Hello, friends. It’s been tumultuous couple of years. I started working full time for the first time two and half years ago, and that’s lead me down a path of shoving things to the side when I didn’t have time for them. The problem with that though, is that shoving away things I like doing kind of sucks. So I’m going to open this blog again (it was private for a good while) and see what else could happen here. Maybe I type into the void. Maybe I don’t. We’ll see. But let’s talk about what I like to talk about best: books.
Twenty-eighteen has started out slow in the book area. I’ve been so busy at my current job, that even reading, one of the few hobbies I take pride in keeping up with, has fallen by the wayside. I’ve finished maybe 6 books this year, and I’m woefully behind on my annual GoodReads challenge. So to get myself back in the mindset, here are my favorite books from 2017.
I read a lot of comic books in 2017, and I get the feeling I might do the same this year, just to help me catch up. And honestly, I’m pretty happy I did, because 2017 was a great year for comics! I also didn’t read as much fiction as I would have liked, but I did read a lot of genre fiction, so get ready to hear about some speculative fiction and gay historical romance!
Stories of Your Life and Others by Ted Chiang
This is one of those short story collections you wonder why you never heard of until you chance across it. In my case, it was the in the book section of Target, which is not actually a place I do much shopping for books. I’ve say 95% of books I’ve bought from a Target have ended being disappointing to me, but I was drawn to this one because it had the poster for the movie “Arrival” on the cover. Everyone knows that movie by now – Amy Adams and that guy who plays Hawkeye meet in the wake of an “alien invasion” and work together to figure out what these new lifeforms want. There’s mystery, cool-looking aliens, linguistics, and Forest Whitaker with a Boston accent. “Stories of Your Life” is the spec fic “Arrival” was based on, and it’s even more impressive in short story form. While the story and movie vary a lot, the source material is still rife with themes of language, time, and philosophy. Other stories that stood out to me were “Hell is the Absence of God,” a meditation on how humans would act if Christianity was proven correct, and “Liking What You See: A Documentary,” a story about children who are given the ability to not see – and thus not “value” – beauty in other people.
Ever After High: The Class of Classics by Leigh Dragoon and Jessica Sharen
From older entries on the blog, you may know I’m a big fan of the Ever After High franchise, which sadly petered out in the last couple of years. Stores have stopped carrying the dolls in late 2017/early 2018, the Netflix show and webisodes stopped production in 2016, and while it looks like there are a few dolls and books set for release in the coming year, nothing much is really being done with it otherwise. And all this is part of the reason why “The Class of Classics” is so great. It’s a wonderful goodbye to the franchise that was so severely unloved in it’s time. I don’t want to get into the whole backstory of why it ultimately flopped, but it breaks my heart as someone who was so invested in it. Anyway, the graphic novel is wonderful background on the actual “Class of Classics,” the graduating class containing the most classic fairy tale characters since the current set. Their parents’ stories give a lot of insight and context to current characters, and provide cute and charming tales that are told with love and care. The artist and writer could not have done this franchise more justice. I’m sad we’ll probably never see another one of these, but I’m glad I have this one to remember the series fondly.
Jessica Jones: Uncaged! by Brian Michael Bendis and Michael Gaydos
When it came out in the early 2000s, “Alias” was my gateway into comics. The follow up series, “Jessica Jones,” which uses the logo from the Netflix series, serves as more or less direct sequel, as we find Jessica a few years older – and perhaps a bit wiser? – but still unfortunately stuck in the same old self-destructive routine. Or so we think. After the 2016 Netflix series came out and caused such a splash, I was ecstatic to see Bendis and Gaydos working on a new series. And with Bendis’ departure from Marvel, this may be the last we see of her for a while – at least in classic “Alias” style. I haven’t made it a secret that I was somewhat disappointed with the Netflix show. While I think it told a good story and was very important for the development of female superhero media, it didn’t feel like Jessica Jones to me. It was like you could have slapped any name on the main character and the story wouldn’t have changed much. Everything that made the comic so interesting and original, to this day, seemed forgotten or deliberately left out of the show. But again, that’s a rant for another time. It’s good to see Jessica back in the noir comics from whence she came, and I’m glad we have a little more of her story from the original creative team before she inevitably fades back into comic book obscurity.
Think of England by K.J. Charles
Twenty-seventeen was the year I devoured K.J. Charles’ oeuvre, and I do not regret it one bit. I was never much interested in romance until a friend recommended me this book, and I realized not all romance has to be so painfully heterosexual. “Think of England” is probably one of Charles’ best books, and for me, it’s up there with her “Charm of Magpies” and “Society of Gentlemen” series. The story has a standard “extended party in the country with some murder” Regency plots, but it’s relationship between the two main characters is really want makes it stand out. Charles has a real knack for writing characters in historical settings that feel more real and modern than most contemporary romance novels do. And honestly, I was just so floored by the relationship the two main characters build over the novel. Many writers, whether their genre is romance or not, can rarely write a relationship this sexy, exciting, real.
Kill or Be Killed Volume One by Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips
Honestly, I’m not a vigilante hero kind of person. I like comic books, even superhero ones, but they’ve become so grimdark since Christopher Nolan’s Batman series exploded on the media landscape that I honestly just skip them out of habit. And when my boyfriend picked up volume one of “Kill or Be Killed” on our trip to LA in 2017 (RIP, Atomic Comics), I did the same. But he kept telling me I might actually like this one, and while it took some convincing, I gave it a try. (He really should have mentioned Ed Brubaker was the writer, but I digress.) “Kill or Be Killed” is part of a weirdly specific genre of fiction where the main character thinks some otherworldly force is compelling them to kill. And that’s exactly what this book is, but for once it didn’t make me groan at the romanticism of mental illness or the poor handling of women in the main character’s life. The book is a good deconstruction of the vigilante genre, as well as a solid story all on it’s own, revolving around the very real nature of unchecked mental illness, living in a surveillance society, and how much family messes you up. If you’re bored with comics and looking for something different, “Kill or Be Killed” is definitely worth a try.