Apr 29, 2015

The TBR Dare - How Did I Do?

pile of new books
The culprits

The TBR Dare: How Did I Do?
As you might remember, back in January I announced my optimistic reading plans for the year: I’d take part in James’ TBR Dare in the first quarter of 2015 and make a real, committed effort to getting to all those books I own and keep neglecting in favour of shiny releases or library holds. My own version of this challenge would be combined with a book buying ban that would last until May. In order to avoid making it too restrictive I came up with a few exceptions, but all in all I had a solid plan to keep me on track. The end of April is nearly here, which means it’s time for a reckoning. How did I do, you ask?

Not that well, it turns out. But also not too badly.

What went wrong:

  • I gave myself too many loopholes. Initially I was allowed two library books a month plus whatever highly anticipated 2015 I had pre-ordered, but then—

  • Comics happened. I’ve been reading a lot of them this year, but as they can be quite pricey I like reading them from the library whenever possible, especially when trying out new series or creators. Also, I kind of tend to think they don’t count for TBR pile purposes because I read them very quickly and usually shortly after acquiring them. This means that at some point I decided that comics weren’t going to count towards my two library books a month allowance. Nevertheless, I do include them in my stats, so they’re part of the numbers you’ll see below.

  • Then book addict logic kicked in, and my reasoning went thus: if I’m borrowing however many comics I want from the library, surely that means I can buy them too...?

  • After that came the slippery slope factor: I suspended my book buying ban for a day to go book shopping with a friend, and I found it very hard to go back to my previous discipline after that. I’ve not been completely unrestrained, but to say that I’ve stuck to the ban in any meaningful sense would be a lie.

  • In sum: I fell short of my goal of reading 60% TBR books (which I define not just as books I own, but as books I’ve had for over a month before reading them). My current number is 42%, with the remainder coming from the library or being just-bought new releases.

    What went right:

  • Last year, my final percentage of books read from my TBR pile was a shameful 26%. I’m doing far better this year, and there’s still plenty of time to increase my totals.

  • Comics happened: even though this caused me to fall off the wagon, it’s immensely exciting to find new things to love.

  • Similarly, one of the main reasons why I’ve found it hard not to buy new books this year is that 2015 has brought us a real embarrassment of riches so far. There have been more new releases I can’t wait to read than in any other year I remember, with even more scheduled for the months to come (Uprooted! The Lie Tree! The Rest of Us Just Live Here!). Again, it’s hard not to think of this as a good thing, even if it sabotaged my plans.

  • I did read a lot of books I’d owned for years in the first quarter of 2015, namely a lot of old Diana Wynne Jones titles I’d been irrationally shying away from to postpone the day when I’ll run out.

  • I had fun, I made meaningful progress towards my goals, and I didn’t feel too constrained in my reading choices.


    So maybe the lesson here is that the numeric goals I set for myself back on January were not realistic. I’d like to read more from my TBR pile for the rest of the year (ideally I’d be at 50-60% TBR titles by the end of 2015), but I also want to continue to pursue new interests and read new books I’m excited about. I feel like I did achieve that so far, no matter what the numbers say. As for library books, I wouldn’t want to give them up entirely, but not grabbing whatever strikes my fancy when I’m shelving has been good for me so far. Sticking to the 20% library books I achieved in the first quarter of 2015 is a good goal for the rest of the year. Lastly, one thing I gave up entirely were review copies, and saving very occasional exceptions for all-time favourite authors I’d like to keep it that way.

    What about you? Did you take part in the TBR dare — if so, how did you do? Do you have any strategies to keep your book acquisition habits and TBR pile under control? What works and doesn’t work for you?
  • Read More......

    Apr 27, 2015

    I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson

    I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy NelsonI’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson

    People die, I think, but your relationship with them doesn’t. It continues and is ever-changing.
    Jandy Nelson’s I’ll Give You the Sun — this year’s Printz Award winner — is about a pair of twins, Noah and Jude. The two are incredibly close until the year they’re thirteen. Jude is popular and outgoing, while Noah tends to keep to himself; however, their surface-level differences don’t get in the way of what they have in common, or of their profound understanding of each other. Noah draws and impresses everyone with his talent, while Jude makes mesmerizing sand sculptures. They visit museums with their art historian mother and are busy preparing their applications to art school. As with most siblings, their relationship is complicated and touched by occasional rivalries, but they’re safe in the knowledge they’re the most important person in each other’s world. Until, that is, a chain of painful events drive them apart, and the twins are left to struggle on their own.

    I’ll Give You The Sun moves backwards and forwards in time: the story of what happens the year they’re thirteen is told from Noah’s point of view, while Jude narrates events three years later, when she and her brother barely speak and their lives are unrecognizable. As we learn more about their lives — about Noah’s romance with his new neighbour Brian, about Jude’s creative impulse and the new boy in her life, about why Noah never draws anymore, and about the hidden side of the twins’ mother’s life — we begin to piece events together. And little by little, so do Noah and Jude: it’s only by breaking free of their isolation that they’re able to rethink their understanding of the past, and, as a result, to remake their present-day world.

    First of all, I’m thrilled that I’ll Give You The Sun won the Printz. It’s a beautifully written, thoughtful and moving novel, full of complex emotional truths, big ideas, and well-drawn characters. I have to confess, though, that I very nearly gave up on it fairly early on. It was only the fact that it came highly recommended by people I trust that kept me going, which I’m very grateful for. The reason why I was put off is that the early chapters seem to prop up a tiresome false dichotomy between creative people who embrace the richness and the mystery of the universe and dull-minded scientists who want to oversimplify everything. This never fails to make me sigh in exasperation, and also long to break out my beloved Feynman flower video. However, eventually it becomes clear that this is not a novel where things are necessarily what they seem, or where caricatures are allowed to stand. The twins’ artistic mother and scientist father are gradually fleshed out, and readers are given a glimpse of the growing distance between them, of the reasons why they became less than patient and generous with each other, and of how this affected their children’s account of events.

    I’ll Give You The Sun is about stories — about the narratives we turn to in order to make sense of our lives, about what we allow in and what we edit out, and about how they become increasingly complex when we make ourselves go back and reconsider them. Examining new angles allows the twins to make whatever sort of peace they can with what has passed. Additionally, the two come to realise that this is a continuous process: we rewrite our histories all the time. As Jude tells herself,
    Who knows if destiny is just how you tell yourself the story of your life? Another son might not have heard his mother’s last words as a prophecy but as drug-induced gibberish, forgotten soon after. Another girl might not have told herself a love story about a drawing her brother made. Who knows if Grandma really thought the first daffodils of spring were lucky or if she just wanted to go on walks with me through the woods? Who knows if she even believed in her bible at all or if she just preferred a world where hope and creativity and faith trump reason? Who knows if there was ghosts (sorry, Grandma) or just the breathing, living memories of your loved ones inside you, speaking to you, trying to get your attention by any means necessary? Who knows where the hell Ralph is? (Sorry, Oscar.) No one knows.
    So we grapple with the mysteries, each in our own way.
    The big event that shakes up the twins’ lives is revealed less than a third of the way into the novel, so I have a hard time thinking of it as a big spoiler. The revelations in I’ll Give You the Sun are more subtle than that — they have to do with the characters’ emotional realities; with how they experience events whose plain facts we already know. Nevertheless, I understand that some readers might prefer not to know anything about what’s coming, so consider this a spoilers warning: I’ll talk openly about plot details from this point onwards.

    Another thing I’ll Give You the Sun is about is how death abruptly cuts you off from people, but that doesn’t mean your relationship with them doesn’t remain living and evolving for as long as you yourself are still alive. Jude slowly comes to this realisation — as she herself grows and changes, and as the facts she uncovers about the final months of her mother’s life reshape her understanding of her, her love for her is also reshaped. Finding her way back to that “continuous and ever-changing” love is essential for Jude. When her mother dies, Jude feels cut off from her when she needed her the most — in the wake of a sexual assault. But although there’s no way around the finality of death, or the life-long reality of her mother’s absence, that doesn’t mean Jude can’t continue to find meaning and comfort in the bond the two shared.

    Grief is of course different for everyone who experiences it, and the twins — as well as their father, plus Oscar and Guillermo — are examples of that. Jude’s experience was the one that resonated with me the most, though: it takes time and effort for her to be able to feel the full impact of her loss and just sit with the resulting grief and anger, instead of trying to hide from them in whatever way she can. And it takes her even longer to be ready to acknowledge this is not something she has to bear on her own. I suppose context is necessary for it to have the impact it had on me, but this bit = all the tears:
    And then it’s my turn. I’m being shoved forward, shoved right out of my skin with just how terrible — Mom ripped out of my life the very moment I needed her the most, the bottomless unconditional shielding sheltering love she had for me taken forever. I let myself feel the terrible, surrender to it finally instead of running from it, instead of telling myself it all belongs to Noah and not to me; instead of putting an index of fears and superstitions between me and it, instead of mummifying myself in layers of clothing to protect myself from it, and I’m falling forward with the force of two years of buried grief, the sorrow of ten thousand oceans breaking inside me—
    I let it. I let my heart break.
    And Noah is there, strong and sturdy, to catch me, to hold me through it, to make sure I’m safe.
    Noah and Jude’s deep and complicated love for each other is at the heart of I’ll Give You the Sun. I was talking to a friend about the novel, and she said the richness of these twins’ relationship caused Ben and Hazel from The Darkest Part of the Forest to pale in comparison, even though that’s also a very good novel. I’m glad I didn’t meet Noah and Jude first, or else I strongly suspect that what happened to my friend would have happened to me too. There’s just something about Nelson’s writing that really makes her characters’ love and its many complications come to life. It was especially moving to note how Noah and Jude shy away from each other because in the wake of their mother’s loss, their love scares them. They’re terrified by the vulnerability of it; by the fact that it’s more than they could bear to lose. It’s such a human reaction, even though closing yourself off doesn’t really help anything or anyone in the end, and it was so great to find a story that gets that right.

    As the story progresses, the twins learn to once again read each other’s actions generously; to default to trust and to love. They slowly go back to giving each other the benefit of the doubt; they forgive past hurts; they come to terms with the human imperfections of their love; they accept they both made mistakes but were genuinely doing their best. Their reconciliation feels genuine because I’ll Give You The Sun acknowledges that it can be immensely hard for people to find their way back to each other, even when they never stopped caring. But hard is not the same as impossible, and it was wonderful to see Noah and Jude get there in the end.

    I’ll Give You the Sun is also about creativity and how it helps us construct meaning, about how our life stories contain infinite angles and accommodate multiple truths, and about how art can be a way to express them. I particularly appreciated that the twins’ mother was never demonised, even though that’s often the case for women who leave their marriages. She was a person with her own life, she loved her children, and she fell in love with another man. Much like One Crazy Summer, I’ll Give You the Sun gives her space to be a human being as well as a mother, it gives Noah and Jude space to be upset, and it acknowledges that situations where people get hurt don’t require a bad guy. Hearts are fragile and get bruised even when people do their best, but patience and love get us through the rough patches.

    I’ll leave you with a song that I think occupies more or less the same emotional space as this novel. I love them both, and I’m so glad I discovered them more or less at the same time:

    They read it too: Rhapsody in Books, Chachic’s Book Nook, Shiny New Books, you?

    Read More......

    Apr 26, 2015

    Sunday Update: Life, &c

    St Paul's Cathedral
    Good morning, everyone. I imagine some of you will be recovering from the Readathon today — sadly I couldn’t take part this time around, as it fell on a weekend when I had to work. I can’t really complain, though, because yesterday work involved hosting a visit from two brilliant authors who made the kids in my reading group extremely happy (and me as well). Also, there are other exciting work things happening that I’ll get to be directly involved in: school visits, a local picture book award ceremony, a children’s book festival, and a fancy dress event celebrating 150 years of Alice in Wonderland (I’ll get to be the Queen of Hearts!).

    I always want to tell you about these things in as much detail as I tell you about all the bookish events I go to in a non-professional capacity, but at the same time, I want to keep the current disconnect between my library and blogging identities as it is. In a way this is a hindrance to my professional development, but experience has shown it to be necessary. You might have noticed that I’m always a bit vague even when I post pictures and the like — this is not to be annoyingly coy, but because there are well-documented drawbacks to how exposed you are as a woman working in a busy public space. Obviously I don’t think this is inevitable; it’s simply a result of how the world is currently organised. But for as long as it remains the case, I have to find ways to manage the vulnerabilities of having a visible online presence, especially in a space where I’ve been fairly open for over eight years now. Not using my last name and being vague about my location are not things that would necessarily hold up to close scrutiny, but they do give me some peace of mind. All this to say: it frustrates me not to tell you more about my library work, especially as it’s a big part of my life these days and it touches on things readers of this blog are likely to be interested in, but so far I haven’t found a way to do it and continue to feel safe online.

    In other life news, I’ve been out and about quite a lot this month — my parents came to visit me and we had a really nice day out in London, which was when I took the picture above. The weather has been mostly good, I’m cycling to work again, and every day I’m reminded that as unlikely as this feels around mid-January, spring and summer do come again. Speaking of summer, much of last week was devoted to making travel plans. I’ve already mentioned that this year I’ll get to go back to Edinburgh and catch the last few days of the Fringe and Book festivals; in addition to that, at the end of September I’m going to Barcelona and Madrid for a week (a week split between the two places, that is; sadly not a week in each). I’ve never been before, so if you have any tips as to what to see, especially bookish places, I’d absolutely love to hear them.


    Reading-wise, I’m halfway through Elizabeth Wein’s Black Dove, White Raven and haven’t picked it up in a week — not because it’s not a good book but because my attention has been all over the place. But I look forward to going back to it, as well as to all the exciting book releases May has in store for us. Frances Hardinge’s The Lie Tree! Naomi Novik’s Uprooted! I can’t wait. May also marks the end of the TBR dare for me, which... I guess I’ll have to update you about that. Expect a post of shame in the near future.

    The Wire progress report: still love it; kind of want to write about representations of masculinity in the series even though I’m sure there are already a million things out there much smarter and better written than anything I could come up with.

    I’ll leave you with a few links I’ve been meaning to share:

  • A very good post on a topic forever close to my heart: How do we get more boys reading? (Clue: ‘boy books’ aren’t the answer.):
    The idea that boys need gender specific books accepts and reinforces all the same old assumptions about boys and girls – that gender dictates personality and interests. How many examples of girls who love football or boys who love fashion do we need before people stop telling children that these are boys or girls things?
    Would adding the words ‘For Boys’ to the front of a book really make a boy who’s interested in, say, robots, be any more likely to pick it up than if it said ‘for Roboteers’? Targeting by interest is surely a more logical approach that excludes no-one and also encourages children of different genders to appreciate shared interests.
    Labelling a book ‘for boys’ doesn’t only exclude girls. There are many ways to be a boy. What about the reluctant boy reader who likes ballet? Where might he find a book that isn’t pink and sparkly and screams ‘for girls’? And as Mark Jennett asks, “Why don’t people worry more about the reluctant girl reader who is more interested in dinosaurs than princesses but is constantly informed by books in the library that dinosaurs are not for her?”
  • On the off chance you’re not tired of hearing me go on about Carol Danvers, I wrote a post for Book Bloggers International about my favourite female characters in comics. Guess who makes an appearance?

    Carol Danvers and Kit

  • Last Carol link, I promise: Pre-Schoolers meet Captain Marvel. D’awwww.

  • Report finds UK books world has marginalised and pigeonholed ethnic minorities.

  • This year’s Tiptree Award winners, honour list, and long list have been announced! As you might remember, I adored My Real Children; I need to read The Girl on the Road soon.
  • Read More......

    Apr 20, 2015

    Shadow Scale by Rachel Hartman

    Shadow Scale by Rachel Hartman

    Shadow Scale by Rachel Hartman
    Nothing was just one thing; there were worlds within worlds. Those of us who trod the line between were blessed and burdened with both.
    Shadow Scale picks up where Rachel Hartman’s wonderful Seraphina left off: the peace between humans and dragons in the kingdom of Goredd has been disturbed; a civil war between the old Ard of dragons, who refuse any contact with humans, and a more progressive branch is wrecking havoc among dragonkind; and Queen Glisselda is doing her best to keep her city and her people safe from the mounting threat.

    Seraphina, a talented court musician and close friend to the Queen and the Prince, is herself half-dragon. The ityasaari have always been stigmatised in Goredd, but Seraphina believes they may hold the key to peace and balance between her two people. When war breaks out, she decides to travel to other lands — to Ninys, Samsam, and to Porphyry in the north — to find the other half-dragons like herself, with whom she’s always had a mysterious mind connection. But Seraphina is not alone in her desire to bring the ityasaari together: soon she realises that a dangerous person from her past has the same goal as she does, which causes her to take a second look at her hopes, her motivations, and the unspoken assumptions they rely on. Not only that, but this person, Jannoula, poses a serious threat to those Seraphina holds dearest. How can Seraphina keep herself and those she loves safe, and prevent a bloodbath among dragons and humans alike at the same time?

    I loved this book so much. Shadow Scale may have surpassed The Just City as my favourite read of the year so far. I desperately want you to read it too, but you do have to read Seraphina first — I don’t think it would work as a stand-alone. The good news is that the only challenge this poses is one of time commitment, because Seraphina is every bit as wonderful a novel as Shadow Scale. You know you want them both in your life.

    Reading Shadow Scale gave me the same feeling as reading The Goblin Emperor did last year: both are novels that examine complex and pertinent political ideas via incredibly rich secondary worlds, both have real darkness in them but nevertheless resist cynicism, and both were reminders of why I love genre. As the quote I opened with indicates, Shadow Scale is very much concerned with shifting categories, and with what resisting complex and flexible definitions of what it means to belong to a group can do to both individuals and societies.

    Throughout the novel, Hartman deftly examines her characters’ assumptions about being human, a dragon or a ityasaari; about gender and its expression; about belonging to the nations of Goredd, Ninys, Samsam, or Porphyry. Characters run into trouble when they refuse to embrace flexibility and accept that who they are — and who those around them are — is not set in stone. The most glaring example is the Old Dragon Ard, who clings to a rigid definition of dragonhood that doesn’t do justice to the experiences of real individuals. The second-generation dragons of Porphyry offer a fascinating counter-example: they’re the children of dragons who were exiled from their people for behaving “too much like humans”, and they grew up to call the human city-state where they live home. Their culture is not a carbon copy of traditional dragon culture, but it’s real, it’s theirs, and it’s as legitimate a part of what it means to be a dragon as anything else. Policing their right to define their dragonhood in their own terms leads to nothing but trouble for everyone.

    However, what makes Shadow Scale so great is its willingness to explore how these same thought patterns can emerge in characters we’re rooting for. Seraphina’s initial dreams for the ityasaari also rely on an externally imposed definition of what it means to be half-dragon and half-human. Little by little, her experiences with the ityasaari that she meets, and her realisation that her plans overlap with Jannoula’s to an uncomfortable degree, begin to give her pause:
    I’d set myself up as the rescuer of someone who didn’t want rescuing—or need it, to be brutally honest. Who was I to burst into this woman’s life and tell her I knew better than she did what she had suffered and how she should fix it?
    I had framed my quest, this gathering of ityasaari, as an act of compassion, but it wasn’t, really. Not if I set myself apart, as some hero to save them. It was impossible to see someone else’s pain from that distance. Maybe I hadn’t wanted to see it. Maybe I’d wanted them to see mine, or to reflect and affirm it like a mirror.
    “This is to be the genesis of a new world, a new age of Saints, an era of peace. We will make ourselves a place of safety, and no one will ever harm us again.”
    That, or something like it, had been my dream, too. I felt a little queasy.
    Fortunately, while Jannoula takes using people to its final consequences, Seraphina is willing to listen, to let her fellow ityasaari tell her what they want for themselves, and to respect it even if it goes against her hopes. She treats them like individuals whose desires and self-determination matter, which of course has to be the basis of any real community. Anything else can only lead to Jannoula’s terrifying approach.

    I can’t talk about Shadow Scale’s theme of complex categories and self-definition without mentioning the gender system in the city-state of Porphyry, which Hartman discusses in this guest post at Fantasy CafĂ©. The Porphyrians have six genders; rather than making assumptions about how to categorise people they don’t know intimately, they politely ask, “How may I pronoun you?”. Imagining and exploring different workable ways of organising the world is one of my favourite things about SFF, and Hartman achieves that particularly well in this novel. Additionally, Shadow Scale features a trans woman in a key role; as Memory notes, it was refreshing to see that the only person who refuses to respect Camba’s identity is the unambiguous villain of the story. I also loved the scene where Seraphina is forced to rethink her assumptions about Camba’s relationship with her identity as a trans women and as an ityasaari. Having previously observed Camba in a moment of despair, she assumed she was experiencing the same self-disgust Seraphina herself feels, for one of the two reasons. But Camba is from Porphyry, not Goredd; her context is different and so is her relationship with the several categories she occupies. Seraphina — and the reader — are therefore encouraged to think again.

    Much like Seraphina, Shadow Scale is just as accomplished and affecting on a personal scale as it is on a political one. The themes of abjection and the slow, tortuous journey to self-acceptance we saw in Hartman’s first novel are further developed here: Seraphina is less likely to think of herself as an abomination now, but her early experiences have left their mark. The fact that her closest friends could genuinely want to know how she feels is not something that occurs to her:
    “You should have told us how she hurt you.”
    “Why?” I asked, my throat tightening.
    “Because we’re your friends, and we might have helped you bear it,” said the Queen. “I know Lucian feels just the same, and if he were here, he’d say so.”
    It was never my first instinct to tell anyone anything personal. Uncle Orma, my only confident for years, had been the one person who knew about Jannoula, and he hadn’t truly known. He couldn’t have understood how it felt.
    I forgot that other people might care what went on inside my heart.
    This brings me to one spoilery thing that made me incredibly happy (skip this paragraph if you don’t want to know): when I wrote about Seraphina, I said I absolutely loved that Rachel Hartman had refused to set up Seraphina and Glisselda as opponents, even though they were involved in a love triangle of sorts with Prince Lucian. Seraphina and Glisselda genuinely liked and respected each other, and the hidden corners of their hearts never got in the way of that. In Shadow Scale, she goes even further: the two girls are revealed to have feelings for each other, and in the end they and the Prince simply decide, “we three knew what we were to each other; we would plan and negotiate and build our own way forward, and it was nobody’s business but ours.”

    Friends, read these books. They’re smart, brilliantly written, set in a complex world you want to explore in mode detail, and peopled with multifaceted characters who will break your heart in the best possible way. They made me happy for so many different reasons, and I’m so grateful that they exist.

    They read it too: In the Forest of Stories, Rhapsody in Books, you?

    Read More......

    Apr 16, 2015

    Reading Notes: More Marvel Comics

    Reading Notes: More Marvel Comics

    Captain Marvel Vol 1: Higher, Further, Faster, More by Kelly Sue DeConnick and David Lopez
    Before I start talking about this book, a bit of a sidenote: I’m just as puzzled as you are as to why this is volume one of Captain Marvel, when only last year I read and wrote about another Captain Marvel trade paperback by the very same writer which was… also volume one. Oh comics, why so confusing?

    After reading the other Captain Marvel Vol 1, I followed Carol Danvers (aka Captain Marvel) into Down, a second story arc by the same creative team. Unfortunately, while In Pursuit of Flight is self-contained, Down ends mid-story, and the cliffhanger ending is only resolved in a crossover title called Avengers: The Enemy Within. This is the kind of thing I’d have found Too Daunting only a year ago, but as one of my aforementioned comics guiding principles is “follow characters you love”, I decided to push through. My library had The Enemy Within, so I put it on hold. But then the due date came and went, and then one, two, three weeks, one month went by with no sign of the book. It began to look unlikely that whoever had it would ever bring it back, so I caved and bought it as a digital comic — a first for me.

    This is a measure of my love for Carol. You see, Carol is my favourite (though it’s possible that this actually means Kelly Sue DeConnick is my favourite). The character moments in her stories are the most satisfying I’ve come across so far. I love the scene in Down when Carol is arranging to take her friend Tracy (who we know has cancer) to the doctor, but when she gets there we realise Tracy came along because Carol herself was asked to bring a family member for support. I love her relationship with Kit Renner, her six-year-old neighbour and Captain Marvel’s biggest fan. I love that one of her priorities is taking her cat Chewie for her annual check-up — and when everything explodes, to keep her safe. I love that there are so many women in Carol’s stories, and that her relationships with them matter.

    At this point I would follow Carol anywhere. Also, something happens at the end of The Enemy Within that gives narrative justification to the series’ reboot, so there’s that, too.

    In Higher, Further, Faster, More, we follow Carol and Chewie into space. Carol needs some time away after her difficult experiences in NYC, and when the opportunity presents herself she doesn’t hesitate (her cat comes along because she’s too mean for any of Carol’s friends to agree to feed her. Chewie, that is, not Carol). A mission to return an alien teenage girl to her home world ends up getting Carol involved in a conflict between a large intergalactic empire and a small planet of refugees who are once again being moved from the place they’ve learned to call home against their will.

    What I liked about this volume was pretty much what I like about Captain Marvel as a whole: it shows Carol using a range of skills to solve a problem and collaborating closely with other women along the ways (also, Chewie. I really like Chewie). I also appreciated how DeConnick analysed traditional colonial dynamics, not only between the Empire and the planet’s inhabitants but in Carol’s intervention itself.

    While the first Kelly Sue DeConnick Captain Marvel story arc remains my favourite, I’m glad I read on. I love this series, and I’m delighted that a new collected volume in the Carol and Chewie Adventures (how I dub it in my head — don’t judge me) will be out at the end of the week.

    It’s possible I’m mildly obsessed with this cat.

    Ms Marvel Vol 2: Generation Why by G. Willow Wilson, Jacob Wyatt and Adrian Alphona

    Kamala Khan! She’s my second favourite, and really not that far behind Carol. I explained why I loved the first volume of Ms Marvel last year, and what I said then goes for this volume as well: I continue to be charmed by Kamala’s geeky nature, to enjoy the series’ many Internet culture jokes, and to feel more welcomed as a reader in this series than in any other superhero comic.

    In Generation Why, Kamala meets Wolverine and gleefully tells him about her fanfiction. She also confronts The Inventor, the villain first introduced in No Normal, and learns a little more about his motivation. This story is deeply concerned with our cultural tendency to dismiss and condescend to children and teenagers, and with how easy it is for the fact that you’re repeatedly told you’re worthless to make you feel worthless. Kamala meets some kids who have taken that message to heart, and it’s heartbreaking to see the effects it’s had.

    Also, the scene in the panel above is important: Sheikh Abdullah tells Kamala that he trusts her to act with “courage, strength, compassion, honesty and self-respect” even if she can’t share the details of what she’s been doing. Again, readers are reminded that there’s no inherent incongruity between Kamala’s cultural background and her work as Jersey City’s very own superhero — on the contrary, her identity is what makes her the hero she is. Kamala asks for trust, and the adults in her life show that they’re willing to give her that.


    She-Hulk Vol 1: Law and Disorder by Charles Soule, Javier Pulido and Ron Wemberly

    She-Hulk is about Jennifer Walters, a talented lawyer who was gunned down by a crime lord and had to received a blood transfusion from her cousin Bruce Banner. Banner is the Hulk, and his blood gave Jennifer the same superpowers he has. Jennifer is much better than her cousin at controlling them, though, and she can transform into her Hulk-self at will.

    Memory persuaded me to try She-Hulk by saying that it “gives far more weight to [Jennifer Walters’] law practice than to her superheroic antic”: I thought this hinted at the same human scale I so appreciated about Kate Bishop’s L.A. adventures, and that did indeed turn out to be the case. As you probably can tell, She-Hulk didn’t disappoint: it hit all my cool-lady-doing-things-and-surrounding-herself-with-other-women buttons and it filled me with joy.

    In the first issue, Jennifer leaves her job at a big law firm, helps a single mother challenge a powerful man, and ends up establishing her own law practice. She then hires Angie Huan as her paralegal and fellow superhero Patsy Walk as her investigator, and the three begin solving cases and helping those in need.

    There’s an overarching mystery to the series, but this first collection is also very much concerned with smaller cases. If you’re wondering how much superhero context you need, one of Jennifer’s clients is the son of Doctor Doom, who’s seeking political asylum in the USA because he doesn’t want his father to force him to succeed him as an evil overlord. I knew pretty much nothing about the character, but the context makes it obvious that he’s bad news and that’s all it takes for the plot to make sense. Also, it was nice that Jennifer didn’t hesitate to point out when her client was being an entitled, patronising jerk (which was most of the time), but she decided to help him anyway because his claim was sound.

    In sum, She-Hulk was another successful incursion into the Marvel universe. I look forward to reading volume two, which sadly will be the series’ last.

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