Amy Says Read This

Seriously, you should totally read this.


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Under the Never Sky by Veronica Rossi

Image from Goodreads.com

Rossi, V. (2012). Under the never sky. New York: Harper. ISBN: 9780062072030

Annotation: Aria has spent her entire life living in the Reverie Pod, having adventures in the virtual Realms. When she gets blamed for starting a fire in an abandoned section of the Pod, she’s exiled Outside and has to rely on an unfriendly Outsider to survive.

Reaction: With all the concern about boys not reading, I think this is a book that really would have crossover appeal for both boys and girls. The story is told in alternating chapters from the perspective of Aria and Perry, giving the reader both the female and male viewpoints. There’s plenty of action as Aria and Perry travel across the barren, dangerous Outside. They have to fight off cannibals and wolves and avoid deadly Aether storms. And they have a romance that, in my opinion, develops naturally. And it’s nice that there’s no love triangle to deal with (why do we have to be excited about this?), though the shadow of the inevitable end of their romance adds a sense of urgency and sweetness to their love.

By the end of the book, Aria has really become a strong, courageous young woman, and I’m excited to read the next book in the series.

Author’s Website

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The Wicked + The Divine by Kieron Gillen & Jamie McKelvie

Image from Goodreads.com

Image from Goodreads.com

Gillen, K., & McKelvie J. (Ill.) The Wicked + the Divine, vol. 1: the Faust Act. Image Comics: 2014. ISBN: 9781632150196

Annotation: Every ninety years, twelve gods come back to earth. Two years later, they are dead. In 2014, Laura is obsessed with the recently returned pop star deities and will do anything to get close to them.

Reaction: This book is excellent if you, like me, love the mythologies of religions all over the world and enjoy seeing modern uses of ancient gods. They’re very like fairy tales in that way for me, and this book does some wonderful, modern things with these relatively obscure gods and goddesses. This is not to say that you have to be super into mythology to get this book; it would definitely appeal to urban fantasy and superhero comics fans, as well. Gillen & McKelvie have pulled a lot of things together to create something fantastic, all while using a diverse cast of characters, including a couple of gender bending deities. And seriously, their lady Bowie!Lucifer is inspired, and I cannot wait to meet the male Inanna (one of my favorite pre-Christian goddesses).

I really appreciate the story centering on Laura, and that we get this crazy escapade from the perspective of a normal girl. She really helps ground things into the “real world,” and it is completely wonderful that they use a lady of color for this pivotal role. I think the creative team has done a great job of reflecting the diversity of London (and I also really enjoyed the story’s skeptic pointing out that a white girl as a Japanese Shinto deity might be problematic). The writing in this is just so smart and witty, and the art fits so well with it.

My favorite thing about the art (and something that Gillen points out in his Writer Notes about the issues), is how McKelvie really captures facial expressions. There are some panels where the characters face conveys so much and is so perfect for that moment in the story. It’s subtle and completely awesome. But you know? The big moments are great, too. McKelvie and their colorist does a great job of giving those “holy shit is getting real!” moments the impact they deserve. And I love the juxtaposition of the quiet and the major. This is probably the kind of thing that it would be really easy to give your reader whiplash with, but pacing in this never feels frenzied to me.

I finished my first read-through of this on a plane, and it was everything I could do not to slam it down on my fold out tray in anguish at the thought of having to wait any length of time for the next installment. This is another one I’m debating about single issues vs. collected paperbacks. I absolutely love it, and I really don’t know that I can wait another 5 or 6 months for the next collected volume.

Author’s website, where you can read the “director’s commentary” on the individual issues of this (search for “Writer Notes”).

Illustrator’s website

(Contributed to Cannonball Reads 7 as part of my 52 reviews in 52 weeks.)


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The Girl of Fire and Thorns by Rae Carson

Image from Goodreads.com

Image from Goodreads.com

Carson, R. (2011). The girl of fire and thorns. New York: Greenwillow Books. ISBN: 9780062026484

Annotation: Elisa is God’s Chosen One. She is also a terrible princess, fat, and married for political alliance. When she is kidnapped by zealots, she has to figure out how she can help save the kingdom.

Reaction: I really enjoyed this book, and Elisa has a great voice. I love how frank she is and how determined she is to become a good queen. Carson does a great job of showing the atransformation Elisa goes through to become a leader, and though she does go through a physical change, the biggest changes are mental and start even before her appearance changes.

And while there is some aspect of romance in the story, it is almost incidental to the rest of the plot. I was a bit concerned when Carson seemed to be setting up a love triangle, but let me tell you, she took care of that in the most shocking way I’ve ever seen.

I want to read the rest of the series, and I hope that they are as enjoyable as this one.

Author’s Website


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Ms. Marvel by G. Willow Wilson & Adrian Alphona

Image from Goodreads.com

Image from Goodreads.com

Wilson, G. W., & Alphona, A. (ill.). 2014. Ms. Marvel, vol. 1: No normal. New York: Marvel. ISBN: 9780785190219

Annotation: Kamala Khan is a Muslim-American teen living in Jersey City, who, caught in a mysterious fog blanketing the city, wishes to become like her hero, Carol Danvers aka Captain Marvel.

Reaction: This book is amazing. Seriously. So good. I’m not sure how this book got published, like who at Marvel thought a series about a Muslim-American Ms. Marvel was a good idea? Because that person deserves a raise. I’m so glad they took a chance on this. This is exactly the kind of thing we need to see more of in comics: strong female characters, great diversity, good writing and art. I am definitely going to start following this series (should I stick with trades or get individual subscriptions?) I want Kamala to be my new best friend or my little sister. She’s totally, delightfully clueless in the way of all sixteen year olds, and she’s such a normal American teen, except, you know, with super powers, which I think is such a positive message to be promoting in comics today, especially from one of the big publishers.

I especially love all the identity stuff they have her dealing with in this first volume. She’s a normal girl, except the people around her won’t let her forget that she is different, but she just wants to be normal, dangit. But at the same time, the idea of abandoning her beliefs and her heritage are not something she even considers. She might have issues with her local sheikh but not with her religion.

The art is also really fantastic in this book. Alphona does a great job of making her look like a 16 year old Muslim-American girl. I love that she doesn’t just look like a slightly younger, slightly browner version of Carol Danvers (and every other woman in superhero comics [though she does have super awesome hair]). She is distinct without being charicaturized, and I love that the art doesn’t have that high gloss, super polished sheen of other major superhero titles. It has a younger vibe to it, without the art being dumbed down.

All in all, I think this book is great, and I think everyone should read if only for the super awesome feminist, non-white perspective.

Author website

Illustrator website

(Contributed to Cannonball Reads 7 as part of my 52 reviews in 52 weeks.)


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2014 in Review: My Top Reads

Looking back at my year of reading, I’ve read a lot, thanks to book clubs and graduating and not having a job for awhile. Plus, I’m now in an organization that puts out monthly reviews, which gets me even more excited to read and read and read and … I’m discovering over and over that my literary eyes are bigger than my stomach. Because no matter how many books I read there are hundreds more that I WANT to read, and I have to remind myself regularly that there’s nothing wrong with not being able to read everything ever.

I do feel fortunate that of all the books I read this past year, I rated nearly 20% of them 5 stars and only a handful 1 or 2 stars. However, that many 5 star books makes it difficult for me to narrow it down to my top picks for the year. Some are re-reads of past favorites, like Sandman, League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Daughter of Smoke and Bone and Time Traveler’s Wife, some are sequels in series that I’m super excited about and in love with (Hello, Stormlight Archive and Saga) and others are massively popular hits; I mean, we’ve all already read The Fault in Our Stars, right? So … I guess it really isn’t that hard to figure out which were my ultimate favorites this year.

Originally, I thought this was going to be my Top Five of the year, but I read too many good freaking books, so have a Top 5% (in no particular order):

(All images from Goodreads.com

(All images from Goodreads.com)

Kiss Kill Vanish by Jessica Martinez – First of all, this cover is phenomenal, and thankfully, the story within backs it up. The main character, Valentina, is tough and smart and conflicted. The plot hooked me right away, and I couldn’t wait to read more about what happened to Valentina and see what she was going to do next. And I LOVED the ending. I think it would have been really easy for this to end unsatisfactorily, but Martinez gave us an ending that really feels true to the characters she created, and I thought it was wonderful.

Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta – This is, hands down, my favorite book that I read this year. In fact, I read it twice within a couple of months because I love it so much. This is one that I try to recommend as much as possible, to people who are looking for a great YA novel after finishing The Fault in Our Stars or If I Stay, to people looking for a good audiobook, and all my friends have heard about it around 50 times. It’s so good, and y’all need to read it, seriously. Read it. (Be warned, the first 100 pages or so are a little confusing, but it picks up quick after that!)

Landline by Rainbow Rowell – I love Rowell. She’s a great storyteller, and her characters are so wonderful and real, and I want to read everything by her. I made the mistake of starting this one (her newest) right before bed, and ended up reading it in one sitting (by the time 5am rolled around, I was really thankful I wasn’t working at the time). Her writing is smart and funny and wonderfully consumable; all of her books have sucked me in and left me thinking about the characters for days afterwards. (Incidentally, I also gave one of Rowell’s other books, Fangirl 5 stars this year, and I gave Attachments 5 stars last year [actually, Attachments might be my favorite of hers that I’ve read {I’ve yet to read Eleanor & Park}], so basically, you can’t go wrong with my gal Rainbow).

Primates by Jim Ottaviani – This book is a graphic novel look Jane Goodall, Dian Fossey and Birute Galdikas, how they came to study primates and what they did to advance what we know about them. It’s a great introduction to these women for middle grade (and older!) readers, and it presents the information in a fun, accessible way. I think this could be a great book to use in a classroom and could easily encourage kids to do more reading on their own about primates or these scientists. Also, the reveal of Dian Fossey’s fate (murdered by poachers) left me sobbing in bed at the tragedy of it, though the book, thankfully, doesn’t come right out and say that she was murdered by poachers; Ottaviani handles it delicately and age-appropriately.

East of West by Jonathan Hickman – The story in this graphic novel is a little weird, but it was interesting, and I enjoyed this take on the apocalypse. But what really appeals to me about this book, and what has me recommending it to people is the art. I love the art SO MUCH. I love the image of Death as a long, lanky cowboy, the fight scenes are stunning, and the use of color is really well done. I spent more time than usual just enjoying Nick Dragotta’s art as I read this, and it’s what made me want to continue the series.

Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie – Adichie has created a completely compelling and thought provoking story in Americanah. She spends a lot of time talking about race and feminism in America through the lens of a non-American black woman, and I found it really eye opening and encouraged me to examine my own white privilege. But even more than that, the characters were so well written, and I was always anxious to see what happened next with them.

If You Could Be Mine by Sara Farizan – I read this at the beginning of the year, so my memories are a little hazy, but my one line review gives me a pretty good idea of how I was feeling when I finished: “This book is just so damn beautiful and heartbreaking.” I do remember how I felt so powerless, right along with Sahar, and I really liked this portrayal of LGBTQ issues in a country that is so different from the US. I wish I could better remember how Farizan wrote the transgendered characters Sahar encounters, but I do remember liking that Farizan made it a point to draw a distinction between being gay and transgendered, and that gender reassignment surgery would not magically fix Sahar’s problems, in large part because she was not born in the wrong body.

Lies We Tell Ourselves by Robin Talley – This book follows two girls, one black, one white, in 1959 Virginia, as the local high school integrates for the first time. It shows us the torment Sarah experiences as one of the first ten black students to attend the white high school, and her inner turmoil as she comes to grips with the fact that she likes girls. And we follow Linda, as she reevaluates all the beliefs she’s held her entire life, and it makes the reader examine the how and why beliefs are formed and whether they are true beliefs or not. I really liked this book for the way it showed how the Civil Rights Movement was something very personal for the people involved and put a (fictional) face to the struggle.

(If you’re looking for even more lesbian coming of age stories, check out The Miseducation of Cameron Post, a great book about a growing up lesbian in a small town in the ’90’s.)

Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay – This was sort of the year of my feminist awakening, and I’m trying to make it a point to try to read more books about feminism in our modern culture. This book came on my radar during the Goodreads Choice Awards voting, and the title and simple cover really grabbed my attention. This book was really an engaging read, and Gay’s style makes even her essay about competitive Scrabble fascinating. As I noted in my initial review on Goodreads, not every essay spoke to me, but they were all well written and thought provoking. This is another one that encourages the reader to examine his or her own privileges and view the world from different perspectives.

We Were Liars by E. Lockhart – After reading The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks, which is hilarious and wonderful, I was not expecting how different this book would be, and I think We Were Liars helps demonstrate Lockhart’s range as a writer. There’s very little funny here, and the suspense kept me obsessively reading from the first page. This book was supremely compelling and the big reveal is a total gut punch. It’s really well crafted, and the characters manage to be pretty unlikable yet totally fascinating.

What’s Up Down There? Questions You’d Only Ask Your Gynecologist If She Was Your Best Friend by Lissa Rankin – I feel like the title of this book tells you everything you’d ever need to know about it. It was fascinating and had a lot of helpful information about various issues concerning one’s lady business, as well as a lot of hilarrible (hilarious and horrible) anecdotes that make you feel a lot better about whatever weird things are going on with your junk. I think there’s good information in here for anyone who possesses a vagina, and Rankin has answers to the questions you didn’t even know you had.


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Blue is the Warmest Color by Julie Maroh

Image from Goodreads.com

Image from Goodreads.com

Maroh, J. (2013). Blue is the warmest color. Vancouver, BC: Arsenal Pulp Press. ISBN: 9781551525143

Annotation: After Clementine’s death, her partner Emma reads Clem’s diary from when they met and began to fall in love and learns about the struggles Clem had accepting her sexuality.

Reaction: Whoa. This book is intense. It’s beautiful and completely tragic, and Maroh tells you up front that there’s no happy ending here.

The art is beautiful and done in muted colors, except for the bright pops of blue here and there, which mark important people or events in Clem’s life. The art really adds to the wistful, reminiscent tone of Clem’s diary.

This book is a wonderful, moving narrative about coming out and accepting oneself and first love, and I think it’s the kind of thing that could be therapeutic for teenagers on the same journey, but there are a couple of sex scenes, so I would probably only give it to teens 16 and up. Clem’s coming of age story is also pretty universal and is likely to resonate with any adults who remember the anguish of falling in love for the first time.

Awards: Prix du Festival d’Angoulême for Prix du Public (2011), American Library Association Rainbow List (2014)

Author’s Website (in French!)


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Circus Galacticus by Deva Fagan

Image from Goodreads.com

Image from Goodreads.com

Fagan, D. (2011). Circus Galacticus. Boston: Harcourt. ISBN: 9780547581361

Annotation: Trix sort-of-accidentally runs away with the circus when her school takes a field trip. Along the way she discovers that the universe is a much bigger place than she ever realized, and the meteor her parents gave her to protect is something much more special.

Reaction: This book is great fun; I love a good novel about the circus! And adding in SPACE only makes it better. Trix’s adventures with the Circus Galacticus are all about finding one’s place in the world and making friends. She is an angry teen, but her angst is totally relatable for anyone who ever felt left out or picked on, and she starts to mellow out as she finds Her People. She doesn’t take crap from anyone, but she also learns about accepting responsibility for her actions and grows into a more mature teen along her journey.

My regular library has it shelved in the children’s area, though it is more appropriate for the teen section, being about a 16 or 17 year old high school girl. There’s nothing in this that would be inappropriate for middle school readers, and it would probably appeal to a pretty wide range of ages.

Author’s Website