epic tome of adventure and revolution. More importantly, a timely and carefully crafted depiction of the unrelenting importance of knowledge and justice in a world of lost legends and increasingly authoritarian rule.

5.A Wish in the Dark by Christina Soontornvat
A Wish in the Dark by Christina Soontornvat Christina Soontornvat
This luminous retelling of Les Misérables for young readers makes tangible the light and the dark, and highlights the themes of morality, oppression, and justice—all in a Thai-inspired fantasy world with a Light Market to dazzle all the senses.

6.Great Goddesses by Nikita Gill
Great Goddesses by Nikita Gill Nikita Gill
Want some gorgeous words to spear your soul? This prose-and-poetry collection meditates on sexuality, relationships, flexible conceptions of womanhood, creation, destruction, self-mythologizing, and the power of writing our own stories.

7.Ninefox Gambit by Yoon Ha Lee
Ninefox Gambit by Yoon Ha Lee Yoon Ha Lee
Lee’s Hexarchate galaxy of calendrical warfare is the backdrop for his virtuoso story of crashhawk Kel Cheris, not great at following directions, and her brain’s occupation by long-dead Shuos Jedao, exceptionally brilliant and utterly homicidal.

8.Monstress by Marjorie Liu, illustrated by Sana Takeda
Monstress Marjorie Liu Sana Takeda
A feast for the eyes, this fantasy comic set in fantasy Asia has six volumes, epic worldbuilding, and Middle Eastern myths—and did we mention the huge, supremely powerful monster growing out of the stump of our heroine’s arm?

9.The Girl From Everywhere by Heidi Heilig
The Girl From Everywhere by Heidi Heilig Heidi Heilig
Nix’s dad can navigate to any map, any time, anywhere—and he wants to change history. Obsessive love, a small heist, a motley crew, time-travel paradoxes—and Heilig’s marvelous prose is so transportive that it’s like you’re RIGHT THERE.

10.The Black Tides of Heaven by Neon Yang
The Black Tides of Heaven by Neon Yang Neon Yang
In an Asian-inspired society where the default gender is nonbinary—children choose a gender when ready—the bond of twin children of a ruthless dictator is put to the test against an inventive backdrop of magic, religion, and politics.

11.Not Your Sidekick by C. B. Lee
Not Your Sidekick by C. B. Lee C. B. Lee
Jess, daughter of heroes, has no superpowers of her own and just wants an internship. And she finds one—working for a supervillain. Lee expertly crafts an uproarious story that nonetheless has something important to say about growing up.

12The House of Shattered Wings by Aliette de Bodard
The House of Shattered Wings by Aliette de Bodard Aliette de Bodard
In the aftermath of a Great War fought by fallen angels, Paris is a chessboard for Great Houses deploying resources in a game of power. Come for the history; stay for the incisive criticism of colonialism.

13.Empress of Salt and Fortune by Nghi Vo
Empress of Salt and Fortune by Nghi Vo Nghi Vo
This lovingly crafted tale is a delight that ends all too soon (but don’t worry, the sequel is already out). It centers female and queer voices as it explores the nature and consequences of power in a fantasy empire.

14.Aru Shah and the End of Time by Roshani Chokshi
Aru Shah and the End of Time by Roshani Chokshi Roshani Chokshi
Books about female friendship are too few and oh-so-far between, but Chokshi’s magnificent middle-grade adventure, featuring lonely Aru and anxious Mini as reincarnated Pandava brothers, will make your heart sing.

15.Ambiguity Machines and Other Stories by Vandana Singh
Ambiguity Machines and Other Stories by Vandana Singh Vandana Singh
Singh, a theoretical particle physicist, crafts stories full of wonder and very human wondering: Is time truly linear? Can you make a case for an Anti-Occam’s Razor Theory? Can one person change the course of the universe?

16.Black Water Sister by Zen Cho
Black Water Sister by Zen Cho Zen Cho
You know Cho for her portrayals of vengeful ghosts, mysterious gods, and meddlesome family members—in her latest, Jess’s Ah Ma is all three, and Black Water Sister all about the ties that bind: to family, duty, and destiny.

17.We Hunt the Flame by Hafsah Faizal
We Hunt the Flame by Hafsah Faizal Hafsah Faizal
Both Zafira and Nasir seek a magical object capable of great magic—but Nasir seeks to kill Zafira as well. Except, you know, there’s more kissing than killing, more adventure than anything, and a cliffhanger ending, so you’ll need the next one.

18.Food of the Gods by Cassandra Khaw
Food of the Gods by Cassandra Khaw Cassandra Khaw
Rupert Wong has been very bad indeed, and now must serve as a cannibal chef. But that’s only the beginning: brazen impertinence, absurdist bureaucracy, seemingly endless blood. You’ve never read anything like this!

19.Displacement by Kiku Hughes
Displacement by Kiku Hughes Kiku Hughes
Hughes’s autobiographical timeslip graphic novel beautifully threads the needle between the internment of Japanese Americans during WWII and today’s social justice movements—and calls us to open the books of our own family histories.

20.Jade City by Fonda Lee
Jade City by Fonda Lee Fonda Lee
In a fantasy Asia, where magic is channeled through jade and the future is uncertain, three siblings fight to keep their clan’s power. If you miss powerful women in the first half, just wait for the meeting between Shae and Mada in the second.

21.The Wolf of Oren-Yaro by K.S. Villoso
The Wolf of Oren-Yaro by K.S. Villoso K.S. Villoso
If you love heroines who don’t give a crap if they’re likeable, you’ll like Queen Talyien. This fresh new adventure reads like classic epic fantasy, with a shrewd narrator who’s as funny as she is ferocious.

22.Machinehood by S.B. Divya
Machinehood by S.B. Divya S.B. Divya
In this thinky sci-fi thriller set in 2095, humanity is dependent on pills to keep them competitive with a gig economy dominated by AIs. Cut your teeth on sentience, labor rights, and what late-late capitalism could do to society.

23.When You Trap a Tiger by Tae Keller
When You Trap a Tiger by Tae Keller Tae Keller
Lily and her mom and sister move in with her sick grandmother, when a tiger appears—just like the ones in halmoni’s stories—to strike a bargain. An intergenerational tale about grief, family, and growing up, as well as the stories we tell ourselves.

24.Three Dark Crowns by Kendare Blake
Three Dark Crowns by Kendare Blake Kendare Blake
Triplet girls—one a poisoner, one a naturalist, one an elementalist—are destined to fight to the death in their sixteenth year. Winner takes the crown. Wait for it, because those girls are going to find their ambition.

25.The Poppy War by R. F. Kuang
The Poppy War by R. F. Kuang
War orphan Rin has shamanic powers that may help her save her people, but the god who favors her may demand her humanity in recompense. Enthralling and brutal, this epic spares the reader nothing.

26.The Gauntlet by Karuna Riazi
The Gauntlet by Karuna Riazi Karuna Riazi
A mysterious board game sucks Farah and her friends into a strange world—where they must solve puzzles, conquer challenges, and rescue Farah’s brother. For adventurous readers—or anyone disappointed that their board games aren’t quite so mysterious.

27.Revenge of the Mooncake Vixen by Marilyn Chin
Revenge of the Mooncake Vixen by Marilyn Chin Marilyn Chin
Very short stories about Moonie and Mei Ling, Chinese-American girls who deliver Americanized Chinese food, but want to grow up to be something more. Equally hilarious and profound, with a cleaver-wielding terror of a grandmother.

28.All the Names They Used for God by Anjali Sachdeva
All the Names They Used for God by Anjali Sachdeva Anjali Sachdeva
Where faith and fantasy overlap is often wonder: people awestruck by the ineffable. Here, a man meets a mermaid, two girls practice something like witchcraft, a woman explores a subterranean cave, and more.

29.Supermutant Magic Academy by Jillian Tamaki
Supermutant Magic Academy by Jillian Tamaki Jillian Tamaki
This juxtaposition of everyday teen issues with a high school for mutants and witches is chock-full of sly humor, surprising twists, and unexpected delights—not to mention inimitable illustrations and visual style.

30.Star Daughter by Shveta Thakrar
Star Daughter by Shveta Thakrar Shveta Thakrar
Sheetal misses her mom, a star who returned to the heavens years ago. But as Sheetal’s birthday approaches, she finds herself in those same heavens, navigating the sparkling, glass-edged world of Thakrar’s glorious imagination.

31.Lalani of the Distant Sea by Erin Entrada Kelly
Lalani and the Distant Sea by Erin Entrada Kelly Erin Entrada Kelly
A brave girl from an island village surrounded by dangerous waters must venture out and save her world. Kelly sensitively handles themes like bullying and belonging, wrapped gorgeously in this ode to Filipino myths and legends.

32.The Candle and the Flame by Nafiza Azad
The Candle and the Flame by Nafiza Azad Nafiza Azad
A sumptuously wrought story of humanity and empathy, feminism and romance, defiance and courage. You’ll love the Silk Road setting, the complicated growth of the female characters, and the kissing.

33.Beneath the Rising by Premee Mohamed
Beneath the Rising by Premee Mohamed Premee Mohamed
Nick’s best friend Johnny is a genius—but when she invents a clean reactor, she awakens primal Ancient Ones set to destroy humanity. As Nick and Johnny try to save the world, Beneath the Rising reaches for the stars and asks really big questions.

34.This is How You Lose the Time War by Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone
This is How You Lose the Time War by Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone Amal El-Mohtar Max Gladstone
Spy versus spy, enemies to lovers, and nature vs. technology…and how they come together in a story about forging a connection beyond the boundaries of time. Wordplay fans, this one’s for you!

35.When Fox Is a Thousand by Larissa Lai
When Fox Is a Thousand by Larissa Lai Larissa Lai
Lai weaves three voices in her reconstruction of the myth of the Fox: the thousand-year-old fox itself, Taoist poet Yu Hsuan-Chi, and modern-day Artemis. This is a fairytale, a legend, and a parable, all entwined with Lai’s lyricism.

36.Under the Pendulum Sun by Jeannette Ng
Under the Pendulum Sun by Jeannette Ng Jeannette Ng
In Ng’s filigreed Gothic novel, Victorian missionaries travel to the mysterious heart of Arcadia, testing their faith as they seek to bring Christianity to a foreign people. But things in Arcadia are not always as they seem…

37.Heroine Complex by Sarah Kuhn
Heroine Complex by Sarah Kuhn Sarah Kuhn
Superheroines in San Francisco! The Devil Wears Prada meets the X-Men as Evie Tanaka balances working for her famous friend, raising her sister, a budding romance, a demonic invasion, and her own superpowers.

38.Where the Mountain Meets the Moon by Grace Lin
Where the Mountain Meets the Moon by Grace Lin Grace Lin
Minli, seeking to change her family’s fortune, goes on an extraordinary journey through the legends of Chinese folklore—and befriends a dragon. Buy the hardcover version for the magnificent illustrations!

39.Bestiary by K-Ming Chang
Bestiary by K-Ming Chang K-Ming Chang
Chang’s wildly inventive, fabulist debut opens with a girl who grows a tiger tail and proceeds to gorgeously decant a multi-generational story about immigration and belonging, roots and hauntings, queer stories, and all sorts of transformations.

40.The Wrath and the Dawn by Renée Ahdieh
The Wrath and the Dawn by Renée Ahdieh Renée Ahdieh
Shahrzad comes to the king so that she can kill him in revenge for her best friend’s murder, but she finds a bigger conspiracy to unravel. Pretty prose and satisfying fight scenes mark this One Thousand and One Nights retelling.

41.Shatter the Sky by Rebecca Kim Wells
Shatter the Sky by Rebecca Kim Wells Rebecca Kim Wells
When a corrupt emperor’s agents kidnap Maren’s girlfriend, the obvious response is to steal a dragon, right? Dragon lovers, this one’s for you! And read on for a lost prince, a strange underground beast, and a prophecy that could upend an empire.

42.Pashmina by Nidhi Chanani
Pashmina by Nidhi Chanani https://www.sirensconference.org/news/wp-content/uploads/2021/05/Chanani.jpg
A gorgeous graphic novel about Priyanka’s desire to know more about India and her family there—and her mother’s refusal to tell her. But then Pri finds a magic pashmina that seemingly transports her to India. Or does it?

43.The Beast Player by Nahoko Uehashi
The Beast Player by Nahoko Uehashi Nahoko Uehashi
A young, unassuming girl trains to be a doctor to fearsome beasts in a world where mastery of said beasts is levered for political advantage. Epic worldbuilding rife with complex questions of morality, ritual, and resistance.

44.Ash by Malinda Lo
Ash by Malinda Lo Malinda Lo
A groundbreaking retelling of Cinderella. In the wake of her father’s death, drowning in grief, Ash dreams of fairies—and then meets one who can give her everything she wants. But then she also meets the King’s huntress and love blooms—and Ash must choose.

45.Markswoman by Rati Mehrotra
Markswoman by Rati Mehrotra Rati Mehrotra
Need we say more than “female assassins with magical knives”? Perhaps not, but as Mehrotra’s work opens, the order is rent by death and politics, and Kyra goes on the run—to find not only succor, but a chance to seek justice—or vengeance.

46.Mooncakes by Suzanne Walker, illustrated by Wendy Xu
Mooncakes by Suzanne Walker, illustrated by Wendy Xu Suzanne Walker Wendy Xu
Queer, adorable, and magical are words to describe this graphic novel featuring a hard-of-hearing witch and a nonbinary werewolf. Read to enjoy unconventional families, bookshops, cute towns, and banter to rival the Gilmore Girls!

47.The Night Tiger by Yangsze Choo
The Night Tiger by Yangsze Choo Yangsze Choo
In this historical fantasy set in 1930s colonial Malaysia, an apprentice dressmaker moonlighting as a dancehall girl crosses paths with a houseboy on a mission. How could we not love a juxtaposition of creepy severed fingers against a lush, dreamy atmosphere.

48.Empire of Sand by Tasha Suri
Empire of Sand by Tasha Suri Tasha Suri
In this Mughal India-inspired fantasy, Mehr’s status as the illegitimate daughter of an imperial governor and an oppressed race of magicians draws all the wrong attention–and she’ll need all her cleverness and resilience to save her world.

49.The Bone Shard Daughter by Andrea Stewart
The Bone Shard Daughter by Andrea Stewart Andrea Stewart
Transgression and revolution are the heart of Stewart’s epic fantasy, as Lin, daughter of a failing emperor, must fight to reclaim her magic and her throne. Intricate, eerie, and propulsive, you won’t be able to put this down.

50.Burning Roses by S.L. Huang
Burning Roses by S.L. Huang S.L. Huang
In this fairytale remix, Huang gifts readers with two middle-aged lesbian heroes, called to service once more, but reckoning with their own monstrousness and the opportunity for forgiveness. A blazing, fierce, thought-provoking deconstruction.

Book Friends: Kinitra Brooks

As part of our 2021 Guest of Honor weeks, the Sirens team recommends books that would be friends with a guest of honor's books. Below is a curated list of titles that we feel complement the works of Dr. Kinitra D. Brooks, scholar and editor of works such as Searching for Sycorax: Black Women’s Hauntings of Contemporary Horror, Sycorax’s Daughters, and The Lemonade Reader. If you enjoyed her work, we hope you check out these works that contemplate the quotidian horrors of Black and brown women; intersections of oppression; zombies, haints, and things that go bump in the night; women’s fabulist powers; deconstructing power narratives; witchery; and more creatures to feed your nightmares.


Kinitra Brooks’ Recommended Reading

Sirens Guest of Honor Dr. Kinitra D. Brooks shares a recommended reading list of novels, short fiction, and nonfiction. If you enjoy her work, or you want to learn more about what writers, especially black women writers, are doing in the speculative space, this list is a spectacular place to start. Take it away, Kintra!

 

Conjure Women: A Novel Afia Atakora

Conjure Women: A Novel by Afia Atakora

This book is next on my “To Be Read” list. I’m so excited because it focuses on everything my current research project is centered on: Black Southern women and the spiritual/medicinal practices highlighted in the practice of conjure. I can’t wait!

Boondock Kollage: Stories from the Hip Hop South Regina N. Bradley

Boondock Kollage: Stories from the Hip Hop South by Regina N. Bradley

Bradley clearly talks to the ancestors. It is evident in her ability to raise the dead and conjure the spirits of the Black South in her short story collection.

Speculative Sankofarration: Haunting Black Women in Contemporary Horror Fiction Kinitra Brooks, Stephanie Schoellman & Alexis McGee

“Speculative Sankofarration: Haunting Black Women in Contemporary Horror Fiction” by Kinitra Brooks, Stephanie Schoellman & Alexis McGee

I know it can be a bit gauche to recommend your own work, but this is a short scholarly article I wrote with my graduate students that further teases out my approaches to black women’s horror writing since the publication of Searching for Sycorax. It’s heavy on the theory and disciplinary language, but I did want to offer it as an option for readers.

Let's Play White Chesya Burke

Let’s Play White by Chesya Burke

A great collection of short horror stories. Burke takes an interesting turn on the classic zombie story in “CUE: Change” making it hella black in its examination of what constitutes humanity. Burke also revises the evil child trope with the character Shiv in “I Make People Do Bad Things,” which takes place in 1920s Harlem.

LaShaun Rousselle Mystery Series Lynn Emery

LaShaun Rousselle Mystery Series by Lynn Emery

A quirky little series about a small-town outcast that returns to rural Louisiana to continue the conjure tradition of her ancestors while solving paranormal mysteries and battling the monsters that cause them. A great representation of contemporary Southern rural life and black women’s long history in these places.

The Crown of Shards Series Jennifer Estep

The Crown of Shards Series by Jennifer Estep

I just discovered this series as I am an avid fan of Estep’s Elemental Assassins series. But Crown of Shards is just different enough as it is placed in an alternate medieval monarchical society. If the magical assassins and gladiator fighting doesn’t manage to kill Evie Blair—palace politics just might do the job

Creole Religions of the Caribbean: An Introduction from Vodou and Santería to Obeah and Espiritismo Lizabeth Paravisini-Gebert and Margarite Fernandez Olmos

Creole Religions of the Caribbean: An Introduction from Vodou and Santería to Obeah and Espiritismo by Lizabeth Paravisini-Gebert and Margarite Fernandez Olmos

So many times I discuss the influence of traditional African religious practices in horror. This book begins to clear up a lot of the misinformation that continues to exist about these practices, some which are actual religions while others are often supplemental practices to black folks’ Christianity. Each chapter focuses on a different religious practice and the knowledge begins to take away the fear of these Africanized practices that is historically steeped anti-black ignorance.

Mojo Workin: The Old African American Hoodoo System Katrina Hazzard-Donald

Mojo Workin: The Old African American Hoodoo System by Katrina Hazzard-Donald

A nonfiction book that begins to discuss the concept of conjure/hoodoo and the West and Central African practices that influenced them.

Skin Folk Nalo Hopkinson

Skin Folk by Nalo Hopkinson

A great short story collection that examines the magical and the peculiar that populates Caribbean folklore. My personal favorites are “Ganger (Ball Lightning)” in which a couple strengthens their relationship when they must battle their animated sex suit and “Greedy Choke Puppy” in which a young graduate student discovers the magical history of the women in her family.

Tell My Horse Zora Neale Hurston

Tell My Horse by Zora Neale Hurston

A collection of Southern oral culture gathered and transcribed by Hurston as an ethnographer in the first third of the 20th century. These stories show that black folks have long enjoyed horror stories and the characters that define them.

Dread Nation Justina Ireland

Dread Nation by Justina Ireland

Black girl protagonist in a zombie uprising initiated by The Civil War? Yes, please. I’m currently reading the sequel, Deathless Divide.

How Long ‘til Black Future Month? N.K. Jemisin

How Long ‘til Black Future Month? by N.K. Jemisin

The short story “Red Dirt Witch” is worth the purchase of this entire collection. I enjoy others, such as “Sinners, Saints, Dragons, and Haints, in the City Beneath the Still Waters” and “The City Born Great” but “Red Dirt Witch” is as close to perfect as one can get in a short story. This is Jemisin firing on all cylinders while also giving us a preview into the importance of black mother/daughter relationships she explores so thoroughly in The Broken Earth series.

Jade City Fonda Lee

Jade City by Fonda Lee

I’ve almost finished this book on Audible. It’s a gangster family drama set in an alternate history steeped in multiple Asian traditions. There is a unique complexity as her world-building is organic while her fight scenes are described like you are right there in the mix—you can smell the blood and feel the jade.

Talking to the Dead LeRhonda S. Manigault-Bryant

Talking to the Dead by LeRhonda S. Manigault-Bryant

This nonfiction ethnographic project interviews multiple women of the Gullah community and examines the traditions that define them. Manigault-Bryant examines the phenomenon I discussed in my interview, the concept of “tending to the dead,” that shows our folkloric practice of how the living dead manifest in black life.

A Blade So Black L.L. McKinney

A Blade So Black by L.L. McKinney

A fun retelling of Alice in Wonderland with great world-building and a complex protagonist who has to save the world and remember to take the beef out of the freezer for dinner.

Mama Day Gloria Naylor

Mama Day by Gloria Naylor

The first of the two novels I consider the perfect example of black women’s horror writing tradition. Mama Day is a conjure woman who is at least 80 years old and rules the island of Willow Springs with her medicinal knowledge, ancestral ties, and her knack for baking perfect coconut cakes. Just don’t piss her off….

Stigmata Phyllis Alesia Perry

Stigmata by Phyllis Alesia Perry

This novel is the second of the two books I consider black woman horror writing perfection. It has everything, possession, ancestral traditions, black mother/daughter bonds, time travel…I discover new things every time I read it. Simply amazing.

White Trash Zombie Series Diana Rowland

White Trash Zombie Series by Diana Rowland

These books are simply fun. A great little romp inside of an interesting mythology. Protagonist Angel Crawford is a delight who knows who she is and works the hell out of her lane.

The Santeria Habitat Series Kenya Wright

The Santeria Habitat Series by Kenya Wright

A fun series that has were-leopards, fairies, demons…and a Prime—a sexy fantastical creature based in an alternate history Miami. Miami is now a caged city divided into different regions named after major orisha. The protagonist is a half demon solving paranormal mysteries and choosing between two sexy shifter men. I’m eagerly awaiting the next installment that will feature were-dragons.

Honorable Mentions:

The Black God's Drums P. Djèlí Clark

The Black God’s Drums by P. Djèlí Clark

The Ballad of Black Tom Victor LaValle

The Ballad of Black Tom by Victor LaValle

Salsa Nocturna: A Bone Street Rumba Collection Daniel José Older

Salsa Nocturna: A Bone Street Rumba Collection by Daniel José Older


 

Dr. Kinitra D. Brooks

Kinitra D. Brooks is the Audrey and John Leslie Endowed Chair in Literary Studies in the Department of English at Michigan State University. She specializes in the study of black women, genre fiction, and popular culture. Her current research focuses on portrayals of the Conjure Woman in popular culture. Dr. Brooks has three books in print: Searching for Sycorax: Black Women’s Hauntings of Contemporary Horror, a critical treatment of black women in science fiction, fantasy, and horror; Sycorax’s Daughters, an edited volume of short horror fiction written by black women; and The Lemonade Reader, a collection of essays on Beyoncé’s 2016 audiovisual project, Lemonade. She is also the co-editor of the New Suns book series at Ohio State University Press. Dr. Brooks spent the 2018–2019 academic year as the Advancing Equity Through Research Fellow at the Hutchins Center for African and African American Research at Harvard University.

For more information about Kinitra, please visit her website or her Twitter.

Book Friends: Joamette Gil

As part of our 2021 Guest of Honor weeks, the Sirens team recommends books that would be friends with a guest of honor's books. Below is a curated list of titles that we feel complement the works of Joamette Gil, the head witch at P&M Press and the editor of the anthologies Power & Magic: The Queer Witch Comics Anthology, Heartwood: Non-binary Tales of Sylvan Fantasy and Power & Magic: Immortal Souls. If you enjoyed her work, we hope you check out these other comics and graphic novels centering BIPOC and queer voices; sylvan fantasies of getting lost in the woods; works upending tropes you thought you knew, broad definitions of heroism; spectacular artwork and amazing lettering; plenty of witchery; and settings of transformations and finding yourself.


Joamette’s Recommended Readings

Sirens Studio Guest of Honor Joamette Gil shares a list of fantasy and other works that she loves. If you enjoy her work, we encourage you to check out these other reads, spanning graphic, short fiction, and novels. Take it away, Joamette!

 

Octavia's Brood: Science Fiction Stories from Social Justice Movements Adrienne Maree Brown and Walidah Imarisha
1.
Octavia’s Brood: Science Fiction Stories from Social Justice Movements
edited by Adrienne Maree Brown and Walidah Imarisha
Knights-Errant Jennifer Doyle
2.
Knights-Errant
by Jennifer Doyle
Spiritwalker Trilogy Kate Elliott
3.
Spiritwalker Triology (Cold Magic, Cold Fire, and Cold Steel) by Kate Elliott
Mooncakes Suzanne Walker and Wendy Xu
4.
Mooncakes
by Suzanne Walker and Wendy Xu
Brown Girl in the Ring Nalo Hopkinson
5.
Brown Girl in the Ring
by Nalo Hopkinson
Through the Woods Emily Carroll
6.
Through the Woods
by Emily Carroll
The Haunting of Hill House Shirley Jackson
7.
The Haunting of Hill House
by Shirley Jackson
On a Sunbeam Tillie Walden
8.
On a Sunbeam
by Tillie Walden
The Temple of My Familiar Alice Walker
10.
The Temple of My Familiar
by Alice Walker
This One Summer Mariko Tamaki and Jillian Tamaki
11.
This One Summer
by Mariko Tamaki and Jillian Tamaki
Verse Sam Beck
12.
Verse
by Sam Beck

 

Joamette Gil is the head witch at P&M Press, an independent comics micro-press specializing in speculative fiction by creators of color, LGBTQIA creators, and creators at the intersections. Best known for her Prism Award-winning publication Power & Magic: The Queer Witch Comics Anthology, she also made the James Tiptree, Jr. Literary Award’s 2018 Honor List and received nods from the Ignatz Awards and Lambda Literary Awards over the course of P&M Press’s three-year existence. Her newest titles are Heartwood: Non-binary Tales of Sylvan Fantasy and Power & Magic: Immortal Souls. Another new title, Mañana: Latinx Comics from the 25th Century, is forthcoming in 2020. Joamette’s own comics work has been featured by IDW, Margins Publishing, EverydayFeminism.com, TheNib.com, Oni Press, Lion Forge, and Abrams ComicArts. She also contributed to the Eisner Award-winning Puerto Rico Strong anthology benefitting hurricane disaster relief on the island. When she’s not inhaling graphic novels, she’s off plotting silly play-by-post scenarios or watching horror movies with her friends and familiars in Portland, Oregon.

For more information about Joamette, please visit her website or her Twitter.

 

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2021
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2020
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2019
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2018
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2017
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2016
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2015
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2014
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2013
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2012
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2011
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2010
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2009
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