Riot Headline 10 Exciting Books to Read this Summer

5 Magical Books by Women

Johann Thorsson

Staff Writer

Johann Thorsson is a native of Iceland, but spends much of his time in Bookland. He has lived in a few parts of the world but currently lives in Iceland with a pretty woman and a mischievous son who resembles Calvin (of Calvin and Hobbes fame) more each day. He has a complicated but ultimately useless degree in bioinformatics from a very pretty college in England. His favorite books are 1984, Flowers for Algernon and The English Patient. He hopes one day to call himself a writer without feeling like he's just fooling himself. Blog: Johann Thorsson - On Book and Writing Twitter: @johannthors

Recently, some dust was thrown up regarding why women-only prizes should be a thing. While I think it unfair that the need for a separate women’s prize in literature exists, I think it’s a good thing. Also, the more literary prizes, the better, right? I don’t choose books based on the gender of a writer, at least not consciously. I am, however, prepared to accept that a bias toward buying books written by men exists, and that any method used to correct for this bias is fine by me.

And, in the spirit of that sentiment, I’d like to shine a light on a few great books I’ve read recently (or, at least, relatively recently) by women. These are fantasy novels or short-story collections of the highest quality, since my go-to genre tends to be fantasy, or at least fiction with a supernatural slant.

Pretty Monsters1. Pretty Monsters by Kelly Link

Pretty Monsters is a collection of short stories and novellas by Kelly Link. It includes artwork by Shaun Tan (look him up), and the whole book is very pretty and full of monsters. There are werewolves and magicians and worlds-in-a-handbag. I picked it up on a whim after “accidentally” missing the bus (who puts a bus stop next to a bookstore anyway?) and spending a few minutes in my local indie bookstore. The book is deeply magical, and beautifully written. It is quite dark in parts, and something about the way the stories are written made me think of Neil Gaiman as I read. My favorite story is “The Wizards of Perfil,” and it is totally worth the price of the book. It includes an eponymous Locus-award winning novella. Yes, eponymous.





Moscow But Dreaming cover2. Moscow but Dreaming by Ekaterina Sedia

This is a collection of short stories by Russian-turned-New-Jerseyian Ekaterina Sedia. I first encountered her when she wrote an eye-opening post on the Clarkesworld site about female characters’ superpowers being “one of the guys”. Go read it now and then come back (or bookmark it for later reading). I’ll wait. The book collects Ekaterina’s short stories which are dark and unforgiving. Those fond of birds chirping, happy endings and a simple worldview should look elsewhere. Fantasy and horror mix with Ekaterina’s easy style of writing. The story “There is a Monster Under Helen’s Bed” still breaks my heart, many weeks after I read it.





The Shining Girls3. The Shining Girls by Lauren Beukes

This book has yet to hit shelves in the US but it is already on top-ten lists in the UK, and it is small wonder. An excellent supernatural thriller that reads like it was plotted by Stephen King himself. A truly evil man finds a house that can transport him through time, and he uses this to murder girls that “shine” to him. The House (always a capital H) lets him escape the police easily. But then one of the girls survives, and she is plenty pissed off. It’s been a while since I read a book this fast. Lauren writes well, though I would have liked to have more details in places, and the book could well do with being 100 pages longer. Maybe this just means I wanted more… I guess that’s a good thing, right?





Grace4. The Ladies of Grace Adieu by Susanna Clarke

I don’t think I’ll ever tire of recommending this collection of short stories. Susanna Clarke wrote the very good Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, which is a Victorian fantasy where gentlemanly wizards engage in a rivalry of sorts. Neil Gaiman and I agreed that the world would be a better place if everyone read Strange & Norrell. In The Ladies of Grace Adieu, we are treated to a number of stories that are lovely little gems. The Duke of Wellington wonders into the faerie world of Neil Gaiman’s Stardust, and this is an apt description of the book as a whole for those of you familiar with Stardust. The stories are dark and beautiful and leave you with a smile. My favorite is Mr Simonelli or the Faerie Widower. Fans of Mr. Gaiman, fans of fantasy and fans of well-written short stories should get this collection.




The Night Circus UK5. The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

I feel, in the interest of prefect honesty, that I should inform you that I have not completed this book. That’s simply because it’s the book I’m reading right now. I saw it a while back and unfortunately thought it was a paranormal romance that took place in a circus. If I see a book marketed with the words paranormal and romance together I rather quickly lose interest, Twilight-style. And so I left this one alone. But it kept popping back up on my radar and I finally bought it. Boy was that a good choice. Far from being a paranormal romance, this is a beautifully written fantasy of wizardly rivalry. It has an intricate world and puts me more in mind of Susanna Clarke’s aforementioned Strange & Norrell. It is not a quick read, but that is fine; I’m savoring it. This is very much a book-lover’s book, a proper fantasy without dragons or castles, but one with illusions and the most colorful black-and-white circus ever.




Finally, and because I feel it has to be said. The five books mentioned here are not “Great books by women.” They are just great books, period.
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