1. Shameless self-promotion here: My Draupadi poem "River of Silk" has been reprinted in Rose Lemberg's anthology The Moment of Change. I am in incredibly good company all around, but I have to especially boggle that I am sharing an anthology with Ursula K. Le Guin, who is basically a goddess.

2. I have updated (and continue to update) my master list of YA fantasy and sf with major LGBTQ characters. (The list of YA fantasy/sf with protagonists of color is much longer and so taking me longer.)

Please check it out for books you might want to read and to tip me off to anything I might have missed. Please also check the notes at the top. If I get one more "But Vanyel!" or "But Tom and Carl!" I will lose my mind.

There are two other questions which I often get asked (though not as frequently as "But Vanyel!"), which I will address here since they're more complicated:

Q: Shouldn't the list be just of authors who identify as LGBTQ? Or at least separated out that way?

A: There are lists out there of LGBTQ authors. I totally support that. But I didn't do it that way on mine for these reasons: I don't know the identities of the majority of the authors. Also, identity is not always straightforward or publicly known. People sometimes write books first and come out later. Sometimes their own understanding of their identity changes. Sometimes it isn't safe to be out.

Sometimes identity isn't cut-and-dried. For instance, if you want to know my orientation in terms of straight/bi/lesbian line, I identify as straight. Basically, I think I'm closer to straight than to bisexual. If you give me a Kinsey scale, I identify as a 1.5 or a 2. Other people point to that exact same point on the line, and call it queer or bi.

In short: Sexuality and identity and labels are complicated. Also, my list, my personal preference for how to organize it.

Q: I see offensive books on that list. They should be removed or given a warning.

A: I see offensive books too. But one person's offensive book is another person's beloved, life-saving treasure. Case in point (though not on the list due to NOT BEING YA): Vanyel, rider of sparkly ponies and polarizer of opinions.

Labeling and removing for offense is a can of worms. Pretty soon every book that more than two people have read would have both a warning for offense and a note that some people don't find it offensive and do find it tremendously positive, and then the notes would become totally meaningless. If you're worried about being offended, get opinions on the matter from people you trust before reading.

3. The Diversity Book Club. So, obviously, grad school and running a book club has not been a match made in heaven. Should I try to continue? Would people still like to participate? Or should I just read and review on my own time, without trying to get people to read the same book at the same time?
Akata Witch is a children’s fantasy novel set in a marvelously vivid modern Nigeria, in which a society of magical Leopard People operates out of sight of the Lamb People, which is to say, us.

Twelve-year-old Sunny is already used to living in two worlds, as she’s both Nigerian and American, and a black person who looks white due to being an albino. So when she discovers that she’s a free agent Leopard Person – born with magical powers, but without magical parents – it’s all part of her cultural between-ness. Both that and her albinism turn out to be key to her powers: Leopard People who are physically disabled or non-neurotypical are often extra-powerful, with magical abilities which relate to, but do not erase, their disabilities. (This trope is hugely controversial, so I’ll just say that I thought it was sensitively handled. Your mileage may vary.)

Sunny is initiated into the world of the Leopard People, learning to summon her spirit face and make an invisibility spell from a sheep’s head (she does this quite openly in her kitchen, and feeds the leftovers to her family as soup), and rewarded for knowledge gained by showers of magical coins and friendly magical insect companions. The story ambles along episodically, as Sunny learns the ways of the Leopard People, makes friends, and tries to balance her new magical life with the need to stay in school and not let her family find out. One of my favorite parts of the book is the excerpts from a magical how-to book Sunny reads, written by a snarky, superior Leopard Person who looks down from a considerable height upon both Lamb People and free agents.

At a somewhat late point, she is told that she and her buddies need to stop a serial child-killer; they don’t do much about it until they are abruptly told that the time is right, and then they hastily confront him in a battle which, while dramatic, was too rushed to feel truly climactic. I could have done without that whole storyline. I was much more interested in seeing Sunny poke around her strange new world, being traumatized by witnessing bizarre Leopard People duels and conscientiously praising her pet magic wasp’s artistic creations lest it get so disappointed in her as to commit melodramatic suicide before her eyes, as magical wasps are apparently wont to do.

I also would have liked to have seen more attention paid to Sunny’s family. I couldn’t tell from her narrative whether the level of corporal punishment tipped over into abuse or not, but the situation with her father seemed so bad, emotionally if nothing else, that I wanted it to be dealt with more than it ever was. That and the serial killer stoyline were tonally different from the magical dangers in the rest of the story in a way that never quite meshed.

This is the third book I’ve read by Okorafor. It has many of the same virtues of The Shadow Speaker (my favorite so far) and Zahrah the Windseeker: a playful sense of humor, a fantastic sense of place, and a packed-to-the-brim sense of invention. It also shares the flaw of a rushed and poorly set up climax. Her worlds and their funny, clever details are fantastic; her prose and plotting don’t reach the same heights. (I read a little bit of her adult novel Who Fears Death, before setting it aside for a time when I’m more steeled for depressing content, and the prose in that much more was much more impressive.) Akata Witch is fun but the worldbuilding, while charming, didn’t feel as deep as it did in her more profoundly transformed settings.

Akata Witch
In March, we will be reading Nnedi Okorafor's Akata Witch. I have really enjoyed everything I've read so far by Nnedi Okorafor. This looks likely to be in the same playful, inventive spirit of her other YA and children's novels.

My review will go up in the first week of April. I hope. It would be great if you could write a review on your own blog and link here, as well as commenting to mine.
As you can see, I have mixed it up a bit.

Please vote for the book YOU would most like to read (and hopefully review on your own blog), not the book you think would be most entertaining for ME to review. I would really love to see more reviews on other people's blogs, for more publicity for the books in question.

My review will go up in the first week of April. I hope. Read more details on the books here:

Akata Witch. I have really enjoyed everything I've read so far by Nnedi Okorafor. This looks likely to be in the same playful, inventive spirit of her other YA and children's novels.

Racing the Dark. Only $5.50! I enjoyed Alaya Johnson's urban fantasy Prohibition novel, Moonshine. (Only $6.00!)

The End. Five queer kids vs. the apocalypse; only $5.99 on Kindle.

A Strong and Sudden Thaw. Ice Age! Dragons! Gay love story! Only $6.99 on Kindle. This has a print edition, but it's expensive... but I had two volunteers offer to mail their print copies to book club participants, so it would be available that way.

Annie on My Mind. I have been meaning to read this for ages.

A Love Story Starring My Dead Best Friend. Five words: Totally Sweet Ninja Death Squad.

[Poll #1822926]
My apologies for the incredibly late review. Perhaps starting a monthly book club and graduate school at the same time was a trifle over-ambitious. If you too are pressed for time, here’s my short review: Damn, that was a good book. Go get it!

Everyone knows about the Witches’ Carnival: the group of near-immortal hedonists who travel from town to town across the world, throwing the wildest party anyone’s ever attended, if you’re lucky enough to hear about it and cool enough to get in, and then vanishing without a trace. And if you’re really lucky, smart, cool, wild, and brave, maybe they’ll take you with them.

Alabama high school girls Gilly and Sam have been best friends since Sam rescued Gilly from homophobic bullying. Gilly longs to be beautiful and cool, and does her best by putting on an aggressive punk front. She’s not-so-secretly in love with Sam, which is hard to get over given that Sam, who identifies as straight, does sometimes have sex with her. It’s an unusually realistic depiction of how confusing and fluid sexuality, sexual orientation, and identity can be. After Sam gets in a horrendous fight with her family, she convinces Gilly to come with her to seek out the Witches’ Carnival. Gilly steals $50,000 of her crooked cop father’s dirty money, and they hit the road.

The novel reminded me a little bit of earlyish books by Charles de Lint and a lot of earlyish books by Francesca Lia Block, but less cute and more gritty. Some of the grittiness is laid on heavily, but it’s also genuinely edgy: not only is there explicit teen lesbian sex (much of it very satisfyingly hot), but the girls’ dialogue is politically incorrect in the extreme, and there is a detailed (and quite interesting) explanation of how to create a fake US passport. Not to mention an enormous amount of drug-taking. In fact, while there is one disquieting bad trip, the novel sometimes read like the author had made a product placement deal with the Mescaline Producers of America.

Sam and Gilly – Gilly, especially – are believable, vivid characters, and their bond gives the book its emotional force. The prose is distinctive and sometimes quite beautiful. Halfway between a picaresque road trip novel and a more tightly plotted fantasy, nearly every character and incident has its own thematic or plot-related part to play in the whole. While the novel could be loglined “Bonnie and Clyde meets Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, but with teenage girls,” the other main reference point is Doctor Faustus. The climax, in which the characters must decide whether or not to make a very pricy deal with the not-quite-devils, is quite powerful. The ending isn’t the one I expected, but it’s satisfying.

There are some flaws. One of the immortals is Christopher Marlowe. When immortal traveling hedonist Christopher Marlowe is a character, it would be nice if 1) he had more than a cameo role, 2) he made any impression whatsoever. I liked the highly unconventional-for-modern-YA multiple-POVs, which gave the novel a sense of richness and scope lacking in most YA fantasy I’ve read lately, but we probably didn’t need quite as much of Gilly’s Dad’s POV as we got. Sometimes the grittiness felt calculated or over the top. At one point a character is running around and doing stuff with an injury severe enough that they would be more likely to be curled up on the sidewalk until they got taken away by ambulance.

Finally, there is a very important song which the characters view as their personal anthem and often sing. Many song lyrics which sound great when sung sound distinctly less great when read. Even an otherwise powerful song like “Born in the USA” contains the line “I’m a cool rocking Daddy in the USA.” Not to mention “da doo ron ron ron” and “gabba gabba hey.” However… the song lyrics were still distinctly not great.

But overall, I enjoyed the book a lot. All else aside, this reminded me of being sixteen and reading urban fantasies by people like Emma Bull and Charles de Lint, and how exciting it was to see magic in a city. That sort of fantasy is less popular nowadays, replaced by “My vampire/angel/zombie boyfriend” and “I kick vampire/angel/zombie ass” novels, which have different conventions and of which I’m less fond. Tripping to Somewhere is old school in a way that feels new and fresh.

Feel free to put spoilers in comments.

Tripping to Somewhere. Only $5.99 on Kindle, and well worth it.
This review was written by [personal profile] tool_of_satan, who kindly offered to guest-blog as I got so swamped in schoolwork that I haven't had time to read either of the month's book selections yet. (I have four papers due on Monday, in Law and Ethics, Process, Personality, and Trauma, and have written only one of them - the shortest.) Thank you very much, [personal profile] tool_of_satan!

Libyrinth is the first young-adult novel published by Pearl North, but she has written other fiction as Anne Harris (none of which I have read). It opens in the eponymous Libyrinth, which is a giant labyrinth filled with books. Which I have to admit is a winning combination. Labyrinth? Books? Sign me up.

Our initial viewpoint character is Haly, a sort of assistant librarian (sorry, "Libyrarian"). Like most of the inhabitants she was born and raised in the Libyrinth. Unlike most of them she is an orphan, her parents having vanished in the stacks when she was very young, and unlike any of them the books speak to her. No, really: if she's near a book she hears it narrating itself in her head, at least when the author finds it convenient (to be fair, there are only a few spots where she is inconsistent about this). All of the books she hears are English-language works we are all familiar with, except for a book written by the Libyrinth founder which provides useful information when the author feels like it.

Haly is in a bad mood because the Eradicants are making their annual visit. The Eradicants venerate the spoken word and regard printed words as dead and therefore evil. They haven't been able to conquer the Libyrinth, but they get to show up once a year to burn some books, chant, and get fed. During all this grim foofaraw we get introduced to Selene, the librarian Haly assists, and Clauda, a kitchen worker who is Haly's best friend. No points for deducing that the three of them will shortly be off on an adventure. And so it happens: within a few pages we find out that Selene has discovered the location of The Book of the Night (which contains the secret of how to make the tiny, near-inexhaustible power sources that run all the advanced machinery), Selene tells this to the head librarian, the head librarian sells this secret to the Eradicants to save his nephew (who runs a city they have conveniently just conquered), and our three protagonists ride out to get the book first and save civilization, or at least literature.

The early part of the book continues at this breakneck pace up until the three women find the book (in a sort of branch Libyrinth), discover it's written in an unknown language, then get attacked by Eradicants and separated. I think the pace is responsible for the problems some people have reported getting into the book. I had problems myself. Starting a book with plenty of action is fine, but it's necessary to get the reader interested in the situation and the characters at the same time. This requires maybe a bit more skill than the author has. A few pages to establish the characters in the normal life of of the Libyrinth, before the main plot really kicks in, might have sufficed.

In any case things calm down a bit once the characters are separated. Haly is captured by the Eradicants and hauled off to their citadel, where she is treated well once they realize that her ability to hear books means she is their prophesied Chosen One who will bring balance to the Force make the dead words live again. Exactly what that means is, as usual with prophecies, open to interpretation. Haly manages to convince some of the key figures that it's now OK to learn to read (conveniently, she has a book, confiscated from secret Eradicant readers). She also does some thinking about the difference between the Libyrarians, who spend all their time studying books and let few other people have any, and the Eradicants, who spend lots of time developing teaching songs to help the local peasantry.

Haly's sections are handled reasonably well (barring logical inconsistencies which I go into below). One could certainly argue that the Eradicants she talks to come around too easily, but based on my admittedly limited knowledge, it's actually fairly realistic; people seeing a miracle (i.e., Haly being able to tell them what a book in a locked box says) which their religion has prophesied are going to be in a state where they're vulnerable to epiphany conversions.

Meanwhile, Clauda and Selene escape and go to Selene's home Greek-flavored city-state, which is ruled by her mother. Selene's mother (who has chosen another woman as heir) schemes to gain power for herself, but Clauda manages to steal her magical ancient flying craft from its cave and show up at the climactic battle in front of the Libyrinth. The Eradicants (with Haly in tow) attack the Libyrinth and there is much shooting, but in the end Haly manages to achieve an entente; she convinces all the leading Eradicants they need to learn how to read, and the Libyrarians that they should help the people instead of sitting around the stacks all day. I am glossing over lots of detail here.

You may be wondering, since this was a book club selection for an LBGTQ month, where the LBGTQ content is. I was wondering the same thing for much of the book. The content is limited to one or two paragraphs in the middle: Clauda sees a naked girl and thinks about how nice it is that in the Libyrinth, no one cares that she is attracted to girls. That's it except for some hand-holding which is not necessarily meaningful. Well, and the soldiers in the city-state are all women and one can make certain assumptions, but we're not told or shown anything.

I am of two minds about the perfunctoriness of this. On the one hand, the book is not particularly about sex or relationships. There is nothing wrong with having an adventure novel where one of the viewpoint characters just happens to be a lesbian. Furthermore, she is young (15 or 16) and spends a lot of the book not feeling very well. On the other hand, the straight viewpoint character at least gets to kiss a boy. An attempt at equity would possibly have been better.

My major problem with the book was not this, but the fact that the background makes no sense. Which would be less of a problem if the background didn't drive some of the major plot elements.

Cut for lengthy nit-picking )

On the plus side, the prose is decent if not exceptional, and after the early part North keeps things reasonably interesting. If she spends more time working out the logic of her plots she might produce something I can recommend unreservedly in the future. (There is a sequel to this, but I haven't read it.)
rachelmanija: (Book Fix)
( Feb. 14th, 2012 10:42 am)
I have four papers due on Monday, and my brain is stuck in psychology-mode. My apologies for the repeated delays, but book posts will probably not go up till after.
“Proposition 8 served no purpose, and had no effect, other than to lessen the status and human dignity of gays and lesbians in California,” the court said. The ruling is limited to California. The issue will be bounced up to the Supreme Court, which may rule as soon as next year.

In other LGBTQ-related news, I got swamped by schoolwork and have not yet had a chance to curl up with either of the Permanent Floating YA Diversity Book Club selections for last month. (Theme: YA fantasy with lesbian heroines.) Reviews will appear, I hope, later this week. Has anyone else had a chance to read either or both?

There is a sweet deal at Amazon on Libyrinth now - only $4.29! Haly is a Libyrarian, one of a group of people dedicated to preserving and protecting the knowledge passed down from the Ancients and stored in the endless maze of books known as the Libyrinth. But Haly has a secret: the books speak to her.

Tripping to Somewhere is $5.99 on Kindle. If you don't have a Kindle, I believe you can still buy it in that format and read it on your computer. It's everyone's glittery fantasy turned real: to follow the Carnival's mystic band of beautiful people as they defy every limit and dance through history -- all in search of a good time.
The January/February YA Diversity Book Club picks are Tripping to Somewhere AND Libyrinth.

Pick one to read and review, or read and review both! It's up to you.

The reason I'm doing two is that Tripping to Somewhere is comparatively hard to obtain if you don't have a Kindle, and I think it slipped in the polls for that reason. I don't want to penalize it for that. But I also don't want to have readers left out because they can't find it. Hence, a double club pick.

Please read and, ideally, review on your own blog for maximum visibility. I will put up my own reviews around the second week of February. Enjoy!
[Poll #1808812]

Read more about the books on Amazon:

Tripping to Somewhere

The End


Shadow Walkers

A Strong and Sudden Thaw

ETA: All these books are available on Kindle. Tripping is out of print in print form, but used copies from Amazon are not too expensive. Thaw has a print edition, but it's expensive... but I had two volunteers offer to mail their print copies to book club participants, so it would be available that way. Libyrinth and Shadow Walkers are in print.

This really speaks to how few YA sff novels with LGBTQ protagonists are out there in the US, right?
Fourteen-year-old misfit Melanie Tamaki comes home from school, having been bullied as usual, to find that her sickly alcoholic mother has vanished. She learns (after sensibly seeking adult help rather than immediately haring off on her own) that her parents were from Half World, a purgatorial realm in which the spirits of the dead re-experience the worst trauma they had on Earth, until they can move on to the Realm of Spirit. But millennia ago, the realms were sundered, leaving the spirits in Half World to suffer eternally for no fault of their own.

Until, perhaps, an “impossible child” – a child born in Half World – can bring balance to the three worlds. Accompanied by a magical jade rat, Melanie ventures into the utterly horrific Half World to rescue her mother and the other despairing spirits.

Though this has some of the tropes of a typical quest novel, it doesn’t read much like one. It’s more of an Inferno-esque allegory, as much psychological as spiritual, on the themes of trauma and healing, the cycle of abuse and the possibility of breaking free. Melanie is an unusually realistic heroine, completely un-special apart from her parentage, who finds courage and intelligence within herself by sheer force of necessity and love.

I’d classify Half World as horror-fantasy. Most of the novel is set in Half World, which is full of the spirits of suicides endlessly killing themselves and ruled by a truly disgusting villain. There’s also a heaping helping of body horror. Melanie’s jade rat companion and magic Eight Ball don’t do all that much to leaven the mood. If you haven’t read this already, I suggest reading the prologue and introduction (yes, there’s one of each) to get a sense of the tone and content.

This book made for an unusual reading experience for me, simultaneously compelling and repelling. This isn’t a comment on its quality; it’s well-written and thoughtful, and also extremely disturbing and gross. Half World is convincingly otherworldly, a spiritual hell made up of horrors which can’t exist in real life and horrors which absolutely do. Just the concept of endlessly repeating your greatest trauma in life – and not even as a punishment, but because of an inexplicable natural disaster – creeped me out.

The ending is redemptive and moving, but I can’t say that I exactly enjoyed reading the rest of the book. As literature, it’s excellent. It was just too dark, disturbing, and grotesque for my taste.

As a physical object, this is an exceptionally well-designed book, with a gorgeous cover and ukiyoe-esque black and white interior illustrations by Jillian Tamaki (Skim)

Half World

Please link your review, if you have one, or discuss in comments. Spoilers are welcome in comments and need not be disguised or talked around.
Has anyone posted a review of Hiromi Goto's Half World for this month's book club? I haven't seen any.

My review will go up late this week or early next week, to give you all time to catch up. I know things got holiday-hectic for many of you. I will then post a poll for next month's selection.

Does anyone have a preferred theme and/or books they'd like to nominate? We have so far had "YA sff with an LGBTQ protagonist" and "YA sff by an author of color, with a protagonist of color." Repeat themes are fine, of course.
The December selection for the Permanent Floating YA Diversity Book Club is Half World, by Hiromi Goto.

Please read and, for maximum publicity and visibility, write a review in your own blog any time between now and the first week of January. If you post a review on your own blog, please link it here. I will review it for more discussion in the first week of January.
The December selection for the Permanent Floating YA Diversity Book Club is Half World, by Hiromi Goto.

Please read and, for maximum publicity and visibility, write a review in your own blog any time between now and the first week of January. If you post a review on your own blog, please link it here. I will review it for more discussion in the first week of January.
The December theme is "YA fantasy with non-white protagonists by authors of color." We will return to "YA fantasy with LGBTQ protagonists" in February. (Yes, it would be great if there was overlap, but I only know of a few books which qualify in both categories, and I've already read them.)

[Poll #1801611]


A Wish After Midnight

Half World

Racing the Dark


Akata Witch

Shadow Speaker
This is the first selection for my permanent floating YA diversity book club.

I apologize for the lateness of this review. I started grad school in October, and the quarter ended this week. I will put up the poll for the December Book club selection today. Please vote!

Braden is a teenager with extremely powerful “witch eyes” that constantly change colors and can see visions, reveal truth, and break and create magic spells. They also give him migraines and psychic nosebleeds. He has little control over their powers, so he always wears sunglasses to prevent their magic from activating. (Not spelled or ruby quartz sunglasses. Regular sunglasses.) Due to his magic abilities, he lives with his uncle, who has home-schooled him.

One day Braden has a vision which tells him that evil magic from a town called Belle Dam is going to come after him and kill his uncle to get to him. Braden, who is well-meaning but not the sharpest knife in the drawer, decides to protect his uncle by… going to Belle Dam.

As soon as Braden arrives, he is flirted with by a hot guy from the bus. Then he is unexpectedly welcomed by a lawyer who puts him up in a hotel and introduces him to his hitherto-unknown father, Jason, who is a town VIP and a powerful witch. On Braden’s first day of high school, he is instantly befriended by two girls and flirted with by a different hot guy. All of these people, who begin relationships with Braden without him having to do anything, exposit at some length to him about how the town is run by Jason and his arch-rival, Catherine Lansing. Catherine Lansing is also the mother of Jade, Braden’s new best friend, and Trey, Braden’s love interest. Oops.

I wanted to like this novel more than I actually did. It has some funny lines and some good moments when it breaks out of its teen paranormal formula to deliver some real emotion. I liked the realistic way that Braden’s sexual orientation was handled – not without angst, but without angsty melodrama. But the prose is often clunky, too much is handed to Braden without him having to work for it, he has unconvincingly good social skills despite having had almost no previous interaction with other teenagers, and the characters, their relationships, and the plot frequently don’t make a whole lot of sense.

I never did figure out whether or not the general population of Belle Dam was aware of magic, exactly how magic worked in this world, why it took Braden to point out to everyone that perhaps it was a tad suspicious that the lawyer hadn’t aged since 1940, and why Braden’s pal Riley thought male witches didn’t exist when most of the witches we meet are male. Many conversations and character interactions were similarly puzzling, with characters taking action for no clear purpose and having reactions with no clear cause.

While Braden’s narration is sometimes nicely snarky, a lot of the prose could have used another pass. There are many sentences with unclear syntax or noticeablely awkward phrasing. For instance, The nausea in my stomach was getting worse, threatening to unleash contents in my stomach that weren’t even there.

I’ve read much worse recent YA novels. But I’ve also read much better ones. While having a gay protagonist in a mainstream YA paranormal is genuinely groundbreaking, nothing else in the novel is. If Braden had been straight, I would have complained that the novel had nothing to distinguish itself from hundreds of similar novels.

But books with minority protagonists shouldn’t have to be staggering works of heartbreaking genius to justify their existence. We don’t demand that every YA with a straight protagonist be wonderful; we accept that some will be, but some will be terrible, and most will be mediocre or average. I can’t wait till the day that I can say that Witch Eyes has nothing to distinguish itself from hundreds of similar YA paranormals with gay protagonists.

As a work of art, Witch Eyes is mediocre-average. But there are readers out there who will love and treasure it, and I wish it stunning success. If it doesn't sound up your alley, it might still make an excellent holiday gift for a kid you know. (There's no sex, a little mild kissing, mild or no swearing, and non-graphic demon-slaying violence. It's probably suitable for ages ten and up.)

Witch Eyes

Feel free to put spoilers in comments.
My review of our October/November selection, Scott Tracey's Witch Eyes, and also the poll for our December selection, will be slightly delayed due to grad school. Both will go up within the next couple of days, once I finish my fisting paper.

Sorry for the inconvenience! If you have already reviewed the book, please link to your review in comments here.


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