by Jeff VanderMeer, 2014
One of the things I bemoan about science-fiction movies and television shows is that it seems that none of the characters have ever read or seen science-fiction. In Annihilation, the same appears to be true. The novel follows a team of four women who have been sent a territory referred to only as “Area X.” Their mission is to find out as much about the area as possible, while also trying to figure what happened to the previous teams that were sent to there. The four-woman team consists of a surveyor, an anthropologist, a psychologist, and our narrator, a biologist. The idea seems interesting enough and, as a child of The X-Files generation, I was immediately drawn to the premise. I wish I could say the story panned out as well as I had hoped.
by Madeleine L’Engle, 1989
narrated by Anne Marie Lee
This was a lackluster ending to a book series that, somehow, I loved as a child. I never read this fifth installment to the Time Quintet that began with A Wrinkle in Time, but after rereading the first four earlier this year, my expectations for the fifth were severely adjusted. This finale does not feature Meg, Calvin, Charles Wallace, or the twins Sandy and Dennys, but focuses on Meg and Calvin’s daughter Polly and the time she spends with her grandparents, Drs. Kate and Alex Murry. She’s been sent to the elder Murrys in the hopes that she’ll gain an even greater education in science than she could have received at home or in school. All of that changes when Zachary, a college student whom she previously dated, shows up at the Murrys and pleads his case for Polly’s company.
by N.K. Jemison, 2016
narrated by Robin Miles
I wish I understood what everyone sees in these books. I promise I’m trying, but I’m simply unmoved by this and most of fantasy. Consequently, I had a hard time following what was happening. Here’s my best attempt to piece it together. (Spoilers for The Fifth Season below, as they are unavoidable in discussing the sequel.)
by Joanna Russ, 1975
While my original plan for the “read a classic of genre fiction” task in the Read Harder Challenge was to count my forthcoming reread of Parable of the Sower, I decided to branch out instead and pick up a book I’d been meaning to read for years. The Female Man is a classic of feminist science-fiction. Though she may not be as well-known as the likes of Octavia Butler or Ursula K. Le Guin, Russ’s work has always appeared in discussions of this particular genre. The novel involves four women – really, four iterations of the same woman in various points in time and space. Jeannine lives during the 1930s, Joanna is a 1970s feminist, Janet is from another version of earth called Whileaway that is populated only by women, and Jael, with her metal claws and teeth, hails from a future torn by war between the two genders. This is the story of what happens when they come together.
by Helen Macdonald, 2015
When Helen Macdonald suddenly lost her father, she turned to her lifelong love of falconry for comfort. She found herself dreaming of hawks, and she recalled the moment when, during her work at a bird-of-prey center, she witnessed a female goshawk being set free: “She disappeared over a hedge slant-wise into nothing. It was as if she’d found rent in the damp Gloucestershire air and slipped right through it.” It is an appropriate metaphor for Macdonald’s grief, and it is one she will turn to over and over again as she as attempts to understand this wild beast that seems untamable. H Is for Hawk is Macdonald’s account of her days with Mabel, the goshawk, and the myriad of ways in which this wild beast set her free.
by Alisha Rai, 2017
Goddamn you, Read Harder Challenge and your read “a romance by or about a person of color.” I resent you and Alisha Rai for making me have feelings. Now, I’m certainly not a convert to the romance genre, and I don’t see myself continuing this series, but there were aspects of the book that I greatly appreciated, nay, respected and I just did not expect that from a genre that I typically brush aside. I still hate love, but I don’t hate someone who has written realistically about love and all the messiness it entails.
by Attica Locke, 2012
narrated by Quincy Tyler Bernstine*
The Cutting Season is a mystery that mixes a classic whodunit with pressing social issues. Caren Gray is a manager for Belle Vie, a Louisiana plantation that serves as an event space and tourist attraction, complete with antebellum reenactments. When a woman’s body ends up on the plantation grounds with her throat slit, and a suspicious stain is found on her daughter’s clothes, Caren finds herself on a search to find out the truth about Belle Vie and the past that continues to mar its present.