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Essential Reading: Genre Faves

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2016 November Essential Reading: Genre Faves

When shopping for books, I always check out the popular books or the staff picks first. I always find it interesting to see the options displayed on a table, asking to be read. Often, these books run the gamut of subject and style, including genre. Genre fiction has always been popular and, with newer subsets, it continues to grow in popularity. Somehow, though, there’s still a stigma that genre fiction is simply put, a lesser art form. It connotes a certain dumbed-down form of the written word. And frankly, it shouldn’t. Not only does genre fiction represent a large portion of the best-selling titles, it can be literary as well. And if not, who cares? Reading should be for enjoyment—whether you enjoy an elevated, literary masterpiece, or a romance novel that lets you escape reality. The most notable genre fiction to entertain the masses is the Harry Potter series. Fitting in both the YA and Fantasy genre, the series brought together all age groups, scholars, and novice readers alike. It helped to break down the stigma of genre fiction. At Literary Mama, we are spending November celebrating some of our genre faves, heads held high.

I am happy to admit that I am a huge fan of the YA (young adult) genre, specifically those in the Bildungsroman category. Over the years, I have indulged in many coming-of-age stories with some notable favorites being The Perks of Being a Wallflower, Girl, and Eleanor & Park. There's something magical in remembering youth through these novels. Another favorite of mine that falls into both the YA and magical realism genre is Dangerous Angels: The Weetzie Bat Books, by Francesca Lia Block. The series is broken up into novellas, each with a focus on one specific character. First published in 1989, the story is timeless, set in a fairy tale world, and features the eccentric main character Weetzie on her quest for happiness. Weetzie meets a genie who grants her three wishes. The rest of the story details her life as the wishes unfold. The book is written in short, matter-of-fact bursts of sentences that give the story a feeling of intensity that matches the feeling of youth. Dangerous Angels isn't all happy-go-lucky. Like life, it is filled with heartache and tragedy, but in the end love conquers all.

Andrea Lani, Literary Reflections Editor, shares one of her genre faves, "My favorite guilty pleasure is a good novel of mystery-suspense and the master of the genre is the late Elizabeth Peters (nom de plume of Barbara Mertz, aka Barbara Michaels). Mertz had a PhD in Egyptology, an encyclopedic knowledge of European and Near-Eastern history, and a lively sense of humor. While Barbara Michaels' books are Gothic thrillers, with paranormal troubles haunting her heroines, the bad guys in the Elizabeth Peters' mysteries are always human. Although Peters' characters usually find themselves in outrageous escapades, her engaging writing keeps me turning pages, disbelief suspended. I recently reread the Vicky Bliss series, whose heroine is a buxom, blonde, and brilliant art historian who battles foes from jewel thieves to terrorists. She engages in an on-again-off-again romance with the principled international art thief John Smythe. The first book, Borrower of the Night, was published the year I was born, but is nevertheless a delight to read, and has a refreshingly feminist ending with Vicky passing on her many suitors in favor of a job in an art museum. The fifth, and final book in the series came out 35 years later. Vicky and John haven't aged a day, but they've kept up with the times, replacing cigarettes with cell phones, and have continued to trot around the world on thrilling adventures."

Reviews Editorial Assistant Hope Rider is no stranger to genre fiction. She states, "Since the majority of my reading is made up of the sci-fi/fantasy genre, I have a long list of really good books I'd love to share, but I will stick to a pair of books that I am borderline evangelical about. The 2016 Hugo award winnerThe Fifth Season and its sequel The Obelisk Gate by N.K. Jemisin are the first two books in the Broken Earth trilogy (expect the third next year). They are set on a geologically unsettled planet where society has been structured to survive seasons—catastrophic climate changes brought about by earthquakes and volcanoes. The story starts with Essun, a woman with many secrets who is the ultimate outsider in her society, on the day the world ends, again. A season is about to begin, and her own life is ripped apart when she discovers that her husband has killed their son and kidnapped their daughter. As the rest of the world closes in on itself in an attempt to survive, she heads off in pursuit of her daughter, and vengeance. The Obelisk Gate continues where The Fifth Season ends. I can't describe much more of the story without spoiling its secrets, but know that once followed and unwound they are truly appreciated. Essun is an amazing character, not because of her special abilities or toughness—those characteristics are everywhere in fantasy and science fiction—but because she is not always likable, not always relatable, and yet you cannot help but be drawn into her story. I could go on and on about Essun, the various people she meets on her journey, and the novel's depictions of a society that is always preparing for catastrophe and which also denies the humanity of a portion of its population, but I highly suggest you read it yourself. Bonus: if you are an audiobook fan this one features the excellent narrator Robin Miles"

Kate Ristau, Columnist, was happy to share one of her genre faves, "This month I dove into Tina Connolly’s new collection of short stories, On the Eyeball Floor. Each story has its own original, and often surprising, twist. Connolly builds her worlds with precision and guides the reader into them. Stories roll through fantastic futures, with imaginative and unexpected characters. Witches, cyborgs, superheroes, and even sentient hands crawl through Connolly’s collection. I really loved this book, mostly for the way it dropped me into incredible worlds and beautiful stories. I’ve read Connolly’s young adult and middle grade books, but she shines with a different light in these stories. They contain darkness, life, and so many ideas that linger on, keeping you up at night and dreaming into the morning."

Poetry Editor Ginny Kaczmarek just finished listening to American Gods by Neil Gaiman. She shares, "I listened to an author's extended version, different from the one that won a slew of awards, but incredibly compelling. Gaiman tells the story of Shadow, a 30-something man serving the end of his jail sentence and counting the days until he's reunited with his wife Laura. Tragedy strikes, and Shadow is suddenly a drifter, targeted by a strange man called Mr. Wednesday, who has a nefarious plan—and a job for Shadow. The pair road trip across America, encountering gods both old and new, from those native to American lands, to those brought by immigrants, to those recently worshipped—The Gods of Tech and TV, who are quite memorable—as they prepare for an epic showdown. This is cross-genre writing at its finest, as Gaiman explores questions about the soul of America—particularly relevant in the country right now."

Tell us about your genre faves in the comments below, or tweet us @LiteraryMama. For more recommendations follow us on Goodreads.

Abigail Lalonde lives in Philadelphia with her husband, daughter, and three cats. She holds an MFA in creative writing from Rosemont College. Her work has been featured in Sanitarium MagazinePretty Owl Poetry, Crack the Spine, and Memoir Mixtapes. She writes about books and writing on her website.

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Heather Vrattos is pursuing an interest in photography by taking courses at the International Center of Photography. She is the mother of three boys, and lives in New York City.

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