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I am a member of DORT, the Diversity and Outreach Roundtable, which is a subunit in the Minnesota Library Association. At the recent MLA conference, several members of DORT presented on diverse books. The topic desciption that was submitted to the conference was very broad, which allowed each of us to choose what we were persoanlly passioante about as our individual topic. I spoke about adult genre fiction, where it is often difficult for authors of color to break out. Since I only had ten minutes for my portion of the presentation, I was unfortunately only able to highlight the following six books (all of which I have read and enjoyed).

Additionally, I also created three lists of adult genre authors of color, which you can see here. There are at least 100 authors on each list, all of whom have been published or are soon to be published in the US, and should be available in print, digitally, or both. If you have any additional authors to suggest, please leave a comment here or there, and I will update the lists. These reviews, as well as other materials and resources related to our presentation, were originally published on the blog we created in lieu of presentation handouts for the 2014 MLA conference which can be found at: Diversity! Books for a Better Today

Romance/Erotica:

Night HawkNight Hawk by Beverly Jenkins

Beverly Jenkins always adds an unobtrusive history lesson to her books, which is part of the reason I enjoy them. Her characters are strong, diverse men and women who celebrate their heritage, and welcome breath of fresh air in a genre that can, at times, seem overburdened with tortured nobility. Night Hawk is the story of Ian Vance, a bounty hunter who had been featured in a few of Jenkins’ previous books, and Maggie Freeman, a woman accused of killing a white man who had molested her. Although Ian initially plans to simply deliver Maggie safely to her trial judge, he comes to admire her spirit and quickly realizes that she is not guilty of the crime she is accused of. The two travel to Ian’s home in Wyoming, while slowly building a life together—each is running from a past that still haunts them, and while both desire a future with the other, there are obstacles they must overcome.

My Fair ConcubineMy Fair Concubine by Jeannie Lin

Jeannie Lin’s Tang Dynasty romances are a series of four loosely connected books that take place in China during the Tang Dynasty (618-907 CE). She has recently started a new series, the Pingkang Li Mysteries, also set during the Tang Dynasty. My Fair Concubine is the story of Fei Long and Yan Ling. Fei Long’s sister has run away rather than be sold off in a politically expedient arranged marriage, and Fei Long must find a replacement to preserve the family honor. Yan Ling is a servant at a teahouse who yearns for a better life. Realizing that they are in a position to assist the other, the two come to an arrangement, and Fei Long does his best to transform a servant into a lady. But when the time comes to hand Yan Ling over to the Emperor, Fei Long realizes he might have gotten more than he bargained for. Yes, it is a retelling of “My Fair Lady,” just in case the title alone was not enough to tip you off. But the setting of the story and the attention paid to detail and characterizations raise this far above a run-of-the mill retelling to a thoroughly enjoyable read.

 

Mystery/Thriller:

The CaretakerThe Caretaker by A. X. Ahmad

While many thrillers involve vast international conspiracies that only one man can thwart due to his superior skills and knowledge, this book (the first in a series by debut author Ahmad) is a thriller on a much smaller scale. Ranjit Singh, a disgraced ex-Indian army officer living with his family in the US, is trying to make a go of his landscaping business on Martha’s Vineyard. Things seem to be looking up when Ranjit gets a job as an off-season caretaker for Senator Neals—he has a steady income, and he decides, despite his better judgment, to move his family into the Senator’s house for the winter. But suddenly things go very wrong: Ranjit’s family has been picked up and is awaiting deportation back to India, and Ranjit has been sucked into a conspiracy that stretches all the way from Washington to India, to the scandal that drove Ranjit out of the army. I don’t read very many thrillers, as I generally find them too far-fetched or hysterical to suspend my disbelief, but this one had just the right mix of plausibility and intrigue to keep me interested. I will be reading the sequel, to see how Ranjit deals with the unresolved problems from this book.

The Concubine's TattooThe Concubine’s Tattoo by Laura Joh Rowland

This is the fourth of Laura Joh Rowland’s Sano Ichiro novels; the eighteenth was published earlier in 2014. They are set in Japan during the late 17th century, and frequently feature the Shogun and members of his court and household. Sano Ichiro, the Shogun’s Most Honorable Investigator of Events, Situations, and People, has just married Lady Reiko when their wedding feast is interrupted by the untimely (and violent) death of Lady Harume, a favored concubine. Rather than being allowed to take the vacation he was promised, Sano must delve into the complex world of court intrigue, power plays, and sexual politics. Meanwhile, Lady Reiko struggles with her new identity as a wife and her position both in society and in her husband’s household. Rowland is another author who is skillful at delivering history lessons within her novels, without making them feel like a chore. Another important skill, especially for a long running series, is that the characters grow and mature, and do not stagnate into caricatures of themselves

 

Sci-Fi/Fantasy/Speculative Fiction:

Throne of the Crescent MoonThrone of the Crescent Moon by Saladin Ahmed

A high fantasy novel that does not take place in a stand-in for medieval Europe! Instead it is in a stand-in for a medieval Arabic kingdom, but without all the annoying orientalist trappings that so often mar these settings. It’s wonderful, and I can’t wait for the sequel. Doctor Adoulla Makhslood is ready to retire from his career as a ghul hunter and enjoy tea and biscuits and relaxing with his friends, when word comes that the clan of the Badawi has been almost entirely slaughtered. Adoulla and his assistant Raseed are soon joined by Zamia, the sole survivor of the attack. Together they discover that the massacre was part of a larger plan by an unknown evil adversary to destroy the great city of Dhamsawaat—and possibly the world.

Bloodchild and Other StoriesBloodchild and Other Stories by Octavia Butler (some of the links are no longer active or otherwise correct, but it is a good starting point)

The seven short stories and two essays in this collection are a perfect introduction to Octavia Butler’s work, especially as each piece features a short afterword by the author explaining how it came to be written, what her intent was with the piece, or how her thoughts on a particular subject led her to create something entirely different. While Butler did not consider herself a short story writer, and indeed in the introduction to this book says that she hates writing short stories, they still creep into your brain and stick with you, just as her longer fiction does. My favorite stories are “Speech Sounds,” set in a post-apocalyptic world ravaged by a disease that has destroyed people’s communication skills; “The Evening and the Morning and the Night,” in which individuals who have a terrible genetic disease are faced with limited choices, none of them good; and “Amnesty,” in which an abductee now works with the group that abducted her for the benefit of both. The two essays are about writing, and her experiences as an author of color in the sff community, and should be required reading for any aspiring writer, no matter what genre they hope to publish in.

Source: all books borrowed from the library, except for the Jeannie Lin title, which I own

It’s been quite a while since I’ve done any reviews. But I haven’t stopped reading books; I’ll never stop reading books. I’ve just been lazy about writing about what I’ve been reading. Here are some of the books I’ve liked best that I’ve read since October of 2013, which is on odd place to start, but that simply happens to be how my resources are aligning.

So without further ado:

Boxers & Saints
Boxers & Saints by Gene Luen Yang
I’ve loved Gene Luen Yang’s books ever since American Born Chinese. This set of two is about the Boxer Rebellion, but also so much more. And it doesn’t pull any historical punches–the politics are simplified very slightly for the sake of the format, but the turmoil and upheaval that people experienced and the danger and death that were very real consequences of (in)actions are not simplified in any way. This is pretty much the height of what graphic novels can aspire to, and the fact that it’s about an essentially forgotten chapter of history (at least as far as the West is concerned) only makes it that much more powerful. Aimed at teens, but certainly not the only audience who could benefit from reading this. And that it’s been nominated for awards like mad is only icing on the cake.

Ironskin
Copperhead
Ironskin and Copperhead by Tina Connolly
For all that I loathe the Brontës, I have something of a Thing about reading retellings of their works, and I don’t quite know why. I hate Wutherine Heights *so much* that I have yet to find a retelling that works for me, but there’s several reworkings of Jane Eyre that I like a lot more than the original book. Ironskin is one of them. It takes place in roughly post-WWI era, although in Jane Elliot’s world the Great War was with the fey. Now humanity is struggling to come to grips with the aftermath of a devastating war, and also to figure out whether or not the fey have in fact been as soundly defeated as it seems. Copperhead continues the story, but focuses on Jane’s sister Helen–and isn’t a retelling of anything. Helen has to deal with the choices she made during the war, and while she might not be a veteran with obvious physical scars like Jane, she has her own struggles to overcome and personal demons to battle. The third book in the series is due out this fall, and will move forward eighteen years to focus on Dorie Rochart, Jane’s ward. I really really hope, from the description, that it is going to be a Tam Lin retelling, which is one of my personal all-time favorite catnips.

The Treachery of Beautiful Things
The Treachery of Beautiful Things by Ruth Frances Long
And speaking of personal all-time favorite catnips…when Jenny was 10, her brother Tom was kidnapped into faerie, literally swallowed in front of her by the forest and never seen again. Seven years later, after a lot of therapy, Jenny has decided to brave her terror and unhappiness and visit the place of his disappearance to say goodbye before she leaves for university. When Jenny suddenly receives an unmistakable sign that Tom is still alive, she charges into the forest to rescue him, heedless of both her terror and the danger.  It’s a Tam Lin retelling, with a twist! And a terribly unfortunate cover that has nothing much to do with the book. This version of faerie is much grittier and nastier than the cover would lead you to believe. This is right up there with Pamela Dean’s Tam Lin as one of my favorite retellings of the ballad.

Return of a King
Return of a King: The Battle for Afghanistan, 1839-42 by William Dalrymple
There is a longer history of Westerners messing around in Afghanistan that many may realize. And it never, ever goes well. Ever. This book covers the first Anglo-Afghan war (Dr Watson was wounded in the second one, if that’s your only reference), and it did not go well. First the British depose a king, then the install a weak puppet king, then they start messing about with Russia in the Great Game, then they ignore every conceivable sign that the region is about to go to hell in a very violent way, and then they are outraged when the natives turn on them and massacre them. And then, a generation later, THEY DO THE SAME THING OVER AGAIN. *facepalm* This book was a morbidly fascinating study of how not to run an empire, and also a chilling example of just how badly everything can possibly go when said empire does finally crumble. I need to read the other Dalrymple books I have sitting around, he is an excellent writer.

Monument Road
Monument Road by Charlie Quimby
I confess, I was not planning on reading this book. I went to an event at Magers & Quinn that featured Charlie Quimby and PS Duffy together; I was there mostly for Penny, as I thought her book would be a good title for a library program. (I still do, she’s coming to my library this fall.) But as I listened to the two of them read from their respective books and talk about how they came to write them, I became intrigued by Charlie’s book. So when I got home, I requested it from the library. And when I finally got it, I was stunned by what I had read. The characters lived and breathed on the page, and I experienced their highest highs and their lowest lows right alongside them. My heart broke for Junior, and sang for Len. I devoured it in two days, and went out and bought my own copy. Because this is a book that I will want to read again and again, and I hope you will too. And then I invited Charlie to come to my library.

Little Failure
Little Failure: A Memoir by Gary Shteyngart
While I may not have developed a history of drugs and drinking like Gary Shteyngart, I can certainly relate to his fish out of water childhood. In my case I moved from the US to Germany, a few years later than his family’s move from Leningrad to Queens. But the complete lack of the familiar, the desperate attempts to fit in, and the strange sense that you are living halfway between two worlds is very familiar. Not to mention the fact that you have no idea what anyone is saying. (In all fairness, my classmates viewed me as a novelty, and were generally very kind and willing to make friends. I was absolutely in no way an outcast like he was.) I think that is why I generally enjoy this sort of memoir: I too have experienced this.

The Good Lord Bird
The Good Lord Bird by James McBride
A funny book about John Brown’s raid on Harper’s Ferry, an event credited as being an impetus to the American Civil War? Well, yes, actually. Very funny, until you realize that there are also quite a few uncomfortable and ugly truths being exposed by the humor. Henry Shackleford may only be 12 (or possibly 14), and mistaken for a girl at that, but he observes with a sharp eye, and has an even sharper voice. It’s basically a picaresque, except I’ve realized when I use that word to describe it to patrons, not a lot of people are familiar with that term. It’s a tragedy told as low comedy–you know that it’s going to end badly for pretty much everyone involved, but you have to go on the journey with them because it’s such a good ride to get there. On a side note, I’m horrified and fascinated that it’s apparently “soon to be a major motion picture,” because what really makes this novel shine is Henry’s voice, and I’m not sure how that can be captured on film without a lot of tedious voice-over. So read the book before it, like so many others, is ruined by being made into a movie.

Claire of the Sea Light
Claire of the Sea Light by Edwidge Danticat
This book seems deceptively slight, and on the surface, not a lot happens. In the opening chapter, Claire runs away on the evening of her seventh birthday. This is simply a starting point, and as the story winds its way through Ville Rose, the seemingly unconnected characters reveal a greater depth to the narrative. Some connections are obvious, while some have to be teased out slowly.  It is a gorgeous piece of writing, luminous and evocative. I loved this book, and I need to go back and read more of Danticat’s work.

Rivers of London
Rivers of London series by Ben Aaronovitch
What if Harry Potter didn’t know he was Harry Potter? What if he grew up and joined the police, and THEN found out he was Harry Potter? That is a rough premise for these books, but it in no way does them justice. Peter Grant is just finishing his basic constable duties, and is about to be assigned to the division that will determine the rest of his career. And then he sees a ghost. Which is ridiculous, because surely ghosts don’t exist! Except maybe they do, and maybe there’s a little known, not-quite-secret, special branch of the police that deals with supernatural matters, and Peter has just been recruited to it. I don’t remember how I found out about his series (I think it might have been a list of Best Adult Books for Readers Who Love Harry Potter somewhere), but I’m so glad I did. The series is really fun, and I like the mix of magic and police procedural, both of which are solidly developed. They aren’t terribly well known in the US, which is a pity, but are quite popular in the UK. The fifth book is due out this fall, and I can’t wait.

Saga
Saga written by Brian K. Vaughan and illustrated by Fiona Staples
Two soldiers from opposing sides of an intergalactic war fall in love and have a baby. And everyone wants them dead. This is the story of how they attempt to survive. OMG I love Saga so so much. Markoa and Alana are a realistic couple, baby Hazel is adorable, Marko’s parents are great, The Will is surprisingly honorable, The Stalk is creepy, Slave Girl breaks my heart, I WANT A LYING CAT, Gwendolyn kicks ass, and oh oh oh you really need to read these right now. They are about love and war and life and death and just everything. The story is great, but the art is what truly makes these books, and I can’t wait for the next volume to come out.

The Story of Owen
The Story of Owen Dragon Slayer of Trondheim by E. K. Johnston
I loved this book. I liked the dragons: I liked how the dragons were inserted into our world with surprisingly little effort, I liked the thought that went into what the dragons wanted, and I liked how the dragons were not romanticized. And I really liked the relationships between the characters, especially Owen and Siobhan. They are friends. Just friends. Not YA-book-friends-but-really-in-love-with-each-other, just friends. They like each other, they respect each other, and they support each other, but friendship is the sum total of their relationship. And that is so refreshing! I also enjoy the fact that Siobhan’s parents aren’t happy about her becoming Owen’s bard because of the obvious associated dragon dangers, but they respect that this is their daughter’s calling, and they let her live her life for herself. I thought the ending was going to be different, and had already braced myself, and was therefore quite pleased.

The Midnight Dress
The Midnight Dress by Karen Foxlee
This book was not what I was expecting, based on the review I remember reading, but I am not at all disappointed I read it. In fact, I think the book I read was better than the book I expected. Based on the review, I thought I was going to get a vaguely magical-realism-fantasy book about a magic dress and a missing girl, sort of a reworked fairy tale. What I got was basically a [GIANT SPOILER ALERT] murder mystery with some hints of romance and maybe a titch of magic thrown in. [END SPOILER ALERT] The story takes place in the late 1980s, which is never clearly stated, but I think works to its advantage. It wouldn’t be the same story in the age of cell phones and the internet and heightened awareness about personal safety. I also like how it is structured, because it takes you a while to figure out what is going on, and then it is a little bit of a punch in the gut when you finally do.

So there you are, some books I’ve read that I liked. And if you want to keep track of what I’m reading, you can always check out my LibraryThing account, I’m pretty good at keeping that up to date.

I really enjoyed this program. While I may not have personally thought that every one of the Things was 100% Super Awesome Double Plus The Best Thing Ever, nothing was pointless or a complete waste of time either.

For example, Thing 4. I personally don’t like RSS feeds, and this Thing is for apps that perform the function of RSS feeds–basically I am predisposed to not like it BUT I realize that many people love RSS feeds and will be all over this thing like no one’s business. Weirdos.

Some of my favorite Things were unexpected; I had so much fun making my ridiculous playlist that I’ll keep Spotify, even though I’ve long since kicked Pandora to the curb. Art Circles is gorgeous, so even though I don’t really need a basic art history app, I’m keeping it. And Free Books is full of…free books, so that’s an easy choice to keep. I’m going to try to remember to look at Apps Gone Free more than once in a blue moon, because who knows what great thing I’ll find next?

And of course the apps I already use and love, like Vine and Instagram, I’m going to continue to use.

My very favorite Thing about the Things was that everything I tried was a free app! That’s the really impressive and amazing part, and my hat is off to the creators of this really robust program. I can’t wait to see what’s next.

Apps Gone Free has been on my radar for a while, but I have been remiss in actually looking at it. I like the way it’s organized, and is like that I can scroll back through previous posts to see what was free last week or last month. But I’ll be honest, I’m not going to be very good at checking it every day. I can already tell this by the several days I have failed to check it since the last time I looked at it.

If only I could get this as a daily email! That would be super.

As boring as it sounds, two of my most-used apps are a weather app and my bank’s app.

The weather app is for practical reasons–one of my dogs is terrified of thunderstorms, and being able to track bad weather is really really helpful. It’s also nice to know how many layers we all need to be wearing for walkies. My favorite weather app went through a big change when I did the OS update on my devices, and I don’t like it as much as I used to, but I haven’t found anything else that even approaches its accuracy and usefulness. So I still use Weather Underground, but I don’t love it. And I’m open to suggestions, if anyone has a good weather app! Storm season is fast approaching.

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I never thought I’d be so enamored of something so…utilitarian as a bank app, but it really makes a huge difference. It’s a lot more convenient that checking their website through my device (in all honesty, I hardly ever even use the website any more) and I can do everything I need to through the app. Including make deposits. Oh yes, I can deposit checks through the app, with my phone or my tablet. And the funds are available immediately. I AM LIVING IN THE FUTURE. I can also do normal things, like transfer funds between accounts and manage my insurance policies and whatever else I need to do.

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The other thing I use my tablet for is reading. I read library books through the Overdrive app, and I also use the Kindle app for the ebooks I’ve purchased. I’ve dinked around a little bit with Apple’s book app (…that I can’t even be bothered to remember the name of), but I don’t like that one as much. Overdrive is futzy and not really very user-friendly, but I’ve gotten used to it. And that’s just me speaking as a library patron–I have a completely different and more extensive set of complaints about it when I’m wearing my Librarian Tiara. Kindle is much more user-friendly, but I wish there were more than two options (by title or by author/creator) for me to arrange my books.

But the coolest app, bookwise, that I have bought, is the Book of Kells app. Yes, it was $11.99, but it’s the Book of Kells, digitized and optimized for the iPad. THE ENTIRE THING. WITH HISTORY AND BACKGROUND AND CONTEXT AND STUFF. Come on. Look at it, it is just too glorious for words!

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Apparently when it comes to gaming, I have the soul of an 80-year old. An 80-year old who lived 50 years ago. My two favorite game apps are solitaire and mahjong. Candy Crush? Jelly Dash? Fruit Ninja? Pah. Not for me.

My solitaire app has 160 (be still my heart!) different versions of solitaire. 160! I could never download another game ever and be completely content with life until the day I die. It costs $3.99, but I’m pretty sure I got it on sale. I love this app so much. (I have a smaller version on my phone, that one only has 50 versions. It’s pretty great too.)

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My second favorite game app is mahjong, specifically Shanghai Mahjong. This costs $0.99, and I do believe I paid full price for this one. I like this version because it has a very large number of board layouts; a previous mahjong app I had downloaded had too few and I got bored very quickly. You can customize your tiles and backgrounds, but I prefer the classic look.

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I do have several (ok, five) Angry Birds games, but while I do genuinely enjoy playing them, they don’t pass the longevity test the way these two do. I haven’t open an Angry Birds game in at least six months, but I played solitaire two days ago.

Make a playlist for the library?

Challenge accepted!

Fair warning, I made this playlist in the spirt of fun and also F-bombs. So maybe it’s not for the easily offended. And it’s very much from my perspective as a public librarian, so if you want anything explained, please feel free to ask in the comments.

ETA: you have to be logged into Spotify to access it, which is a bummer. So if you don’t have an account, I’m happy to post the playlist in the comments.

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