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Seven Books I Love–Honorable Mentions

When I did my Seven Books I Love series, I talked about how hard it was to pick favorite books/series. So here are seven contenders that could have made the list depending on the day I made a decision. These are seven fast plugs

The Tortall books by Tamora Pierce were my entry point to fantasy with strong female protagonists. My fourth grade teacher had read The Hobbit to us, and I’d liked it, but had definitely noticed the lack of women. I might have moved onto The Lord of the Rings like some classmates who liked fantasy, but instead either I stumbled across The Lioness Quartet or, more likely, a teacher/librarian/bookstore employee introduced me to it. While these are YA books, I strongly encourage anyone who likes strong female representation in fantasy to read the series. Start with Alanna: The First Adventure, in which Alanna and her brother Thom switch places–he goes to the convent where as a boy he’ll learn magic and she pretends to be “Alan” and goes to court to learn to be a knight. There are roughly 15 books in the series, with more coming. As a side note, I read this with Athena (9) and she was able to get her copy signed when Tamora Pierce made an appearance at Borderlands Books (a great indie SF/F/Horror bookstore in San Francisco–they ship nationwide if you want to support them).

The Newsflesh series is set in the not too distant future of the US, where a cure for the common cold interacted with the cure for cancer, and while the upside is that no one gets colds or cancer anymore, the downside is that now we have zombies. Georgia (George) and her brother Shawn run a website of “Newsies” (those who report the news), “Irwins” (those who go out and get action videos of themselves fighting or taunting zombies), and “Fictionals” (people who write fiction, like epic love stories). At the start of Feed, the first book in the series, George and Shawn get the news that their website has been selected to cover the Republican nominee for President. Then, as the campaign progresses, it becomes clear that there are powerful people pulling the strings, and George is determined to get to the bottom of it. This is the first book in the original trilogy, which has spawned tons of novellas (The Day the Dead Came to Show and Tell makes me full on sob), and a novel written from the pov of the team covering the Democrat in the race. Feed can also be ordered from Borderlands Books. Mira Grant is the YA pen name for Seanan McGuire, whose October Daye books made the Seven Books meme, and it was a toss up between Newsflesh and Toby, tbh.

The Hate U Give has been on the top of the Children’s/YA Bestseller’s list for a year and a half, and if you read it (and you should) you’ll understand why. Starr grapples with being torn between the world she lives in–a majority black urban neighborhood–and the world she goes to school in–a private, majority white school. When her childhood friend is shot by a police officer in front of her, she has to decide if she wants to be the anonymous witness, or to find her voice and tell the truth. The story is timely, grappling with systemic white privilege, and the strained/toxic relationship between the police and communities of color that spawned Black Lives Matter. I’m going to start reading it with Athena in anticipation of the movie this fall (see the excellent trailer here.) If you want to support an indie bookstore, I suggest Bookasaurus.

I’ve mentioned in the past how much I love Alisha Rai. Glutton for Pleasure is my favorite book by Alisha. Chef Devi Malik and not one, but two sexy twins in the hottest menage love story I’ve ever read. I’m shocked my kindle didn’t melt when I reached the sex scenes. The sex scenes are worth revisiting over and over. It’s not just sex, though–can Devi find more than just kinky sex with Jace and Marcus? (And what will her family think?) Even without the hot, kinky sex, the story has emotional pull, and kept my interest. You can buy it from The Ripped Bodice, the only all-romance bookstore.

The series that really turned me into a reader was The Baby-Sitter’s Club by Ann M. Martin. I even went by Kristy (a reasonable nickname to my IRL name) for a good eight years in school. These books sucked me into their world and I loved them. I snark them on my book review blog, Be Quiet Mommy’s Reading, along with other 80’s books I read in my series called Snarking Nostalgic. Yes, they are flawed, but they are awesome. There is an attempt to bring them back in graphic novel form, which Athena reads and I think suck. The original series is out of print for the most part, but you can find them at used bookstores and indies like Powell’s Books.

This was so close to making my list. I am a hardcore Phantom of the Opera fan. I used to work for a Broadway ticket concierge service and every time they did a $25 matinee, I’d go see it. I’ve seen it easily twenty times, and that’s before we get into things like the 25th anniversary live concert shot at the Royal Albert Hall. Yes, I will even defend Love Never Dies. But the perfect accompaniment to the musical is Phantom by Susan Kay. It tells the story of Erik (the canonical name for the Phantom) from birth to death from various points of view. It shows how he learned all those skills he employs in the show, and his love for Christine. I used to use part of this book as my audition piece when I did theater. If you like Phantom the musical you will love Phantom, the book. If you want to support an indie, why not Powell’s?

I’ve blogged before about how Forbidden was the first book I ever read by Beverly Jenkins. Romance Twitter kept talking about a drop everything and read Beverly Jenkins day, so I had to go see what they were talking about. Rhine is a black man passing as white in the post-Civil War west, and Eddy is the black woman he falls for. He has to decide if he’d risk losing everything he’d gained for the woman he falls for. It’s such a good book–I was actively upset that I had to stop reading to go get my children at school, for one. I ran out to read everything else of hers that I could get my hands on–and I’m still working my way through her backlist book by book. If you want to shop indie, order it from The Ripped Bodice.

Meeting a childhood idol

I’ve always been a reader. It’s been part of my identity for so long I don’t even remember learning how to read, apart from knowing I was precocious in that area. I was lucky that the adults in my life–my family and my teachers–never tried to clip my wings when it came to books.

Want to read The Secret Garden and A Little Princess at six but don’t know the vocabulary? Here’s a dictionary.

Want to read trashy teen horror books like The Prom Dress? I’ll buy it for you/allow you to spend your money on it even though it’s meant for much older children. (Read my super snarky review “The best ‘bad’ book I’ve ever read.”)

Oh, you want to read books from the adult section of the bookstore/library? That’s ok with me. Cue my mom signing the slip allowing me to take out adult books–although I wonder in retrospect if she’d have let me if she knew I was going to become a huge V.C. Andrews fan. Flowers in the Attic is about a mom who locks her four children in an attic, tries to kill them with arsenic, and features a scene in which a brother rapes his sister. And that’s just the first book in that series.

My point is that books have always been a huge part of my identity.

I’ve always been drawn to fantasy, as was my fourth grade teacher in retrospect. She read us the first three books in the Narnia series (aka the only good books in the series–everyone dying in the rapture except Susan because she wears lipstick is a bullshit ending). Then she read us The Hobbit. Fellow fantasy readers naturally picked up The Lord of the Rings next. I thought The Hobbit was a sausage fest and I wanted a fantasy book with a female heroine (yeah yeah Eowyn’s “I am no man” is badass, but she’s only there because she’s following a dude and then hangs up her sword–this is not the female heroine I was/am looking for).

I don’t remember if I stumbled across Tamora Pierce or if someone recommended it to me. But I do remember reading Alanna: The First Adventure, and feeling so happy to see a strong feminist main character. Alanna is supposed to go to the convent to learn to be a lady and her brother Thom is supposed to go to the capital and learn to be a knight. This isn’t what either of them want, so Thom forges their letters of introduction and he goes to the convent, where sorcerers receive their initial training and Alanna poses as “Alan” and goes to learn to be a knight.  Over the four books she does just that and becomes a hero of the realm.

Tamora Pierce consistently writes strong female protagonists, and I fell in love. She was also my introduction (along with 80’s Madonna) to the idea that women like sex and can be sexually active on their own terms. Alanna has three relationships over the books, and calls her lovers out on their bullshit. Her other female leads also don’t hesitate to call out sexism. They are tough and they take on a man’s world in their own terms. This was revolutionary to me.

I’ve read pretty much everything she’s ever written, and even as an adult if she puts out a new book, the likelihood is that I’ll read it. Recently I even introduces Athena (age 9) to Alanna.

All of this is a lead in to say that she did a reading at Borderlands Books in San Francisco a week ago. They are an indie bookstore specializing in Fantasy/Sci-Fi/Horror. Readers of Seanan McGuire’s October Daye series will recognize it as she wrote it into a book. They ship nationwide, so I encourage you to patronize them if you like those genres.

If you follow me on Instagram, you’ve already seen this photo, but

I took Athena to the talk, and she was even brave enough to ask a question. Afterward, we got our books signed (Tamora wrote “girls rule” in Athena’s book and “women rule” in mine). I babbled something about how much Alanna had meant to me and how meaningful it has been to share her books with Athena (Arcadia is only 6–we’re reading Junie B Jones right now, but Alanna and Harry Potter will come eventually). She was just so gracious in the face of my babbling.

For me, my childhood–and even adulthood, to an extent–heroes are authors. I am in awe of people who can create these worlds I live in vicariously, whether it was The Baby-Sitter’s Club by Ann M. Martin in elementary school (I’m a Kristy) or Anne Bishop’s Jewel series today (I have a serious literary crush on Karla). It’s a huge reason I am a writer–I want to create my own worlds and my own characters.

Authors like Tamora Pierce inspire me, and make me even more excited to get back to my own work.