Amy Says Read This

Seriously, you should totally read this.


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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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Pretty Deadly by Kelly Sue DeConnick and Emma Rios

Image from Goodreads.com

Image from Goodreads.com

Pretty Deadly, vol. 1: The Shrike by Kelly Sue DeConnick and Emma Rios (ill.). (2014) Image Comics: ISBN: 9781607069621

Annotation: Young Sissy, the girl who wears a vulture’s skin, and blind Fox travel through the Western frontier making their living telling the story of Ginny, Death’s daughter, who rides the world doling out vengeance.

Reaction: I’m not sure why I never put two and two together before this, but, dang, do I love a graphic novel Western. Like, love. Adore. Wanna read them all. I love seeing different artists’ interpretations of my native land (I’m a desert girl, through and through), I love reading how authors incorporate the history and legends of a place into a new creation, and I absolutely adore cowboy iconography. Give me a good cowboy character in a story, and you pretty much have me, hook, line and sinker. So for that alone, this book was really going to appeal to me, and add in a woman writing team and a few kickass lady characters, and this book would have to actually legit suck for me to hate it. It doesn’t suck. I loved it. I wanted to eat it up and cuddle with it and linger over it.

I think DeConnick has written a really solid origin story with this volume, and I enjoyed the way Ginny’s mythology and Sissy’s life entwined. This was a great way to introduce a bunch of characters, who I hope will turn up again in future volumes, and to set up any future adventures Ginny has. I loved that the ladies really took the lead in this story, and except for blind Fox, the men pretty much took a backseat to the women. And while I hesitate to call this a multicultural title, DeConnick does give a pretty meaningful role to Sarah (is that her name? I don’t have the book in front of me and nothing I’ve found on The Internet mentions her), Fox’s black lady-friend, who also happens to be a total badass. I hope future volumes include even more diverse characters.

The art in this is also fantastic. Rios does a great job bringing the desert to life and Jordie Bellaire’s colors (another lady on this team, woot!) are crazy good. All the art is lush and detailed and really helps draw you into the story, and I found the team’s use of panels (lots of small panels indicating rapid movement and long narrow ones to pick out pivotal moments) really propels you through the many action sequences. My only complaint is that Rios (or someone) is a huge fan of the EXTREME CLOSEUP, and I feel like at least once very two page spread there was a panel or two drawn really close into whatever’s happening. Unfortunately, it almost starts to feel like one of those “Do You Know What This Is?” games where stuff is really highly magnified and looks completely alien; most of the time I could not tell what was happening in those close up panels. Thankfully, the surrounding panels usually did a good job of giving me an idea of what was happening, but it was off-putting and pulled me out of the story every time it happened.

Overall, this was a great read, and I’m definitely looking forward to what comes next. I also think it would be really interesting to compare this Western to another Western from Image East of West, which also uses Death as a character. This is a book I would give to adults or older teens who love Westerns, fantasy or strong heroines. (I wish more people would ask me for graphic novel recommendations; there are SO MANY goods ones out right now!)

Author’s website

Illustrator’s Flickr

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


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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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Grandfather Tang’s Story by Ann Tompert

Image from Goodreads.com

Image from Goodreads.com

Tompert, A., & Parker, R. A. (ill.) (1990). Grandfather Tang’s story: A tale told with tangrams. New York: Crown Publishers. ISBN: 9780517885581

Annotation: A grandfather tells his granddaughter a Chinese folk tale about shape changing foxes and uses tangrams to help illustrate.

Reaction: I picked this book up because the idea of a “tale told with tangrams” was really intriguing. It wasn’t until I started reading that I realized I was confusing tangrams, which are different pictures made with the same seven pieces of a single puzzle, with anagrams, which are different words made out of other words.

The story is a fun folk tale about two fox fairies who have a shape changing contest that almost ends in tragedy, and Grandfather Tang uses his tangrams to illustrate all the different shapes they become. I really enjoy the folk/fairy tales from other cultures, especially non-Western ones, since their traditions are so different, but also not really that different at all. And this one has the fun added element of the tangrams.

The art is loose and impressionistic and has an Asian flavor to it, sort of reminiscent of Chinese brush paintings. The colors are muted, giving the illustrations a feeling of age.

This book would be great to introduce kids to some Chinese folklore and tangrams. I remember other kids playing with them in school, but for some reason I never did. I think it would be a fun activity for a class or family to read this story together and then make their own tangrams stories.

Media Used: None listed, but it looks like pencil and watercolors.

Author’s Website: None

Illustrator’s Website: None


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High School Banned Books Booktalk

Here! Have a booktalk presentation I did to my local library’s TeensReach group for Banned Books Week 2013. (If I had been planning this better, I would have posted this during THIS year’s Banned Books Week. Oh well.)


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Lovetorn by Kavita Daswani

Image from Goodreads.com

Image from Goodreads.com

Daswani, K. (2012). Lovetorn. New York: HarperTeen. ISBN: 9780061673115

Annotation: When Shalini’s father’s new job moves the family to Los Angeles from India, she has to learn how to survive in American high school, and eventually she begins to question the marriage that was arranged for her when she was three.

Reaction: I feel like I don’t often see Young Adult novels with an Indian (the country, jsyk) protagonist, though that could be a symptom of me simply not noticing these books. I am always fascinated by stories featuring Indian culture, since it is so different from what we experience in the US.

This is a story about a sixteen year old girl who has been engaged to her best friend since she was three years old. She loves her fiance, but the distance and culture shock of coming to the US cause Shalini to doubt her relationship. When she first starts at her new school, Shalini clings to the familiarity of her Indian heritage, but as the year progresses, she comes to embraces both the cultures in which she lives. Complicating her transition to American life is her mother’s deep depression and rejection of anything American.

This is a great book for anyone who is interested in Indian culture and wants a glimpse into what it might be like for a teen from India. The romance is strong in this book, so I’m not sure how much boys will enjoy it, but I think it would be a great introduction to another culture for those teens interested in realistic YA fiction with a romantic twist.

Author’s Website