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The Mary Sue Book Club, June 2023: Reflective Short Stories & Those Who Wield Power

Black self-care, matriarchal SFF, and an twist on one of the earliest examples of science fiction.

Three books from the month's book club selections. Image: Chronicle Books, Del Rey Books, and Algonquin Books.)

Just over halfway through the year and in an unbearably hot-record-breaking summer, books continue to provide us with hours of escapism and understanding in a world that doesn’t make sense. (Well, patriarchy, white supremacy, and capitalism do make sense for those who benefit from them, but society’s insistence on keeping up with it doesn’t make sense.) So, we keep reading.

In addition to familiar faves like Silvia Moreno-Garcia and Robyn Smith (Nubia: Real One), this month’s edition of The Mary Sue Book Club features several debut authors and one established, but new to us. Also, for the first time in months, there is some semblance of gender equity as this list is almost half men. Two share very different collections of short stories but each captures the diverse stories within various Native American communities. The third crafts a story of science and magic following a courtesan in a city ruled by women.

Happy reading Mary Suevians!

Night of the Living Rez by Morgan Talty

Night of the Living Rez by Morgan Talty (Image: Tin House Books)
(Tin House Books)

In twelve striking, luminescent stories, author Morgan Talty —with searing humor, abiding compassion, and deep insight— breathes life into tales of family and a community as they struggle with a painful past and an uncertain future. A boy unearths a jar that holds an old curse, which sets into motion his family’s unraveling; a man, while trying to swindle some pot from a dealer, discovers a friend passed out in the woods, his hair frozen into the snow; a grandmother suffering from Alzheimer’s projects the past onto her grandson; and two friends, inspired by Antiques Roadshow, attempt to rob the tribal museum for valuable root clubs.

Night of the Living Rez released July 5.

Wash Day Diaries by Jamila Rowser & illustrated by Robyn Smith

Wash Day Diaries by Jamila Rowser & illustrated by Robyn Smith (Image: Chronicle Books)
(Chronicle Books)

Wash Day Diaries tells the story of four best friends–Kim, Tanisha, Davene, and Cookie–through five connected short story comics that follow these young women through the ups and downs of their daily lives in the Bronx.

The book takes its title from the wash day experience shared by Black women everywhere of setting aside all plans and responsibilities for a full day of washing, conditioning, and nourishing their hair. Each short story uses hair routines as a window into these four characters’ everyday lives and how they care for each other.

In expanding the story of Kim and her friends, the authors pay tribute to Black sisterhood through portraits of shared, yet deeply personal experiences of Black hair care. From self-care to spilling the tea at an hours-long salon appointment to healing family rifts, the stories are brought to life through beautifully drawn characters and different color palettes reflecting the mood in each story.

At times touching, quiet, triumphant, and laugh out loud funny, the stories of Wash Day Diaries pay a loving tribute to Black joy and the resilience of Black women.

Wash Day Diaries released July 5.

Silk Fire by Zabé Ellor

Silk Fire by Zabé Ellor (Image: Solaris)

Set in a planet-sized matriarchal city where magic and technology freely bleed together, a male courtesan’s quest for vengeance against his aristocrat father draws him into an ancient struggle between dragons, necromancers, and his home district’s violent history. In the world-sized city of Jadzia, magic and ancient science merge into something dark and wondrous.

Koré’s life is consumed by power, politics, sex and vengeance, and as courtesan to the wealthy and powerful, he is privy to all manner of secrets. He knows meddling in politics is dangerous─still, he is willing to risk everything to stop his father from seizing the Imperial Throne of the War District. But Koré soon finds the corruption runs far deeper than just one man.

During a tryst in an ancient tomb ─in the pursuit of political influence─ Koré encounters a dying god, who imbues him with the powers of one of the city’s sacred dragons. Suddenly Koré finds himself a hunted man, threatened with becoming a pawn by whoever finds him first.

If the wrong person discovers his secret and lays claim to his powers they would plunge their world into war, unleash untold horrors and destroy the city─and the two people he has come to love.

Silk Fire released July 5.

The Daughter of Doctor Moreau by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

The Daughter of Doctor Moreau by Silvia Moreno-Garcia (Image: Del Rey Books)
(Del Rey Books)

Carlota Moreau: A young woman growing up on a distant and luxuriant estate, safe from the conflict and strife of the Yucatán peninsula. The only daughter of a researcher who is either a genius or a madman.

Montgomery Laughton: A melancholic overseer with a tragic past and a propensity for alcohol. An outcast who assists Dr. Moreau with his experiments, which are financed by the Lizaldes, owners of magnificent haciendas and plentiful coffers.

The hybrids: The fruits of the doctor’s labor, destined to blindly obey their creator and remain in the shadows. A motley group of part human, part animal monstrosities.

All of them live in a perfectly balanced and static world, which is jolted by the abrupt arrival of Eduardo Lizalde, the charming and careless son of Dr. Moreau’s patron, who will unwittingly begin a dangerous chain reaction. For Moreau keeps secrets, Carlota has questions, and, in the sweltering heat of the jungle, passions may ignite.

The Daughter of Doctor Moreau releases on July 19.

Send Her Back and Other Stories by Munashe Kaseke

Send Her Back and Other Stories by Munashe Kaseke (Image: Mukana Press)
(Mukana Press)

Equally awash with the joys of exploring a new world as well as a myriad of challenges, her complicated, and often tangled, female Zimbabwean protagonists navigate issues of identity, microaggressions, and sexism in vibrant, indelible settings. Yet again, these are not only stories of navigating an at times tense US political climate, they are also marked by characters who rise to the top of their professional fields, seize the American dream, and travel the world in glee. Kaseke peels back on the inner wranglings of characters caught between two worlds, be it by stories of dating outside one’s culture and race or failing to assimilate upon returning home after spending time abroad.

Send Her Back & Other Stories releases on July 25.

Calling for a Blanket Dance by Oscar Hokeah

Calling for a Blanket Dance by Oscar Hokeah (Image: Algonquin Books)
(Algonquin Books)

Told in a series of voices, Calling for a Blanket Dance takes us into the life of Ever Geimausaddle through the multigenerational perspectives of his family as they face myriad obstacles. His father’s injury at the hands of corrupt police, his mother’s struggle to hold on to her job and care for her husband, the constant resettlement of the family, and the legacy of centuries of injustice all intensify Ever’s bottled-up rage. Meanwhile, all of Ever’s relatives have ideas about who he is and who he should be.

His Cherokee grandmother urges the family to move across Oklahoma to find security; his grandfather hopes to reunite him with his heritage through traditional gourd dances; his Kiowa cousin reminds him that he’s connected to an ancestral past. And once an adult, Ever must take the strength given to him by his relatives to save not only himself but also the next generation of family.

Calling for a Blanket Dance releases on July 26.

(images: Chronicle Books, Del Rey Books, and Algonquin Books)

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(she/her) Award-winning artist and blogger with experience and education in graphic design, art history, and museum studies. This resident of the yeeHaw land spends most of her time watching movies, reading and playing the same handful of video games—even as the playtime on Steam reaches the quadruple digits. Currently playing: Balder's Gate 3, Apex Legends, and CS:GO.