2017 Reading in Review

Well, 2017 was awful. And Trump’s still going to be president in 2018, so my hopes for the upcoming year are not that high. On the other hand, I’ve reached a sort of equilibrium with the family members who dumped me, so I won’t have to relitigate that whole mess in the upcoming year (said Jenny optimistically). And I’ve seen so much bravery and ferocity from people I know: Y’all stay inspiring me.

With that said, I had a pretty terrific reading year in 2017. I encountered some new instant favorites, books I loved so much I shoved them at everyone I knew and immediately requested them for birthday or Christmas. I love books and I love reading and I love y’all, so thanks all the way around for being great.

Monstress, by Marjorie Liu and Sana Takeda

Never shall I give up my fondness for monster girls. Monstress is a weird and wonderful comic about a girl with special powers who finds herself at war with the whole world. The art is unfathomably lovely.

Iron Cast, Destiny Soria

Two best friends create magical illusions at an illegal night club in Boston, just before Prohibition begins. Iron Cast features found family to the max, including a best-friendship that’s more central to the characters than their romances (which is rare as hell), and some genuinely cool magic. If you’re a reader on the hunt for more one-and-dones in YA, Iron Cast is for you.

Borderline and Phantom Pains, Mishell Baker

I haven’t read much urban fantasy, but Borderline made me want to change that. Mishell Baker’s borderline protagonist is a double amputee and survivor of a suicide attempt, recruited to work for a mysterious organization called the Arcadia Project. Creepy fairies abound (my fave), plus lots of details about the nitty-gritty of cognitive therapy for BPD.

The Woman Next Door, Yewande Omotoso

Contrary to popular belief, I do not like books solely based on their having French flaps. But French flaps help. The Woman Next Door is a lovely, quiet exploration of the aftermath of apartheid in South Africa: the story of two women whose enmity softens into something that is not quite friendship but no longer exactly hostility. It’s also a story about complicity in oppression that doesn’t insist upon redemption. I loved it.

Testosterone Rex, Cordelia Fine

I mean, obviously. Cordelia Fine remains brilliant, and she is so good at making complicated science accessible to a layperson. My big complaint with Testosterone Rex is that it doesn’t talk about non-cis people hardly at all. However, it makes many brilliant arguments about the role hormones like testosterone play in gender and gendered behavior. Read it, and read Delusions of Gender.

White Tears, Hari Kunzru

I said it when I read it, and I’ll say it again now: What the entire fuck. White Tears is a story about white appropriation of black culture, but it’s also a terrifying ghost story and a wild wild ride. It has one of the scariest endings I’ve ever encountered in a book. It’s brilliant and bananas. Get on it.

Amberlough, Lara Elena Donnolly

Amberlough is a secondary world fantasy (without any magic) about the performers in a cabaret confronting the rise of fascism in their country. If you can’t face that sort of a thing during the Trump presidency, it’s absolutely fair play. But if you are up to it, Amberlough is a strange and lovely book, a fantasy novel for lovers of the darkest bits of Cabaret.

Thorn, Intisar Khanani

One of the truly lovely things that happened this year was Intisar Khanani’s book deal with HarperTeen. Soon you’ll be able to get Thorn in a shiny new edition, and you should. It’s a retelling of the fairy tale “The Goose Girl,” a story that’s sad but hopeful, a story about good people trying their best. Intisar Khanani remains one of my favorite fantasy writers currently working.

Ninefox Gambit and Raven Stratagem, by Yoon Ha Lee

I admit that I was fearful of reading Ninefox Gambit, which I’d heard was a particularly dense bit of science fiction. But I’m so glad I pressed onward with it. Ninefox Gambit might be my actual favorite book of the year; I liked it so much that I ran straight out to the library to get Raven Stratagem. It’s about an imperfectly loyal soldier who has to share a brain with a famously brilliant, famously murderous general from the past. I loved it so much. I want you to love it, too.

Song of the Current, Sarah Tolcser

Such an excellent YA adventure novel. Caro takes to the river with a crateful of mystery cargo in the hopes that she can save her father from prison. But when the cargo turns out to be a boy — a snooty-as-hell boy, but good in a fight — she finds herself enmeshed in more plotting and violence than she’d bargained for. And look at that cover!

Starfish, Akemi Dawn Bowman

In YA as in adult fiction, I tend to gravitate more towards SFF stories. But Starfish won me over. It deals with sexual and emotional abuse in families in a way that I’ve encountered virtually never, and it’s exceptionally honest about the impact of growing up with an abusive parent. I loved Starfish, even more so because the author was able to take critique of some of the language in her book, and make a change for future editions.

Jane, Unlimited, Kristin Cashore

If you’d asked me what I expected as a follow-up to Kristin Cashore’s Graceling series, the last thing I’d have said would have been “Rebecca as a choose-your-own adventure, by way of Diana Wynne Jones.” But that’s what I got: Five separate stories in five separate genres, each most wonderfully stranger than the last.

I wish you strength in the New Year, and all the glorious books you can gobble up. What were some of your 2017 faves?

 

 

 

Review: X-23, Marjorie Liu

Using a Marvel Unlimited gift code from my beautiful pal Memory (thanks Memory!), I finally read Marjorie Liu’s run on X-23, just in time to know a bit about the character before watching OLD MAN LOGAN MOVIE. The run went through several artists, my favorite of which obviously was Sana Takeda, with Phil Noto as a close second.

X-23

If you’re not au courant with what was happening to the X-Men around the time this series came out (early 2010s), there’s kind of a lot to catch up on, and I definitely wouldn’t recommend this series as a starting place for the X-Men if you don’t have a baseline familiarity with the characters. However, Liu does a good job getting you up to speed, and I generally felt like I had a good grip on things: Laura, X-23, ended up on an X-men fighting force that made her feel like she’s good for nothing but murder. Wolverine got ?possessed? by a ?demon?, an issue that’s settled in the Wolverine comics but touches on these comics too (given that Laura’s a clone of Wolverine’s).

The baseline story here is that Laura’s trying to learn how to control the darkness within, and for Reasons(tm), in order to do that she has to go on a road trip with Gambit. Why Gambit? Who cares! Why road trip? Who cares! The comic gets into these reasons but I love Gambit and I love road trips so it would literally be impossible for me to care less about what pretense Marjorie Liu uses to make those two things happen. Gambit’s a character I have, ah, complicated feelings about,1 and it was nice to see him in a Wolveriney big-brother role with Laura.

My favorite of the mini-arcs, however, occurs in the third trade paperback (if you’re reading this in trade paperbacks): Laura agrees to babysit for Reed Richards and Sue Storm’s kids, and world-hopping dragon-fighting hijinx ensure because Valeria and Franklin are trouble trouble trouble.

Sana Takeda’s art is detailed and lush and adorable as it continues to be in Monstress. I’m thrilled these two creators connected while making X-23 and continued their collaboration, because I love the work that they create together.

The final issue of Marjorie Liu’s run on X-23 is….not great. If you are reading this series and you want to end on a positive note, close the book after the penultimate issue, the one that ends with Laura riding away on a motorcycle. It is for your own good and you will thank me. The final issue is this weird wordless, like, vision-quest story where Laura stays the night with the family of an American Indian family, and overnight she has this whole encounter with wolves and a shamaness in the forest. To have your only Indian characters throughout the whole series be wordless is not great, and to take a tourist spin through another culture’s religious traditions is not great, and I really wished this issue didn’t exist. As a sea of critics have said over and over again, Marvel would reeeeeally help themselves when writing about characters from marginalized groups to hire writers from those groups.

I am feeling very positively about minor X-Men characters right now, y’all! Please get at me in the comments and let me know what series runs with lesser X-Men I should be reading.

  1. On one hand: He’s a rogue! He’s our only pop culture Cajun! On the other hand: Yawn to the rogue womanizer trope, and could someone ever be bothered to actually research Cajun culture before they whatever I’m not even going to finish this question because the answer is so obvious.

Review: Monstress, Marjorie Liu and Sana Takeda

I’m going to start keeping records on how many books that bloggers scream about for one million years before I get around to reading them, and then when I finally do read them, it’s like “Well I should have done this a while ago.” Marjorie Liu and Sana Takeda’s book Monstress, which in my defense has been checked out steadily from my library since the trade paperback came out (but I didn’t put a hold on it so it’s still my own fault), is one of those.

Monstress

You see that cover? Every page of Monstress is of equivalent, if not greater, beauty to that cover. Sana Takeda’s art is beautiful and dreamy and gives this work of fantasy an extraordinarily epic feel. The detail on every page is incredible, her characters feel lived-in, and with all of that, she doesn’t elide the brutality our main character, Maika, both faces and dispenses in just about every issue. I was hard-pressed not to screen-cap every page for y’all, because the art is just that gorgeous.

Monstress has received a huge amount of attention, deservedly, for the art, but the writing is also wonderful. I was warned repeatedly that Monstress was quite violent, and it is, in the manner of a lot of the secondary world fantasy I’ve encountered in my life. At the same time, it’s — can I say really fun? Is that glib? Our protagonist, Maika, is fighting against something evil that lives inside her, all the while trying to escape the many forces in her world that will stop at nothing to find her; and yes, that’s a recipe for violence and mayhem in secondary world fantasy. Maika is searching for answers about her own past and her mother’s, and she has a thing many people want and she is a thing many people want, and she has to find the answers before the bad guys find her. So when I say fun, I mean that this is a familiar type of story, which I enjoy, and it’s wonderful to see it played out so skillfully, with such superb worldbuilding, with end-of-issue surprises that make me gasp yet still feel completely earned, and with characters whose arcs over the course of the series I’m excited for.

LOOK AT THIS ADORABLE FOX GIRL MAIKA TRAVELS WITH

Marjorie Liu has said that she has deliberately written a book of only women — and as soon as she said it, I was like, “…Oh yeah. Oh hey. There are no men in this book.” Not actually zero, but very, very few. The soldiers are women, the slaves are women, the witches are women. It’s part of what makes this story so incredible, because what we see are a multiplicity of women with different ideas and motives and values — you know, a whole bunch of women portrayed as full people. Many of them women of color. In a comic written by two women of color. Doesn’t it make your heart grow three sizes? It does mine.

AND SERIOUSLY, THIS ART.

Particularly when you remember that Marjorie Liu and Sana Takeda do not share a language and have to communicate with each other via a translator, this is an extraordinary marriage of the vision of art and writing. I love this comic to shreds and I can’t wait to see what happens next.