Remember how I was all about using this for accountability on my reading goals, how I was going to get regular content out of it all? *sigh* Yeah, me too. I blame the fumes of “thank goodness 2016 is over” for that youthful optimism.
The good news is that in spite of “blog regularly” being a fail, my own personal diversifying challenge is still holding up.
#ownvoices – I went the YA path for this one since my work YA/juvenile reading challenge was still underway, reading Diverse Energies, a collection of short dystopian stories with an emphasis on diversity in both authorship and setting. I went into it warily, not because short story collections are hit or miss (it’s a feature of the genre that I’m aware of), but because after the end of the Divergent trilogy, I threw the book across the room, lamented the hours I lost to it, and declared YA dystopian lit DEAD to me. Dead and buried. Deep as I could go. But this collection… well, it didn’t give me a hankering to read about another simplistically divided society with a (typically white) Chosen Teen to save it, but I enjoyed it, which is an acceptable enough outcome. Standout stories to me were the ones from Malinda Lo and Ken Liu, both very different in tone and content, but good enough to make me seek more of them out, and I went on to read Lo’s Ash per a friend’s recommendation and loved it, so hey, bonus points.
New or forthcoming – This title was a newly released one, Ellen Klages’ Passing Strange, one of Tor.com’s novella line. This story sucked me right in, but it wasn’t quite the story I expected. It opens with a compelling framework, that of an older woman retrieving a hidden and valuable painting from a hidden tunnel hearkening back to Prohibition days before quietly dying. And then we get to the heart of the story, which seems like a love story against the backdrop of 1940s San Francisco, following a core of several women, including Helen, the woman from the introduction and Haskel, the painter of the valuable work. There’s an initial whisper of a hint of magic, but it fades away, leaving a story that feels more like historical fiction as Haskel meets and falls in love with the lovely Emily, a singer from the local club, known, among other things, for being “a haven for women who loved each other could meet in public without fear or the shame of sidelong glances from ‘nice’ ladies.” Things are going lovely, for the most part, until someone from Haskel’s past shows up, and disaster threatens to unravel everything.
About two thirds of the way through, I looked up from the book in surprise, wondering why it was classified as a fantasy since I hadn’t really seen much magic. Oh, it had been hinted at in a couple places, crept into the occasional conversation, usually contrasted against science in the process, both otherwise quietly unacknowledged. And then everything came together. I had been lost in the atmosphere and the air of forbiddenness foreshadowed in the reference to Prohibition in the introduction, that I had forgotten there was supposed to be magic. I’m not sure if that’s a matter of narrative unevenness, or simply a testament to the author’s compelling homage to San Francisco and the people who found sanctuary there. If you like immersive atmosphere in your fiction, give this one a try because it has that in spades, and if like me, that gorgeous cover piqued your interest, definitely pick it up because… I’m not going to spoil anything, but it’s a marvelous reveal when you realize what’s happening.
Different genre – I thought at first this might be a bit of a cheat to count Mixed Vegetables, since manga is really more of a form than a genre, but it’s really a story that isn’t in my typical wheelhouse to begin with, so we’ll count it. Look, I’m a reader of romance, and it’s my go-to when things get heavy and I want the assurance of a happy ending, but even then, I like a bit of angst burning in the background. So this story was, overall, much fluffier than I normally would gravitate toward, plus, well, cooking has generally been a chore to get through for me, not a creative process with its own merits, so the foodie angle of this romance was a tough sell to begin with. I tried a volume, and it was cute, but nothing that overwhelmingly drew me in. I’m not the reader for it, but the next time I see someone with an armful of romances and foodie-themed reads, I know the perfect thing to hand them.
And that was February in expanding my reading horizons. March was a near miss with a reading slump and crafting slump and, really, overall lapse in anything remotely resembling productivity, but I’ll have that post soon. Spoiler: even though I barely got any reading done (relative to my usual reading pace), I still managed to meet my goals, and I’ve got a theory on that I’ll talk a bit more about…